Search for Meaning Book Festival

Yesterday was the 3rd Search for Meaning Book Festival since moving to Seattle. This is put on yearly by Seattle University and every year I learn about fantastic authors and have met amazing people.

I was getting ready to go in to see artist and author Salma Kamlesh Arastu’s talk on “Seeking Oneness,” when my friend and co-author, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), called me with a couple of ideas and visions for our next book, Becoming Medicine.  In one of the visions, Joseph said he saw Picuris Pueblo, where he grew up, but instead of houses, there was mist, and then cosmic beings came to him and said, “You are a Mist-ical Being, you are now responsible for the mist-eries we are bringing to the people.” He explained that people should be respected as they get older because they hold the past – however the older you get the more spiritual responsibility you have as well. What he said this vision showed him was that there is a parallel reality to this one because as the mist cleared, he could see the houses at Picuris, but that there was an exact copy of the village up above the village. He said the people in both villages go about their days without awareness of those living just above/below the reality that they are living. Joseph often tells me that we should be always seeking our Higher Goodness and I wonder if this is part of what this vision means, that there is a way for us to live that has more Higher Goodness in it than the way that we are now living.

Anyway…I told Joseph, I better getting going to this lecture, it is on Seeking Oneness and if there is only One, I’m not sure what I’ll get if I am late – maybe just 0.95, that’s not the same as Oneness. We both had a good laugh at that and I went into the lecture.

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Salma Kamlesh Arastu is an amazing artist and an embodiment of Higher Goodness! She spoke of her artist’s journey from her work with Embracing All in the Rhythm of the Lyrical Line, to her Celebration of Calligraphy, her work with Turning Rumi, and most recently her Unity of Sacred Symbols and Texts and Unity Mandalas.

She said in her talk, “I speak the Language of the Heart and I know we all speak the Language of the Heart.” She briefly spoke of her journey in the world, from her birth in India into the Sindi.Hindu tradition, to her life in Iran and Kuwait, her marriage and embrace of Islam, to now living in Berkeley, California where she has her studio.

Her art journey started with loopy, calligraphy-like paintings of people, a style shown above. Her first art book, The Lyrical Line, illustrates her work from 1998 – 2008.

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She said she also started to copy Arabic calligraphy, marveling in its beauty without knowing the meaning of the words and this led to the collection in her book, Celebration of Calligraphy.

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Her next evolution in her work happened when she began turning through the pages of the poet, Rumi, and she created a series of paintings that were inspired by lines from Rumi. She also has been inspired by the Hindu saint and ecstatic, bhakti poet, Meera Bai. Her book, Turning Rumi: Singing Verses of Love, Unity, and Freedom collects her work of this period.

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Her most recent work has been to seek the unity in the world religions and to capture their words and truth in written words over beautiful multi-dimensional paintings. She says paints the same words over and over again, using thinned acrylic paint to create a multi-dimensional image. “Each prayer that I paint, over and over again,” she says, “is like a healing for me.” This has led to her book, Unity of Sacred Symbols and Texts.

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Verses About the Oneness of God

Salma said that as a child, her mother would tell her, “You are created for a special reason – it is up to you to find out what it is.” Salma Kamlesh Arastu’s artwork reveals that special reason that she was created.

Please visit Salma’s website and look through her beautiful artwork.

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The next talk I went to was by Corinna Nicolaou titled A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism & Islam, which is also the title of her book. “Nones” she says, are the fastest growing self-reported religious affiliation. This is the group of people who do not identify with a particular religious affiliation. However, this does not mean that they are not spiritual or do not pray or even believe in God. She says that Nones are different than Atheists, by ticking the box of “none” for religious affiliation, they are more rejecting organized religion than spirituality or God. She cites research from the Pew Research Center that 30% of people under the age 30 report no religious affiliation. She quotes Putnam and Campbell, from their book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, that Nones distance themselves from religion because “they think of religious people as hypocritical, judgmental, or insincere.”

She writes that she started her quest through “a desperate search for the bits and pieces that might make my pot whole,” (A None’s Story, oo5). With a sense of humor and the spirit of a true seeker, Corinna Nicolaou embarks on a four-year journey of church, temple, and mosque attendance, seeking to learn from the inside what each of these religions has to offer and to teach. In her talk, she said that “Religions provide a space to ask the questions about living and dying.” In her book she concludes “No matter what religious road I was on, it seemed to lead back to the idea that we come from, and eventually return to, a common source. We are parts of a whole. We can be different and still make up a healthy totality. I had long ago given up trying to make sense of how I might define ‘God.’ I figured God was too complex a concept and could be imagined a number of ways. I was driving in my car one afternoon not even thinking about any of this stuff when these words popped into my head: God is that which unites us all…I suppose that’s the best definition I’ll ever have of God,” (266).

A person in the audience at the talk asked about the loneliness of not belonging to a particular religious community. Corrina Nicolaou spoke to this and it sparked a question of my own that I wrote in my notebook, “What to do when no one religion feels like home, but all do?” In her book she writes about this. “To commit to none, but to call on all: what would that look like on day-to-day practical terms? With no official place of worship to call home, my spiritual practices will be mostly self-guided,” (283). She jokes about making the rounds of religious places of worship again, “A-to-Z,” and that she could “draw the boundaries of my spiritual identity ever larger” (285).

I kept looking at the back inside cover of the dust jacket. It is an irregular circle with colors of blue, red, yellow, and green in it. I thought, “Why is it irregular?” “Why this little splotch of splashed colors?” Ahh, I get it, the front cover of her book has four separate colors of circles and the one circle at the back brings together her journey into one mulit-colored circle, a little lop-sided, because we are not perfect and the journey is never over. Oh, yes, and I see that her name is written in four different colored letters! Beautiful, that visually sums up the journey!

Oh, yes, and one more thing, the talk that Corrina Nicolaou gave was in the Vachon Gallery at Seattle University and hanging behind her is a beautiful painting by Salma Kamlesh Arastu called “Equal Rewards.” I asked Salma, later, what the name of this painting was and she said, “Equal Rewards – men and women get equal rewards.” I think this applies to all seekers as well, no matter where you are seeking, you will get equal rewards because the reward does not come from the place you are seeking, but it comes from the journey of seeking and it is spoken, whispered to you, in the Language of the Heart.

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One last thing to mention, at both these talks I spoke with another audience member afterwards. Angie Louthan is quitting her job as a pre-school teacher in order to bring into existence The Kind Fest. You can contact her at: AngieLouthan@gmail.com, website still under construction for the event.

She is planning to host it in Everett, Washington in September. I think this is a much-needed event to focus on manifesting kindness in these times. I wrote about the Compassion Revolution in health care in the past and I am very concerned about the hardening of the American heart and the deafening of American ears so that it is harder and harder to hear what Salma Arastu calls the Language of the Heart. Actually, on the way to the Search for Meaning Book Festival, I had seen a yard sign in our neighborhood:

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Re-humanizing Medicine & Walking the Medicine – Books of the Month in the Royal College of Psychiatrists Newsletter

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Pan American Division Newsletter, February 2017 (Issue 26)

RCPsych PanAm Book club: Book of the Month

This month’s recommendation was sent by Dr. David Kopacz who responded to our call to “rediscover the soul of daily practice” and to connect with more members of our Division. Dr. Kopacz is a psychiatrist working in Primary Care Mental Health Integration at the Puget Sound Veterans Affairs in Seattle, Washington, US. He is the author of our two books of the month:

  • Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD By David Kopacz and Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) Millichap Books/Pointer Oak, 2016
  • Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. By David Kopacz (Ayni Press, a division of John Hunt Publishing, 2014)

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Thanks RCP!

Making a Choice for Peace & Truth

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Lately it can feel like Peace & Truth are being eclipsed, that they are in danger of being crushed by separation, division, and the darkness of untruth and un-peace. I have been thinking a lot about choices that we all make as individuals and collectively and how those choices can be made from a place of self-centeredness or a place of interconnectedness. I have thought a lot about my social media and on-line presence. On the one hand I am an author of a book on self-care for clinicians (Re-humanizing Medicine) and a book on healing trauma and PTSD for veterans (Walking the Medicine Wheel). However, on the other hand, I see myself my work as being an advocate for human rights and for peace – these are the larger principles that my work with the specific books grows out of. I don’t want to contribute to further divisiveness in the world by expressing partisan viewpoints. I also don’t want to alienate my readers who hold a different political viewpoint than I do. My political viewpoint is not an end in itself, rather it is the best choice of alternative options given my larger and deeper conviction around peace and universal human rights. I come to the conclusion that when peace and human rights are threatened, it is my responsibility, in keeping with my larger and deeper principles, that I need to speak up. Choosing sides between political parties is not my purpose or intent, rather I am speaking up in favor of Peace & Truth, and speaking out about the abuses and manipulations of un-peace and un-truth (which might be more grammatically correct to say war/conflict and lies). Therefore, I will be writing about political topics when they are a threat to Peace & Truth.

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I have been working with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) who is an international advocate for peace through his vision of the Peace Chambers and his work to bring his vision into reality in the Americas, Europe, and Australia where these chambers have been built. I just spent a weekend visiting Joseph and we took a road trip across the high desert of New Mexico. We crossed the continental divide – that place where the waters fall either to the east or to the west, depending on which side of the divide they are on. The health and prosperity of the country depends on waters flowing both to the east or to the west. We have this continental divide in our country and we are continually called to try to “form a more perfect union” of the two sides of our country. There is an imbalance in the country if goodness only flows in one direction. There is a loss of peace when a “Me First” mentality tries to take things from others and tries to divide and separate the parts from the larger connection to the whole. The motto of the United States is e plurbus unum and this means “out of many, one.”

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After my visit with Joseph I stopped at Petroglyph National Monument and walked around looking at all the different petroglyphs, estimated to date back 400-700 years per the park brochure. These different symbols and images were made by human hands and they still speak after hundreds of years, although we do not always know what they are saying. What I heard them saying was a reminder about our interconnection to each other and to the world around us. As I walked south, the Sandia Mountain was off to the east in the distance and I walked along a smaller ridge to the west covered with boulders which were in turn covered with these drawings of human beings long dead who were still speaking if we would listen. I heard about the interconnection of east and west. Joseph says that the east is our mental dimension and the west is our physical dimension. I could hear how the petroglyphs spoke out to and witnessed the rising sun and I could feel the correspondence between this small ridge and the larger Sandia.

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Sandia Mountain, looking east, note the cloud figure. 

As I was going through the photos I saw the similarity between the cloud figure (above) and the petroglyph (below). Although I cannot tell you everything the cloud and stone were saying to each other, I can tell you it is ancient and it is about interconnection and our place in the world relative to all of our brothers and sisters, which includes not just all of our human brothers and sisters, but our brothers and sisters of the plants, animals, stones, and clouds. It is an echo of the dialogue between Father Sky and Mother Earth. It is a sacred song, a sacred story, and we would do well to listen to it.

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First I walked from the spiritual north to the emotional south, as I walked this path, a road runner was scooting about in the brush. Eventually, I lost track of it, then heard it calling, perched up above on the rocks, silhouetted by the brilliant blue sky.

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Joseph Rael describes the road from the north to the south as the “red road.” This balances out our usual black  road connecting our thoughts and the physical world (which we so often manifest through black top roads across our country). A little bird hopped around in the scrub to the east while the road runner called from the west.

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I was particularly looking for a rock that had a number of hands carved on it.  Joseph says that we are all “holy beings.” He says that when he was growing up on Picuris Pueblo, he was taught that all children were cosmic beings. An elder would talk about the stars in the sky and the sand grains on the ground and tell the children that they are cosmic beings, that they are the grains of sand just as they are also the stars in the sky – the children were taught that they were “cosmic beings” who were related to the earth and the sky.

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I turned back around and started walking south to north. Now there were two road runners rushing about in the brush. Seeing a road runner is supposed to be good luck, and here were two of them running back and forth the path in front of me.

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It was getting close to time for me to head home. Joseph says that in the Tiwa language, the meaning of the word “home” is “the self-loving place.” How well are we loving ourselves – not selfishly, but selflessly, loving ourselves in a way that includes love for our human brothers and sisters, for our animal and bird brothers and sisters, for the stones who are our brothers and sisters, and for the Earth and Sky which are our parents? I can’t comprehend the current policies of the United States which seem more like the Divided States, that seems to value separation and division over unity, that seems to value conflict and threat over Peace, and that seems to value “alternative facts” over Truth. Joseph will often joke that people call him a shaman and he will say, “I don’t know about that, I just work here.” I guess that is the approach I am taking – I don’t understand why there is such an appeal in the United States for bullying, divisiveness, and conflict, but “I just work here,” and my job is to be seeking Peace & Truth. My job is to be speaking Peace & Truth. My job is to be walking Peace & Truth.

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