If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger . . . but with a limp.

Dan Rhema

When I started recording Voices from the North nearly six years ago it was because I truly believed in the ability of our stories to touch and transform the lives of those prepared to listen.

My most recent interview does just that on a profound level. I strongly encourage you to listen below:

Dan Rhema has made a journey to hell and back and found a piece of heaven along the way. He has tapped a hitherto unknown creative gift to heal himself and simultaneously touch and heal others through his artistic creations. Here’s Dan Rhema’s encapsulated story as found on his website at http://www.danrhema.com/artist.html

 In 1991, Dan was living with his wife and three daughters on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the small town of Santiago Tuxla. At the time, he was president of El Centro, Inc., a not-for-profit international training and retreat center.

During the seasonal rains, an epidemic of Dengue Fever (also known as Break Bone Fever) swept through the Tuxla Mountain Area. All of his family except his youngest daughter fell victim to the fever.

By the time he had arrived at Crawford Long Memorial Hospital, he was well into a delirium caused by the high fever and other complications. Later that evening, during a spinal tap which confirmed that he had contracted spinal meningitis, Dan had a near death experience.

Dan relates, “I traveled out of my body and began journeying down a long dark tunnel. As I progressed down the tunnel, I remember thinking that I did not want to die without my wife and children being with me. My progress down the tunnel ended and I began the long struggle back to consciousness, one level at a time.”

Early in his recovery, Dan began to create works of art using locally collected wild thorny vines which to him represented the damage which the fever had inflicted on his brain. Later, in Tucson, Arizona, Dan began to write short stories and collect objects found during walks in the desert.

After moving to Louisville, Kentucky in April 1995, Dan began to create multimedia collages, sculptures, and masks from his collection of found objects. In 1997 he began to paint, capturing the images flowing through him in a unique three dimensional style. His art has been heavily influenced by his illness, his readings in comparative mythology, and his own search for spiritual meaning.


During our interview Dan relates that one of his most important hurdles in his two decade long healing journey has been the need to let go of the man he once was and embrace the man he is today. Dan Rhema’s experience has been extreme but isn’t this perspective what we each need to live – each moment?

Pain is simply the difference between what is and what I want it to be.

Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Before his illness Dan had been a seeker. He is no more. He appears to be content to accept the mystery of life without the urge to figure it out.

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.


Dan’s illness has left him with huge gaps in his long-term memory. He doesn’t remember his wedding day or the early years of his children. He also initially had virtually no short term memory. Out of necessity he became an at-home dad. Even driving his children to school was an adventure – he wasn’t sure which way to turn.

The art that periodically pours through him has been his saviour. His brain has had to rewire after the trauma of the fever and has consequently left him with a seemingly direct link to the subconscious memory of humanity’s roots – a sort of shamanic viewpoint Dan feels lies in all of us, but which is usually buried too deeply to access. I wonder if Dan Rhema’s paintings and sculptures touch viewers so profoundly because they trigger these deeply buried memories and/or earlier traumas and near death experiences in them.

Dan claims that 80% of relationships in which one of the partners suffers a brain illness are blown apart. Without the unflinching support of his wife, Susan, Dan would probably have been institutionalized and the world would be poorer for it.

Visit Dan’s website at: http://www.danrhema.com/  

Dan Rhema on Voices from the North:

“Dan is truly blessed with a gift for relating art to people in a way that is very spiritual and cultural. For him to be able to talk about his experience and be able to embrace and relate it to other ethnic groups and religions is truly phenomenal.”Shirley Sweatt, art collector
“I’ve been struggling for years to perfect certain techniques, as all artists do. For Dan to have no formal training and to be able to create these amazing sculptures is hard for me to grasp. It’s very humbling as an artist to see him be able to express his ideas so vividly.”Kevin Payne, artist/teacher

Dan Rhema, artist, writer, and filmmaker lives in historic Old Louisville, Kentucky. His art has been exhibited throughout America, in solo and group shows, for the past fifteen years. Dan’s picture books include The Day the Animals Lost Their True Colors (a 2002 IPPY Awards Finalist), One Tiny Twig, and Bluegrass Breeze. His most recent book, I Close My Eyes to See: The Dan Rhema Story As Told to Kevin Wilson, documents Dan’s transformation into an artist after surviving a deadly combination of three different strains of dengue fever. A documentary about Dan’s story is scheduled for completion in this year.


Subscribe to In Search of Simplicity by Email


Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com


“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”


Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/


“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”


Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews