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.
I was contacted by The News-Gazette from Champaign-Urbana and they are asking for reflections on University of Illinois for the 150th birthday of the University. I wrote a fairly long piece as I started to reflect on my time there.
Looking Back to University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
The person who had the greatest effect on me at UIUC was Professor Peter N. Gregory in the Religious Studies department. The first class I took from him was Zen. As a freshman I thought it was amazing that I could come to university and study something for credit which I was also able to apply in my own life. Not only was the material fascinating, but Professor Gregory was a fabulous story-teller who made the material come alive in his lectures.
My sophomore year I took another class he taught, East Asian Religions. There I read the Tao Te Ching, The Analects of Confucius, and my favorite, the Burton Watson translation of The Basic Writings of Chuang Tzu. I have carried Chuang Tzu with me on many camping trips, travels, and free and easy wanderings throughout my life. This class also opened me up to the American Transcendentalists as Professor Gregory spoke of some of the similarities with the Taoist philosophers in the fundamental goodness of nature and human nature and the hazards of being overly civilized.
My junior year, I took the Introduction to World Religions class, which Professor Gregory coordinated. This further opened my world to many different religious traditions and this has given me a structure for my spiritual development throughout my life.
One of the books we read for the class was Black Elk Speaks, by John G. Niehardt. I read this book several times, even making a pilgrimage to Black Elk Peak (then Harney Peak) in South Dakota, later in my life. I remember we also read the Bhagavad Gita translated by Juan Mascaró. As I was also interested in anthropology and was majoring in psychology, I was trying to understand what made life meaningful for human beings and how they described the sacred. I had a strong pull to working with Native American/American Indian cultures. By that time I knew I was going to apply to medical school and likely be a psychiatrist and I thought that I would join the Indian Health Service to be of service and to learn about indigenous ways of healing. This did not come to pass as I got caught up in life. However it did seem to set a template for later events that I will describe shortly.
My senior year, a friend of mine, Glenn Girlando, arranged an independent study class with Professor Gregory on Carl Jung. There were three of us in the Psychology department who wanted to study Jung and the only person Glenn could find who could teach Jung turned out to be Professor Gregory. He had worked in a Jungian research lab earlier in his life. This turned out to be very formative to me. Jung has been one of my intellectual and spiritual teachers throughout my life. I have been reading Jung, off and on, since I was about 17 and his theories have been practically useful in my life. Jung’s work was not just on treating mental illness, but on how to create mental health. His focus on lifelong personal and spiritual development and his concept of individuation provided a conceptual framework that I have found inspirational and practical. The independent study class also gave us more personal time with Professor Gregory. I even remember discussing with him some doubts I was having about my career choice of whether I should go into medicine or philosophy/religious studies.
After college, I went up to University of Illinois Chicago for four years of medical school, then four more years for psychiatric residency. I was still thinking about the Indian Health Service, but my wife, Mary Pat Traxler, whom I met at UIUC (we both lived in Allen Hall), accepted an internship in Omaha, Nebraska and we moved out there. I worked for the VA and University of Nebraska. After two years we returned back to Champaign-Urbana, I worked for Christie Clinic for three years. When I left that job I had a two-year non-compete clause so I could not work within 30 miles of Christie Clinic. We did not want to move, so I commuted down to Paris and Mattoon, working in rural community mental health. After my two years were up and I could return to work in Champaign, I started a holistic psychiatry private practice on University Avenue near West Side Park. We were very settled and happy there and I lived near my college friends Rick Valentin and Rose Marshack and we even got the band back together, so to speak, when Rick, Mike Barry, and Doug McCarver and I did a few shows with our band Vibraking. Eventually, though, as happens sometimes in Champaign-Urbana, people come and go, and many of our friends moved away. We were very comfortable living there, but I still felt the urge to live in another culture and Mary Pat and I moved to Auckland, New Zealand for three years and I worked as a psychiatrist with the district health board there. When we returned back to the USA, we moved to Seattle, where we have been living for the past six years. I started working again for the VA and have an assistant professor position at University of Washington. I published my first book I 2014, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. I have been working on the implementation of Whole Health at the VA with the national VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation. One interesting thing happened in the Pacific Northwest, and it is the reason that I am telling so much of the story of my life after having left Champaign-Urbana. Through a series of events, starting with picking up a book at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, I came to meet Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). Joseph grew up on the Southern Ute reservation as well as at Picuris Pueblo in the Southwest. He is the author of a number of books on Native American/American Indian healing and he has become a mentor to me, bringing things full circle from reading Black Elk Speaks in Professor Gregory’s class when I was at university. Joseph and I have published one book together called Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD and we are nearing publication on our second book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. The influence of University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and Professor Peter Gregory has continued throughout my life and seems to culminate in this idea of A Living Spirituality—the study of a practical application of finding the sacred meaning in life as a form of life-long work.
David R. Kopacz, MD
UIUC class of 1989
UIC Medical School class of 1993
A short article I wrote just went up at CLOSLER, entitled “Cultivating Caring.” CLOSLER, out of Johns Hopkins, is named after Dr. William Osler, is a Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative promoting importance of the doctor-patient relationship.
The article focuses on how caring and compassion are resources that we need to attend to and cultivate, particularly in the healing professions. You can link to the article here.
In 2013 I visited my sister in St. Paul, Minnesota and we made a bit of a literary tour, stopping at bookstores and also W. A. Frost where a young F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented when he was growing up in the neighborhood. W. A. Frost is in the historic Dacotah Building, built in 1889. I took a few photos and posted them in my blog, “A Literary Tour of St. Paul, Minnesota,” and MNopedia liked one of them and used it for their article on the Dacotah Building.
You can follow the link to the MNopedia article.
Here is my photo that was published with the article:
Here are a couple other photos of the building:
Link to my original blog post from 25, May, 2013, “A Literary Tour of St. Paul Minnesota.”
Parabola Magazine has just published an abridged version of the “Coming Home to Peace” chapter from the book that Joseph Rael and I wrote, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD.
I am so excited and honored that our work is being featured in this great magazine. I first read Parabola when I was in college. It is the journal of The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition and always has great features on topics around “the search for meaning,” with past contributors including Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, and Jacob Needleman. This current issue revolves around “The Journey Home,” and it is fitting to have our piece on the struggle of veterans to find their way home after military service. This issue features Parker Palmer, whose Center for Courage and Renewal has recognized my last two books as selections of their most courageous books of 2014 and 2016. I have also written guest blogs for their organization: “Recovering Hope, Poetry, and Connection in Health Care” and “Finding the Held-back Place of Goodness in the Broken Hearts of Veterans.” It is great to see Joseph’s and my work sharing space in Parabola with an excerpt from Parker Palmer’s new book, The Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. Another author I have great respect for is featured in this issue, Kabir Helminski, with an excerpt from his book, Holistic Islam: Sufism, Transformation & the Challenge of Our Time. Peter Kingsley, author of Reality and A Story Waiting to Pierce You, has also been interviewed by Parabola in the past.
How exciting and rewarding it is to have Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD – this work of the heart that Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I have done together – honored in this way, being published in a magazine that has inspired me since my days in college.
I am also happy that we are able to promote the work of so many others in this Parabola essay. Ed Tick, John Wesley Fischer, Jonathan Shay, Bryan Doerries, Claude Anshin Thomas, Judith Herman, and Robert Jay Lifton are all cited and credited for their work. I am also happy that Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre, where I worked in New Zealand, is mentioned in the piece, as that is a place very dear to my heart.
Here is a quote from the article:
“We can assist returning veterans through creating an initiation and rehabilitation framework. In essence, we as a society, need to have some framework for accepting, understanding, and transforming veterans’ pain. Transformation means that we take something that exists in one state and transform it into another state. For instance, wee take something that is manifesting its energy in a ‘negative’ way and transform it so that it manifests in a positive way,” (Parabola, 88).
I wish we had a little more of Joseph’s words in this piece, but this was a section putting our work in the context of the work of others. Joseph says that we need to help veterans find the “held-back place of goodness” in their hearts. If you want to hear Joseph in his own words, you can watch one of the videos on the website for Walking the Medicine Wheel.
The Parabola editors choose one of our paintings from the book for the article. The painting below is my rendition of Joseph’s medicine wheel that I added some universal spiritual symbols to in the center.
This issue of Parabola is not out on the newsstand yet, but you can see the cover and some of the current issue on their website and it should be on the newsstand soon!
Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD is now available as an e-book through Amazon!
2017 was a busy year with lots of things coming together and many things nationally and globally falling apart. I added a new piece to my job at the VA this year. I am speaking now, not as a federal employee, but as an independently licensed health care provider. I have a 20% position with the national VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation as a Whole Health Education Champion. You can learn more about the VA Whole Health program here. This job entails traveling to different VAs throughout the country and learning how to teach the several courses the Office promotes. I traveled to Madison, Minneapolis, Little Rock, Boston, and New Jersey and I will be going to Nashville later this month. I continue working in Primary Care Mental Health Integration at the Primary Care Clinic in Seattle. With the University of Washington I have moved from an Acting role to an Assistant Professor this past year.
I continue my work with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), and we are well into the work of our next book which should likely be out later in 2018. Joseph is a continual joy and inspiration to work with and is often sending artwork and ideas for us to use in the next book. We easily have enough material for several more books. Another piece of news is that Walking the Medicine Wheel is being published in Vietnamese! I have yet to see the book, though. This is very important as the land and people of Vietnam and the Vietnam War are intimately intertwined with so many of our veterans’ lives and the history of the United States.
I did a book tour, of sorts, for Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD. I made the trip back down under and saw some old friends and made some new ones, too. I took off from Seattle, almost missed my connection in Honolulu and landed in Sydney, Australia on September 13th, 2017. I went there for the biannual Australasian Doctors Health Conference, my fourth time presenting (I blogged earlier about this here). The conference was held at Luna Park, an amusement park in North Sydney with a great view of the city. My mate, Hilton Koppe, and I presented a workshop “The Hero’s Journey of the Healer,” that used Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey to look at burnout and mentoring in health care workers. I also presented “Circle Medicine,” bringing together the holistic approaches of the medicine wheel, the VA circle of health, and my earlier work with Re-humanizing Medicine. It was great hanging out with Hilton and co-presenting with him, it was an extra treat when he stopped through Seattle on his way to some conferences in October. Here is a link to one of Hilton’s written pieces.
I was also able to meet Father Gerry Arbuckle, whom I had been corresponding with for a few years via email. As well as being a Catholic priest, he has a PhD in applied cultural anthropology. He is the Co-director of the Refounding and Pastoral Development program. Gerry wrote a book called Humanizing Healthcare Reforms (2013) that I found very helpful in writing my Re-humanizing Medicine book. Gerry was also kind enough to write an endorsement of Walking the Medicine Wheel. His book Fundamentalism: At Home and Abroad is highly relevant to understanding political movements in the United States and throughout the world. I wrote a review of that book that can be found here. Gerry is from New Zealand, originally, and has now lived in Australia for many years. His next book is on loneliness and picks up on themes from his book on fundamentalism. He and I had a great chat, over 4 hours, and I hope we have a chance to meet again before long.
Dr. Asha Chand organised a talk for me at Western Sydney University (see earlier blog on this here). It was great to meet faculty and staff there and have a chance to talk about “Caring for Self & Others” which is an adaptation of Re-humanizing Medicine. My friend, Laura Merritt, in Seattle has done a lot of work with me on putting together a workbook version that I drew on for that presentation. WSU recorded the talk and Asha has said we can share the links to the talk for anyone who is interested:
After Australia, I flew over to Auckland, New Zealand and straight away met up with some of my best friends. I did a talk called “Life After Rehab,” at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre, where I served as Clinical Director during my time in New Zealand. I also did a book talk at Time Out Books, where a group of us used to meet monthly for the Auckland Holistic Writer’s Group.
My next stop was somewhere I have never been, but have wanted to travel to: Fiji. I flew into Nadi airport on the Northwest of Viti Levu, caught a short flight to the Southwest, to Suva. Dr. Neeta Ramkumar met me there and she had organised a talk and workshop for me at the University of the South Pacific. The talk was called “The Transformational Power of Stories in Clinical Work, Teaching, and Community Building,” and the following workshop was “Bringing Ancient Traditions of the Hero & the Warrior into Modern Day Life.” I very much enjoyed meeting all the wonderful people of Fiji and the University of South Pacific and felt honored to be able to speak there.
Finally, I had a bit of a break from the speaking tour and from all the busy socializing with friends. I took a 45 minute boat trip out to Leleluvia Island and just relaxed. I snorkeled twice a day at the reef just off the island. I walked around the island several times and also kayaked around once. Such a beautiful place! I’ll share some of the photos from the trip and I hope you enjoy them!
After Leleluvia, I went back through Suva, hired a car, and drove back to Nadi, seeing the Sri Siva Subramaniya temple (which was scaffolded under construction), but I still walked around and had a nice lunch there. I also stopped for a walk through the Garden of the Sleeping Giant with its orchids prior to heading to the airport, flying back through LAX and to Seattle.
This next year promises to be quite busy again with travel: Nashville, Portland OR, Madison, and back to the Boston area two more times. Joseph Rael and I continue to work toward peace and world peace. As Joseph says, “A lot of people have tried to bring about peace, and it hasn’t worked! But you and I are too far into it to stop now, so we’ll have to keep going.” May you find peace in your heart and in your life this coming year, and may we all have some peace in this world that seems so focused on the opposite of peace at this current point in history.
I recently returned from a trip to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. I started in Sydney, Australia at the Australasian Doctors’ Health Conference. The conference was held at Luna Park in North Sydney with a great view of the city and the opera house.
I did two presentations at the conference. The first was a workshop co-facilitated with my mate, Hilton Koppe, called The Hero’s Journey of the Healer, where we looked at burnout as a necessary stage of the healer’s journey and also at the important role that mentors can play on the journey. We also made a distinction between instructors (who train you to do the technical job) and mentors (who help you find yourself in the work and sustain your humanity).
I have recently come across the concept of transformational learning as defined by Jack Mezirow it includes several steps that parallel the process of initiation and the hero’s journey: a disorienting dilemma, realization that disorientation is part of the growth process, and then a reintegration with a new, transformed identity.
The second presentation was Circle Medicine: What’s Good for the Client is Good for the Clinician. This presentation reviewed a few of the circular models of healing I have been using lately: the Hero’s Journey, Whole Health, and the Medicine Wheel. I believe that we need to include both linear medicine and circle medicine in order to best serve our clients.
I had a great time at the conference, caught up with some old friends and made some new friends. I also spent a few hours speaking with Gerald Arbuckle, author of the book Fundamentalism that I recently reviewed. Gerry and I have had an ongoing correspondence since I used his models of medicine concept in my book Re-humanizing Medicine, and also he wrote an endorsement for Walking the Medicine Wheel. It was great to finally meet in person and have a really good chat!
More blog posts to follow from this trip!
Here is a link to an article, “We Need to Be Disoriented, Says Psychiatrist,” by Chris Kelly from my recent talk at Western Sydney University, Australia. The article appears in Hunter and Bligh.
Thank you Chris Kelly and Hunter and Bligh for this article that captures the essence of transformational learning – that we need to be disoriented and lose our bearings in order to really have the opportunity for transformational learning – learning that changes who we are beyond just learning new information. Transformational learning is a concept that Jack Mezirow developed. He listed ten different steps that I have condensed down to three steps in the circle below, corresponding to the circle of initiation: separation, initiation, return. This model also fits with Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey model in which transformation comes through transitioning between worlds, cultures, or states of consciousness.
This was part of a 2 hour talk I did for staff and students called “Caring for Self & Others,” based on the Caring for Self & Others workbook that Laura Merritt and I have adapted from my first book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Guide for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. We had a great discussion about creating a counter-curriculum of self-care and contributing to the compassion revolution!
Thank you to Sneh Prasad for connecting me with Dr. Asha Chand at Western Sydney University who coordinated this event while I was in Australia for the Australasian Doctors Health Conference. Thank you everyone involved in the talk! I will be posting about the other talks I did on my trip as well as some of the photos soon…
You can read the blog here. It is an excerpt from the book that I edited and includes some quotes by Parker Palmer about the two ways the heart can break: it can shatter – injuring self and others, or it can break open into greater goodness and compassion.
Courage & Renewal tweeted about the blog: “David Kopacz (and Joseph Rael) unpack the #courage of our veterans through the lens of @Parker Palmer’s ‘broken-open heart.'”