What a big year it has been! My first book came out at the end of 2014 – Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. I have traveled a lot this year for speaking engagements: from here in Seattle to Denver, Colorado, Auckland, New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia.
I just picked up Jean Houston’s book, The Search for the Beloved: Journeys in Mythology & Sacred Psychology. I was surprised to read her introduction to the second edition. She describes that in September of 1992 she stood at the northern-most point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga and watched the waters of different oceans come together. She asks her companion if “this is the place where the planetary DNA gets coded anew?” He replies, “it is…the place where all Maoris go when they have died to lift off to the Other World,” (vii).
This is the place, right by this tree in the photo, named Te Aroha (love), where the Māori believe that departing spirits leave this world for the other after death. Houston’s guide continued, “It is because of places like this…where the spirits of many people and many lands can meet and refresh themselves. And it is here as well…that we remember who we are and…And call our spirits home,” (viii).
I, myself, stood in this same place, looking down on the coming together of masculine and feminine waters and of the place where souls leave this place after death – during my last month living in New Zealand, November 2013. See my blog about this trip.
Now, 2 years into living back in the United States, but in a new region, Seattle in the Northwest, I am at this point. Sorry, I know that sounds like Yoda-speak, I just saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Where am I now? Where is my home? Is my home here in the Northwest?
My wife and I went up to Victoria, British Columbia on the Victoria Clipper for an overnight weekend for our 24th wedding anniversary last weekend. Here are a few photos from that trip.
We are still exploring this region, so it seems difficult to call it home when it is so new and so far from where we grew up and where most of our relatives live. I have been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell lately, as well as other authors (whom I will discuss below). This has been a big part of my transition from “down under” back to the Northern Hemisphere. At age 48, this has been my mid-life transition, like Dante taking his mid-life journey:
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood
I have developed a class for veterans based on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The hero hears a call to adventure, crosses a threshold, meets mentors and challengers, has a descent into the unknown world, comes to a challenge which is both external and internal, comes to terms with the inner/outer feminine as well as the authority of society, re-crosses the threshold to the known world, but here finds himself or herself a stranger in a strange land and must work to re-acculturate to their own home. What the hero finds at the furthest point of the journey is the gift or boon which transforms the self and has the potential to renew and transform society as well. But often, this gift is hard to see and the physical treasure might even be lost, as happens to Gilgamesh when he sets down the herb of immortality that he has brought up from the deepest ocean and it is eaten by a snake. This means that the real treasure is the transformation of the self – not some material item. This framework is so useful for returning veterans who have been away in the military world and have difficulty returning back to the civilian world. The book and class I have developed are at the point where I have just submitted it to a publisher for review with a tentative title of, Return: The Hero’s Journey Home – for Veterans & Society After War.
I have found this framework helpful for my own return and I have felt fellowship with these lost souls I have been working with. Reading Houston’s introduction, my mind returned to that rocky outcropping where Te Aroha clings to the cliff, serving as a guidepost for those who have died and transition on to another world. The end of my life in New Zealand really was a kind of death for me, while I am living here in the Northwest, I am still waiting in some ways to be reborn, to find out who I will be and what my life will be like here. The Northwest is the boundary between the physical West and the spiritual North on the medicine wheel. This brings me to the other major project I have been working on, co-authoring a book with my friend and Brother Joseph Rael (Joseph likes to think of us as verbs, rather than nouns, thus “Joseph-ing”), whose Tiwa name is Tsluu-teh-koh-ay (Beautiful Painted Arrow).
Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)
I met Joseph in October of 2014 and he and I have met in person a few times and been talking on the phone and exchanging letters for work on our book, which we are calling Becoming Your Own Medicine. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Joseph. Not only does he make me ponder spiritual questions, he is really fun to work with and I always laugh with him. We are getting to the point of doing some editing work on the manuscript for the book and it is very much my own personal journey, my own hero’s journey as much as it is about Joseph’s teachings. Of course I have been reading and re-reading Joseph’s books and he just re-released a new version of his classic, Being & Vibration: Entering the New World. Hopefully the hero’s journey book and Becoming Your Own Medicine will be released in 2016/2017.
In addition to my work with veterans and my collaboration with Joseph, I have been doing some deep study of various topics and authors. 2014 was largely reading Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham’s works on esoteric Islam and Sufism. This also included a lot of the well-known poets, Rumi and Hafiz, but also one of my favourite books of that time, The Unveiling of Secrets: Diary of a Sufi Master by Ruzbihan Baqli. In 2015, I met Richard Miller, who was kind enough to spend some time talking about iRest & yoga Nidra, when he was up here for a conference. This year has been defined by reading a lot about Hinduism and Kashmiri Shaivism with the principle of non-duality being a primary focus, as well as the concept of spanda, the divine creative pulsation which corresponds so well to Joseph Rael’s teachings about reality. These books have primarily been by Jaideva Singh and Mark S. G. Dyczkowski.
Another topic that has been of interest to me is understanding the foundation of American democracy and seeing how we have lost touch with that and how we can re-invigorate the sense of non-denominational spirituality and human rights that were foundational for our country. I think this has been a kind of re-acquaintance with the U.S. for me. Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Jacob Needleman’s The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, Steven Hermann’s two books Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward and Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul have helped me to come to a re-imagining of the idea of America.
Another highpoint of the year was working with George Kirazian on an interview with him about his friendship with translator Juan Mascaró, whose renderings of The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, and The Dhammapada are still readily available in the Penguin Classics series.
In addition to my own writing, I look forward to continued collaboration with Joseph Rael, as well as some other friends of mine: Gary Orr, Hilton Kopp, and Sandy Carter. I met Gary and Hilton during my time down under and we have some great ideas – stay tuned…I met Sandy when she did a book review of Re-humanizing Medicine for the Courage & Renewal blog. She and I put together a conference proposal on Joy in Work, which was turned down, but has led to our long-distance collaboration on a project on this same topic, which I have been calling, A Work of Joy. This examines finding joy in work at a time when there are high rates of stress and burnout in health care.
At the VA, I have a couple projects I have been working on that are specific to the VA. Along with Nicola De Paul, Craig Santerre, and Jenny Salmon, we have been developing a Whole Health class that provides holistic support and inspiration to veterans who are interested in taking a more active role in their health care. I have also been working with Laura Merritt on an adaptation of Re-humanizing Medicine for VA staff, which we have been calling, Caring for Self. It is great to be able to apply some of the ideas I developed in my book to self-care for staff as well as for patients.
I’ll close in returning to what Houston writes in the introduction to her book, The Search for the Beloved: Journeys in Mythology & Sacred Psychology.
“The premise of this book is that we must call our spirits home, lest we forsake our origins, and lose hope, meaning, health, and the ability to serve and participate in the greatest challenge that history has ever known…We are all being asked, both singularly and collectively, to cross a bridge and to meet halfway a rising reality, a sacred reality. Thus the need for training in journeys into the Sacred,” (viii).
Houston develops this concept of Sacred Psychology and training in journeys into the Sacred. I feel that this is also the focus of my work in the past two years. My understanding of the hero’s journey class is that it is a form of initiation rite to help veterans move from a state of being of war to a state of being of peace in order to make the transition back into the civilian world. One of the primary ways of doing this is a kind of spiritual awakening that accompanies a shift from a materialism-based separation to a spiritual-based sense of connection and even oneness with others. I have also come to understand my work with Joseph as being a guidebook on how to become a visionary in order to move from war to peace and again to move from a state of isolated separation (which is a state of conflict) to a state of Unity as expressions of the Vast Self. This requires dying to the old self and being reborn, continuously.
Here is how Joseph ends his book, The House of Shattering Light:
Each of us is a ceremony, a vibration of the All-That-Is. We ourselves are the Vast Self, that One Actor in the universe, who creates continually in all moments. We are the Vast Self playing in creation as creatures, as individuals.
In the experiences of my life, through loss and transformation, ceremony and story, I learned how to emerge continually from the individual self that is Joseph Earl Head Rael into the Vast Self again. In the kiva, in the sweat lodge, in the sun dances and long dances. I have learned to die to myself in order to know the Self, dying from this House of Shattering Light into states of ecstasy, and then returning again, that the Vast Self might drink continually of the light that It is creating.
To know ourselves as the Vast Self playing is to be both human and divine. It is for this we all are born, to be mystics, fully alive and dancing, (199-200).
My return to North America and my transition into the second half of my life have brought me to look less for a physical place of home and more for a spiritual, internal place – a place that also includes many places in the world as well as the whole world, or as Houston writes, “a citizen of the universe.”