Happy National Book Lovers Day!

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 not too 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!

My home office desk

A 2018 article in Big Think entitled, “The value of owning more books than you can read,” by Kevin Dickinson, has some interesting ideas around unread books. Dickinson summarizes a view by statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, of unread books as an “antilibrary.” Taleb wrote about the anti-library in his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Taleb discusses author Umberto Eco’s library of over 30,000 books. Dickinson writes,

“Eco’s library wasn’t voluminous because he had read so much; it was voluminous because he desired to read so much more.”

One of my bookshelves in my office

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.”

Another book shelf, with my assistant, Corbin, finishing a snack

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.

My other assistant, Sofia

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!

My writing desk and another book shelf

 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!

The Circle of Re-humanizing Medicine – new guest post at CLOSLER

Thanks again to the folks at CLOSLER for the next in a series of guest post on various forms of Circle Medicine & Circle Healing. This week’s post is titled, “The Circle of Re-humanizing Medicine.”

Here is the Takeaway summary:

We need human-based medicine in conjunction with evidence-based medicine. If we only identify as scientists and not as healers, we risk dehumanizing our patients and ourselves.

They also included the Circle of Caring for Self & Others that my sister, Karen Kopacz, designed for use with the workbook of that same name that I have been developing with Laura Merritt. It is based on my 2014 book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine.

Caring for Self & Other Circle

Next week is the last in my series of guest posts at CLOSLER, please check it out. It is on the VA Circle of Health, another holistic model of Circle Medicine.

A Full Circle Re-Treat

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.

David Kopacz after backpacking up ridge, south of Mink Lake, in Olympic National Park, 1989

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.

Dave & Corbin at the ferry

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.

Camp at Sol Duc River

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.

Tree near Sol Duc 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!

CIRCLE MEDICINE: A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HEALTH FOR CLINICIANS AND PATIENTS

New Zealand Landscape, 2, David Kopacz, 2011, featured in the article

It can be helpful to see the circle path of the hero’s journey as the healer’s journey, the path that we take through our lifelong medical education. For the true healer, this is not a journey we make just once, but periodically we embark on exploring new depths of the suffering of the world, reaching deep into ourselves to find new resources for healing to bring into our work and world.

Thanks to the team at CLOSLER from Johns Hopkins for publishing the first of a series of my posts on Circle Medicine! Here is a link to the full article.

Burnout as part of the healer’s journey: I have been thinking of burnout in this way. Maybe burnout is a necessary step for us to grow as healers. There are intrinsic elements in our work that change us, working with illness and death. When we get “infected” by our work, we incubate until we can find a cure and healing path. There are also extrinsic elements of burnout, such as institutional pathologies and frameworks. In modern times, healing has been regulated and institutionalized, and institutional economic and organizational demands are sometimes at odds with the demands of healing. We must continually work to reconcile the essence of our work as healers with the daily reality of the institution.”

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Memorial Day Wishes of Peace for those on all sides of the Vietnam War – Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình

On Memorial Day we remember those whom we have lost. Official reports of loss of US soldiers in the Vietnam War is 58,000+. A 2008 British Medical Journal study estimates 3.8 million total deaths during the Vietnam War (called the Resistance War Against America in Vietnam). The suffering of war continues long after the war ends with PTSD, Moral Injury, Agent Orange exposure, and even suicide. Controversy exists over the number of US Vietnam veterans who have committed suicide since returning home, with estimates from 9,000 (in a 1990 study) to over 50,000 reported in various places. As a psychiatrist who works daily with veterans, I see the long-lasting after effects of war. Brain science has been pushing back the age of full development for the human brain, with 25 years of age being considered brain maturity. Wars typically are fought by the young and after every war we have a generation of veterans whose developing brains have been shaped by war and the imprint of death. The casualties of war are the walking wounded as well as the deceased, and many of the wounds are not visible.

I just received a box of books from Vietnam, the Vietnamese translation of Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình). It is really amazing to hold these books from Vietnam in my hands and compare them side by side. I work with so many veterans at the VA who served in Vietnam and to have the words of peace that Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I have put together into this book translated into Vietnamese feels very important.

The work of peace is a continual work, like tending a garden. To receive a box of books from Vietnam about bringing peace to veterans is like getting a big packet of seeds to replant what has been injured by war. For Joseph, language is very important, not just in conveying meaning, but in creating spiritual realities. To have the healing properties of the medicine wheel translated into Vietnamese brings our two lands and peoples closer together in peace. Translators Huỳnh ngọc trụ & Lê Thục Uyên Phương have worked to bring American English and Vietnamese into resonance with each other. In his book, House of Shattering Light, Joseph wrote about how the war gods were first created out of the fear that people had, but that later they came home to peace and became peace gods. In Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, the title of chapter 14 is “Return to the Held-back Place of Goodness, which translates into Vietnamese as, “Trở Về Nơi Tốt Lành,” Return to Good Place.” Peace is this Good Place and Joseph tells us that we all have it within our hearts, we can forget about it, we can loose touch with it, but is always there. Our jobs as healers – both those working as healers for others, and those of us who are seeking to heal ourselves – is to find our way back home to this place of goodness, this place of peace. We are all wounded in one way or another, and yet we all have a source of goodness and healing within us – we are the medicine that we are seeking!

Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD – published in Vietnam!

Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, which Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I wrote in 2016 has been translated into Vietnamese – Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình. This is important for healing the wounds of war and helping former enemies become brothers & sisters.

Zakir Hussain at the Moore Theatre, Seattle, 4/2/19

Zakir Hussain & Niladri Kumar with the image of Ustad Allarakha as a perpetual presence.

The Masters of Percussion 2019 – The Ustad Allarakha Centenary Tour came through Seattle this past week. The tour celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ustad Allarakha, Zakir Hussain’s father and internationally-renowned tabla player in his own right. Ustad Allarakha influenced Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead and had collaborated with Ravi Shankar and made an album in 1968 with jazz drummer Buddy Rich, Rich à la Rakha. Zakir Hussain, played with Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, as well as with Bill Laswell’s Tabla Beat Science. (Which was, incidentally, the first Bill Laswell album I ever heard, sitting in a cafe in Minneapolis).

The show started with Niladri Kumar on sitar, joined by Zakir Hussain, then added Eric Harland on a full drum kit, and the four piece Drummers of Kerala. It was a great show, filled with lots of beats. The musicians all were smiling and having fun and challenging and riffing off each other.

Zakir Hussain ended the show saying, “Rhythm is a unified concept, it is one language.”

Words Create Worlds – new essay in The Badger

“Words Create Worlds,” my new piece in The Badger, Year 5, Volume 1, is available now through the link, page 47. The title is taken from a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world.  He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.  Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child.  They must be used very carefully.  Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn.  The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[1]

Heschel points to the power of words to create good or evil in the world. My article is a meditation following the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand and the increasingly disturbing words of separation and “othering.” I have a special connection with Christchurch, having lived in New Zealand for 3.5 years and having visited Christchurch a few days prior to the second devastating earthquake in 2011. These words that separate us from each other are earthquakes and weapons, in and of themselves, and these words pave the way for future violent actions. You can read the full article in The Badger through this link (scroll to page 47)

In writing Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), I have felt obligated to write about “spiritual democracy” and the responsibility to act in ways that increase, rather than decrease, our inter-relatedness and oneness. A living spirituality is a call to action. Joseph Rael has been working for world peace for decades now, and working with him, I have taken on this responsibility as well. I plan to write more on the power of words, the ways that they can divide or unite us, and the disturbing trends towards fundamentalism and fascism in our world today. Here is the last paragraph from my essay in The Badger:

Over the next year, I would like to write about some of these topics of how our “words create worlds.” In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[2]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog, https://lifebetweenthetrees.com/2012/08/06/words-create-worlds-monday-morning-parable/.

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

Red Begonias, Christchurch Botanical Gardens, 2011

Amazon Review of Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity

I recently wrote a short Amazon review for Peter Kingsley’s Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity. I have been working on a longer review, but I’ll post this for now. This book is a great tapestry of wisdom, weaving together the work of Peter Kingsley, Carl Jung, and Henry Corbin.

This book reads like a mystery, following the path of Peter Kingsley as he follows the paths of Carl Jung and Henry Corbin. We think of the mystery genre as starting with a death and then a puzzle to be solved. The word “catafalque” represents a framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person, so there is an element of a crime mystery to the book. Kingsley’s subtitle “The End of Humanity,” tells us that perhaps the victim of the crime is humanity and the plot of the mystery is to find out who killed humanity. There is another mystery genre, older than the crime mystery, and that is the pursuit of the ancient wisdom mysteries. One entered those mysteries through initiation, and this book is a kind of initiation into wisdom.

The book is published in two volumes: the first is the text, itself, the second volume is endnotes. I am enough of a geek that I would carry these two volumes around and read them side by side. This gave the act of reading both a scholarly and a sacred aspect. It encourages the reader to approach the text on multiple levels, with Kingsley providing the text and its own exegesis. Being a mystery writer, Kingsley does not reveal the important things directly, but often buries them and interweaves them within the spaces of the text. In the ancient mysteries, the most important things were not what was revealed, but what was hinted at, pointed to, or was intuited. Carl Jung wrote in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self,” (197). Mysteries take us around in circles. In the crime mystery genre, everything is revealed in the end. In the ancient mystery genre, there is a continuing circumambulation around the center, everything is not revealed, but, perhaps, everything can be understood as one becomes the mystery which one was seeking.

I have to mention, Amazon took 3 months to deliver the book to me. I originally received it much more quickly directly through the author’s website. I bought a second copy for a friend through Amazon and that took 3 months – that is a bit of a mystery as the author apparently has copies in stock. One always has to be careful with the source of where one is seeking wisdom.