I have been working on this concept of Circle Medicine since I had the realization that a number of different holistic models I was working with all included circles: the Hero’s Journey, the Medicine Wheel, the Circle of Re-humanizing Medicine, the Circle of Health, and Circle Medicine: the circle of circles.
In our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into A Living Spirituality, we have a table comparing Circle Medicine with Linear Medicine. Linear medicine is the predominant, biomedical approach in contemporary medical practice, however it misses crucial aspects of human being that are only found in holistic, circular models of medicine.
August 9th is National Book Lovers Day in the United States. I’ve been wanting to write a piece on books – specifically buying too many books, but then I came across an idea that maybe too many is nottoo many. Here are some ideas to make you feel better about having stacks of unread or partially read books – or maybe it will just be an excuse to buy more books!
“Eco’s library wasn’t voluminous because he had read so much; it was voluminous because he desired to read so much more.”
This idea of the benefit of the “anti-library” and unread books shows us something about the benefit not of knowing, but of wanting to know. A small, tidy library may be a sign of an ordered mind and tidy life, or it may be a sign of a lack of curiosity about the world and the world of ideas. Dickinson quotes Taleb:
“Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. [Your] library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”
Dickinson quotes Taleb, “We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended.” And further, “It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations.” Dickinson cites Jessica Stillman’s concept of “intellectual humility,” as focusing on how much we do not know, instead of how much we do know.
Dickinson then writes about the Japanese word and concept, tsundoku, referring to stacks of unread books. He says its etymology comes from “tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho(reading books).”
Dickinson’s article, “The value of owning more books than you can read,” is a good read with a number of interesting ideas around the value of books beyond knowing the actual knowledge found in the books. I have not summarized the whole article, I’ll leave you to it if you are interested, or perhaps you would rather just go out and buy Taleb’s book and maybe read it or maybe not!
I thought today, National Book Lovers Day was a good day to write about this thought-provoking concept of the anti-library of unread books which teaches us about the value of having things we have not mastered, always having the next book (or three, or forty) you want to read, and it says something about the value of focusing on what you desire more than on what you have acquired.
Oh, and one last thing, I must have done this subconsciously, but I just realized I’m wearing the appropriate shirt today for National Book Lovers Day!
30 years ago, July 1989, I bought a Greyhound bus ticket and a backpack and rode 50 hours Chicago to Seattle. I was going to be starting medical school at the end of the summer. I felt a need to make some kind of quest, some kind of initiation into becoming a healer. I needed to get myself into a certain state of mind and a certain state of being in order to start medical school.
The trip was formative in many ways. Looking back it does feel like where I became an adult, a man, and a medical student. I met people from all across the United States and from all over the world as they traveled. I stayed with friends and family for a bit in Seattle and Port Townsend, then I set off for a 2 week solo backpacking trip in the Olympic National Park. I spent days without encountering another human being, but I had many companions along – my portable library.
I faced my racing thoughts, which for the first few days went berserk without having anything more to focus on than when to walk and when to rest. I faced my fears of death sleeping alone in the woods with no one around for miles. I put in at Sol Duc Falls, hiked up to Mink Lake and then up to the ridge that led to Hyak and the North Fork of the Bogachiel River. I remember waking up one morning and hearing what sounded like a Native American funeral procession by the Bogachiel River, when I was staying at the Flapjack campsite. I left the national park and hiked to Undie Road. After the beauty of the National Park, I then walked through the World War I trench war aftermath landscape of newly clear cut National Forest. I then hot-footed it up 101 while logging trucks raced alongside me. I reached Forks, but had blisters from walking quickly on the roadside. I limped along 110 as best I could toward the coast, where I was planning to spend a few days. The agony was too much with each step, so I reluctantly stuck out my thumb to hitchhike, because I knew I was not going to make it. The second or third car pulled over and I got in with an old fellow who said, “I’m not really doing anything, if I can help someone else out, I consider it a good day.” He told me how he had lived there his whole life and had helped to build the bridge over the river as he drove me to Rialto Beach. I then spent a few nights on the coast after limping up through the sand to a camp site.
My wife and I almost moved back from Seattle to the Midwest this past year. We where pretty far along in the process when we hit some snags and it fell through. We re-oriented and decided that we’ll stay in Seattle for the foreseeable future. I had blocked out a week of my clinic schedule which was going to be my last week at work and then I was going to drive our second car across the country. I kept the time off and wasn’t sure what I was going to do, until I realized it was the 30 year anniversary of my trip in the Olympics. Then I realized it was 30 years to the month and I knew I had to go and retrace my steps and go on a bit of a retreat, a re-treat, covering again some of the same ground. So I loaded up the car, brought along Henry Corbin, our fun-loving papillon and we set off to retrace our steps.
I rented a cabin and it turned out to be on the Sol Duc River, just as I had started 30 years ago at Sol Duc.
Since I had Corbin along, we couldn’t go into the National Park, except for some of the coastal beaches. We went to Bogachiel State Park, so that we could put our feet in both the Sol Duc at our cabin and in the Bogachiel River.
We spent some time out on the coast at Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach and Beach #3.
Then we took a hike up toward Mt Muller in the Olympic National Forest.
Then we drove up north, through the Makah Reservation, up to Cape Flattery, the Northwesternmost point of the continental United States.
I feel I should share some sort of insight or conclusion from this trip – I felt some pressure initially to do so, but once I realized that I was ending up at Sol Duc and Bogachiel, and that there seemed to be a hidden coherence in the trip, I decided to just see what happened. At one point I remember what I told my friends after the first trip, 30 years ago: I had reached a deeper and more meaningful level of confusion!
I did write something that seemed to summarize the trip:
Looking back, I realize now that I live in the place that was the place of my adventure 30 years ago – in other words, I am living my adventure. Who I am now and the amazing things and fascinating things I am doing in my life and work are just what I would have dreamed of for my future life, even more so!