Overview, Part II of Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, by David R. Kopacz, MD & Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).
After seeking comes finding & receiving, but this gift transforms us in ways we could not imagine. The old falls away in what can be a painful birthing process as we are born into a new state of being – this is the initiation process.
Table of Contents for Part II:
Part II: Initiation (Finding/Receiving)
- 7 / Story Medicine
- 8 / Entering the Doorway
- 9 / Guhā: Cave of the Heart
- 10 / Enlightenment & Endarkenment
- 11 / Initiation
- 0 / Na-yo ti-ay we-ah (We Do Not Exist)
Transformation is difficult to put into words and that is why stories are so often used to capture that which cannot be explained and yet somehow it can and must be told. We begin the second part of Becoming Medicine by telling various stories from various parts of the world. As Joseph and I write,
“There is a growing field of medicine which is not new, but is rather the rediscovering and remembering of how speaking words and listening to stories can be transformational for the individual and society,” (175).
The stories we tell each other and that we tell ourselves have real effects. Stories are where our imaginations are activated where we can contextualize suffering and learn hope and healing. As Lewis Mehl-Madrona (who incidentally wrote a wonderful foreword to the book) has written,
“I saw that we create our own world . . . if we refuse to believe in healing, healing does not exist. If we sing and dance only of molecules and drugs, then molecules and drugs determine our fate and drugs will be our only hope. What we believe in is what comes true. . . . What we sing and dance is what will be,” (Coyote Medicine, 111).
We can look at the creation stories of the world as metaphorical descriptions of becoming initiated into being fully human.
Entering the Doorway
To get from here to there, we need to find some entrance, some passageway. There are many different paths, but they only appear with seeking. A person can be a doorway, a book can be a doorway, even the solid walls of a solitary cave can become a doorway.
“When I first met Joseph Rael and thought about our writing a book together, the thought came to me: ‘We are doorways for each other.’ It was not a conscious, logical decision, more an instantaneous intuition that holds many levels of meaning. For me, Joseph is a doorway into a deeper spirituality. . . . I am able to bring elements of spirituality into our book that would be difficult to do as a psychiatrist trying to maintain a balance on the edge of medicine and healing,” (194).
When the Knights of the Round Table were setting off in search of the grail
“They thought it would be a disgrace to go forth as a group. Each entered the forest at a point that he himself had chosen, Where it was darkest and there was no path. Where there’s a way or path, It is someone else’s path; each human being is a unique phenomenon” (Joseph Campbell, in Phil Cousineau, ed., The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, viii).
Guhā: Cave of the Heart
As I was following leads and threads that sometimes disappeared into mist, or sometimes became tangled knots that seemed to lead nowhere, I came across the Sanskrit word, guhā, which can be translated as “the cave of the heart.” I stumbled upon a thread of Christian-Hindu mysticism through the writings of Wayne Teasdale, Bede Griffiths, and Abhishiktananda. All three wrote about the cave of the heart and of finding the Divine within the darkness of one’s own heart. As I thought about the heart, I realized that our physical heart, as all of our inner organs, are immersed in the darkness of the inner body. While we often think of the heart, metaphorically, as a place of light and love, it is physically and literally in the dark. One of the aspects of initiation is being able to see the light within the darkness deep within the heart. The depths of the heart also are the place where our identity shifts from individual to universal, as Wayne Teasdale wrote, “the deepest center of ourselves is one with the deepest center of the universe,” (The Mystic Heart, 53).
Joseph Rael frequently will say, “We are the microcosm of the macrocosm,” and I have always struggled to understand how the personal becomes the universal. In many ways this is the more amazing thing to me. I have come to terms with the fact that there is light in the darkness, but how incredible it is that when we go into our deepest heart center we reach the Divine and a state of non-duality/unity with all things!
In this chapter we look at various holy people who went into the darkness of caves in order to see the light: Abhishiktananda, Ramana Maharshi, Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, and Saint John of the Cross who went into the metaphorical cave of the “dark night of the soul.” In Pueblo tradition, initiates would go into the darkness of the kiva and Joseph had those experiences as he was growing up. There is also the ceremony of the sweat lodge which is done in darkness.
Joseph Rael teaches that the center of the medicine wheel is the heart and that the heart is a “medicine bag” which is an empty, dark pouch, which carries “sacred objects.” With the guhā we add the cave of the heart. Joseph told me about the meaning of the word “cave.”
“Nah au kwee leh neh is the Tiwa word for cave. Nah means ‘self.’ Au kwee – means ‘curved.’ Leh neh means ‘straight like a fence.’ Nah means that when we enter a cave, we are entering into ourselves and we should think of the cave as our self. We should expect that when we first enter the cave it will turn every which way and it can get confusing, but eventually it will straighten out and you will then find what you are seeking,” (210).
Enlightenment & Endarkenment
In this chapter we look at different traditions relationships to wisdom found in the light and wisdom found in the dark. Perhaps enlightenment is the transformational realization that light is found even in the dark. Joseph is always talking about what he learns about physics and astronomy and how that fits with the traditions he comes from and from his visionary experiences. We also look at dark matter and dark energy in this chapter and draw on the work of physicists like David Bohm and Stephon Alexander. Alexander wrote The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe and this leads to a nice riff on physics, metaphysics and jazz and we blend in a bit about John and Alice Coltrane. From everything I have learned from Joseph and everything I have read, at the core of enlightenment is non-duality, coming into unity with all beings and creation.
Initiation represents one of the most significant spiritual phenomena in the history of humanity. It is an act that involves not only the religious life of the individual . . . it involves his entire life. It is through initiation that . . . man becomes what he is and what he should be – a being open to the life of the spirit, hence one who participates in the culture into which he was born,” (Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, 27).
The entire book, really, is about initiation. In this chapter we look at the role of ceremony in initiation, as a way of connecting two different elements or realities into one wholeness. We review the concept of liminality (the space between two states of being) and liminal beings (those like mystics, visionaries, and shamans who become at home in these in-between states and serve as guides for those being initiated).
As I worked with Joseph, I began to realize that the whole process of writing the book was an initiation.
“Writing this book is part of my initiation with Joseph. Initiation is a new state of being and a new sense of one’s interrelationship and nonduality. Initiation is to realize that each of us is “the light of the Ancient Ones shining forth into the present.” Initiation is entering into a living spirituality where there is no separation between mind and body or between spirit and matter. Initiation is not something you do once and are done with; rather it is an understanding that “we do not exist” and yet we are perpetually coming into being and being reborn every moment.”
Na-yo ti-ay we-ah (We Do Not Exist)
This is an often repeated saying of Joseph’s. In this chapter I look at it in context with concepts from Buddhism and Hinduism on the nature of reality being maya, illusion. I open the chapter with a discussion with Joseph on the word “zero” and this phrase “we do not exist.” Joseph became energized and did some heartfelt explanation, at some point saying, “There’s something going on here that I’m not even going to try to explain,” (309). While he kept on talking with only a brief pause, I am going to stop with that statement!
Next week I will publish Part III of this overview of Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.
Your article brought to mind so many times in my life where I was able to transform through the darkness into something else, like being a psychiatrist, then an integrative psychiatrist, and then into a healer. Each part of my journey had an initiation period through which I had to pass in order to become the type of healer I am today. Thanks for writing about the darkness and the light that can come from it. I agree with you wholeheartedly (no pun intended).