I interviewed Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) for The-POV, the new interview site that Usha Akella and I have started. Parabola magazine has picked up this interview and published it in their Spring 2021 issue entitled “Wellness.” The interview is called “A Bridge Across the River.”
Please support Parabola magazine and pick up a copy of the Spring 2021 Issue!
This painting is accompanying the text of the “Entering the Heart Ceremony” that we close the book with. This exercise, or ceremony, takes you through a series of doorways through your physical heart, the heart of humanity, the heart of life, the heart of creation, and finally into the heart of the Creator and the heart of the medicine wheel. At this point, the journey that we started in walking around the medicine wheel in our first book together is complete as we progress through initiations into being a shaman, a mystic, and a visionary and end in the center of the heart of the medicine wheel. We’ll offer this ceremony to you here:
Entering the Heart Ceremony
Find a quiet place where you will be able to sit for a while, either inside or outside. Find the center of the space where you will be sitting. Orient yourself to the North and take one step in that direction, honoring the place of innocence. Turn around, facing South, and step back into the Center of your medicine wheel, honoring the place of carrying. Take a step to the South, honoring the place of placement. Turn around, facing North and step back into the Center, again honoring the place of carrying. Turn to the East, and take one step forward, honoring the place of purity. Turn around, facing West, and step back into Center, honoring the place of carrying. Take one step to the West, honoring the place of awareness. Turn around and step back into Center, once again honoring the heart of carrying.
Now you will walk the medicine wheel. Face the East and take one step forward, intone the sound of the letter A_aaahhhhhhhhh, drawing out the sound as long as you can as you step around the perimeter of the circle to the South and then intone the sound of the letter E_eeehhhhhhhhh. Follow the wheel around to the West and intone the letter I_eeeeeeeee. Follow the wheel to the North and intone the sound of O_ooooooooo. Now step to the Center and intone the sound of the letter U_uuuuuuuuu.
Now you can sit comfortably in the center of the medicine wheel, this is the place of carrying and it is the heart of the medicine wheel. As Joseph reminds us, the microcosm is the macrocosm, thus this is the heart of the medicine wheel, it is your heart, it is the heart of the Earth, it is the heart of the Universe, and it is even the Heart of God—Wah Mah Chi—if you can walk deep enough into the heart.
We will now be going through a series of doorways. First we will enter your personal heart and trace the flow of blood through the medicine wheel of the heart. Venous blood, after giving its oxygen to the body, returns to the heart from the Northwest, the place of connecting spirit and body, entering into the right atrium. Next follow the flow of blood into your right ventricle in the Southwest, the place of the connecting body and emotion. From here the blood is pumped to the North, the place of Spirit and Innocence. Here the blood enters into the lungs and is transformed as the inner venous blood connects with the outer oxygen- rich environment coming into the lungs. The venous blood now turns from dark to bright red arterial blood as it carries more oxygen as the physical matter of the body creates a container in which the movement of the blood connects with the movement of the breath—thus we have Breath, Matter, Movement, thus we have Wah-Mah-Chi entering at this point. Next, follow the blood as it comes back into the heart from the Northeast, the place of connecting spirit and the mind, as it enters into the doorway of the left atrium. From here the blood travels to the Southeast, the place of connecting mind and emotion in the left ventricle. From here the arterial blood travels North, to the spirit again, and then travels throughout the body, revitalizing it and carrying the breath into matter through the movement of the blood.
The atria and ventricles of the heart are empty chambers that can fill with blood and then empty, a continual process of accepting what life has to give, allowing transformation, and then giving goodness away to the rest of the body. These empty chambers might remind you of the word that Abhishiktananda used—guhā: the cave of the heart. Now that you have circulated through your own personal heart, the time has come to enter into the center of your heart, for it is here that you will find the doorway into the deepest chambers of the cave of the heart, which we can also call the secret garden. Move into the center of the heart, this is the still point at the center of all the circulating movement of the burning fire of the blood. In this still center-point, look around for a doorway. It is dark here in the center of the heart, despite the burning of the blood, you can look with your eyes, but you need to see with your inner, non-ordinary vision. You must feel into it with your non-ordinary senses. Locate the doorway—it might be on the wall, or the ceiling, but it could possibly be on the floor as it leads deeper into the heart. Open the door of your heart and step through the threshold into this next larger space of your heart, feeling the opening of stillness and space within your center. You are now in the heart of humanity. Feel your way into this heart of humanity where your heart and the heart of humanity are one.
Once you have acclimated to the heart of humanity, begin looking for the next doorway that opens into an even deeper stillness of heart. Using your non-ordinary senses, locate the door, open it, and step through, entering into the heart of life. Open up into the heart of life where the heart of every living thing is one. Even things that don’t have an obvious heart like plants have their center here. Open up into this greater spaciousness, feeling more space open up within your heart and feeling a vastness that you are entering. Take some time getting comfortable in the heart of life.
Start to look around for the next doorway, looking all around with your non-ordinary vision. Find the door, open it, and step through into the heart of creation—this is the heart of every physical thing, all biological beings and rocks, water, soil, and even space. Feel this space open up within the center of your heart as you step forward into this vast space. Spend some time enjoying being one with creation.
There is still another doorway as you begin looking around again with your non-ordinary vision. In this realm, you get used to letting go of your identity—moving from the personal, to humanity, to life, to creation. Find the door, open it, and step through, entering into the Heart of God,
the Heart of Wah-Mah-Chi—the Heart of the Creator. Here you are One with everything, resting peacefully in the light of the Heart of the Creator. You have taken four steps through four caves of the heart. You have been practicing heart medicine as you have been circling deeper into the heart medicine wheel.
Now it is time to go into the heart of the heart medicine wheel, taking a step into the center of the heart of the heart medicine wheel. By now you should be used to using your non-ordinary vision to find the door, open it, and walk through, as you do so. You now are entering into what Joseph calls Vast Self. This is the place of non-duality. There is not even oneness, because it is before the counting even began. Feel the peace of Vast Self, the place before Creation, the place that watches Creation being created out of itself and yet remaining the same. Be still, be still . . . still . . .
The last painting by Joseph is “One Sun and Four Moons” from 2018. It also features black holes. Joseph has told me, in the past, that the black eyes of his spiritual figures in paintings are black holes.
Although this is the ending of our The Art of Becoming Medicine series, working with Joseph is like always opening new doors. We are already nearing the end of a draft of our next book, Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons – a book for children of all ages, but particularly those in the transition from childhood into the teenage years. We have a rougher draft of a book for younger children called A Bowl Full of Ideas for Inventive Minds: Learning How to Count to Ten in Tiwa. We have also started the talking and idea stage of a book on Art Medicine, which will focus on Joseph’s visual art and the healing properties of artwork. There is always more to do with Joseph! The ending is just the beginning…
Joseph’s painting is called “Spirits of Chimney Rock,” and is the second painting we have of this ancient site designed for lunar observation.
“Stars shine in the darkness of space. Joseph speaks a lot about space and the cosmos, using the sun and moon to orient us, and about our relationship and responsibility to the cosmos—because he keeps telling me We are cosmic citizens. There is a strong tradition in amongst the Southwestern Native American tribes of referring to the stars and the movements of the sun and the moon. I felt it was important for me to visit Chimney Rock, where two pillars of rock were used to track the changing patterns of the moon. Joseph told me to ‘note the mindset of how the ancient moon watchers used their insights regarding how they used the knowledge from moon observations.’ I visited Chimney Rock National Monument in 2015 for a dusk ceremony. As I sat listening to the Native American flute player, a small lizard climbed on to my backpack and then jumped on to my leg and sat there for a little bit. It felt good to gaze off at the pillars of Chimney Rock accompanied by this little rascal.” (Kopacz & Rael, 261)
I had painted a couple of different crow paintings and this is the second in the series, “Crow Flying Through Dark Matter.”
Joseph phoned me one night (2/18/16) as I was getting off of work and told me he had a dream or a vision in which God told him that there is a heldback place of goodness in everyone’s heart, no matter what you have done and no matter what has been done to you. When he told me this I knew we had the organizing framework and ending of the book! I grumbled a little, internally, thinking, “Gee it would have been nice to have had this vision when we started writing the book,” but I got over that pretty quickly. This vision meant that trauma did not destroy our goodness and innocence, although we can lose touch with it. It is waiting right there in the heart and all we have to do is make the inner journey to that place of heldback goodness. We further develop this idea in chapter 9, “Guhā: Cave of the Heart,” in Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.
The chapter starts off with a painting of Joseph’s, “Dreaming a New Future.” After Joseph phoned me about his vision of the heldback place of goodness, I quickly wrote out a number of related concepts in trauma and healing work: Peter Levine’s work on healing through embodiment; Donald Kalsched’s The Inner World of Trauma, and Trauma & the Soul; Richard Miller’s concept of the “inner resource” in iRest (Integrative Restoration/yoga nidra); Lewis Mehl-Madrona’s “inner healer;” Hindu traditions about the guhā (cave of the heart); and Martia Nelson’s Coming Home: The Return to True Self. Many different writers and traditions speak of an inner source of healing in the heart.
Here are some excerpts from chapter 14 “Return to the Place of Heldback Goodness:”
I madly scribbled down his words in a notebook. In talking about this held-back place of Goodness, Joseph spoke about how the sweat lodge can help veterans reconnect with this hidden place. He says that this goodness is hidden within the “cloak of Divine Energy,” and that, through the symbolic rebirthing of the sweat lodge processes, it can be brought back into a person’s life. Joseph describes how, in the sweat lodge, you sit on the ground in the darkness. At the end of the ceremony, you move from sitting to crawling on your hands and knees out through the flap of the sweat lodge door, moving from darkness and re-emerging into light. We do not remember our original birth, but this recreates our birth, crawling on hands and knees, struggling to our feet, and then staggering in our steps…
Joseph used to perform the sweat lodge ceremony at Indian Health Service hospital and clinics. He worked a lot with addictions. In the sweat lodge, there is first “placement,” in sitting, then crawling out into the light, the re-birthing process. He says that this is a “going back to Goodness, to the Source of Renewal.” This is the pathway to our inner home, which has been waiting for us and for veterans as they have journeyed forth into the world of war and trauma. We have to “repeat what we did as a baby” and this helps us reconnect to our inner home, to that place of held-back Goodness.
Joseph reminds me again to put in the book that he uses lava rocks for the sweat lodge and that these are “from the core of the Earth, the Mother of all of us. We reach through the center of her to her heart to heal.” The Earth’s heart, Mother Nature’s heart, our heart, are all the same. In connecting to Mother Nature’s heart, we can reconnect back to our own heart and heal. Joseph then said of veterans that the “Divine Mother loves them, and can wipe away their pain . . . all that is needed is a second or one or two seconds, or even no seconds, and just instantly we are forgiven.” Joseph reminisces that when he was growing up, he would meet people from many different tribes, but the Native American people were always the “most nature-oriented people.” He says that we must “Understand that we all belong to Mother Nature. We look like a beautiful man, or a beautiful woman, or a beautiful child, but still we are all Mother Nature’s children.”
“Dove of the Holy Spirit,” is a bright and vibrant painting – colors exploding out of the blackness of the void. I keep it by me, on my desk, where I work.
The next painting is, interestingly, a bird flying in the opposite direction to the first painting. I did a series of two paintings of crows flying through the darkness of the void. Joseph often speaks of dark energy and dark matter and is fascinated by these energies and spaces that we can infer but that we cannot see with our usual senses.
“Carrying is the same as initiation. At sunrise, the sun’s light initiates the day. At sundown, the sunlight initiates the night by ending the light of the day and beginning the dark of night. Similarly, life is carrying all that is; all plants, animals, and things. Life initiates us into linear time. We live from one moment to the next one. We live inside each moment, then it passes on so that we can become something new. A past moment that just died carries and becomes the foundation for the new knowing that was just born.”(Joseph Rael, p. 165, originally from Sound, p. 111).
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:
“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).
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.
“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).