Lost in the Wilderness of the Body

I haven’t written anything for Being Fully Human for some time. I have been on an odyssey, a continuing journey, through the inner reaches of the body and the outer halls of academic medicine. You see, I have been lost in the wilderness of the body.

I was diagnosed with nevoid melanoma last year. Nevoid means mole-like, similar to the common nevus (mole). It did not look like a typical melanoma with irregular borders, asymmetry, or coloration. It looked like a regular mole. However, this was not a common mole, but a malignant cancer that had spread to two of the lymph nodes in my axilla (armpit), making it a Stage IIIa cancer.

My oncologist recommended adjuvant immunotherapy to prevent any recurrence. Immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment for cancer over the past decade or so. Nivolumab is a monoclonal antibody (-mab) that “switches on” the body’s own immune system in a way that over-rides the immune-blocking properties of cancer. The risk, however, is that one’s activated immune system can turn against the self, causing various autoimmune conditions anywhere in the body.

Numbers mean Everything & Numbers mean Nothing

The decision to start this medication was difficult for me. With roughly a 10% chance of potentially permanent side effects, this is a serious medicine. The decision was even more challenging because I was considered “cancer-free,” nothing was visible on any of the scans or blood tests. However, my oncologist thought there was a 10-20% chance that I could have a recurrence of melanoma without treatment.

The decision involved flailing back and forth between the numbers about recurrence and the numbers about serious side effects. I was intellectually trying to make the “right” decision. In oncology, treatment protocols are all about numbers – numbers are everything. For me, however, an individual, not a population statistic, I realized that numbers could also mean nothing. No matter what the statistics, what happened to me would happen to me. When my oncologist said that he thought my risk of recurrence might be closer to 20% and immunotherapy could cut that risk in half, I decided to go on the year-long course of monthly IV infusions.

Still in Training

When I first was diagnosed with melanoma, my friend, co-author, and teacher, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) asked me why I thought I had gotten cancer. I sputtered out a couple of things and he interrupted and simply said, “Because you are still in training.”

This attitude could actually apply to all of life. When anything goes the way we don’t want it to, we could say, well, this is a good training exercise – what can I learn from it, how can I grow? To approach life as a student, rather than a victim, is the road less traveled, the pathway of transformation.

The first infusion of Nivolumab was uneventful. I felt a little tired after, but nothing dramatic. However, about two weeks later my right foot hurt every time I took a step. This lasted about three days and then the pain resolved but I had tingling paresthesia of neuropathy. When I told my oncologist, he said somewhat incredulously and dismissively that this medication had a less than one percent chance of causing neuropathy, other medications could cause it more commonly. He seemed suspicious of my symptom and then referred me to another doctor, a neurologist. That appointment was three months out.

Two weeks after the third infusion the neuropathy symptoms intensified and began to move up my legs – tingling, electric jolts, burning sensations, aches, and cramping pains.

Like A Brush Fire

Over two weeks the neuropathy picked up speed, reaching my chest (which led to an emergency room visit to evaluate chest pressure and cramping that later seemed to be related to the spread of the neuropathy). I was alarmed at the rapidity of the upward spread – like a brush fire – and I began reviewing different kinds of rapidly ascending neuropathies.

During my neurology rotation in my medical education I had met an unconscious neurologist who had developed Guillain-Barré that paralyzed his breathing muscles and he was on a ventilator. This was one of my concerns given that rapid spread and for a time it seemed like the neuropathy might also be involving my heart. I underwent another series of tests: brain and spinal MRI, chest CT, EMG, autonomic testing, nerve biopsy and lab test after lab test.

Drowing in Quicksand

I felt like my team was always a couple steps behind the rapidly evolving symptoms and that they lacked imagination to think beyond reductionistic symptoms to encompass the overall pattern of what was happening. The image came to me of sinking in quick sand and the medical team watching me from the solid ground, telling me they wouldn’t toss me the life preserver until they determined what kind of sand I was drowning in. I imagined them requesting a geology consult that would take three months to arrive and then the geologist would send samples of the sand to the lab for analysis while I slowly drowned right in front of them. It was a strange and unsettling feeling of being seen and not being seen, as if they were more interested in the composition of the sand than they were in my own life and well-being.

Eventually they started Prednisone to shut off the immune activation. This was a high dose of steroids, up to 100 mg and then a slow taper down. It pushed the neuropathy symptoms mostly back down below my waist, but I was still having active symptoms in my lower body. During the taper, at about 60 mg the symptoms began spreading into my chest again, but at a slower speed. At around 20 mg the neuropathy symptoms moved into my neck, face, forehead and scalp.

Now, off prednisone, I continue to have head-to-toe neuropathy symptoms. I have continuous aches and cramps in my limbs – from shoulder to hands and hips to feet. We still don’t have a definitive diagnosis for the neuropathy, although the neurologists suspect small fiber neuropathy. The results of the nerve biopsy, which may confirm the diagnosis, are still pending after six weeks.

In addition to the paresthesia, tingling, burning, aching, cramping symptoms, I also developed a heavy feeling in my legs, difficulty standing straight (but walking ok), leg tremor, low back pain, and balance problems. After describing my unsteadiness to two oncologists and three neurologists, a practical ER resident suggested I get a cane so I didn’t fall. That was quite helpful if I had to stand for a while when I was out walking or going to the clinic for an appointment, I could use the cane as a prop or kickstand to steady my legs. This obvious recommendation was overlooked in the mania of medical/technological medicine.

Despite my detailed descriptions, and even the doctors own objective findings on physical exam, I haven’t felt that any of the doctors have adequately explained the balance symptoms and instead have focused on trying to determine what kind of neuropathy I have.

I’ve been off work for two and a half months and just returned to work part-time this week. I still have head-to-toe neuropathy symptoms. I don’t have to use a cane for short walks, or prop myself up with the counter if cooking or doing dishes. I do still feel off-balance and use my hands to steady myself as I walk through the house, as if I was on a ship rolling at sea.

Modern-Day Alchemy

If I seem embittered toward the medical system – I am. I have had some very compassionate nurses, and a couple physicians who were not part of my immediate specialty care team. My primary care doctor is great, but I’ve been lost in the wilderness of medical specialties, medical technology and evaluations, and twice been to the emergency department. On the one hand, medical technology surgically removed the cancer and identified the two metastatic lymph nodes, and as far as we can tell, removed all visible signs of the cancer. On the other hand, I can’t help but think of immunotherapy as contemporary alchemy, with my young oncologist as a kind of modern-day alchemist, playing around with mercury and other arcane substances to try to create the philosopher’s stone that will be the panacea to cure all cancer.

Pharmakon: Poison & Cure

The ancient Greeks had a word for medicine – pharmakon. They also had a word for poison – pharmakon. These modern-day alchemists, in their zeal to cure, may be causing a whole panoply of iatrogenic diseases. The dual nature of pharmakon – a poison and a cure – should engender humility, caution, and a sense of awe at the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of life – the terrible yet fascinating mystery of health, life, illness, and death. The hubris of modern-day alchemy is that we reduce people to numbers and then we can plug those numbers into protocols, and we make the numbers go up or down. Doctors can lose a sense of personal responsibility and accountability because they are just “following orders” of the protocol. Health and illness are the great mysteries of life and we need to have a healthy appreciation of the mystery and uncertainty of life.

Please don’t mistake my personal narrative as medical advice. If I had advanced metastatic cancer, the trade-off of my ongoing symptoms for being cancer-free would be a different calculation. However, for me, I didn’t feel sick until I received the treatment to make me “healthy.” I’m not sure the trade-off, from a cost-benefit analysis was worth it.

Iatrogenic Soul Loss

I also feel like I have been hood-winked by contemporary medical, technological science again! When I was in medical school, I felt like I was losing an important part of my humanity as I grew in skill as a medical technician. I felt I was losing my soul and I developed the idea of a counter-curriculum of re-humanization – a kind of soul retrieval through meditation, reading, poetry, the arts, and creative practices. Now, as a patient, I feel another loss of my soul and humanity as I’ve been processed through the medical system. I’ve been continually frustrated as I’ve laid open my soul to these young doctors who are always attending to the demands of their computers. I’ve wondered if the problem is me – maybe I’m documenting in too much detail, or recounting too many symptoms. I’ve spent hours editing down my updates, trying to capture the complexity and evolution of my symptoms while simplifying it so that the briskly busy, multi-tasking young physicians can take in the information I am providing. Our medical system has no problem spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on pharmaceuticals and technology, but it is almost impossible to have a doctor sit down, person to person, and spend the time needed to understand what the patient is going through, let alone properly understand a complex system pattern.

I got excited about the new science and technology of immunotherapy for cancer treatment. I got caught up in the medical dream of curing cancer. But personally, I’m living out the dark side of pharmakon – feeling like I was a perfectly healthy human being (other than the surgically-removed melanoma) who now has a potentially permanent disability, that is still evolving, from the pharmaceutical tha was supposed to make me more healthy.

iatrogenic (adj.)
“induced by a physician,” 1920, from iatro- + -genic.
word-forming element meaning “a physician; medicine; healing,” from Greek iatros “healer, physician” (see -iatric)
word-forming element meaning “producing, pertaining to generation;” see -gen + -ic

The Greek word for physician or healer is iatros. The Greek word for soul is psyche. As a psychiatrist – or psyche-iatros – I’ve viewed my calling and role as reminding medical professionals that we should be striving for a balance of our roles as technicians and our roles as healers. As we seek to modulate the inner workings of the body with technology, we should balance this with the role of the healer who works with our psyches – our souls – as well as with our bodies.

To treat the body without the psyche or the psyche without the mind is to be at least partially insane. Human reality is psyche-soma, mind-body. To ignore this holism is to ignore and blind ourselves to half of reality, which means we are voluntarily insane – if by insane we mean someone who ignores or is unaware of reality.

Lost in the Wilderness of the Body

I’ve been lost in the wilderness of the body – but to say it this way is really not quite true. This illness experience has shown me that my psyche and soma, my mind and body are one. I have been exploring the inner reaches of the territories of my being. This is not looking at the body from outside, trying to manipulate it into health, but rather exploring a vast wilderness of the unknown within myself. What we do not know at first appears dark until we bring the illumination of consciousness into that dark realm.

Rather than wail and gnash my teeth or rail at the contemporary medical technology system, I try to remember the words of Beautiful Painted Arrow, “You are still in training.” Then I ask myself, “What can I learn here, in this dark wilderness of the body, what treasures might lurk in the abyss, what vistas might be found over that mountain ridge?” Rather than trying to negate or eliminate sickness, or try to run out of this wilderness back into the light of the remembered memory of who I used to be in some sunny meadow outside of this dark wood, I will go deeper into the unknown realms of the body.

We need to explore ourselves, our inner natures as well as our outer natures. We need what Nietzsche called the great health:

…a new health that is stronger, craftier, tougher, bolder, and more cheerful than any previous health. Anyone whose soul thirsts to experience the whole range of previous values and aspirations, to sail around all the coasts of this ‘inland sea’ (Mittelmeer) of ideals, anyone who wants to know from the adventures of his own experience how it feels to be the discoverer or conqueror of an ideal, or to be an artist, a saint, a lawmaker, a sage, a pious man, a soothsayer, an old-style divine loner – any such person needs one thing above all – the great health, a health that one doesn’t only have, but also acquires continually and must acquire because one gives it up again and again, and must give it up!. . .And now, after being on our way in this manner for a long time, we argonauts of the ideal – braver, perhaps, than is prudent and often suffering shipwreck and damage but, to repeat, healthier than one would like to admit, dangerously healthy; ever again healthy – it seems to us as if, in reward, we face an as yet undiscovered land the boundaries of which no one has yet surveyed, beyond all the lands and corners of the ideal heretofore, a world so over-rich in what is beautiful, strange, questionable, terrible, and divine that our curiosity and our thirst to possess it have veered beyond control – alas, so that nothing will sate us anymore![1]

[1] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Nietzsche: The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy) (pp. 246-247). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Recent Podcasts & Articles

I’ve been doing a few podcasts lately – which is always a fun chance to talk about some of the work I have been doing. I’ll include a few photos from the past year to remind us of the world within which we all live & work.

Yellow Warbler in crab apple tree, Seattle, WA

I spoke with Andrea Nakayama on her 15-Minute Matrix Podcast on “Mapping the Costs of Caring,” looking at burnout, compassion fatigue, moral injury, and soul loss in health care workers. Here is an excerpt speaking about the similarities of burnout and soul loss:

The soul is the thing that makes us alive and vital and engaged and connected around the world. When we lose that, we lose all those kinds of things that connect us to ourselves and to others…How do we bring the soul back? It would be what things make the soul happy, what kinds of things bring you joy? And so how can you build this into your life? I think the distinction is you could start with self-care to support the ego, in the sense of your personality, but I think of the healer, the role of the healers, to be honest with delving into what can be the breakdown of the ego, and then the rebuilding back as a healer.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler in crab apple tree, Seattle, WA

I had a very nice dialogue with Lewis Mehl-Madrona and Glenn Aparicio Parry on his Circle of Original Thinking Podcast, “Integrating Healing Traditions with Lewis Mehl-Madrona and David Kopacz.” Definitely check this out, such an honor to have a generous time to speak with Lewis & Glenn. Check out their great books as well!

The print edition of Parabola Magazine, Fall 2023 featured “This Vibrating Land,” an excerpt from an interview that I did with Glenn Aparicio Parry that we featured on The POV interview website.

I also had a book review “Lessons from A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit on CLOSLER as well as an essay “Building Cultures of Caring.” Here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps burnout is a symptom of a larger problem. Perhaps we’ve cut ourselves off from a root of support in our work, we have lost touch with a spiritual and humanistic dimension of who we are and that when one suffers, all suffer. We have lost touch with our interconnection, our non-duality. What did Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. draw upon when working with the immense suffering in the world? Gandhi spoke of satyagraha as “the Force which is born of Truth and Love,” and Dr. King, spoke of this as “soul force.” Perhaps we should consider developing some kind of non-dual medicine, some kind of practice of non-separation in our healing work.  

Whiskey Creek, Washington

A longer interview and dialogue was an invitation to speak on The Soul Space, entitled “Hero’s Journey & Resilience in the Face of Suffering,” (7/1/22).

Last, but not least – I had a chance to catch up with former Seattle VA Primary Care Mental Health Integration teammate Dr. Nicola De Paul on “Burnout, Moral Injury, and Radical Caring” on her Menders: Love & Leadership in Health Systems Podcast. Check out our dialogue as well Nicola’s discussions with other great thinkers working to bring Love & Leadership into Health Systems!

I also recently had the privilege of interviewing Richard C. Miller, PhD, the developer of iRest, Integrative Restoration, a form of yoga nidra. Here is the link to part I where we talk about his development of iRest and early influences, including J. Krishnamurti. Part II will be published soon on the interview site that Usha Akella and I developed, The POV.

If you have some down time, please check out any of these articles and podcasts that may be of interest to you, as well as look up some of the other great interviews on these podcasts!

Pacific Coast, Washington State

Burnout: Soul Loss & Soul Recovery keynote lecture at Seattle University, Saturday 6/25/22

The 13th Annual Giving Voice to Experience Conference will be available via online Zoom as well as for in-person attendence on Saturday 6/25/22 at Seattle University .

I will be giving the keynote 1:20 – 2:40 PM (Pacific Time), “Burnout: Soul Loss & Soul Recovery in Mental Health.” I’ve been interested in exploring the significant overlap between the ancient condition of soul loss and the modern occupational syndrome of burnout. I will be discussing burnout and soul loss from a variety of perspectives. I will be presenting material from my next book, Caring for Self & Others: Tools for Transforming Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Soul Loss. I have signed a contract with Creative Courage Press for publication early 2023.

I was originally going to present 3/7/20, but this was just at the start of the pandemic and as many events at that time it was cancelled. I am so exicted to be able to finally present this talk and the concepts of burnout and soul loss have a much deeper and personal meaning to me, now, after recent years.

The conference is $20 for students and $60 for general public and professionals. 6 CEUs (Continuing Education Units) are available.

Here is a link to the Conference Schedule, the theme is “Maintaining a Soulful Approach to Psychological Research & Practice: Swimming Upstream in a Technological Society.”

Here is the registration link.

Burnout: Soul Loss & Soul Recovery

I will be giving a keynote presentation at the 13th annual Giving Voice to Experience conference, whose theme is “Maintaining a Soulful Approach to Psychological Research and Practice: Swimming Upstream in a Technological Society.”

13th Annual Giving Voice to Experience Conference

“Maintaining a Soulful Approach to Psychological Research and Practice: Swimming Upstream in a Technological Society”

June 25, 2022, 8:30 am – 5:30pm, Seattle University 

Oberto Commons – Sinegal 200

My talk on “Burnout: Soul Loss & Soul Recovery” seems even more relevant now than it did when the conference was originally planned for March of 2020 – at that time the pandemic was just evolving and we didn’t know one day to the next whether we would be gathering or not. I was already, at that time, beginning to look at the similarities between burnout in health care and the ancient concept of soul loss. After all, what is it that stops burning in burnout? What is it that we lose when we feel we are just pushing ourselves through the motions at work? Where have our hearts gone? Where have our souls gone? Now, after two years of pandemic life and social distancing, as well as the larger social injustice issues and division in the USA and war and conflict in the world, it seems even more vital than ever that we re-connect to that which makes us fully human.

For a number of years, Seattle University used to host the Search for Meaning Book Fesitval that I attended regularly. It saddens me that SU is no longer running that program since 2017, but I am honored to speak there and be part of the tradition of inquiry into life’s meaning and greater purpose. Here is the abstract for the talk:

Keynote Information 

“Burnout: Soul Loss & Soul Recovery in Mental Health Care”

presented by David R. Kopacz, MD

Burnout and compassion fatigue are becoming the norm in healthcare after two years of a pandemic. The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” with feelings of energy depletion; increased mental distance from one’s job, negativism, and cynicism; and reduced professional efficacy. While many perspectives on burnout focus on prevention through stress management techniques, we can look at burnout as “soul loss” which can then become the beginning of a transformational healer’s journey. A transformational perspective shifts our focus to the care of the soul and on how to recover soul once it is lost – this is a valuable skill for us as healers to use in our own lives as well as in our therapeutic work with clients.

David Kopacz is a psychiatrist in Primary Care Mental Health at Seattle VA and a National Education Champion with the VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation. He is an Assistant Professor at University of Washington and is certified through the American Boards of: Psychiatry & Neurology; Integrative & Holistic Medicine; and Integrative Medicine. David is a graduate of University of Illinois, undergraduate in Urbana-Champaign and medical school and psychiatric residency in Chicago. He has practiced in the US and New Zealand. His publications include: Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine; Caring for Self & Others: Transforming Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Soul Loss (in press); and with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD; Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality; Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons for Children Ages 10-100.

Here is the link to the conference for registration and a flier for the conference. 6 CEUs are available for the one day conference. For further information about the conference, please contact Professor Steen Halling: shalling@seattleu.edu

Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons for Children ages 10-100

Our next book has released! Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons for Children ages 10-100 is 130 pages of Joseph’s lessons for the people of the Earth. The book has 43 art works by Joseph and 14 photographs. We decided on the “ages 10-100” because we’ve also thought about writing a book for younger children. Also, this is our first book for children and it was challenging to bridge Joseph’s ideas and create a story that kids of all ages could enjoy.

The book is available through:

Itasca Books

Barnes & Noble


Here is the back cover of the book:

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) was born on the Southern Ute Reservation in 1935 and grew up at Picuris Pueblo in New Mexico. Joseph’s life took him across the country and around the world. After a vision in 1983, he built a Sound Peace Chamber, and then worked on building over 60 chambers around the world — leading to recognition by the United Nations for his work for world peace. Through his friend and co-author, David Kopacz MD, Joseph shares his life and lessons for people, young and old, growing through the transition from childhood into adulthood.

Joseph says that when he was sent to the Santa Fe Indian boarding school, they were trying to make American kids out of Indian kids, in this book, Joseph tells us, “I am trying to make Indian kids out of American kids.” Joseph passes on his wisdom and artwork to the next generations who will inherit the many problems that we have created in breaking the medicine wheel. Joseph tells us, “Let’s not leave the next generations in so much mystery about the physical and spiritual worlds. Let’s educate them from the beginning about the way of the shaman.” We are already born with everything we need, we just need to make sure that as we grow up, we don’t forget who we are.

Here are the generous endorsements we’ve received for the book:

In Becoming Who You Are, David Kopacz & Beautiful Painted Arrow (Joseph Rael), a Tiwa elder, have presented a series of marvelous stories for teenagers and young adults about how to become a human being.  This is timely wisdom from Native America, and Joseph’s past, for an age in which the guidance is confusing and truth is optional. The stories help readers sort through the possibilities for who they will become, while learning about and valuing culture & diversity. They describe Joseph’s lessons learned from boarding school, World War II, Pueblo Ceremonies, life on the reservation, and the process of creating sound chambers on guidance from spirits. I heartily recommend it for readers of all ages. We all need the wisdom that David & Joseph offer us.


Psychiatry Residency Training Director, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center Executive Director, Coyote Institute Associate Professor of Family Medicine, University of New England Author, Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Narrative Medicine, and Healing the Mind through the Power of Story

Becoming Who You Are is a remarkable narrative that does not fall into prescribed categories—sharing Native American insights in an engaging and charming manner, always speaking to never down to kids as the rightful heirs to our planet. Joseph Rael and David Kopacz are healers and carriers of timeless wisdom working tirelessly for the betterment of life. They convey the becoming of being in lucid text combining autobiography, literature, ecology, spirituality, travelogue, history, magic and wisdom illuminated with beautiful art. Grounded, with shining optimism, this book meanders purposefully like a pure river sourced from a perennial spring of wisdom and will surely motivate kids to fall in love with the earth and—their own selves. In our ravaged age, the book reminds us of interconnectedness and that all that we need is—here—sacred and reallisten!

Co-founder of Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poets’ Collective, Poet and Author, “I Thought a Thought,” Ek An English Musical on the life of Shirdi Sai Baba, The Way of the Storm: An English Musical on the life of Meera Bai, I Will Not Bear You Sons, The Waiting, and A Face that Does Not Bear the Footprints of the World

This story of two very different men with common visions, may serve as a guide for all who seek to continually learn about themselves through the lenses of their own history and the cultures of those around us.


Psychiatrist, University of California Santa Cruz Student Health Center

Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life and Lessons for Children by Joseph E. Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and David Kopacz MD is a book that shows us there are other important ways to teach that can speak to us all.  Through storytelling, Beautiful Painted Arrow lays out many of life’s core values.  We learn that the Tiwa word for God is Wah-Mah-Chi, which is also everything, and is the core to the love of learning which is the secret to being human.  This lovely book is written for children, but the authors freely admit that it was written for those in the middle between the two worlds of childhood and adulthood, so it really applies to us all.


Psychiatrist, Seattle VA, Professor University of Washington, Captain United States Navy Reserve

As I read Becoming Who You Are, I envisioned myself sitting at the feet of an elder, asking him, “Tell me the story of your life―share your wisdom with me so that I may live it and one day share it with others.” Coming from years and years of Joseph’s sage wisdom and insights, this book is a beautiful invitation to not only learn, but also create your own story—through art, music, writing, reading—or however the spirit moves you.  

Author, The Forgotten Mourners: Sibling Survivors of Suicide, What’s Real, Mama?, What’s Brave, Mama?, and coming soon, What’s Wrong With My Family? Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home

The inspiring story and wise words of the elder, Beautiful Painted Arrow (Joseph Rael), speak to the heart of the child within all of us. His life’s journey and teachings give us hope for a better world, one where we live in peace and harmony with our fellow humans and the natural world.

—TWIN SISTERS, JANE LISTER REIS & MARGIE LISTER MUENZER co-authors of the children’s books, Si’ahl and the Council of Animals: A Story of Our Changing Climate for Children and Their Parents; Si’ahl & Friends Coloring and Activity Book; and Margie’s Nature’s Gifts: A Poetry Coloring Book.

Available through:

Itasca Books

Barnes & Noble


Nature, Medical Humanities & Medical Activism

Jonathan McFarland, President of Doctor as Humanist, and I recently had the honor of presenting at the University of Washington Nature & Health conference on Thursday, October 14th, 2021. Our overall talk was Nature, Medical Humanities, and Medical Activism. Jonathan presented on Nature & Medical Humanities and I presented on Nature & Medical Activism. Here is the powerpoint from my talk.

Thanks so much to Josh Lawler, Star Berry, and the whole conference team from the University of Washington Nature & Health program. It all ran very smoothly and professionally and brought together great speakers from around the globe. There is a groundswell of interest in looking at the bi-directional effects of Nature & Health – we, at Doctor as Humanist, are planning a free, virtual symposium next month. Register for free for our Nature & Medicine: Restoring the Balance Between Earth & Health – we hope to see you next month!

How are you doing…really?

How are you doing…really? New post on CLOSLER: Bringing Us Closer to Osler

This is a reflection piece on the challenge of answering this simple question, asked so many times a day, “How are you doing?” While this is usually asked in passing, the true answer to this question is increasingly complex for health care workers as the pandemic wears on.

You can read the essay, here, and some past essays published on CLOSLER, here. The piece features a detail of my painting, “Planting the Seed of the Heart,” which was published in Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD.

Thanks again, CLOSLER, for all that you do for person-centered care & provider well-being!

Planting the Seed of the Heart, D. Kopacz (2016)

Haystack Rock & Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, looking South at Haystack Rock

We recently took a drive down the Oregon coast and I took a lot of photos of birds, sea, sky, and sand at Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock. A number of birds nest at Haystack Rock, including Tufted Puffins, Murres, Gulls, and Cormorants. I didn’t realize that we had puffins on the Pacific. I had tried to see them in Nova Scotia, without success. I had seen many at a relatively close distance in Iceland, but all the photos turned out slightly blurry, unfortunately. Here we got to where we could see the Tufted Puffins with our naked eye and then I zoomed in and took photos where they landed, somewhat blind. While you can definitely tell they are puffins, they are a bit blurry – so the challenge of getting a clear puffin photo continues! The more serious photographers had tripods and that would likely help. Here is a collage of a few blurry Tufted Puffin photos.

We also saw flocks of pelicans and I was able to get some better photos of these interesting birds. We also saw them diving and catching fish at times.

The beach was wide, the sand soft and good for walking barefoot. I can see why this beach is so popular and I didn’t expect the abundance of seabirds and other shore life. The light was amazing at times, one morning a continuous interplay of cloud and sunshine. I even saw a sun halo one day.

There was, of course, a lot of sealife in the tide pools, starfish and sea anemones.

All in all, a relaxing and invigorating trip! There is nothing like walking barefoot on the sand for hours each day!

What Does it Mean to Be Human? The Role of Psychiatrists in Philip K. Dick’s Life & Writing

This is the title of my presentation from May, 2012, at the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists annual meeting, held in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. This is a timeless topic and applies as much as ever to us as we work to come out of this pandemic which has changed how we relate to others and how we relate to ourselves. The struggle to “stay human” in medicine is an ongoing practice and we can learn from the life & works of PKD.

Every Thought Leads to Infinity:

Perspectives on Personal Growth, Psychosis & Spirituality:

Carl G. Jung’s Red Book & Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis

I presented this paper at the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis, New Zealand/Australia annual conference, August 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand. I thought I would share the slides from the talk.