Announcing The-POV: Interviews & Conversations by Usha Akella & David Kopacz

I met Usha Akella when she was doing a keynote presentation at the Power of Words conference in 2019, put on by the Transformative Language Arts Network. We both were interested in writing, poetry, creativity, and the spiritual path. Usha has long had a dream of developing an interview site online and I have been doing various interviews for my work – so it seemed like a good fit and less than a year later The-POV was born and launched into the world!

Usha’s first new interview is with Ann Ciccolella, Artistic Director of Austin Shakespeare since 2007. One of the things Usha has been impressed with is the depth and breadth of cultural programming Ann has curated.

Usha Akella: I am delighted to finally have an opportunity to explore your creative visions, Ann. I’ve attended your plays for years in awe at your ability to cast any play in a contemporary light. Your cross-cultural productions and multi-ethnic casts contribute to dialogue and peace-making. Your productions are playful, pushing the edge yet never lacking conviction or losing a grip on the playwright’s script. You’ve managed to bring Bollywood and Texas boots, and a female Hamlet to your stage. So, let’s begin by exploring the audacity of Ann Ciccolella. Why are you compelled to rewrite/reimagine or re-vision and can we chat about some of your productions that you felt were successful and those that were not—in your opinion.

Ann Cicolella: My own playwriting is a top value for me. Writing my own adaptations is something that I have been doing in the past couple of years. I want to do more playwriting, but finding the time needed to create scripts from their inception is something that I haven’t been able to do since leading Austin Shakespeare!  So, I have been adapting classic stories. I used the plot of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey and wrote a one-hour play version for middle and high school audiences. That experience was alternately challenging and delightful. During the rehearsal process, I try to inspire actors to create an imaginative performance, and with six actors we together created the many worlds of Homer’s The Odyssey. You see, adapting is a way to satisfy that thirst for my own playwriting.

My first interview for The-POV is with my friend and mentor, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). Joseph is of the Southern Ute tribe through his mother and of Picuris Pueblo through his father. Joseph is the author of a number of books and he and I have written two books together, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (2016) and Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality (2020).

David R. Kopacz: We’re going to have a section of Becoming Medicine reprinted in Parabola magazine – Jeff Zaleski wants the sections, “Initiation of the Circle” and “Moon Woman Vision.” You have statements in those sections that we are “circle people” and “what comes around goes around” and that “everything eventually becomes its opposite.” You also say, “Look at how we move in a circle, but then look at it from the side and it looks like we are moving forward and backward, back and forth. It depends on your perspective of seeing.”

Joseph Rael – Beautiful Painted Arrow (BPA): That’s apropos for this time. That’s how it is – we move back and forth and back and forth. We move forward and then we spoil it by invalidating it. In order to get in tune with it, we need to use our feet. That’s why we have these physical feet and they are made for traveling. When we go forward we add something. But then we go backward and we forget it. In this life, you have to be constantly correcting yourself. 


That’s what my dances are supposed to do. They check everything on the list. When you are dancing you move forward and backwards in balance. You dance to cover the winter; you dance to cover the spring; you dance to cover the summer; and you dance to cover the autumn. You also dance to cover the North, South, East, West – the directions. 


I’m just being a book from the universe and showing you what to do.

You can read the full interviews at The-POV.

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The next two art works are both from Joseph. We are still in Chapter 4, “Becoming a Visionary,” of Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality by David R. Kopacz & Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).

At Vision Quest Visiting with Dandelion, Joseph Rael (2006)

Visions are new knowledge, guiding insights that come in visual form, rich with symbolism and archetypes. Visions are different than intellectual, linear thought – they are in-breakings of the divine into ordinary life.

Puuh-Tea Bringer of New Knowing, Joseph Rael (2006)

“Ceremony is the way to do this. It gives us powers. Ceremony works because there is crying for a vision. By crying for a vision, I mean that the soul is longing for light, so it can drink it in and thus fulfill its nature. If light – vision – is lacking, there is sadness,” (J. Rael, cited, p. 89).

The Journey of a Seeker & Visionary – A review of Guided By Spirit, by Michael Pedroncelli

Mike is a friend of mine whom I met through Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and he gave me a copy of this book and I would like to return the gift by writing this review.

Mike is a sincere and compassionate seeker and this book tells the story of his journey building the Circle of Light Peace Chamber. Mike followed his dreams and visions to bring them into reality and he has many spiritual adventures along the way. I would say that Mike is a gentle soul.

Like many mystics, Mike’s journey takes him from a sense of an isolated ego to the experience of interconnected being – “Being awake and open to All,” (205).

He learns about the meaning and purpose of life and the importance of attending to inner visions and bringing them into material reality, thus becoming a Liminal Being, or, as Joseph Rael might say, an “In-Betweener,” or a “hollow bone.”

“What you need is to let go of all the fear and let go of all the pain in you, and then you are not competing and you know you are on your soul’s journey and living your purpose – when you are that pure love that you are. Just trust in the love that you are, and you’re always living your purpose and on your path,” (166).

I have been to visit Mike, and his wife Marie, several times after meeting him at the book release and 80th birthday party of Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) in 2015. We featured a picture of The Circle of Light Sound Peace Chamber in Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, (page 95 – I still feel bad about the typo of your surname in the caption – sorry about that Mike!).

My sister, Karen, and I met with Mike & Marie in October, 2018 and filmed them talking about the construction of the chamber. You can watch the video of that, here. And see other videos of my work with Joseph Rael here, and here.

Mike & Marie Pedroncelli, Circle of Light Sound Peace Chamber, photo K. Kopacz (2018)

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Here are the next two paintings from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, by David R. Kopacz, MD & Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). The first painting is by Joseph, Where God and Humans Meet. This was one of the first paintings that Joseph gifted me when we first started working together. These paintings are found in chapter 4, Becoming a Visionary. Here is what I wrote about the painting in the book:

ON VISIONS

“Joseph’s artwork comes from his visions. What he sees in his visions he puts in his artwork. I keep a number of Joseph’s paintings around my desk. One of these is “Where God and Humans meet.” This painting is in
the shape of a large vase, filled with tiny dots—like stars or molecules of gas. There is a central point, like a sun, which shines two rays downward to the top of two people’s heads and there is a little star where that divine
energy enters in through the crown (7th) chakra. Arching upwards from the central sun is a divine being, God or Vast Self. As always in Joseph’s paintings, this divine being is looking upwards and has a large black eye (which is a black hole, Joseph says, and this black hole is about the same size as the light giving central sun). The edge of the vase and the back of this divine being are the same line, the vase grows out of the divine
being which creates a container of and for existence. We are the vase that contains the space where God and humans meet, but from a visionary perspective, the material we are made of, the vase, is the material of Wah-Mah-Chi, Breath-Matter-Movement, in other words, God. Visions come from the divine and they reveal to us who we are. Visions are the soul drinking light, Joseph says,” (78).

Where God and Humans Meet, J. Rael 2015

The next painting is one of mine. When I was living in New Zealand I began reading Henry Corbin and was fascinated by his description of the ‘alam al-mithal, the place where “Spirits are corporealized and bodies are spiritualized,” (Corbin, Spiritual Body, Celestial Earth, 177). I would sit and meditate, looking out at the volcano, Rangitoto, and would try to find what this place of ‘alam al-mithal would be like. I painted 10 different paintings, but I’m not sure I could capture my vision.

‘Alam al-mithal, D. Kopacz (2016)

“Visions are at the center of this book, just as the heart is at the center of the medicine wheel and our hearts are the center of our being. A vision is a little bit like a poem, or maybe a dream. It can be of brief, passing interest, or it can be an orienting structure for the rest of your life,” (78).

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Here are two more art works from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality by David R. Kopacz, MD & Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).

The first painting, “Dove of Peace,” is by Joseph Rael. He describes how he had a vision after his foster mother, Lucia, died – he saw a white dove in the corner of the room and had a glimpse of paradise. This painting is in Chapter 3, “Separation.” You have to go through separation before you can go through reunion.

Dove of Peace, Joseph Rael (2018)

The next painting is one of mine, “Visionary Perception,” and starts off chapter 4, “Becoming a Visionary.”

Visionary Perception, David Kopacz

For me, I was in training all the time that I was in Picuris. If everything is considered holy, then you are always in training.

Apparently I was in training for right now—to tell the people in the United States what we are built to do and that we are the Sacred. We are the holy ones. That is why I always speak with eloquence.” (Joseph Rael)

Spiritual Democracy – Happy Interdependence Day!

We are into the July 4th Weekend of the Pandemic. Will this weekend be any different than any other weekend of the pandemic? Social Distancing, we keep to ourselves, we turn inwards – and yet the birthday of when this nation was established (recognizing that we invaded other nations that were already here on this land) is usually about going out, barbequeing with friends, watching fireworks in crowds.

We have our independence from Britain – but what are we using it for? What are we doing with this independence? We are not independent of our acts of aggression, genocide, and slavery – those are intertwined with the founding of the United States of America.

Maybe we have taken independence as far as it can safely go. The current political regime in power in the USA gives us pause to consider this. Maybe it is time that we stopped celebrating independence and started celebrating Interdependence.

We would start by acknowleding our interdependence with Mother Earth and her children, this land that we live on which we took from our Native American brothers & sisters. Then it would lead to acknowledging our interdependence with Africa and her children whom our ancestors captured and enslaved, prospering off of their labor. Then it would lead to acknowledging our interdependence with all the people of the Earth.

This Interdependence Day weekend, we offer to you Chapter 14: Spiritual Democracy, from our book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.

Earth Child of Spiritual Democracy, Joseph Rael (1997)

“Spiritual Democracy is a living connection, allowing the flow of spirituality through our lives, embracing the divinity in all creatures and the divinity of the Earth. Spiritual democracy is the way we treat others when we learn to see the divine in all things and that we, too, are part of divinity. It is a sacred way of being. Periodically, we forget that we are divine as we live in this world of matter and go through its trials and travails. We, as individuals, as well as we as people, need periodic renewal at the font of spiritual democracy.” (p. 381)

We invite you to use this holiday weekend to renew our Spiritual Democracy. Let’s put the “we” back in “We the people…”

If you’d like to read the chapter, just download the pdf below.

Happy Interdependence Day!

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These next two pieces from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality include one by me and one by Joseph.

My painting, Creation, is a large, 30×40″ painting. The bottom of the painting somehow is cut off in the book, but below is the full painting. It has some glow in the dark paint – a phase I went through that is nice when you turn off the lights because it is like having a painting hidden within a painting.

Creation, D. Kopacz

Joseph’s painting is Sun and Dancing Moonlight on the People of Mother Earth, painted in 2006. Joseph developed a Sun Moon Dance and it is still performed by people he taught it to all over the world.

Sun and Dancing Moonlight on the People of Mother Earth, J. Rael (2006)

An excerpt from this section of the book will appear in the Fall issue of Parabola. Here is a quote from Joseph in this section:

Joseph is continually teaching me about the circular nature of reality, saying that we are “circle people,” that “what comes around goes around,” and that “everything eventually becomes its opposite.” He also points out how the difference between a linear and circular perception is based on the perspective or paradigm through which you are perceiving. “Look at how we move in a circle, but then look at it from the side and it looks like we are moving forward and backward, back and forth. It depends on your perspective of seeing.”

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These next two paintings from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into A Living Spirituality, are both Joseph Rael’s. The first, Eagle Dancing Feather Becoming Medicine Heals the People was originally Eagle Dancing Feather Medicine Heals. Joseph had me write on the print “Becoming” and “the People” so that we could use this painting as the cover. It, thus, has several different elements, like an acrostic.

Eagle Dancing Feather Medicine Heals The People, Joseph Rael (2016)

The next painting is the first of two paintings of Chimney Rock that we included in the book. Chimney Rock is a historic Pueblo structure on the Southern Ute Reservation. The structures were aligned to be able to tell the seasons based on the progress of the moon in relation to the peaks of Chimney Rock

Lunar Stand-still at Chimney Rock, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), 2005

I felt drawn to visit Chimney Rock on my second visit to see Joseph in Colorado, but the gates were closed. (The first visit I had gone to Mesa Verde). I made it there in 2016. I happened to get there as there was a sunset flute performance and I had a little friend visit me there.

A little friend, D. Kopacz (2016)
Chimney Rock, Southern Ute Reservation, Colorado, D. Kopacz (2016)

In English, ‘medicine’ is something that still needs to happen, but in Tiwa medicine is already there, it is a power. Every human being is a power. One becomes a medicine person through practicing one’s destiny. The child already has his or her own medicine. Through practicing one’s destiny, the medicine person manifests the medicine that was already there as a child. The child makes medicine all those years and then becomes an adult.” (Joseph Rael – Beautiful Painted Arrow, page 30)

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Here are two more paintings from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. The first is one of mine and the second one of Joseph Rael’s.

Rainbow Medicine Wheel, D. Kopacz c. 2016

Joseph told me that he uses four colors always in his rainbow paintings: yellow, orange, red, and blue – I follow his convention here.

Night Eyes of Direction Finder, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) 2006

I love this painting of Joseph’s and it starts of Part I Separation (Seeking). Seeking is the start of everything, the start of the book, the start of life – the start of what we are trying to do at this very moment in history – seeking peace and love to move through these challenging times. The painting comes right before chapter 1, “Becoming Medicine.” Joseph’s quote we start off the chapter with is below:

“The thing I should have said in my books is that everyone already has their medicine. The way you become a medicine person is you practice who you are because you are already medicine. No one gives it to you, you are already it.”

(Joseph Rael – Beautiful Painted Arrow)

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The “Introduction” to Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality is my story and path of how I came to meet and work with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). Thus, more of the paintings in this chapter are mine. The two that follow are The Hero’s Journey and the Medicine Wheel of the Heart.

The Hero’s Journey, D. Kopacz, 2014

The Hero’s Journey painting was an example of the Hero’s Journey project that we invite veterans to do at the end of the 12-week Hero’s Journey class. The project invites the veteran to bring together the personal & universal into a creative project. Some veterans have done paintings, drawings, maps of their time in the service, writing and performing a song, and even multimedia art installations. I painted this as an example for the class. It is a 36″ x 36″ square canvas, divided into the stages of the Hero’s Journey and the quoted text around the circle is made up of various quotes by Joseph Campbell that pertain to that step of the journey.

Medicine Wheel of the Heart, D. Kopacz, c. 2016-2017

This was my attempt to bring together, in a visual format, Joseph Rael’s teachings about the medicine wheel. An earlier medicine wheel was published in Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD. The Medicine Wheel brings together the four outer directions of North, South, East, West, and the four inner directions of Mind, Emotions, Physical, and Spiritual. Each direction also has a corresponding vowel sound: A (ah), E (eh), I (ee), O (oh), U (uu) – pronounced as the vowels are in Spanish. There is also a princple idea associataed with each direction: Purity, Placement, Awareness, Innocence, and in the Center – Carrying.

As I was working on Becoming Medicine, I conceptualized it as a continuation of the journey started in Walking the Medicine Wheel. In Walking the Medicine Wheel, we worked to integrate the four outer and four inner directions and ended with connecting to the “held-back place of goodness” in the heart. In Becoming Medicine, I saw us as entering deeper into the heart center. I found Joseph’s comment about human beings as “medicine bags” to be useful here and that the purpose of the book was two-fold: to find the “sacred objects” which are hidden in our own hearts bringing them back for communal healing, and to go even deeper into a state of non-duality. In Walking the Medicine Wheel, Joseph said, “I am my brother’s keeper.” Joseph wanted to teach veterans that we are all brothers and sisters and we are all related. Becoming Medicine is about going beyond the affiliation of relation into a sense of oneness, non-duality – this is the state that mystics and visionaries know and it is the place of ultimate peace. This insight, or enlightenment about our non-separateness from other living beings and the material world is an initiation into a new relationship with the land and into spiritual democracy. As with many mystical traditions, when you make your secret journey you will find that what you were seeking is already within the medicine bag of your heart.