Radio Free Albemuth (the movie)

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This movie has been a long time coming. Filming started in 2007, it was shown at Sedona in 2010 and I have been waiting for it to be released, which didn’t happen until June 27, 2014, which I completely missed and just saw it on demand and watched it last night.

The movie is the first of the four novels of Philip K. Dick’s VALIS “trilogy” to be adapted to film. While it is often said that PKD’s books are great and the movies never live up to them (and perhaps that could be said of this movie as well), this is an important movie for several reasons.

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Firstly, as mentioned, it is the first of PKD’s late books to be adapted to film (Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, as well as many others being adaptations of PKD’s earlier work). In February of 1974, Phil had his first vision/hallucination. He continued to have these experiences over the next months and his late career revolves around his attempt to understand these experiences. He picked up and set down many different explanations for his visions: God; extraterrestrials so advanced that they may as well be God; mental illness; Russian mind control experiments; beams of energy from a satellite; attempts by extraterrestrials to intervene to save the earth; an over-lap in parallel universes, as well as many other theories. In 2011 PKD’s 976 page Exegesis was published posthumously, containing many pages of his attempts to understand his experiences, as well as ideas for his late novels. It should be mentioned that Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 as a draft of what later was published in 1981 as VALIS. RFA was published posthumously in 1985. The two novels are similar only in the fact that they have a character named “Philip K. Dick” who is a science fiction writer. In both novels, PKD is a kind of foil, a straight man to either Horselover Fat (VALIS) or Nicholas Brady (RFA). Phil creates a split having one character experience the visions and the pink phosphene beam and receive communications from VALIS, while the “Philip K. Dick” character is initially skeptical, but gets pulled into the metaphysical action.

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Secondly, the movie is important because of its political themes. In this universe, the United States is ruled by four-term President Fremont, who has declared war on the subversive organization Aramchek, which may or may not be a real organization. The characters in the movie are visited by FAP (Friends of the American People) who are young, Hitler Youth types with unquestioning patriotism. At one point, Nick and his wife, Rachel, have to complete tests after watching President Fremont’s speech. The question is: “If the American people have to give up liberties in order to fight Aramchek, are they gaining or losing ground?”

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The movie features

Nick goes through a series of visions, which are very close to the visions that PKD described having in real life. At one point he becomes convinced that current reality is an overlay of Rome in AD 70, the time of persecution of Christians by Nero, “The Empire never ended,” which means that PKD/Nick believes that the US government at the time was equated with the Roman empire, and President Nixon can be seen as a kind of Roman emperor.

The movie stays close to PKD’s novel and has all of the many twists and turns of the plot, including visions of messages from an alternate reality from someone in the Portuguese States of America – while this entity can give advice, it cannot answer the question, “Who are you?” It presents PKD’s spiritual beliefs, which are a mixture of science fiction, Gnosticism, Christianity, and Neoplatonism. The movie has lines, like “No one ever truly dies” and “Our minds are being invaded by an alien life form, for our benefit.” (PKD particularly developed the concept of the Paraclete as an alien life form that cross-bonded with the early Christians who accepted it in. Phil often spoke of “Firebright,” which is what he called the light he sometimes communicated with.

The question of what exactly happened to the real PKD is an interesting one and he spent the last 8 years of his life trying to decipher this, considering all possibilities. I have started work on this question as well, looking at PKD’s experiences and personal journal (The Exegesis) and Carl Jung’s visionary experiences and personal journal (The Red Book). I have a draft for a book length project called Every Thought Leads to Infinity, which is a line from The Exegesis. The link leads to the abstract from my 2012 presentation of that name.

The movie seems to have all the right ingredients, other than a big special effects budget. The actors are believable in a PKD world. Knowing the back story as I do, it is difficult to say how well the movie stands on its own, apart from PKD’s stories and life. (The movie has just had limited release and has only made $8,493 at the box office). It could serve as an introduction to his later works and it also has a theme that is relevant in today’s society of a decade of war against terror. Before Nicholas Brady is executed without a trial, the last thing he says is, “I am an American citizen, I have rights!”

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The tagline on the official movie website reads, “A message of hope from the stars.” In the end, PKD was always hopeful that the little guy, who takes the morally right stance against totalitarian political regimes and institutions of thought control, would come out on top. He also made arguments that are consistent with the Recovery Movement in mental health, a kind of human rights movement. I have summarized PKD’s views of humane mental health treatment in a presentation, “What Does it Mean to Be Human?” Philip K Dick believed that there was reason to hope, and in his worlds that hope often was supported by metaphysical/science fiction intervention from God or VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System).

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[A quick mention about the music featured in the film. Much of it is by Robyn Hitchcock, and has a few old songs by his earlier band, The Soft Boys. However, I can't find the soundtrack and it looks like Hitchcock wrote a song, "To Be Human" for the film that is not available elsewhere at this point. Neither does Alanis Morissette's song, "Professional Torturer" appear to be available.]

[John Alan Simon, the director and co-producer of Radio Free Albemuth, also obtained the rights to VALIS. In an interview in Bleeding Cool, Simon talks about VALIS, and also about his own long-standing interest in visionary experience, having studied and written on Yeats and Blake's visionary experiences. I have always thought that VALIS would make a great movie. It has more of a sense of humor, as well as darkness, it has the movie within a movie theme, as well as it just seems like the best PKD novel containing a little bit of everything from his life's work].

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Re-humanizing Medicine is available for pre-order on Amazon!

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It is very strange to see something I have been working on for so long posted on Amazon. You can even look inside the book. The publication date is still set for November 28, 2014, but you can now pre-order the book.

It is difficult to say when this journey began, particularly as I distill my professional life’s work in the book. I think it was probably around 2006 where the book started to take shape as Creating A Holistic Medical Practice. I had written a draft of a book I was calling Being Your Self, but it was kind of diffuse and unfocused, gradually I realized I wanted to write about my views on holistic medicine and my work in creating a holistic medical practice. My earliest memory of working on this book was when I was at the American Holistic Medicine Association conference in 2006 in St. Paul, Minnesota. I remember sitting at a café and distilling some of my thoughts about how the structure of a holistic practice differed from a conventional practice. I had started my private practice in 2005, so I had been spending a lot of time thinking about and creating systems that supported genuine human connection in a psychiatric setting. I had set out some time in my private practice for writing, but clinical and then teaching demands intervened and the book languished. I wrote material for the classes I taught, Finding Your Self and Being Fully Human.

I moved to New Zealand as part of the culmination of a long-term dream and compulsion. I became busy there at my first job, realized I was partly living my dream, but that I needed dedicated time for my book, so when I took my second job there, at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre, I went down to 4 days a week, so that I had Tuesdays set aside for what was most important to me. It was then that things really started happening! The book really started to take shape. I started looking into agents and publishers, eventually landed a contract with Ayni Books through John Hunt Publishing. In the process of getting book endorsements, Vincent Di Stefano mentioned the phrase “re-humanizing medicine” and that really clicked. That is where my passion was, not just in a book on creating a practice, but on challenging the dehumanization in contemporary medicine and setting out a program of re-humanization. Phrases like “counter-curriculum” and “compassion revolution” came together and the book took on its current shape, after an extensive re-write. Also, I figured out how to bring myself into the book, or the book out of me. Instead of giving facts and information, I felt the book was a part of me and I of it. At this stage, the writing of the book served an integrative process for myself, bringing together the first research project I worked on with Deb Klamen (who wrote the foreword to the book) as well as the many side projects I worked on along the way.

Eight years later, the book is now going public and I am shifting into a new phase with it. It is very exciting and I hope that the book resonates with an unmet need for physicians and clinicians and helps re-chart an inner direction that leads to outer transformation and reform. What will happen next?

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click here to go to Amazon to pre-order the book

Text from Back Cover of Book:

What starts as personal dissatisfaction in the workplace can become personal transformation that changes clinical practice and ultimately changes the culture of medicine.

Physicians and professionals train extensively to relieve suffering. Yet the systems they train and practice in create suffering for both themselves and their clients through the neglect of basic human needs. True healthcare reform requires addressing dehumanization in medicine by caring for the whole person of the professional and the patient.

Re-humanizing Medicine provides a holistic framework to support human connection and the expression of full human being of doctors, professionals and patients. A clinician needs to be a whole person to treat a whole person, thus the work of transformation begins with clinicians. As professionals work to transform themselves, this will in turn transform their clinical practices and healthcare institutions

“Modern medicine is engaged in a struggle to find its heart, soul, and spirit. This task must begin with physicians themselves. Dr. David Kopacz’s Re-Humanizing Medicine is an excellent guide in how this urgent undertaking can unfold.”

Larry Dossey, M.D., author of One Mind, Reinventing Medicine and Healing Words; executive editor of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing.

“Dr. David Kopacz bears exquisite witness to medical dehumanization and puts his heart and soul into a thoughtful, reflective, yet practical guide for countering its contemporary ills. This book can change lives, careers, and systems.”

Stevan M. Weine, M.D., author of When History is a Nightmare and Testimony after Trauma; director, International Center on Responses to Catastrophes, University of Illinois at Chicago.

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A Review of At Ganapati’s Feet: Daily Life with the Elephant-Headed Deity, by Janyananda Saraswati (David Dillard Wright)

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David Dillard-Wright is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at University of South Carolina, Aiken. He has a broad range of interests in the philosophy of the mind, bioethics, meditation (authored the book, 5-Minute Mindfulness and others), and in his latest book, he describes his experience and interest in Hindu ritual and meditation. At Ganapati’s Feet is a short, quick read at 99 pages. It starts off autobiographically, with Dr. Dillard-Wright’s story of seeing a friend’s statue of the Hindu god, Ganesha, and being drawn to the statue. He sought out his own statue and installed it on his writing desk as he worked on his dissertation (published as The Ark of the Possible: The Animal World in Merleau-Ponty) and began offering prayers as he worked to Ganesha. He eventually made a promise that if his dissertation were completed and published, he would write a book on Ganesha (Ganapati being one of Ganesha’s 108 names).

I, too, have a statue of Ganesha on my writing desk (a small return gift for loaning a friend a copy of Gandhi’s autobiography). Ganesha is a liminal deity, a threshold god, the first to be acknowledged on entering a Hindu temple Ganesha is often thought of as the remover of obstacles, and also a patron god of writers as well – having made a promise to complete a writing, and when he ran out of writing instruments, broke off his own tusk to use as a quill (which is why he is shown having one broken tusk). I had picked up a few elephant statues over the past few years and was very interested in the symbolism of removing and moving through obstacles. I came to think of my leadership style at times as an embodiment of this elephant energy when I hit an obstacle – not to overpower it by force, but to refuse to budge or be forced backward on any issue I considered crucial to gradually make advances on toward a clinical or administrative goal. This was kind of between putting something on the back-burner (essentially putting off until later) and having something on the forefront of one’s focus. I developed an ability to have continual awareness on an issue and whenever the smallest opening appeared, to take a step or two forward and then hold, until the next step was possible. This was a kind of medium to long-term planning, and in the meantime I would go about the daily issues and concerns.

One of the interesting facets of this short book is Dillard-Wright’s background of passing through the Christian seminary. His spiritual practice appears to have seamlessly incorporated Christian and Hindu belief and ritual. In fact, he writes that his Hindu practice has helped to bridge the Christian gap between the spiritual and the earthly, Ganapati, himself embodies the union of animal head and human body. His two wives, Riddhi (prosperity) and Siddhi (spiritual attainment) also bridge the common tension between material wealth and spiritual wealth. The book examines an integration of Hindu and Christian theology to arrive at an embrace of both the material and spiritual worlds. Even the split between human and divine is repaired as Dillard-Wright describes that the Hindu “gods represent the latent powers within ourselves; aspects of our true nature,” (10).

Rather than claiming to have found “enlightenment,” Dillard-Wright describes having “found tools to lighten the load,” through “seeing the negatives themselves as part of the journey toward liberation…to push oneself ever closer to the divine nature as it unfolds in this world. Eventually we come to regard ourselves not as separate beings, but as aspects of Ganesha’s nature. We come to be the removers of obstacles for others,” (14). He further writes that the “path forward for humanity, the only way that does not lead to destruction, lies in mutual service and submission,” (14-15). He thus finds in the heart of Hinduism the heart of Christianity. He presents Hinduism as being more accepting of other religions, as it is a polytheism. While most Christians do not consider the study of Hinduism part of the path to God, Dillard-Wright states that almost “every major Hindu saint has at some time read and appreciated the teachings of Jesus, and many authors have seen Jesus as a great yogi,” (16). This concept of religious tolerance, while a founding principle of the United States, is currently a topic of great concern – as intolerance, in general, appears to be growing in the Land of the Free.

After a discussion of harmonizing contrasts between Hinduism and Christianity, Dillard-Wright moves to an exegesis of the symbolism of Ganesha. His comments about the broken tusk, in particular, are of interest. While we often think of elephants as slow and ponderous, Ganesha represents the lighting flash of the creative mind, using his four hands to write four times as fast as someone using a single hand. His one remaining tusk represents “single-pointed devotion and oneness with his father,” (Siva) (31). Turning the broken tusk to his advantage, this “symbolism means that Ganesha takes defects and quickly makes them into tools, thereby overcoming them. The quickness with which he fights his adversaries and composes poetry he also pours into his devotee’s lives, making them quick and nimble as well,” (31).

The next section of the book explores mantras and spiritual aphorisms of Ganesha, such as “Regard everything as holy,” (63) and “When trouble comes, retreat into meditation,” (65). The remainder of the book focuses on the steps of a ritual practice of puja, detailing the prayers and sequence of devotions and movements in the ritual worship of Ganesha, including the recitation of Ganesha’s 108 names.

This is an interesting little book, about a big subject, Ganesha the elephant-headed deity. It details the adoption of daily Hindu practice by a man who describes himself as a Christian, and is also a professor of philosophy. His handling of the topic is open, honest, straight-forward and thoughtful. It is well worth the short time it takes to read and raises many interesting topics in integrative religion and spirituality.

Publication Date for Re-humanizing Medicine: November 28, 2014!

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Here is the front cover of the book, exciting to see it start to take form after so many years working on it…

Here is the link to the publisher page for the book.

I have to start moving into a new phase now, done with writing and on to marketing and promoting the book. Totally new territory. I am going to start looking into conferences and bookstores for public appearances.

The timing of the book is excellent with my work at the VA. There is a national Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation and my book is really consistent with their message. I was just down in Atlanta for the Whole Health: Change the Conversation conference and it was really energizing and helped me to get excited about the work of the book. It will be really interesting to see how the book does once it is out in the world.

In the meantime, I continue my day to day work at the VA. I have started the pilot run of The Hero’s Journey Class, based on the work of Joseph Campbell. It uses mythology and narrative as ways of assisting Veterans in their Return Home. Here is a photo of me at work on this project.

Hero's Journey Reflection

Otherwise, I have a few interesting possible projects on Patient Centered Care and staff wellness in the works. I will be presenting a poster next month at the annual meeting of the American Holistic Medical Association – Connection & Collaboration: Innovations in Patient-Centered Care. The poster is on Collaborative Poetry Writing as a way of engaging patients with psychosis and trauma histories.

I will post more details on the book publication as they are available.

Update

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So, what else???

I haven’t really blogged too much about the settling in this side in Seattle…

It has been busy buying a new house, moving in, settling in to work and putting the finishing touches on the book. I have finished the index and sent in the final proofs on the book. I have seen the draft of the cover, which is a stethoscope that forms the outline of a human head, a nice representation of having to look past the technology to the person. I am not sure how long this next process will take, but I believe the next step is publication!

I have been doing a little painting. I have large, well-lit work space in the basement and the above photo is a detail of the first painting.

I have been learning about the national VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, and I am going to a training put on by the office next month in Atlanta. There is a lot of overlap with my book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. There are potentially some great opportunities on the horizon!

As soon as I know more about when the book will be coming out, I will definitely post it here.

I have also been working on a draft of what could be an interesting book. I’ll be running a pilot of a class for Veterans using Joseph Campbell’s framework of the Hero’s Journey next month. I have been writing a draft of an outline for each session with various myths, movies, stories, and ideas. I’m really enthusiastic about it as it is bringing a lot of things together in a format that is different from a traditional therapy group.

That’s all for now…in honor of the blog earlier today on the review of the union of inner/outer wilderness, here is a photo of me and a tree…(the tangled branches represent my tangled thoughts, and the teleology of branches represent my seeking the truth, which appears to be mostly off to one side of my head).

Oh, yes! I also saw Rebecca Solnit speak a couple weeks ago. I should really do a blog on that soon…

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Union of Inner and Outer Wilderness, Review of A Testament to the Wilderness: Ten Essays on an Address by C.A. Meier

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This book is a collection of essays in honor of psychologist, C.A. Meier, and it includes Meier’s 1983 address to the Third World Wilderness Congress in Inverness, Scotland, entitled, “Wilderness and the Search for the Soul of Modern Man.” It is a nice, diverse overview of different perspectives on inner wilderness of Jungian depth psychology and its relation to outer wilderness of nature. It includes an essay on a Taoist parable of how imposing order on chaos and nature can lead to its death (“The Arts of Mr. Hun Tun,” by Mokusen Miyuki); two wonderful essays by South African soldier and writer Laurens van der Post (“Wilderness: A Way of Truth,” and “Appointment with a Rhinoceros”); various essays examining personal nature narratives and explorations of indigenous peoples’ relationships with nature; and an interesting ending of a poetic mélange called, “Nature Aphoristic (with an excerpt from Goethe), by artist and publisher, Sam Francis.

The foreword of the book is by Robert Hinton, also a psychotherapist as well as the editor and publisher of Daimon Press in Zurich, which is the publisher of the book. Hinton sets the tone for the book, reminding us of “the potential meaning – of crisis, both within and without: it can be tragic; and at the same time, it provides us with the possibility of renewal,” (xii). He invites us, if we are “willing and able to be open to it…it is often just the un-known, the un-planned, the un-expected, the un-familiar which can best teach us,” (xii).

Meier’s essay is based on the correspondence of the inner unconscious and the outer natural world and that disturbance of one, or over-emphasis of one, causes disturbances of the other. “Man is estranged from his soul, therefore from his own inner nature, by being lost in the outer world. Excessive interference with outer nature creates of necessity disorder of the inner nature, for the two are intimately connected,” (2). He draws on the writings of the Neo-Platonists, citing Poseidonius’ statement on “sympatheia ton holon [sympathy of all things],” and Porpyrius’ comment that “the soul, when it encounters the visible, recognizes itself there as it carries everything within itself and the all of things is nothing else than soul,” (3-4). He, is critical of an over-valuation of the scientific perspective on life, stating that we “try to learn more and more about those objects [of nature] and begin to analyze and dissect them, thereby eventually killing them…In other words, as the natural sciences developed, respect for nature as a whole disappeared,” (6). Meier argues that we must attend carefully and thoughtfully to “wilderness without – wilderness within,” and that if we ignore our inner wilderness, we will project these disowned dangers into the outside world and work out our inner conflicts through our relationship with the environment.

Miyuki’s discussion of Chuang Tzu’s Mr. Hun Tun or Chaos critiques the concept of the “machine heart,” and calls for balancing the yang control function of machines with the yin harmony function of the feminine. “If we are not to destroy ourselves as a result of the inhuman operation of the technocratic machine, we must cultivate the feminine functioning of the ego so as to let the Tao, or Self, take its course,” (34).

Laurens van der Post, in his essay, “Wilderness – A Way of Truth,” recalls a conversation he had with Jung in which he said that “the truth needs scientific expression; it needs religious expression and artistic expression,” (45). He thus sets up the need for having different, complementary attitudes and perspectives on nature. Van der Post tells a marvelous tale from the South African Bushmen of “The Great White Bird of Truth.” This story recounts how the community’s best hunter one day caught a glimpse in a rippling pool of a beautiful white bird flying in the sky. “From that moment on, he wasn’t the same. He lost all interest in hunting…One day he said to his people, ‘I am sorry; I am going to find this bird whose reflection I saw. I have got to find it,’ and he said good-bye and vanished,” (53). He traveled throughout all of Africa until he was at the end of his strength, as he watched the beautiful African sunset, he thought, “I shall never see this white bird whose reflection is all I know.” And he prepared himself to lie down and die. Then at that moment, a voice inside him said, ‘Look!’ He looked up and, in the dying light of the African sunset, he saw a white feather floating down from the mountain top. He held out his hand and the feather came into it, and grasping the feather, he died,” (54). He interprets this story as the tale of a person who is spiritually aware, is open to perceiving even a reflection of the truth, and is content with just one feather of the truth. This harkens back to the second part of Jung’s comments on the truth needing scientific, religious and artistic expression, “even then…you only express part of it,” (45). Van der Post stresses the ongoing need of adaptation and re-orientation of each generation to the truth of inner and outer.

Van der Post’s second essay, “Appointment with a Rhinoceros,” is well worth the read. Briefly it is his telling of a transformative encounter with nature in his homeland of South Africa after having been away from home for 10 years, including 3 years in a Japanese concentration camp. He says that his loss of connection with his “natural self” and regaining it in a sudden communing with nature, is an “illustration of one of the many paths we can travel in order to rediscover this lost self,” (124-125). It is a really marvelous essay about the healing of war trauma through nature as well as re-establishing the harmony of inner and outer. I plan to discuss this in a book I am currently working on using Joseph Campbell’s framework of the Hero’s Journey in working with veterans.

The book ends with Sam Francis’ aphorisms about nature. I’ll end this review with a few choice quotes from him. “Every detail of life is a perpetual blessing. Artists work to show this to everyone. It is an unremembered act of kindness and love to do this,” (137). “As William Blake said, what can be imagined is true,” (139). “Space and time are relative to matter, not imagination,” (140).

This is a short (142 pages) book that is very readable and presents a nice selection of perspectives on the relationship between inner and outer wilderness. It extends Meier’s work as well as the work of Jung. It is of interest from a psychological as well as an ecological perspective, and has a lot of fascinating narratives of personal growth in it, as well.

Coniunctionis.21: In A Silent Way

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Music has been a bridge for me lately, it always is something that I rely on when I am in a big transition or when I have an inner chaos of turmoil. I think that the energy of music has the ability to connect to inner states, to serve as a mirror back that amplifies the inner state until it can be clarified, transformed or resolved in some sense. In this aspect, music is therapeutic. This is nothing new as music has long been associated with healing rites and rituals and as having the ability to bring together body and soul. While the roots of music and healing are in the sacred, we have lost this association in the modern world. For me, there are at least two levels to the transformative nature of music as it creates correspondences between inner and outer. There is the physical aspect of the music itself, and there are also the emotional and spiritual themes of the lyrics which can sometimes make sense of this often mysterious life we live. What I am going to write about in this column is purely instrumental music, Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way.”

In a Silent Way was released July 30, 1969 on Columbia Records. It was recorded in one session date on February 18, 1969 at CBS 30th Street Studio B in New York City. It was the first of Davis’ fusion, electric albums. For me, it combines the best aspects of the classic 1959 album, “Kind of Blue” and the dissonant 1970 album, “Bitches Brew.” In 2001, a three-disc box set was released, “The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions,” and this is what I first started listening to as I entered into a stage of transition moving back from New Zealand to the US. (Details about the album are taken from the Wikipedia entry for the album).

The Complete Sessions are 3.5 hours of music, while there are a few songs that I sometimes skip, in general I find that I can get seriously lost in this album – in a good way – the kind of being lost that is pleasant and soothing, and often I come out of it feeling kind of “found,” or at least more at peace. The original 1969 album consists only of two songs, as it appears on CD, “Shhh/Peaceful” (18:16) and “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time” (19:52). The LP lists the songs as:

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Side one

  1. “Shhh”/”Peaceful” (Miles Davis) – 18:16
    1. “Shhh” – 6:14
    2. “Peaceful” – 5:42
    3. “Shhh” – 6:20

Side two

  1. “In a Silent Way”/”It’s About That Time” (Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis) – 19:52
    1. “In a Silent Way” (Zawinul) – 4:11
    2. “It’s About That Time” (Davis and Zawinul) – 11:27
    3. “In a Silent Way” (Zawinul) – 4:14

What is apparent from looking at the song titles is the way that there is an introduction, an interlude of another song/theme and then a return to the starting point, transformed though after the journey through. As I write this, I do realize that is one of the reasons that I find this album so orienting and soothing for me. There is a lot of wandering, exploring and creating space, and yet there is this continual return. This is even more pronounced in the Complete Sessions which has 78 minutes of different versions of the core songs from the original album. Even in some of the most unstructured explorations, there is often still a simple, repetitive, bass line or a rhythmic click of a drum stick on the rim of the snare that provides an orienting anchor. It is this rhythmic element of the album that made it so conducive to the more modern remixes found on Bill Laswell’s 1998 album, Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969–1974, which is where I first heard these songs, as well as on the 1999 multiple artist Panthalassa: The Remixes.

“In a Silent Way” features many great musicians who went on to have impressive careers themselves:

As I mentioned, I can really get lost in this album, the dissonant elements of the brass, guitar and sometimes electric piano and organ pull me out, like exploring interstellar space, or closer to Earth, like the darting fish of a coral reef. While the bass and drums, and sometimes other instruments, build a solid, repetitive structure, like the hidden pulse of galaxies or the rhythmic waves over a reef. These are the two images that I get when I listen to the music, space and the ocean.

What was interesting, recently, was a conversation that my wife and I had about the album. That is not surprising as I have pretty much left it in the CD player in the car for the past months. That particular day we were juggling a lot of things, working on buying a house being the primary thing, and Mary Pat said “this is the first time I like this album, all the chaotic dissonance is like my own thoughts with all this going on.” I was surprised she found the album primarily dissonant, because I could say it is dissonant just as easily as I could say it has a strong rhythmic foundation; or that is even quite open and simplistic even as it is possible to listen to the silence which structures the notes. It is interesting that we had listened to this album in different ways and even more interesting that she had found the dissonant elements soothing on that particular day, as that is something that I have been thinking about lately, the correspondence of inner and outer states related to music.

In a Silent Way, that is the name of the album. Even the name makes me think about this space between the notes, about what it is that is being communicated silently. This brings to mind what all the mystics end up raving about, the silence, the deep and profound meaning that defies words. For instance, Carlos Castaneda writes of “inner silence…a peculiar state of being in which thoughts were cancelled out and one could function from a level other than that of daily awareness…[and to reach this state practitioners]…devised endless ways to shake themselves…at their foundations in order to reach that state,” (The Active Side of Infinity, 103-104). Paradoxically, to reach this state of quietude may require some form of agitation or surprise, thus we have the surprising dissonant elements of “In a Silent Way,” that are required in order to reach the silence. Juan Mascaro in the introduction to his translation of The Upanishads, writes that the “silent voice of the Eternal is perpetually whispering in us his melodies everlasting,” (12). The way of meditation involves quieting the mind, coming to terms with desires, in order to listen to that silent voice. The way of the shaman, which is the way of many contemporary musicians, is to find the silence through the noise or dissonance, for instance the energized focus that can come after a punk rock concert.

There is something about finding music in the outside, that when it corresponds to the inside, brings about some transformation.

What is it that brings resolution of a state of inner tension? Reaching the inner silence. How is inner silence reached? Not always through a direct quieting of the mind, sometimes it is reached by getting shaken to your foundations. “In a Silent Way” combines a little bit of several paths: the dissonant shaking, the rhythmic repetition and the liberal use of silence. Lately, there is something about all these elements that speak to something within me. I find a sense of calm and purpose in the music, the structured elements help me feel focused, the dissonant elements help me to feel expansive, and the silence – I find myself in the silence, some calm, perhaps even the silent voice of the Eternal.

 

Coniunctionis.20: Connecting Inner and Outer Through Music

I started writing the Coniuctionis column for the on-line magazine, Mental Contagion, back around the turn of the millennium. At that time, it grew out of my re-reading of Jung and Nietzsche, along with a personal journal work I was doing that I called Die Untergang, a term that Nietzsche used for a “down going,” or “going under,” which to me symbolized a review of my life up to that point (through going through my journals and writing a commentary on them). The Coniunctionis column was about exploring ideas that came together from various fields (comparative religions, spirituality, mysticism, science fiction, technology, consciousness, personal growth, transformation, trauma and finally, music) and it was also somewhat personal and informal as well as scholarly. It was a place for me to explore different ideas and topics without having to worry about how to publish them in more academic publications. I have recently picked up the thread of some of the topics of this column and thought it would be good to resurrect it. The term, “Coniunctionis” is Latin and I took it from Carl Jung’s last major work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, which explored transformation, particularly through an integration of the opposites, in alchemy and applying that to psychology and personal growth.

In this column, I would like to re-visit a topic that I have always found interesting: transformation through the correspondence of an inner state when it harmonizes with an outer state (music). I was a fairly introverted kid and teenager and had a fair melancholy streak as well. The image that returns to me when I consider this topic is sitting in the dark in my basement room, on top of the dresser, my back against the wall, and my gaze upward through the window at the moon and the night sky, while listening to music. Music has always been a very important part of my life. I am serious and enthusiastic about music. I would listen to bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, and my favorite bands, then, were Joy Division and the band that the 3 surviving members formed, New Order.

What has always interested me is that when I find myself in an intense inner state, one which many people might consider a “negative” state, if I find music that seems to resonate and harmonize with that negative state, this correspondence of inner and outer leads to a transformation of the inner state. I suppose this is a homeopathic treatment of sorts, treating “like with like,” however, unlike homeopathy it is an immersion in high dose external “like,” rather than a miniscule “like” dose. Contemporary, Western medicine is often called allopathy, meaning that symptoms are treated with their opposites rather than with “like.” In regard to music, this would mean that if you were sad, you would listen to happy music. My method was to immerse myself in sad, melancholy music, introspective, or in terms of Joy Division an almost nihilistic despair, but one which has tremendous power and energy behind it. In earlier Coniunctionis columns I have written about the similarities of various forms of punk rock and mystical rituals and experiences (see “What Did You See There? Ian Curtis and the Visionary Quest of the Shaman,” Trauma, Transformation and Punk Rock Part IX, in particular). The allopathic approach to feeling “sad” is to say that something is wrong with me and reality and I will fix that by making myself “happy,” a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy of logic. The extreme homeopathic treatment to feeling “sad” would be to say that I am experiencing a sense of being inwardly troubled, and rather than try to change that, I am going to accept it and not only accept it, but I am going to amplify that, I am going to enter into it and I am going to experience it to the fullest extreme. It is at that point that this becomes like a mystical practice, by following an inner state to its extreme, using external stimuli to amplify and maximize that state. For me, what would often happen is that I would emerge with a sense of peace, possibly you could call that happy, but that doesn’t quite seem to capture it, more a sense of inner expansiveness, a greater sense of self-knowing, as well as an ability to go back into the external world without feeling hampered by an inner state, instead feeling rejuvenated and more adapted to reality.

I suppose this is not without dangers, though. Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, committed suicide, and the line between transformative amplification and obsessive self-pity and internalization can be a fine one. This is what Jung cautioned about, particularly in regard to Nietzsche, that in his die untergang, he descended into the unconscious, he encountered the numinousity and power of archetypes which had the power to transform his life, but, in Jungian language, he identified with the archetypes as his own personality, which led to ego inflation, rather than ego transformation to incorporate more of the Self, and thus led to madness. The safe and superficial way leads to adaptation to society. The dangerous, inner way of transformation, holds both the danger of madness as well as the marvelous transformation of the ego to hold more energy of the Self (another way to say this is that the personality is stretched beyond its narrow confines of materialism to include a larger capacity for compassion and spirituality, and in that to find a greater sense of meaning in which the ego and the Self are harmonized, as well as inner and outer being harmonized).

Joy Division’s first album was titled, “Unknown Pleasures.” The title invokes many things, but for our purposes, we can focus on the language of mysticism in which the mystic experiences something that is beyond what can be described and that can be found in things that are often discarded or devalued (e.g. Philip K. Dick’s “God in the gutter”). This album, rather than having a side one and side two, was labeled with an “inside” and an “outside.” I could never tell whether there was a real correspondence between the songs on the inside and those on the outside, but I always took it more as a way of being creatively contrary to convention and it also sets up the template or archetype of correspondence and even movement (New Order’s first album was called “Movement”) between inner and outer, thus an initiation or transformative journey is prefigured.

All of this is leading up to the fact that I recently went and saw Damien Jurado perform here in Seattle. This may seem like an abrupt transition, but I am writing this column because music has had a renewed importance to me lately and I would like to write about it in the format of the Coniunctionis columns.

I have recently gone through a major external change in my life, moving from New Zealand (where I had lived the past three and a half years), back to the US, but to Seattle, a place I had visited many times, but never lived in. This major external shift has corresponded with a major inner turbulence that coincides with my mid-forties, in which I feel many different closing and opening of circles and themes in my life, with a sense of completion but also a sense of bewildering newness and outer uncertainty about the future. This also corresponds with a degree of inner certainty which does not, however, have an outlet in the outer world at this point. I have submitted my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, to go into the final proofs stage, with publication maybe, hopefully, 6 months or so from now. The next major project that I want to work on is called Every Thought Leads to Infinity. It is a study of Carl Jung’s Red Book and Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, both of which were personal journals that were unpublished during the authors’ lifetimes, but held personal, mystical experiences that informed their later mature work. Anyway, it has been a trying year of transition…

When I was in New Zealand, I got the new Moby album, “Innocents.” My favorite song on it was “Almost Home,” which has guest vocals by Seattle artist, Damien Jurado, whom I had never heard before. The song had a lot of personal meaning for me as I was “between places,” between two homes. The song begins:

I’ll decide,

in a moments time,

to turn away,

leave it all behind,

so we’ll fly,

somewhere I will draw the line,

the ground is hard, the treasure fine,

so let it go,

wake up wake up wake up we’re almost home

(For the line “so we’ll fly,” others on the web have heard that as “so inclined,” or “so we climb,” I can also hear it as “soul will fly”).

The song invokes many images, such as a child asleep in a car after a long trip, in which the parents are confidently driving home; or for myself, literally being about to leave it all behind and move to a new home; but most truly, the song describes the spiritual element of life as a journey in sleep, in which the soul returns to its source, or “home.” In most transitions in my life, I felt a strong connection to what was ahead of me as well as a sense of the current situation being “done,” yet in this move from New Zealand back “home” to the US I didn’t have the inner bridge or connection or sense of the “rightness” of the move, and so it felt in some ways like a death. All change is a form of death, at least symbolically, but this was more than that and I found this spiritual sense to the song comforting. Moby, whose album this song is featured on, is often able to combine this element of spirituality into a chilled dance song which seems transcendent without necessarily being preachy or even denominational. Moby has long been an animal rights activist and vegan and also has a personal Christian spirituality, which is quite humble and does not seem to alienate non-Christians in the way he uses spirituality in his songs (see Wikipedia article).

Damien Jurado has just released his eleventh studio album, “Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son,” which has more prominent Christian spiritual themes, intermingled with some Sci Fi-like references as well. He seems a good match up with Moby in that the spiritual themes in his music, while often being clearly Christian, are expressed in such a way that they have universal appeal. (There is a brief discussion of his spirituality in a Pitchfork interview). Although, with this album, these themes are very overt, Jurado also recently put out a gospel chorus album entitled, “Sisters,” which is available as a bonus disk with “Brothers and Sisters.” “Sisters” is mostly alternate versions of Jurado songs, with him on acoustic guitar and singing and backed by the Silver Sisters Choir, but also includes the song “All For You,” which I believe is a Christian spiritual, if I remember correctly what he said when he played the Neptune Theater here in Seattle.

Jurado, Moby, Joy Division, and Bill Laswell (whom I’ll just mention here) combine, in different proportions, electronic technology, rhythmic and hypnotic beats, soaring emotional/spiritual soundscapes and lyrics that explore existential and spiritual themes. I think it is a valid perspective to state that all music is spiritual in nature as it has the ability to create a bridge between inner and outer states. This is one of the definitions of healing, bringing together that which has been separated, like the edges of a wound or an imbalance between the inner person and the outer world.

Music has been a bridge for me lately, it always is something that I rely on when I am in a big transition or when I have an inner chaos of turmoil. I think that the energy of music has the ability to connect to inner states, to serve as a mirror that amplifies the inner state until it can be clarified, transformed or resolved in some sense. In this aspect, music is therapeutic. This is nothing new as music has long been associated with healing rites and rituals and as having the ability to bring together body and soul. While the roots of music and healing are in the sacred, we have lost this association in the modern world. For me, there are at least two levels to the transformative nature of music as it creates correspondences between inner and outer. There is the physical, vibratory aspect of the music itself; and the emotional and spiritual themes of the lyrics which can sometimes make sense of this often mysterious life we live.

A More Funky and Electronic Take on The Sea and Cake

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A Review of “Two Gentlemen” EP by The Sea and Cake

Contrary to the other reviewer of this album, I have always really liked these 26 minutes of remixes that are definitely more electronic and more like Thrill Jockey bandmates, Tortoise. It is definitely is quite different from a typical, non-remixed Sea and Cake album. There are some nice melodies mixed in with different electronic sounds, O’Rourke’s remix of “Do Now Fairly Well,” titled, “I Took the Opportunity to Antique My End Table,” is the most mellow of the songs and is truly beautiful. “Two Gentlemen” has a more instrumental and sampled feel to it. It came out in 1997, the same year as the original The Sea and Cake album, “The Fawn,” which is a really great album. Stereolab’s “Dots and Loops” also appeared that year, which features John McEntire of The Sea and Cake and Tortoise. This set of remixes makes sense in the context of the links with Tortoise and Stereolab. If you are looking for a down-tempo groove out with some nice melodies thrown in, this EP is a good listen.

Remixes and Steve Reich sample: A Review of “Tortoise Remixed”

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A Review of “Tortoise Remixed”

I first bought Tortoise Remixed shortly after it came out in 2001. Somewhere along the way, I lost it and recently re-purchased it. It isn’t available as an MP3 to my knowledge. What I missed about it was the first track, “Djed (Bruise Blood Mix),” Remixed by UNKLE. The song, “Djed,” originally appeared on the 1996 album “Millions Now Living Will Never Die, and is over 20 minutes of meandering beats, rhythms and electronic sounds. It is a really nice song with a lot of space in it, maybe a little jazz-like, a more electronic Miles Davis “In A Silent Way.” “Djed (Bruise Blood Mix)” has the original song buried in it, but the drums are much more punchy and snappy beats, a little like a funkier DJ Shadow’s drums on “The Number Song.” The vibraphone is still there, but there are vocals mixed in from Steve Reich’s “Come Out “from 1966. Reich had performed this at a benefit for the “Harlem Six” when he had recorded the voices of the young black men who had been arrested. Wikipedia has a short entry on this, that it is the voice of Daniel Hamm saying, “I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them,” “(alluding to how Hamm had punctured a bruise on his own body to convince police that he had been beaten)” “Come Out (Reich),” Wikipedia accessed 3/1/14.

Overall, I find the album a little patchy. Some of the remixes are kind of busy and glitchy. “Reference Resistance Gate,” is a solid track, a remix of “Along the Banks of the River,” by Jim O’Rourke (Chicago musician, producer, collaborator). “Find the One,” remix of “The Taut and the Tame,” by Bundy K. Brown, is also quite nice and spacious. “Djed (Bruise Blood Mix),” alone, is worth getting the album, but these last two mentioned songs are good, too. O’Rourke and Brown also remix The Sea and Cake, released as “Two Gentlemen EP,” from 1997, another Thrill Jockey band like Tortoise, that is worth checking out, too, and stands together as an album more.