“Exploring integrative and holistic healing at all levels of being with Dr. David Kopacz” – on the Holistic Psychiatrist Podcast with Dr. Alice W. Lee!

Thanks to Dr. Alice W. Lee for interviewing me on the “Holistic Psychiatrist Podcast!”

Exploring integrative and holistic healing at all levels of being with Dr. David Kopacz, part I of III.

You can visit Dr. Lee’s website here, Alice is also a great photographer and shares some of her photographic work on the site as well.

In her newsletter announcing the podcast, Dr. Lee writes:

“Dr. Kopacz has written three deeply insightful books: Re-humanizing MedicineWalking the Medicine Wheel, and Becoming Medicine. Reading them is like swimming in a liquid pool of twinkling crystals, filled with light and beauty. I can’t read a page without highlighting a passage.”

Thank you Dr. Lee for these kind words and for featuring my words and work on your podcast! I look forward to part II & III.

The Art of Becoming Medicine.30

This is the final installment in the Art of Becoming Medicine. Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I have been featuring our artwork from our book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. These are the last two paintings in our book, and fittingly one is by me and one is by Joseph.

“Heart Radiation” is from a series in 2014 I did when we were working on our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD.

Heart Radiation, D. Kopacz (2014)

This painting is accompanying the text of the “Entering the Heart Ceremony” that we close the book with. This exercise, or ceremony, takes you through a series of doorways through your physical heart, the heart of humanity, the heart of life, the heart of creation, and finally into the heart of the Creator and the heart of the medicine wheel. At this point, the journey that we started in walking around the medicine wheel in our first book together is complete as we progress through initiations into being a shaman, a mystic, and a visionary and end in the center of the heart of the medicine wheel. We’ll offer this ceremony to you here:

Entering the Heart Ceremony

Find a quiet place where you will be able to sit for a while, either inside or outside. Find the center of the space where you will be sitting. Orient yourself to the North and take one step in that direction, honoring the place of innocence. Turn around, facing South, and step back into the Center of your medicine wheel, honoring the place of carrying. Take a step to the South, honoring the place of placement. Turn around, facing North and step back into the Center, again honoring the place of carrying. Turn to the East, and take one step forward, honoring the place of purity. Turn around, facing West, and step back into Center, honoring the place of carrying. Take one step to the West, honoring the place of awareness. Turn around and step back into Center, once again honoring the heart of carrying.
Now you will walk the medicine wheel. Face the East and take one step forward, intone the sound of the letter A_aaahhhhhhhhh, drawing out the sound as long as you can as you step around the perimeter of the circle to the South and then intone the sound of the letter E_eeehhhhhhhhh. Follow the wheel around to the West and intone the letter I_eeeeeeeee. Follow the wheel to the North and intone the sound of O_ooooooooo. Now step to the Center and intone the sound of the letter U_uuuuuuuuu.
Now you can sit comfortably in the center of the medicine wheel, this is the place of carrying and it is the heart of the medicine wheel. As Joseph reminds us, the microcosm is the macrocosm, thus this is the heart of the medicine wheel, it is your heart, it is the heart of the Earth, it is the heart of the Universe, and it is even the Heart of God—Wah Mah Chi—if you can walk deep enough into the heart.
We will now be going through a series of doorways. First we will enter your personal heart and trace the flow of blood through the medicine wheel of the heart. Venous blood, after giving its oxygen to the body, returns to the heart from the Northwest, the place of connecting spirit and body, entering into the right atrium. Next follow the flow of blood into your right ventricle in the Southwest, the place of the connecting body and emotion. From here the blood is pumped to the North, the place of Spirit and Innocence. Here the blood enters into the lungs and is transformed as the inner venous blood connects with the outer oxygen- rich environment coming into the lungs. The venous blood now turns from dark to bright red arterial blood as it carries more oxygen as the physical matter of the body creates a container in which the movement of the blood connects with the movement of the breath—thus we have Breath, Matter, Movement, thus we have Wah-Mah-Chi entering at this point. Next, follow the blood as it comes back into the heart from the Northeast, the place of connecting spirit and the mind, as it enters into the doorway of the left atrium. From here the blood travels to the Southeast, the place of connecting mind and emotion in the left ventricle. From here the arterial blood travels North, to the spirit again, and then travels throughout the body, revitalizing it and carrying the breath into matter through the movement of the blood.
The atria and ventricles of the heart are empty chambers that can fill with blood and then empty, a continual process of accepting what life has to give, allowing transformation, and then giving goodness away to the rest of the body. These empty chambers might remind you of the word that Abhishiktananda used—guhā: the cave of the heart. Now that you have circulated through your own personal heart, the time has come to enter into the center of your heart, for it is here that you will find the doorway into the deepest chambers of the cave of the heart, which we can also call the secret garden. Move into the center of the heart, this is the still point at the center of all the circulating movement of the burning fire of the blood. In this still center-point, look around for a doorway. It is dark here in the center of the heart, despite the burning of the blood, you can look with your eyes, but you need to see with your inner, non-ordinary vision. You must feel into it with your non-ordinary senses. Locate the doorway—it might be on the wall, or the ceiling, but it could possibly be on the floor as it leads deeper into the heart. Open the door of your heart and step through the threshold into this next larger space of your heart, feeling the opening of stillness and space within your center. You are now in the heart of humanity. Feel your way into this heart of humanity where your heart and the heart of humanity are one.
Once you have acclimated to the heart of humanity, begin looking for the next doorway that opens into an even deeper stillness of heart. Using your non-ordinary senses, locate the door, open it, and step through, entering into the heart of life. Open up into the heart of life where the heart of every living thing is one. Even things that don’t have an obvious heart like plants have their center here. Open up into this greater spaciousness, feeling more space open up within your heart and feeling a vastness that you are entering. Take some time getting comfortable in the heart of life.
Start to look around for the next doorway, looking all around with your non-ordinary vision. Find the door, open it, and step through into the heart of creation—this is the heart of every physical thing, all biological beings and rocks, water, soil, and even space. Feel this space open up within the center of your heart as you step forward into this vast space. Spend some time enjoying being one with creation.
There is still another doorway as you begin looking around again with your non-ordinary vision. In this realm, you get used to letting go of your identity—moving from the personal, to humanity, to life, to creation. Find the door, open it, and step through, entering into the Heart of God,
the Heart of Wah-Mah-Chi—the Heart of the Creator. Here you are One with everything, resting peacefully in the light of the Heart of the Creator. You have taken four steps through four caves of the heart. You have been practicing heart medicine as you have been circling deeper into the heart medicine wheel.
Now it is time to go into the heart of the heart medicine wheel, taking a step into the center of the heart of the heart medicine wheel. By now you should be used to using your non-ordinary vision to find the door, open it, and walk through, as you do so. You now are entering into what Joseph calls Vast Self. This is the place of non-duality. There is not even oneness, because it is before the counting even began. Feel the peace of Vast Self, the place before Creation, the place that watches Creation being created out of itself and yet remaining the same. Be still, be still . . . still . . .

The last painting by Joseph is “One Sun and Four Moons” from 2018. It also features black holes. Joseph has told me, in the past, that the black eyes of his spiritual figures in paintings are black holes.

One Sun and Four Moons, J. Rael (2018)

Although this is the ending of our The Art of Becoming Medicine series, working with Joseph is like always opening new doors. We are already nearing the end of a draft of our next book, Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons – a book for children of all ages, but particularly those in the transition from childhood into the teenage years. We have a rougher draft of a book for younger children called A Bowl Full of Ideas for Inventive Minds: Learning How to Count to Ten in Tiwa. We have also started the talking and idea stage of a book on Art Medicine, which will focus on Joseph’s visual art and the healing properties of artwork. There is always more to do with Joseph! The ending is just the beginning

The Art of Becoming Medicine.29

We are nearing the end of this series on the art from our book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. These next two art pieces are by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).

The first is “Rainbow Bird and Blue Star Woman,” a vibrant painting from 2009. Joseph’s Tiwa name, Tsluu-teh-koh-ay means Beautiful Painted Arrow, it can also mean Double Rainbow. At the lower left of the painting is “entrance to Oceanus’ cave.” Joseph often describes a vision he had of going to the bottom of the sea to meet Oceanus, the Lord of the Waters. This vision and Joseph’s relation to the ocean, even though he lives in the high desert, is important to him and he has advocated a ceremony on the 7th of each month for the purification of the oceans.

Rainbow Bird and Blue Star Woman, J. Rael (2009)

The next painting is another favorite of mine, “Up to 2000 Songs per Day of Bird Song Chiuu-Cho-Cha-Aah-Neh.” This section of the book these paintings are found in includes chapter 17 Returning to the Garden of Paradise and 18 Secret Journey to the Secret Garden.

Up to 2000 Songs per Day of Birdson, Chiuu-Cho-Cha-Aah-Neh, J. Rael (2005)

We are separated from the Garden by a paper thin space. It is a parallel reality. You are there without going there. We don’t have to walk there or even have to travel there. You travel with thought, not with physical energy and it pulls you there rather than you having to put effort on your part to get there. (Joseph Rael)

The Art of Becoming Medicine.28

We continue featuring the artwork from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. The next two art works are by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).

The first piece is “In the Currents of Time,” from 2005. We see a medicine wheel of the seasons moving sun-wise (clockwise) and two fish, one swimming upstream and one swimming downstream. Although time flows forward in ordinary reality, Joseph says that time can flow backward in non-ordinary reality. Everything is circular – if you don’t get something right the first time, you will circle back around to it and some point. Similarly, the past of the country and the past of the land continues to exert an influence.

In The Current of Time, J. Rael (2005)

The next piece is “Breath Matter Movement and Space Time,” from 2014. Breath Matter Movement is how Joseph translates the word for God in the Tiwa language, Wah-Mah-Chi.

Breath Matter Movement and Space Time, J. Rael (2014)

We only have four more art works to feature and we will bring this Art of Becoming Medicine series to a close.

Joseph and I have been working on our next book together. He wants it to be for 10-12 year olds and it will include Joseph’s life & lessons from when he was growing up and what he thinks kids today should learn. I think kids of all ages (meaning adults, too) would find this interesting because we are always learning and growing. We started out with a working title of Journey of the Holy Beings, then moved to A Bowl Full of Ideas for Inventive Minds (we might still keep that for a younger kids book), currently the working title is Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons.

We are starting to look for publishers – young adult books are a whole different category from our past work. Let us know if you have ideas for publishers! Maybe we will get the book out within 2021!

The Art of Becoming Medicine.27

These two pieces of art work by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) come from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, chapter 15, “Refounding.” The concept of refounding comes from Gerald Arbuckle’s work on how individuals periodically help guide institutions back to their founding values while updating the institution to the current situation.

“By refounding I mean the process of returning to the founding experience of an organization or group in order to rediscover and re-own the vision and driving energy of the pioneers. . . . To refound formation is to re-enter the sacred time of the founding of religious life itself. . . . This model of symbolic death and rebirth, which is made up of three stages – separation, transition/liminality and reaggregation – also has a powerful scriptural foundation,” (Gerald Arbuckle, From Chaos to Mission: Refounding Religious Life Formation, 3–5).

These two art pieces are from the section of the chapter entitled “Refounding Mothers of Democracy.” As I was reading background material for this chapter, I kept coming across the phrase, “founding fathers,” and I wondered why there was not more emphasis on founding and refounding Mothers of Democracy and so focused on several women artists and writers whose work has been to refound principles of democracy – musician Anoushka Shankar, writer Rebecca Solnit, and, then of course, the original founder of spiritual democracy, Mother Earth.

Anoushka Shankar wrote about her album, Land of Gold:

“Everyone is, in some way or another, searching for their own “Land of Gold”: a journey to a place of security, connectedness and tranquillity, which they can call home. This journey also represents the interior quest that we all take to find a sense of inner peace, truth and acceptance – a universal desire that unites humanity…Land of Gold is the culmination of my journey to the interior, channelling my distress at the situation in a constructive way, exploring the stories of the voiceless and dispossessed. I believe that art can make a difference – it connects us to our hearts, bringing us back to what really matters. Music has the power to speak to the soul,” (AnoushkaShankar.com).

Rebecca Solnit stands out to me in any of my thinking about the United States, as I felt reading her work, particularly A Field Guide to Becoming Lost, helped me reimagine the best of the United States and to re-become an American after living abroad in New Zealand. In Hope in the Dark, she wrote,

“To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on
the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom
and safety…We all have to place a bet, but we have no reassurance of
how it will turn out. Solnit writes that the “future is dark, with a darkness
as much of the womb as of the grave,” (Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 4, 6).

Solnit also writes about activism – not as something you do once to put things right, but more as a kind of recurrent ceremony that you do to try to correct the coarse of history that is always going off track. I have been thinking a lot about medical activism being a foundational aspect of medical professionalism and Solnit’s writing on activism has been a great influence on me.

“I use the term activist to mean a particular kind of engagement—and a specific politic: one that seeks to democratize the world, to share power, to protect difference and complexity, human and otherwise,” (Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 18).

“The question, then, is not so much how to create a world as how to keep alive that moment of creation, how to realize that Coyote world in which creation never ends and people participate in the power of being creators, a world whose hopefulness lies in its unfinishedness, its openness to improvisation and participation,” (Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 108).

Joseph’s first art work in this series is “Holy Woman” from 1995

“Holy Woman,” Joseph Rael (1995)

His next piece is “Mother Earth Dreaming All the Two Leggeds into Beauty,” from 2006.

“Mother Earth Dreaming all of the two Leggeds into Beauty,” Joseph Rael (2006)

Here is what Joseph wrote about our current time and Mother Earth:

“I believe that it is now time for the elders all over the world to talk to their people and instruct them. As elders we have more responsibility . . . a responsibility to talk about the sacredness of the Earth, and the sacredness of the people on the Earth. One of our journeys is to help the people as they walk on Mother Earth. Mother Earth is our land and she belongs to us because we are her children. She belongs to us and we belong to her. So we can take care of her the way she has been taking care of us,” (Joseph Rael, Sound, 256).

The Art of Becoming Medicine.26

The next two art pieces from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality are by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).

The first is “Rainbow Makers of the (tutah) Rainbow Light,” a colorful burst that reminds us that Beautiful Painted Arrow can also mean Double Rainbow.

“Peace Makers of the (tutah) Rainbow Light, J. Rael (2005)

The next piece is the second in a series, “Candle of the World #2 – People of the Sand Place – Stars Who Live in the Heavens – They Travel to Planet Earth.” This painting reminds us of the Picuris Elders telling young Joseph that there is an equivalency between the stars in the sky and the sand on the ground. There was a movement of peoples from the stars to the sands of Earth and the destiny of the people of Earth is to return to the stars.

Candle of the World #2, J. Rael (2019)

The Art of Becoming Medicine.25

The next two art works we are featuring from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality are by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).

The first work is “Rain Cloud and Oceanus.” Although Joseph grew up in the high desert of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, he has a special relationship with the oceans. One of his formative visions was of meeting Oceanus, the Lord of the Oceans. At the Sound Peace Chambers around the world, a fire ceremony is done on the 7th of each month for the purification of the oceans.

Rain Cloud and Oceanus, J. Rael (2006)

The next painting stands at the doorway of a very important chapter of the book, which we offer as a free pdf download – Chapter 14 Spiritual Democracy. I found this concept of Spiritual Democracy in Steven Herrmann’s book, Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward, and he had found it in the work of Walt Whitman. This concept resonated with me and for Joseph also. The painting below is an older one from 1997 that was called Earth Child, but Joseph added to the painting, making it “Earth Child of Spiritual Democracy.” I think of this fellow as the heart of our book, a seed to planted in the soil of the soul of the human being that blooms as spiritual democracy.

Earth Child of Spiritual Democracy, J. Rael (1997)

Here is what Joseph has to say about Spiritual Democracy:

“Religious liberty happens to every single human baby child when the human being swallows and drinks the milk from its mother’s breast at feeding time. Thus the American soul is in the making stage.


“What I am saying is we have to start at the foundation of what makes a human being to grow up in that religious liberty. That is the only way it is going to work if we are really going to follow the real way that we become individuals. If we don’t start at the beginning. . . .


“So I am telling you now as I am reading your paper that the idea of religious freedom was already being educated through the sound, and the being and vibration of every single swallow of swallowing-ness every time the baby was drinking its mother’s milk. This is my contribution to the idea of spiritual democracy and religious freedom,” (Joseph Rael, Becoming Medicine, 382).

The Art of Becoming Medicine.24

We continue on with the Art of Becoming Medicine, featuring the artwork from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality written by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and myself.

The first painting was a gift given to me when I was leaving New Zealand. There is a story of the cultural Māori hero, Maui, catching the sun and holding it close to the Earth to bring it out of darkness.

Here is the text from the back of the painting:

Dr. Dave’s moment of Satori at Takapuna Beach in the middle of the night. Ranginui the sky father is present giving you his blessings of a safe trip home. Papatuanuku the Earth goddess is praying to Ranginui hoping you will visit Aotearoa’s shores some time again in your future. Maui has caught the sun slowing down its course across the sky so there is enough daylight for life to be reborn again.

The next painting is one I did. It had the feeling of many little circles emanating outward from one large circle. I made a play on words with the motto of the USA, e pluribus unum – out of many, one. I thought of creation as having an emanation and then a re-absorption, like the in-breath and out-breath, diversity arising out of unity and then diversity returning to unity.

Out of One, Many, D. Kopacz

With the second painting from The Art of Becoming Medicine.23 (Drinking from the Flowering Light of Mother Nature), we have entered into the final section of the book, Part III Return, Chapter 12, “Returning to the Land.” Out of One, Many is from Chapter 14, “We Are All Pangeans – We Are All Related.”

“When anything is occurring, in any moment in time, it is occurring not only to the individual, but it is also occurring to that geography—to that physical geography. What is happening to me is also happening to this place, this continent, this Planet Earth, this galaxy. I am giving and I am receiving energy back from the Earth, and so are we all. We are receiving it, each according to what he needs, and translating the energies we are receiving according to what we think is happening right now.”

(Joseph Rael from Sound: Native Teachings & Visionary Art – quoted in Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, page 339)

Words Create Worlds.7 – The Cure: Spiritual Humanity

These essays have been a warning about how Words Create Worlds and the dangerous words that create fascism. If words create worlds, then we have the power to create and the responsibility for creation. There are spiritual traditions in which the world is created anew – every moment, every day, every season, every year. Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) teaches from such a tradition. Na-yo ti-ay we-ah, “I do not exist,” “we do not exist.” To me these words of Joseph’s tell us that we do not exist when we strive to persist as fixed, permanent objects, rather, we do exist when we are flowing and changing within an infinite field of interconnected relationship. We flash into and out of existence, like Joseph’s concept of being & vibration, or the Hindu concept of spanda, the divine creative pulsation. We are ancient, but we are not a thing of the past. We are eternal, but we are always becoming. We always in a state of becoming: becoming human, becoming medicine, becoming spiritual humanity.

Choice

We have choice in every moment, in the words we use to describe ourselves and our world. Like Adam in the Garden, we are continually naming our reality and using our words to create our worlds. If Rebecca Solnit tells us that “one of the crises of this moment is linguistic,”[1] then the cure is also linguistic as well. Solnit tells us she thinks “of the act of naming as diagnosis,” and “sometimes what’s diagnosed can be cured.”[2] Diagnosis reminds us of the need for Doctors Against Fascism – but we cannot only be against something, we also need to be for something. This is when we use our words to reach deep for goodness, to use words of unity, and to speak of spiritual humanity. This essay will introduce a number of words, different ways of describing alternative word choices to fascist words – words that remind us that we are both matter and spirit, we are both body and soul, we are both shadow and light.

Photo by David Kopacz (2020)

New Dogmatisms

One more caution. We must take care that we do not create new dogmatisms in trying to fight against fascism. Our minds must be dynamic, as must our hearts. Think about the heart – four chambers, multiple valves – it keeps us alive through continual motion and adjustment. So too, our spiritual heart – it is always in a state of interrelationship, it is always balancing and adjusting.

Be Careful in Fighting Monsters, Lest Ye Become One

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” (Nietzsche).[3]

Nietzsche cautioned us – when you fight something you can end up becoming that very thing which you fight. He goes on to say that when you gaze into the darkness of the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. In your fight, in your resistance, you need to continually be reconnecting to your spiritual humanity, to your inner gentle nature.

Iwauzan Azuyeya

Ceremonial Elder of the Veterans Sweat Lodge, Mike Lee, of the Blackfeet People, teaches that we are inherently gentle human beings. When we fight with others we can develop iwauzan azuyeya, “sickness as a result of being in battle with people.”[4] We are not meant to fight, we are not meant to be at war, but it is part of what occurs, as we live our lives. While Mike works with veterans and is speaking of physical battle, during these times we are in battle throughout the day. Whenever we forget our gentle nature, our original instructions, whenever we forget our spiritual humanity, we become sick with iwauzan azuyeya. We become sick through being materialists, because spiritual humanity means that we always are embodying spirit in matter, we are always materializing spirit and spiritualizing matter. Henry Corbin learned there is a word for the place that this occurs which comes from esoteric Islam, ‘ālam al-mithāl.

The Held-back Place of Goodness

In our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, Joseph Rael taught me that there is a held-back place of goodness in our hearts. No matter what we do, no matter what is done to us, God keeps a held-back place of goodness in our hearts. That means that we can never be wholly bad, we are never a lost cause. No matter how far off track we go, there is a source of goodness within the depths of our heart. The Hindus have a word for this place of divinity within the heart, gūha – the cave of the heart. The way that we re-humanize and re-spiritualize ourselves is through the quest to rediscover and reconnect to our divine humanity, our spiritual humanity – the held-back place of goodness within the human heart.

Heart Meditation, David Kopacz (2014)

Refounding & Refinding

Father Gerald Arbuckle, anthropologist and Marist priest, has taught me about the principle of refounding – returning, recapturing, and re-enlivening the original vision, the original instructions of an institution or organization. Refounding is a dynamic process, it is never completed once and for all. Fundamentalisms, of various forms, teach that the future is fixed by a law from the past. Fundamentalism is a distorted form of refounding. Refounding requires recognizing that the words we are using in the present are no longer living. Then there is a movement, a return, back to the past to find once again the Living Word. Fundamentalism gets stuck at this point, concretizing and solidifying the word into a rigid dogma that is used as a stick to beat people with, to divide rather than to heal and unite. Refounding has a next step, the Living Word is brought back and spoken in the present. The vision or transmission that occurred in the past now happens in the present – the Dove of the Holy Spirit is not kept in a cage, but is released like a tongue of fire to dance in the present moment, investing it with sacredness and divinity. While Gerald Arbuckle speaks of organizations needing to be re-invigorated by a refounding person, perhaps when speaking of the individual we can call this refinding – refinding the held-back place of goodness within the gūha, the cave of our heart, the place of the ‘ālam al-mithāl, the place where we are continually refinding our spiritual humanity.

Eagle – Copalis Beach, WA, David Kopacz (2018)

Rehumanize Your Self

The band, The Police, have a song called “Rehumanize Yourself” on their 1981 album Ghost in the Machine. The song is about fascism and the need to counter it by rehumanizing yourself. In 2014 I published a book called, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. I felt that in the process of learning the words of medicine, which focus so much on pathology, I was becoming dehumanized, I was losing my soul, my sense of spiritual humanity. I developed the idea of a counter-curriculum – a curriculum of Continuing Human Education that was as necessary as our technical Continuing Medical Education. At the end of the book, I came to the conclusion that anything that separates, divides, or disconnects – takes away our humanity. To be human is to be connected (both inner & outer). I learned the word antakolouthia – that every virtue requires others to complete it. In a way, that is what this essay is about – learning a vocabulary of virtues.

Re-Spiritualize Your Self

The conclusion I came to in Re-humanizing Medicine, was that we could not appeal to concrete things like numbers and studies and objective reasons why we should strive to re-humanize ourselves. I have felt there is a need for a second book after Re-humanizing MedicineRe-spiritualizing Medicine. Medicine was once a physical practice grounded in the spiritual. When we practice only the medicine of matter, we are practicing dehumanized medicine, because human beings are more than just matter. I would say that we would be practicing veterinary medicine, but even most veterinarians treat their patients with humanity. The justification for becoming human comes from elsewhere, like Havel said of hope, it comes from beyond. The “thing” that makes us most human is not a thing. Maybe this is why Joseph Rael teaches that we do not exist – we are not things, we are processes of becoming medicine.

Becoming Medicine

In our most recent book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, Joseph Rael and I introduce a lot of different words and stories. The purpose is to understand the process of initiation, which is a process of transformation. We can work at becoming visionaries, becoming mystics, becoming shamans, but what we were really getting at was that we should be working at becoming True Humans. To be a True Human is not to exist in a dogmatic fundamentalism, but to be continually refounding and refinding our gentle human nature, releasing the held-back place of goodness into the world. To return to who we are and to release it into the world is both heroic and healing.

Heroism & Healing

Heroism and healing are two virtues of the True Human Being. Yet, when you think about it, heroism is only needed when there is darkness and healing is only needed when there is wounding. These two virtues are only needed when we are wounded in the dark. We find ourselves in such a place, now, where the untrue words of fascism are darkening the world and wounding us.

Gannet, Muriwai Beach, New Zealand, David Kopacz

The Sacred Hoop is Broken

In Black Elk’s vision, the tree at the center of the Earth was sick and dying and the sacred hoop of the medicine wheel was broken. Joseph Rael often reminds me, we are all working on repairing the medicine wheel – it has been broken. He doesn’t tell me why it is broken, but it seems obvious: genocide, theft, greed, environmental degradation, selfishness, dehumanization, and now we can add fascism as well. Joseph tells me that in his visions he sees the ancestors repairing the medicine wheel. We can help in this work – by choosing our words carefully, by choosing words of heroism and healing, by choosing words of becoming medicine, by refinding our spiritual humanity and becoming True Human Beings. We can repair the sacred hoop and the good red road. We can assist humanity’s ancestor, Black Elk, in repairing the sacred hoop and tending to the tree at the center of Mother Earth until she blooms again.

Spiritual Democracy

Another word I learned in writing Becoming Medicine was spiritual democracy. I learned this word from Steven Herrmann who learned it from Walt Whitman. Joseph uses this word, too. Joseph was taught that there is a world above this world, a spirit world, and that what exists here has its counter-part there. I always think of the idea of archetypes when he talks about this, a set of ideal forms that gives rise to particulars here on Earth. I think of this as a place of goodness from which we can always draw strength. There are the various national democracies in the world, but there is also a spiritual democracy, an idea of democracy that we are all striving for. Sometimes we are struggling toward this idea, this ideal in the dark, and other times it is illuminating the way for us. Spiritual Democracy is an idea that reminds us of our spiritual humanity and it is also a place that we reach when we are refinding our spiritual humanity. Spiritual humanity is both a path and a destination. Is it a destination, though? Perhaps spiritual democracy is more like a mirage that draws us into the uncertainty of the future, or maybe spiritual democracy is like the torch of Lady Liberty, illuminating darkness. When the torch goes out, how can you re-ignite it? By speaking words of spiritual humanity – the fire that dwells in the cave of your heart.

Earth Child of Spiritual Democracy, Joseph Rael

Spiritual Humanity

To be a True Human we must be continually on the path, on the good red road. It is a path of continuous epiphany and theophany. Joseph Rael teaches that we should strive to be hollow bones – not identifying as solid matter, but matter as a vehicle for spirit to flow through. That is how a shaman heals, not be being important, but by being nothing – a space which the divine can flow through. Oddly enough, we are most spiritual when our humanity is in service of the divine, which is also the service of others. We are most human when caring for human being – and that means caring for self and others.

Nobility of Spirit

Rob Riemen’s To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism was one of the inspirations for the words that I have been writing. It makes sense to pair fascism and humanism and to see a choice between them, as fascism could be said to be dehumanism. A good book is a doorway into other books, and so it was with To Fight Against This Age, it led me to Riemen’s earlier book, Nobility of Spirit. Here he speaks of the German word, bildung, which translates as education and self-cultivation. This word gets at the idea of spiritual humanity as a responsibility to cultivate our nature. Cultivation has no end and is continual adaptation as seasons change. To cultivate means to combine care and labor. Joseph Rael teaches us that “work is worship,” the work of humanity is spiritual. The Proto-IndoEuropean root of cultivate is *kwel, which means to revolve, move around. This reminds us of the medicine wheel, of the sacred hoop, of the refounding and refinding of our spiritual humanity.

Call Them By Their True Names

Another inspiration for these words I am writing comes from Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them By Their True Names. This book is where she writes that one of the crises we are facing is linguistic. In this 2018 book, she argues that we should call the president’s words by their true name and we call these words fascist. Solnit tells us that naming is like diagnosis. We can also say that naming is like the cure as well. In magic, such as in Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea books, to know someone’s true name gives power over them. Words are power, words can be disease, words can be healing, words are creative, words create worlds. This phrase comes from Rabbi Heschel and he cautions about the little words that led to big words and to the terrible word, Holocaust. Holocaust comes from the Latin holocaustum, and the Greek holokauston, and was originally a sacred offering of a thing burnt whole. Our words are sacred offerings, they come from the fire of our hearts or the divine dancing doves of flame of the Holy Spirit. Our original instructions for using our words was to focus on the whole, not to divide, to subdivide, to disconnect. To speak words of spiritual humanity is to bring together and heal. We are not meant to burn others, although many traditions teach that we are to burn ourselves, that we our bildung requires that we bake and burn, becoming hollow bones through which spirit can flow.

The whole of my life
is summed up in these three phrases:
I used to be raw
Then I was cooked
Now,
I am on fire.

(Rumi)[5]

To revivify, to cultivate our spiritual humanity, the matter of our bodies must be continually composting to become fertile ground for the seed of the spirit to sprout and take root. As Nietzsche said, humanity is something that is to be overcome.[6]

A Vocabulary of Virtues

Rumi tells us to die before you die.[7] Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[8] A Vocabulary of Virtues could be a Rumi poem that lists the many virtues – perhaps both the absurd and the profound. I imagine the end of this poem would say, “And of all the virtues, there is one word that contains them all, that word, and as always, is Love.”


[1] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names, 4.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, transl Walter Kaufman, 89.

[4] Mike Lee in Kopacz & Rael, Walking the Medicine Wheel, 56.

[5] Rumi in Omid Safi, Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition, xxx.

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche in The Portable Nietzsche, transl Walter Kaufman, 124.

[7] Rumi “Die Before You Die,” in The Soul of Rumi, transl Coleman Barks, 168.

[8] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

The Art of Becoming Medicine.23

Two more beautiful paintings by Joseph Rael from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.

The first is Grandfather God Creates All the Universes. Joseph started sending me paintings that he would ask me to do some finishing work on, such as adding a few words, painting in a detail here and there. This piece Joseph sent me with just the outlines and no paint, so I painted in all the color on this one. I was not sure if I should follow his style, with lots of negative space, or to go with my intution of having space of absolute blackness and then also blackness of space with stars. I decided to follow my intuition and not over think it. This piece is thus a hybrid of Joseph’s inspiration and my finishing with the pain. I look at this as Joseph is the Artist and I was the craftsman on this one.

Grandfather God Creates All of the Universe, Joseph Rael (2017)

This next painting is a beautiful one! I recently had a dream that the hummingbird who has a nest outside our bedroom window landed on my shoulder twice and seemed to be thanking me for all the salvia we have planted.

The most recent time I spoke with Joseph, he told me about how he had noticed one time that a Hummingbird kept flying up near me as we were talking and he said, “The Hummingbird initiated you into the Sun Dance.” Then he reminded me of the good luck sign of the road runner coming up on to the fence while I was visiting his home. He told me, “You saw the road runner, then a little while later, I saw a bunch of little ones, scrambling around. You have to look at what came out of that initiation for you. I haven’t told you this yet – the best, best, best thing is that I was getting out of the car at the credit union and a road runner almost went right under my fett. It kept going and then it flew to the top of the bank and quick grabbed a bug. I looked up and said, ‘Hey, you did this wrong – you are supposed to run along the road, you don’t fly on to the top of a bank!‘”

I told Joseph about my hummingbird dream and he said, “If you see life this way, you’ll have a heck of a lot of fun!

Drinking from the Flowering Light of Mother Nature, J. Rael (2005)