Search for Meaning Book Festival

Yesterday was the 3rd Search for Meaning Book Festival since moving to Seattle. This is put on yearly by Seattle University and every year I learn about fantastic authors and have met amazing people.

I was getting ready to go in to see artist and author Salma Kamlesh Arastu’s talk on “Seeking Oneness,” when my friend and co-author, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), called me with a couple of ideas and visions for our next book, Becoming Medicine.  In one of the visions, Joseph said he saw Picuris Pueblo, where he grew up, but instead of houses, there was mist, and then cosmic beings came to him and said, “You are a Mist-ical Being, you are now responsible for the mist-eries we are bringing to the people.” He explained that people should be respected as they get older because they hold the past – however the older you get the more spiritual responsibility you have as well. What he said this vision showed him was that there is a parallel reality to this one because as the mist cleared, he could see the houses at Picuris, but that there was an exact copy of the village up above the village. He said the people in both villages go about their days without awareness of those living just above/below the reality that they are living. Joseph often tells me that we should be always seeking our Higher Goodness and I wonder if this is part of what this vision means, that there is a way for us to live that has more Higher Goodness in it than the way that we are now living.

Anyway…I told Joseph, I better getting going to this lecture, it is on Seeking Oneness and if there is only One, I’m not sure what I’ll get if I am late – maybe just 0.95, that’s not the same as Oneness. We both had a good laugh at that and I went into the lecture.

210_salmaart2-ola

Salma Kamlesh Arastu is an amazing artist and an embodiment of Higher Goodness! She spoke of her artist’s journey from her work with Embracing All in the Rhythm of the Lyrical Line, to her Celebration of Calligraphy, her work with Turning Rumi, and most recently her Unity of Sacred Symbols and Texts and Unity Mandalas.

She said in her talk, “I speak the Language of the Heart and I know we all speak the Language of the Heart.” She briefly spoke of her journey in the world, from her birth in India into the Sindi.Hindu tradition, to her life in Iran and Kuwait, her marriage and embrace of Islam, to now living in Berkeley, California where she has her studio.

Her art journey started with loopy, calligraphy-like paintings of people, a style shown above. Her first art book, The Lyrical Line, illustrates her work from 1998 – 2008.

the-lyrical-line_cover

She said she also started to copy Arabic calligraphy, marveling in its beauty without knowing the meaning of the words and this led to the collection in her book, Celebration of Calligraphy.

celebration_of_calligraphy

Her next evolution in her work happened when she began turning through the pages of the poet, Rumi, and she created a series of paintings that were inspired by lines from Rumi. She also has been inspired by the Hindu saint and ecstatic, bhakti poet, Meera Bai. Her book, Turning Rumi: Singing Verses of Love, Unity, and Freedom collects her work of this period.

turning-rumi-book

Her most recent work has been to seek the unity in the world religions and to capture their words and truth in written words over beautiful multi-dimensional paintings. She says paints the same words over and over again, using thinned acrylic paint to create a multi-dimensional image. “Each prayer that I paint, over and over again,” she says, “is like a healing for me.” This has led to her book, Unity of Sacred Symbols and Texts.

48x72-on-canvas-verses-from-christian-judaism-islam-and-hindu-sacred-texts-about-the-oneness-of-god

Verses About the Oneness of God

Salma said that as a child, her mother would tell her, “You are created for a special reason – it is up to you to find out what it is.” Salma Kamlesh Arastu’s artwork reveals that special reason that she was created.

Please visit Salma’s website and look through her beautiful artwork.

a-nones-story

The next talk I went to was by Corinna Nicolaou titled A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism & Islam, which is also the title of her book. “Nones” she says, are the fastest growing self-reported religious affiliation. This is the group of people who do not identify with a particular religious affiliation. However, this does not mean that they are not spiritual or do not pray or even believe in God. She says that Nones are different than Atheists, by ticking the box of “none” for religious affiliation, they are more rejecting organized religion than spirituality or God. She cites research from the Pew Research Center that 30% of people under the age 30 report no religious affiliation. She quotes Putnam and Campbell, from their book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, that Nones distance themselves from religion because “they think of religious people as hypocritical, judgmental, or insincere.”

She writes that she started her quest through “a desperate search for the bits and pieces that might make my pot whole,” (A None’s Story, oo5). With a sense of humor and the spirit of a true seeker, Corinna Nicolaou embarks on a four-year journey of church, temple, and mosque attendance, seeking to learn from the inside what each of these religions has to offer and to teach. In her talk, she said that “Religions provide a space to ask the questions about living and dying.” In her book she concludes “No matter what religious road I was on, it seemed to lead back to the idea that we come from, and eventually return to, a common source. We are parts of a whole. We can be different and still make up a healthy totality. I had long ago given up trying to make sense of how I might define ‘God.’ I figured God was too complex a concept and could be imagined a number of ways. I was driving in my car one afternoon not even thinking about any of this stuff when these words popped into my head: God is that which unites us all…I suppose that’s the best definition I’ll ever have of God,” (266).

A person in the audience at the talk asked about the loneliness of not belonging to a particular religious community. Corrina Nicolaou spoke to this and it sparked a question of my own that I wrote in my notebook, “What to do when no one religion feels like home, but all do?” In her book she writes about this. “To commit to none, but to call on all: what would that look like on day-to-day practical terms? With no official place of worship to call home, my spiritual practices will be mostly self-guided,” (283). She jokes about making the rounds of religious places of worship again, “A-to-Z,” and that she could “draw the boundaries of my spiritual identity ever larger” (285).

I kept looking at the back inside cover of the dust jacket. It is an irregular circle with colors of blue, red, yellow, and green in it. I thought, “Why is it irregular?” “Why this little splotch of splashed colors?” Ahh, I get it, the front cover of her book has four separate colors of circles and the one circle at the back brings together her journey into one mulit-colored circle, a little lop-sided, because we are not perfect and the journey is never over. Oh, yes, and I see that her name is written in four different colored letters! Beautiful, that visually sums up the journey!

Oh, yes, and one more thing, the talk that Corrina Nicolaou gave was in the Vachon Gallery at Seattle University and hanging behind her is a beautiful painting by Salma Kamlesh Arastu called “Equal Rewards.” I asked Salma, later, what the name of this painting was and she said, “Equal Rewards – men and women get equal rewards.” I think this applies to all seekers as well, no matter where you are seeking, you will get equal rewards because the reward does not come from the place you are seeking, but it comes from the journey of seeking and it is spoken, whispered to you, in the Language of the Heart.

corrina-salma

One last thing to mention, at both these talks I spoke with another audience member afterwards. Angie Louthan is quitting her job as a pre-school teacher in order to bring into existence The Kind Fest. You can contact her at: AngieLouthan@gmail.com, website still under construction for the event.

She is planning to host it in Everett, Washington in September. I think this is a much-needed event to focus on manifesting kindness in these times. I wrote about the Compassion Revolution in health care in the past and I am very concerned about the hardening of the American heart and the deafening of American ears so that it is harder and harder to hear what Salma Arastu calls the Language of the Heart. Actually, on the way to the Search for Meaning Book Festival, I had seen a yard sign in our neighborhood:

kindness_yard_signs_20161110142021520_6566992_ver1-0_640_360

 

 

 

Re-humanizing Medicine & Walking the Medicine – Books of the Month in the Royal College of Psychiatrists Newsletter

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Pan American Division Newsletter, February 2017 (Issue 26)

RCPsych PanAm Book club: Book of the Month

This month’s recommendation was sent by Dr. David Kopacz who responded to our call to “rediscover the soul of daily practice” and to connect with more members of our Division. Dr. Kopacz is a psychiatrist working in Primary Care Mental Health Integration at the Puget Sound Veterans Affairs in Seattle, Washington, US. He is the author of our two books of the month:

  • Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD By David Kopacz and Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) Millichap Books/Pointer Oak, 2016
  • Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. By David Kopacz (Ayni Press, a division of John Hunt Publishing, 2014)

rcpsych_logo

Thanks RCP!

Making a Choice for Peace & Truth

img_0034

Lately it can feel like Peace & Truth are being eclipsed, that they are in danger of being crushed by separation, division, and the darkness of untruth and un-peace. I have been thinking a lot about choices that we all make as individuals and collectively and how those choices can be made from a place of self-centeredness or a place of interconnectedness. I have thought a lot about my social media and on-line presence. On the one hand I am an author of a book on self-care for clinicians (Re-humanizing Medicine) and a book on healing trauma and PTSD for veterans (Walking the Medicine Wheel). However, on the other hand, I see myself my work as being an advocate for human rights and for peace – these are the larger principles that my work with the specific books grows out of. I don’t want to contribute to further divisiveness in the world by expressing partisan viewpoints. I also don’t want to alienate my readers who hold a different political viewpoint than I do. My political viewpoint is not an end in itself, rather it is the best choice of alternative options given my larger and deeper conviction around peace and universal human rights. I come to the conclusion that when peace and human rights are threatened, it is my responsibility, in keeping with my larger and deeper principles, that I need to speak up. Choosing sides between political parties is not my purpose or intent, rather I am speaking up in favor of Peace & Truth, and speaking out about the abuses and manipulations of un-peace and un-truth (which might be more grammatically correct to say war/conflict and lies). Therefore, I will be writing about political topics when they are a threat to Peace & Truth.

img_0015

I have been working with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) who is an international advocate for peace through his vision of the Peace Chambers and his work to bring his vision into reality in the Americas, Europe, and Australia where these chambers have been built. I just spent a weekend visiting Joseph and we took a road trip across the high desert of New Mexico. We crossed the continental divide – that place where the waters fall either to the east or to the west, depending on which side of the divide they are on. The health and prosperity of the country depends on waters flowing both to the east or to the west. We have this continental divide in our country and we are continually called to try to “form a more perfect union” of the two sides of our country. There is an imbalance in the country if goodness only flows in one direction. There is a loss of peace when a “Me First” mentality tries to take things from others and tries to divide and separate the parts from the larger connection to the whole. The motto of the United States is e plurbus unum and this means “out of many, one.”

img_0012

After my visit with Joseph I stopped at Petroglyph National Monument and walked around looking at all the different petroglyphs, estimated to date back 400-700 years per the park brochure. These different symbols and images were made by human hands and they still speak after hundreds of years, although we do not always know what they are saying. What I heard them saying was a reminder about our interconnection to each other and to the world around us. As I walked south, the Sandia Mountain was off to the east in the distance and I walked along a smaller ridge to the west covered with boulders which were in turn covered with these drawings of human beings long dead who were still speaking if we would listen. I heard about the interconnection of east and west. Joseph says that the east is our mental dimension and the west is our physical dimension. I could hear how the petroglyphs spoke out to and witnessed the rising sun and I could feel the correspondence between this small ridge and the larger Sandia.

img_0090

Sandia Mountain, looking east, note the cloud figure. 

As I was going through the photos I saw the similarity between the cloud figure (above) and the petroglyph (below). Although I cannot tell you everything the cloud and stone were saying to each other, I can tell you it is ancient and it is about interconnection and our place in the world relative to all of our brothers and sisters, which includes not just all of our human brothers and sisters, but our brothers and sisters of the plants, animals, stones, and clouds. It is an echo of the dialogue between Father Sky and Mother Earth. It is a sacred song, a sacred story, and we would do well to listen to it.

img_0017

First I walked from the spiritual north to the emotional south, as I walked this path, a road runner was scooting about in the brush. Eventually, I lost track of it, then heard it calling, perched up above on the rocks, silhouetted by the brilliant blue sky.

img_0073

Joseph Rael describes the road from the north to the south as the “red road.” This balances out our usual black  road connecting our thoughts and the physical world (which we so often manifest through black top roads across our country). A little bird hopped around in the scrub to the east while the road runner called from the west.

img_0050

img_0077

I was particularly looking for a rock that had a number of hands carved on it.  Joseph says that we are all “holy beings.” He says that when he was growing up on Picuris Pueblo, he was taught that all children were cosmic beings. An elder would talk about the stars in the sky and the sand grains on the ground and tell the children that they are cosmic beings, that they are the grains of sand just as they are also the stars in the sky – the children were taught that they were “cosmic beings” who were related to the earth and the sky.

img_0018

I turned back around and started walking south to north. Now there were two road runners rushing about in the brush. Seeing a road runner is supposed to be good luck, and here were two of them running back and forth the path in front of me.

img_0111-2

It was getting close to time for me to head home. Joseph says that in the Tiwa language, the meaning of the word “home” is “the self-loving place.” How well are we loving ourselves – not selfishly, but selflessly, loving ourselves in a way that includes love for our human brothers and sisters, for our animal and bird brothers and sisters, for the stones who are our brothers and sisters, and for the Earth and Sky which are our parents? I can’t comprehend the current policies of the United States which seem more like the Divided States, that seems to value separation and division over unity, that seems to value conflict and threat over Peace, and that seems to value “alternative facts” over Truth. Joseph will often joke that people call him a shaman and he will say, “I don’t know about that, I just work here.” I guess that is the approach I am taking – I don’t understand why there is such an appeal in the United States for bullying, divisiveness, and conflict, but “I just work here,” and my job is to be seeking Peace & Truth. My job is to be speaking Peace & Truth. My job is to be walking Peace & Truth.

img_0093

 

 

 

The End of E plurbus Unum? The De-evolution from “Out of Many, One” to ME First

great_seal_of_the_united_states_obverse

By U.S. Government – Extracted from PDF version of Our Flag, available here (direct PDF URL here.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41373752 

The motto of the United States is E plurbus unum, which is Latin for “Out of many, one.” Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I have written about the importance of this motto in our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD. This motto is of crucial importance for helping veterans return home after war and reconnect to their own hearts and to society, which is why Joseph and I wrote about it, but it is also crucial for all of us and the very fabric of democracy. Veterans were trained to view other human beings as “the enemy” and this sense of separation is what makes violence possible. It is this sense of separation that makes violence continue and it is the opposite of peace. There cannot be peace when others are seen as separate. There cannot be peace when people are viewed as “others.”  “The heart of violence is the divided and separated heart,” we write, the heart of violence is “the heart that cannot see other hearts as interrelated and interconnected.”

Violence has its roots in the false idea of separation. Physically we appear separate, but even physically we are in a complex web of life with animals, plants, and the earth. When we begin to speak about human realities beyond the physical: emotion, heart, intuition, and spirit, the idea of ourselves as separate beings no longer makes sense. One can only be violent against someone or something seen as “other” (Kopacz & Rael, Walking the Medicine Wheel, 214).

Currently in the world, we are seeing more division and separation than coming together in unity. The ban on citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering our Nation of Immigrants is the latest and most extreme example of this. This breaks my heart and it breaks the heart of democracy. I worry for the future because, through my work with Joseph, I know that peace depends upon unity and that the current mania for separation and division is very dangerous. The rise of nationalism has historically been associated with violence for the very fact that an over-emphasis on “me first” leads to seeing “others” as getting in my way. We teach our little children, “Don’t rush to the front of the line, don’t push others aside.” We teach our children to respect others, and yet respect has been one of the first casualties in the current national and world-wide Me First Movement. In a very, very short time, the public dialogue has shifted so far toward disrespect and hatefulness that people feel justified in hate speech and separation speech.

We are seeing the rise of nationalism world-wide: Brexit, throughout Europe, the Philippines, the United States, Russia, and within the European Union. Nationalism very easily leads to violence against “others” and once the mad dog of nationalism is let off leash, even a country’s own people can all too easily be labeled as “others.”

Our institutions of unity and collectivism are being seen as obsolete, holding us back, ineffective. The institution of democracy, the United Nations, NATO, the European Union―these are the organizations that we have created to moderate human selfishness in order to promote peace and equality. Parker Palmer, in his book Healing the Heart of Democracy, writes that democracy is one of the ways that we, as human beings, seek to civilize ourselves. Palmer sees democracy as one of our best tools of civilization and that these tools “constitute the core self-hood called the human heart” (Palmer, 81).

For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive―and we are legion―the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life and for our nation. (Palmer, 10).

hhd-pb-cover300-200x300

How much are we the people of the United States of America making decisions from the heart? To what extent are our current elected officials leading from the heart? What will happen to us if we give up on unity, if we glorify everything falling apart? Louis Ferdinand Céline, writing about World War I, wrote that people had become “madder than mad dogs” because dogs don’t worship their madness.

Could I, I thought, be the last coward on earth? How terrifying! … All alone with two million stark raving heroic madmen, armed to the eyeballs? With and without helmets, without horses, on motorcycles, bellowing, in cars, screeching, shooting, plotting, flying, kneeling, digging, taking cover, bounding over trails, root-toot-tooting, shut up on earth as if it were a loony bin ready to demolish everything on it, Germany, France, whole continents, everything that breathes, destroy, destroy,  madder than mad dogs, worshipping their madness (which dogs don’t) a hundred, a thousand times madder than a thousand dogs, and a lot more vicious! A pretty mess we’re in! (Céline, Journey to the End of the Night).

Céline bore witness to the brutality of World War I and he calls himself a “coward” because he doesn’t want to join in the blood bath of killing “others.” However, non-violence has been raised to a spiritual virtue and political power by people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. (Céline did succumb to his own madness and cowardice in turning against the Jewish people in the lead-up to World War II, and citing him here in regard to World War I in no way condones his later anti-Semitism). I choose to quote Céline because his phrase “madder than mad dogs, worshipping their madness (which dogs don’t)” keeps echoing in my mind this past week. There is something very scary about a strain of U.S. politics that is worshipping madness, division, and hatred. This is happening in the United States of America―right now, yet it has roots going back over the past decades, and honestly back to the history of the European colonization of this land.

Going back to the early days of the U.S. “war on terror,” journalist, Andrew Cohen, wrote “Our journey toward Abu Ghraib began in earnest with a single document — written and signed without the knowledge of the American people” (The Atlantic, “The Torture Memos, 10 Years Later,” February 6, 2012). Cohen continues:

On February 7, 2002 — ten years ago to the day, tomorrow — President George W. Bush signed a brief memorandum titled “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees.” The caption was a cruel irony, an Orwellian bit of business, because what the memo authorized and directed was the formal abandonment of America’s commitment to key provisions of the Geneva Convention. This was the day, a milestone on the road to Abu Ghraib: that marked our descent into torture — the day, many would still say, that we lost part of our soul.

White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales wrote that the Geneva Conventions should not restrain the United States any longer in how we treat prisoners. “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions,” he wrote. I remember this as a very disturbing philosophical position our government took as it eroded the work of many countries and peoples work to prevent war crimes. When we stop appealing to our higher humanity and to our collective sense of ourselves as brothers and sisters―even while temporarily enemies―we not only take away what makes others human, but we lose our humanity as well. This is because humanity is a two-way street of interaction and of unity. Humanity is a state of being and when we take away this human state of being from others (whether they be Muslims, women, African-Americans, American Indians, people with different sexual orientations or identities, or anyone who disagrees with us), we lose our own humanity as well and we risk becoming mad dogs worshipping our madness as we have let ourselves of the leash of humanity. It is difficult to understand the current anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. because anyone who is not a full-blooded American Indian is an immigrant to the United States. The current president of the United States is an immigrant, as are most of us who have come together as one people in the United States.

It breaks my heart to see the people of the world turn our backs on the institutions we have worked so hard to create that call forth our higher humanity and work to promote peace. What we are witnessing is a kind of war of the many against the One. This break-down of our sense of shared humanity paves the way for dangerous economic and social policies and paves the way for violence against “others” whose humanity we have taken away, thereby losing our own humanity.

One of our primary global institutions of peace is the United Nations. The United Nations includes 193 states and serves as the earth’s only inclusive organization that promotes peace between countries and condemns violence. The newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley threatened the organization in her first speech, saying that “we are taking names” and repeating that “this is a time of strength” (Somini Senguptajan, “Nikki Haley Puts U.N. on Notice: U.S. Is ‘Taking Names,’” The New York Times online, January 27, 2017). The speeches and positions coming out of the current administration sound more like those of school-yard bullies than of elected democratic officials. “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength,” this motto of George Orwell’s dystopian society in his book, 1984, warns us about the kind of rhetoric we are now hearing from the Nation of Immigrants. The ME First Movement does not play well with others and it distorts facts and reality to suit its needs.

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) was recognized by the United Nations in a 2/20/89 letter for his work promoting peace through building Peace Chambers on four different continents. What Joseph has taught me is that the work of peace is spiritual work, and spiritual work is what makes us true human beings. Peace requires us to be seekers of our common goodness, our common shared humanity. The place that we find this common goodness and unity is in our hearts.

If we remember E pluribus unum on the Great Seal of the United States, we will remember that we are called to work toward an ideal that moves us from our many individual identities into a larger Union. E pluribus unum is Latin for “Out of many, one.” This identity is not just the social body of peacemakers, it is also the mystical and spiritual identity of visionaries and mystics. This is the realm of unity that Joseph is familiar with as a visionary and healer, (Kopacz & Rael, 215).

If we focus on separation and division, we not only destroy peace, we promote violence. This is why Joseph and I say that we all must move from seeing each other as “other” and move toward seeing each other as brother and sister.

front-cover-final

Walking the Medicine Wheel selected as one of Courage & Renewal’s Favorite Courageous Books of 2016!

It has been a busy couple of months with the book launch, with the biggest news being that Walking the Medicine Wheel was selected as one of Courage & Renewal’s Favorite Courageous Books of 2016!

I did a book event at University of Washington Bookstore on 12/7/16.

dscn2602

Joseph and I did a book reading at BookWorks in Albuquerque, New Mexico  11/10/16 and that was great fun presenting together!

I presented at the 3rd annual Mayo Clinic Humanities in Medicine Symposium with the title, “Walking the Medicine Wheel & the Hero’s Journey: Models of Initiation for Veterans’ Homecoming.” This was on 11/4/16 and I really enjoyed it and I met some great people with good hearts. For instance, I met artist Richard Retter who led us in some creative painting exercises.

I also found a statue outside in the desert garden called, “Transformations of the Shaman.”

In Albuquerque I met a Dine (Navajo) Code talker and visited the small Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe that had a stained glass moon phase calendar.

20161113_120855

The last big news is that I have a new addition to my job. I have a one day a week appointment at the VA as a Whole Health Education Champion, which will mean I will be conducting training in the larger VA with the Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation. I am very excited about this opportunity!

Becoming Medicine in The Badger

The Badger is an on-line magazine on spirituality and the arts out of Italy published by Antonella Vicini. Antonella has worked with Joseph Rael in the past and I will be writing a quarterly column in the magazine under the title, “Becoming Medicine.”

year-2-vol-4-cover

Click on the Badger link to check out the column which talks about how Joseph and I met and came to write our first book together, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD.

The Book is Here!!!

20161007_161012-1

The book that I have been working on with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) over the past 2 years just arrived in the mail! It looks like it is still not shipping from Amazon yet, but should be soon as it has shipped from the printer.

Judith Gadd has been working with the publisher, Paulette Millichap of Millichap books and has put up a nice website with 4 videos that my sister, Karen Kopacz, filmed earlier in the year.

walkingthemedicinewheel.com

My sister, Karen , at Design for the Arts, is in the process of updating my webpage:

davidkopacz.com 

DSC_9344_color_corrected

I will be setting up some book talks as the next step. In general Joseph will not be traveling much, but we will kick it off together in Albuquerque and will also look at setting something up in Durango. Here is the schedule so far:

November 4, 2016: Mayo Clinic Humanities in Medicine Symposium, Phoenix, AZ

November 10, 2016: Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM (with Joseph)

December 7, 2016: University of Washington Bookstore, Seattle, WA

March 9th, 2017: Minneapolis VA

More news as it is available…

Interview with J. G. Ballard, 1997

ballard

J G Ballard, (image from Alchetron)

In September of 1997, I had just started my first job out of psychiatric residency at Omaha VA and University of Nebraska. I was keen to continue my scholarly work on creativity, trauma, and healing that I had started with my studies of Jerzy Kosinski and Louis Ferdinand Céline – writers who had lived through war. I envisioned a book examining the lives and writing of a series of authors and I contacted J. G. Ballard for an interview via the post. Life happened and other things came up and I did not get much further on that book idea. (Some of my writing of this era can be found on my webpage in the Coniunctionis column I had written for the on-line journal Mental Contagion). Somewhere along the way, I lost the original handwritten letters of my correspondence with J. G. Ballard, but my sister, Karen, recently gave me back a stack of my writings that I had sent her over the years and these contained a photocopy of the transcribed manuscripts. (Thanks to Shelby Stuart for transcribing from hard copy).

I am belatedly publishing this interview with J. G. Ballard from 1997. My initial questions appear immediately below and following this Ballard’s reply.

9/25/97

Dear Mr. Ballard,

Thank you for your response to my letter concerning an interview on the topic of trauma, literature, and autobiography. I appreciate your suggestion of a postal interview.

In trying to draft a few preliminary questions, I have been struggling to avoid simplistic and potentially leading questions. Rather than an isolated question, I have embedded the question in a context including my own musings and various references. I hope this does not prove too distracting.

What has fascinated me in your writings is your past experience as a child of war and the reappearance of images like the empty swimming pool and the young, male protagonist enthusiastically exploring physical and psychological landscapes in transition. How do you see the relation of these childhood experiences to your later writing? I have also wondered the unanswerable question: would you have been a writer without those experiences during the Japanese occupation?

The later traumatic incident that stands out is the death of your wife as described in The Kindness of Women. I became interested in your works during my clinical years of medical school when I had just finished reading a number of William S. Burroughs’ novels. I was struck by the loss of your wives’ deaths preceding (if my memory serves me) both of your careers as writers. Burroughs commented,

“I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out,” (Miles, William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible, 1993, pg. 53).

 

Could you comment on the early loss of your wife and your career as a writer?

Could you comment on how close to objective reality your books Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women are? Stated another way, where do you consider these books on the spectrum of objective history-symbolic representation? Spence, a psychoanalyst, has used the distinction between ‘historical truth’ and ‘narrative truth.’ These two realms of truth describe external and internal realities which are equally valid, although not necessarily identical. I notice that both of my copies of these two books of yours are classified as ‘fiction.’ I spent quite a bit of time on this question in relation to my work on Kosinski. There are great discrepancies between Kosinki’s documented biography and his fictional portrayals of his life which he encouraged to be taken as autobiography. While expressing some form of symbolic truth in his ‘auto-fiction,’ as he called it, he both revealed, disguised, and concealed certain elements of his self.

An observation that has struck me is that many of your books seem quite hopeful in contrast to those of Konsinski and Céline’s which I have been studying. You generally do not portray the despair and disappointment in human nature that they do. Kosinski’s books are filled with existential aloneness, sadism, and brutality, ultimately, he committed suicide. His life and writing could be viewed as being tainted and continually influenced by the events of his childhood, a Nazi victory almost 50 years after the fact. In your books and stories you seem to draw on childhood experiences and images, yet there is more of a sense of hope. Other related questions I have relate to a clinical phenomenon observed in survivors of trauma which Freud called the “repetition compulsion.” His view was that traumatized individuals recreate traumatic interactions in their later relationships in an attempt to have a better outcome. I have not seen this to hold true in many of the individuals with whom I have worked, instead they just seem to add new trauma to old. However, in writing, it does seem possible that some form of reworking and mastering of past experiences could take place. Writing can also be a form of witnessing, which in many theories of recovery from trauma is a necessary step for the individual objectified and isolated by trauma to reconnect with the community. Could you comment on this possible relation between trauma, repetition, and writing as witnessing?

Do you have any thoughts or comments on these interactions in the lives and writings of any of the other authors I am in the process of examining: Céline, Kosinski, Burroughs, Beckett, Woolf?

atrocity-exhibition

I have been curious about your portrayals of sexuality in some of your earlier works, such as The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash. These books examine a mode of sexual interaction which is objectified rather than focusing on the subjective or shared emotional experience. These two works seem to explore the potentialities of interaction and to develop modes of relating based on architecture or mechanics (perversions of geometry). To what extent were these personal struggles for you in your life, compared to philosophical explorations? I guess this gets back to the question of historical and narrative truth.

Also of interest is your writing yourself into your own novel in your own automobile accident. (Did you know that Stephen Crane also wrote of fictional situations which he later experienced in his life, such as a boat accident?) Could you comment on this reversal of life imitating art, rather than art imitating life?

Back to the issue of sexuality. Much clinical work has focused on survivors of trauma who have been treated in an objectified manner and who then relate to others in an objectified way, again, a form of repetition or re-enactment of the past. Flipping through The Atrocity Exhibition, I find Dr. Nathan’s comment, “However, you must understand that for Traven science is the ultimate pornography, analytic activity whose aim is to isolate objects or events from their contexts in time and space,” (Re/Search publication, 1990, p. 36). Some of the more enlightened psychiatrists have realized this insight about objectivity and the scientific method, as Stoller has stated, the “false self of psychoanalysis is our jargonized theory,” (Stoller, Observing the Erotic Imagination, 1985, p. 175). The jargon thus become the fetish which is used to objectify the other. This reminds me, in what way did your medical studies influence your writing?

9780312156831

Could you comment on your commitment to Science Fiction? I just finished your book of essays, A User’s Guide to the Millennium, (which is a great title, by the way) and I was struck by the extent that you consider yourself a S-F writer. In the States, Burroughs, Vonnegut, and Ballard are found in the general fiction section. I think that here S-F tends to be looked down on by the “serious” writers. Although, amongst many of my friends, reading S-F was a kind of rite of passage which led up to the journey away from planet “home.”

One last question, what did you think of the film adaptation of Crash? The movie and the novel have been the topic of a number of conversations that I have had with friends.

Well, I guess I did end up asking a few questions. I would like to go through your books in an orderly fashion and perhaps formulate a few more questions if you are willing to tolerate them. I appreciate your willingness to review these pages.

Sincerely,

David Kopacz

Omaha, NE

J. G. Ballard’s Reply

ballard-jg-1

http://www.jgballard.ca/criticism/experimental_fiction.html 

 

2/10/97

 

Dear Mr. Kopacz,

Happy to answer your questions, and I hope you can read my handwriting [transcribed from original] – I ought to say first that there seems to be an underlying assumption by both you and the received wisdom of the day that all disturbing or violent experience is inherently damaging – that is that experiences such as the death of a spouse or child, death of a parent, the stress of being uprooted from one’s home, the hunger and privations of war, will all leave indelible fracture lines that run through the wounded psyche like a crack through a glass pane, and that even the lightest tap is capable of inflicting irreparable damage – I very much doubt this, although I seem to be opposed to the entire apparatus of 20th century psychotherapy – the fact is that throughout most of their evolution, human beings have been exposed to constant threats and ordeals, both physical and mental, of every kind, and the majority of people recuperate and in due course make a full recovery – when Empire of the Sun was published many people remarked on the appalling hardships I described, as if they were wholly untypical of the lives led by most people of the time – but as I always retort, the experiences I described in Empire of the Sun are far closer to the way in which most people on this planet have always lived, even today – it is we in the suburbanized, welfare-state western democracies who lead untypical lives – if the death of a spouse, child, parent, if hunger, disease, and privation were unusual and deeply damaging, human beings would never have survived. In fact they have enormous powers of recuperation, and when a devastating blow like a child’s loss of a mother, an utterly irreparable disaster according to psychologists such as Bowlby, can be recovered from if the wider family supports and loves the child, and sometimes, I suspect, if it doesn’t – this is not to say that genuinely horrific experiences of a sustained kind – like Nazi death camps and so on – do not inflict lasting damage – of course they do, just as some people will never recover from the wounds of a serious car crash.

empire-of-the-sun

I think this preamble probably answers many of your questions, but I will deal with them one at a time –

Childhood experiences and my later writing, and would I have become a writer but for WWII?

I think those experiences were a remarkable education, introducing me to an immensely wider contact with the real world than I would have had if my father had been running a textile company in Manchester – I also saw adults under pressure – an education in itself – in fact I didn’t write Empire of the Sun until I was in my mid-50’s and I think that I had long since come to terms with my experience of the war and risen above it.

imagination_intro

http://www.jgballard.ca/media/1974_imagination_on_trial.html

Would I have been a writer but for WWII?

               Probably, since I was a tremendous day-dreamer and fantasist from an early age (five or six) – however, I think the first-hand experience of the war made me very suspicious of the ‘solidarity’ of everyday life (house and home, the securities of bourgeois life, etc.) and pointed me toward the surrealists – I think I relished the surrealists’ dislocations of the war-time landscape as I experienced them, possibly because I realized that the abandoned hotels and drained swimming pools addressed a deeper truth about the nature of so-called civilized settled life – in part I probably turned to science fiction because it allowed me to inflict just those corrective dislocations on the suffocating docility of English life and all its gentrified ordinariness.

cifali_erithpool

http://www.ballardian.com/drained-london 

No, my wife’s death, in 1964, came ten years after I began writing, and by then I had published 2 novels, and 2/3 book of short stories.

Trauma, repetition and writing?

I’m not sure that I have ever suffered irreparable trauma – the experience of psychotherapists is not a reliable guide, since they are dealing with a small number of genuinely wounded patients, who perhaps lack the constitutional strengths that allow most people to recover.

Of course the death of my wife was a devastating blow, and to some extent I still mourn her over 30 years later – I think it’s “inexplicable” cruelty (in fact, sadly, mortality often unexpected, is the ocean we swim in) led me to embark on the Atrocity Exhibition, with its attempt to make sense of another inexplicable death, that of J.F.K. – “he wants to kill Kennedy again, but in a way that makes sense,” someone says of the Traven figure.

I’ve never claimed that Empire and Kindness of Women were straight or were largely autobiographical. They are my life as seen through the mirror of the fiction generated by my life – I hope that all my fiction is optimistic, since it is a fiction describing various journeys of psychological fulfillment – my characters, including Jim in Empire, devise strategies that allow them to remythologize themselves – though often their behavior seems superficially paradoxical and even self-defeating – (Kosinski, from what one of his then British publishers told me, was a deeply unhappy man, obsessed with pornography, of which he had a huge collection that he swapped with another wayward Pole, Polanski – but I suspect he would have been deeply unhappy even if WWII had never occurred – I doubt if his suicide was a victory for the Nazis, since he was never interned and the ordeals he witnessed were those of a child – the older concentration camp victims were the true sufferers.

thekindnessofwomen1sted

Céline, if I remember, was wounded in the first World War, and this may have acted as a facilitator, revealing a thread of vicious misanthropy that found its most concentrated form in anti-Semitism – a brilliant writer, but deeply nasty man probably from childhood – Burroughs, whom I knew on and off for over 30 years, seemed to me to have entirely created his own world from his imagination, from his homosexuality and the worldview generated by heavy drug use – I never had the sense that any events of his childhood had profoundly influenced him – Woolf, I assume was flawed from the word go, a depressive who might have survived but for the war.

The sexuality portrayed in Atrocity Exhibition and Crash has very little to do with my own. I own no pornography, soon become bored with the films on the “adult” channels in European hotels, and have been lucky enough to have had long and emotionally close relationships with a remarkably few women. On the other hand, I am interested in the ‘idea’ of pornography and how our sexual imaginations are influenced and shaped by the alienating effects of late C20 life – as I keep saying, Crash is a love story, describing how a man and his wife rediscover their love for each other, a fierce love that may be its own [warning? I was unsure of the original handwritten word]. Atrocity is one sustained attempt to make sense of the dislocations of the world.

A User’s Guide – the pieces go back to the 1960’s, when I was still writing s-f, and when I certainly considered myself in part an s-f writer and still had hopes that the genre could escape its juvenile origins and amount to something. But todays -s-f, largely dominated by cinema, is wholly different, a form I suppose of commercial space fantasy – but I’m still interested in science and its handmaiden, technology, and how these play into the hands of our own latent psychopathology. Indeed the normalizing of the psychopathic is the main enterprise on which late C20 mankind has embarked – Crash, the film? A superb and brave adaptation by Cronenberg – I think it will prove to be a landmark film, the Psycho of the 90’s – in the future all films will try to be like Crash —–

Best Wishes,

J.G. Ballard

A Proposition for a Counter-Curriculum in Healthcare Education and Practice

This is a copy of the blog post that I published in the member’s blog of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine 8/11/16.

By AIHM Member Dave Kopacz

jhp53db8b682bd57[1]

What is a counter-curriculum and why do we need it?

A counter-curriculum is a course of self-study (which includes the study of the self) alongside the technical curriculum for training healthcare professionals.

We need it because something important is missing from the contemporary curriculum of healthcare providers.

I first developed this concept of a counter-curriculum when I was in medical school, actually even before that, back in high school when I realized that there were important areas I needed to be educated in that were outside of what I could learn through schools. My counter-curriculum included the works of Carl Jung, and writings in Zen Buddhism, poetry, literature and mysticism. It included looking at the best of being fully human, as well as the worst, so I had to study the “forgotten histories” of genocides of Native Americans and other marginalized peoples and cultures. I had to study the assumptions of the current facts that were being taught, which led to the philosophy of science and history of medicine as well as of different cultural and historical models of health and illness.

The counter-curriculum is more than reading books, however.  In order to be fully human, to counteract the dehumanizing aspects of professional training, in order to be the best doctor and the best human being I could be, I practiced various forms of meditation, yoga, tai chi, martial arts, fencing, going to various gym classes, working out, running, free and easy wandering in the woods with Thoreau and Chuang Tzu in my pack. The counter-curriculum led me to study various forms of healing, of energy, life force, breath and consciousness. It led me to seek out different forms of education and experience. It recently led me to start working with Native American visionary Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), who taught me that we only truly exist in moments when we are raising our consciousness, the rest of the time we are just busy trying to keep everything the same, which is persistence―not existence.

And, finally, the counter-curriculum led me to write my book, Re-humanizing Medicine. And it led me to write this blog post and to encourage you to find your own counter-curriculum, so you can be a whole person, so you can be fully human, so you can truly exist.

Dave Kopacz is a psychiatrist, a founding diplomate of the ABIHM, and is recently certified through the ABoIM. He works in primary care mental health integration at the Puget Sound VA and is on faculty at the University of Washington. He has worked in a number of practice settings in the US and New Zealand. His first book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine develops the concept of a counter-curriculum and presents a guide for being a whole person to treat a whole person. His latest book, with co-author Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), is called Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD and is due out October 15th, 2016.

front-cover-final