Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD is now available as an e-book through Amazon!
Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD is now available as an e-book through Amazon!
Joseph Rael and I have just had an article published in the International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy entitled, “Sage – The Wise One.” (IJPHA, Volume 6, Issue 4, Spring 2018).
The article is only available through subscription to the journal, or it will be eventually available as a back issue after the next issue is published.
I will just give a few excerpts here:
“I have been working with Joseph Rael, whose Tiwa name is Beautiful Painted Arrow. Joseph is of the Southern Ute tribe, but spent much of his childhood at the Tiwa-speaking Picuris Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. I asked Joseph for some teachings about plant medicine for this article. Joseph often teaches using the medicine wheel and I thought maybe he could teach me about a plant for each direction of the wheel. However, he went straight to the heart, straight to the center of the medicine wheel, and said there is only one plant that we really need to understand with the medicine wheel—Sage.”
“I recently visited Joseph in Colorado. While driving around he always talks about different ideas and teachings. Several times he commented on Sage as we were driving. He said when an area opens up, for example if there is a fire or a place is abandoned, “Sage is the first plant to fill in the empty spaces.” That reminded me of something else he had been teaching lately, that “God is in the empty spaces, not in the words.” The word for God in the Tiwa language of Picuris Pueblo is Wah-Mah-Chi, Breath-Matter-Movement. Breath is one of the ways that we come into a relationship with the plant world. Breath is one of the functions of God, Spirit, or what Joseph sometimes calls “Vast Self.” Breathing in the scents and aromas of plants is therefore working through the spirit of Wah Mah Chi—it is breath moving the matter of plant medicine, connecting inner and outer worlds.”
After speaking about Sage, Joseph continued by speaking about the secret mysteries:
Mysteries—you get insights into consciousness, but you will not ‘get it’ until you get to a certain level of essence and spiritual understanding.
Secret—in your work, in my work, in everybody’s work, you have to dig it up, you have to bring up the secret from the darkness of the earth and bring it up.
We close the article with the following:
“May we have the Sage wisdom to find the place of goodness within our hearts and bring it forth into this divisive world of trauma and suffering. Aho!”
“Answering this question, as part of a larger inquiry into integrative medicine, psychiatrist and integrative physician David Kopacz, and Native American visionary Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), have written Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD.”
“Importantly, the book notes that ‘the real importance of ceremony is that we are not just going through meaningless motions, but that our motions are full of deep meaning, our motions are the motions of creation.’
Healing not only helps the person – it changes the cosmos.
That is why this is such an important book. Walking the Medicine Wheel shares wisdom from two divergent traditions—one clinical and the other focused on healing through imagery, sound, poetry, introspection, visioning. The quest is nothing less than clearing the fog of the aftermath of war, instilling sacredness, and reclaiming the whole self.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My sister, Karen , at Design for the Arts, is in the process of updating my webpage:
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…
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).
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.”
Twenty-five years ago, 7/12/89 (July 12th incidentally being Henry David Thoreau’s birthday), I set out on a 50 hour Greyhound bus ride from Chicago to Seattle. I had just graduated from college and I had a backpack full of books and other essential items. It was my trip to find myself, my vision quest – that in between time of life, between education and adult pursuits. It was one of the foundational events in my counter-curriculum of humanization and re-humanization (I hope to write more in a future blog about this concept of the counter-curriculum as described in my forth-coming book, but before I can do that, I must honor my past).
I spent two weeks in the woods, solo backpacking. It was, perhaps, where I first became aware of the dramatic swings of emotion and thought that can occur that permeate perception. I had a portable library (another feature of the counter-curriculum – always carry a variety of books), most notably Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Bach’s Illusions, The Portable Thoreau, as well as books by Alan Watts and some novels. I meditated, went hopping along on the rocks in the stream, I had ecstatic views of nature, but all this was also in the context of what I called “goddamned suffering in the woods” which was interchangeably a physical, emotional, neurotic and spiritual suffering. Physical pain was great in the beginning, with the heavy pack and my muscles getting used to climbing (I thought I was “training” for the journey by going for runs in the flat Midwest). The psychological and neurotic pain was immense in the beginning – all the little decisions became immense – should I camp here, or push on? Should I put the tent here or there? Should I relax now and push on later, or push on now and relax later? Luckily, I had some of the best meditation teachers along in my pack and I was great neurotic material to work on.
I also grappled with death and met the limits of what I could control, as I startled awake at night by a noise and wondered about meeting a psychopathic killer in the woods or being attacked by a wild animal. There is a point in the woods, where you have done all you can and you just have to sleep and not worry too much about all the things that could go wrong. This is what the meditation teachers instruct us to do – live in the present, when something happens – react, don’t worry about something that has not happened.
I have been resisting thinking about or writing about this journey of twenty-five years ago because I could not think of what to do to honor it. I have moved to Seattle now, which was the site of my pilgrimage 25 years ago, now it is home. I thought about going back to the mountains, re-tracing the same route, but that idea has no roots to it. So I have just ignored it, up until now.
On somewhat of a whim, I wrote to Kurt Wilt, about his book, The Visionary, about Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). He put me in touch with Joseph by email. I figured, what the heck, I’ll just write him and just say whatever comes out of my mouth. Joseph invited me down to visit him on the Southern Ute Reservation in Southern Colorado and I am writing this as I am on a flight from Denver back to Seattle. What a trip it was talking with Joseph. On the surface, it was to learn from him how to work with helping Veterans return home physically as well as spiritually from our wars, but it was also a spiritual journey for me, as well. And, when I realized that this trip to meet with Joseph was another “peak experience” on my journey, and that it honored my earlier trip 25 years ago – my heart sang with such joy!
I’ll write more in another blog about what I learned from Joseph, and I have a conceptual idea for another book and another class for Veterans based on our talks (I tape recorded much of our three days together). This blog entry is a more personal reflection – who was I 25 years ago? Who was that 21 year old in 1989 trying to find? Who did he become as he set off for medical school in the “big city” of Chicago? Who am I now? What am I grappling with internally? What template am I setting for the next 25 years of my life? Joseph spoke about cycles in a life, traumas, visions, “peak experiences, and events that recur on a certain cycle. What is this 25 year cycle about for me?
I had some major dreams on this trip, “big” dreams as Jung would call them. I spoke with Joseph about them, as well a “big” dream from my past. Visioning. How to envision what this next 25 years are about? I feel more confident, I have less fear, less neurosis (although that is one of the hobbies of the mind), I don’t fear death, but I am overflowing with ideas and concepts that are clamoring to come into physical form. I am just publishing my first book, I have a very rough draft of a second, an outline of a third, a brand new outline of a fourth after this weekend, as well as lecture notes from two classes that I’d like to edit into two books someday. The first half of my life was spent gathering experiences, trainings, travel, and reading, reading, reading. Now I feel the vessel is full – I have taken in a great deal, I have lived and studied, and now I have this tremendous need to move into action, to write books, to teach, to develop classes in order to metabolize, synthesize, and give back to the world what I have taken in from it. Up to this point, I have been cautious about trying to fit my writing into the mainstream of psychiatry and medicine. I view the publication of my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, as a signal that from here on out, I will seek to transform the mainstream of psychiatry and medicine. What drew me to the field was the work of psychiatrists like Carl G. Jung and M. Scott Peck, who blended the wisdom of the spiritual path with the clinical field of psychiatry. I can see that this is consistent with who I am and I see and sense a guiding pathway for how I can move forward along my path, not the path that others might say is most prudent. Another way of putting this is it has taken me 47 years to figure out who I am and what I need to address in my writing and now I feel an incredible pressure to get this all out into the world.
I feel like I should share something personal from my visit with Joseph. I’ll share this. The first morning in the hotel, I looked out at the Animas River (anima in Latin means soul), but it looked like there was a smudge on the window by my breakfast table. Upon closer inspection it was a frosted glass image of a hummingbird, and I jokingly said to myself, “look, there is my soul, flying around.”
I was thinking about the Native American totem animal, and wondering if that might be something I would speak with Joseph about. I had been reading Kurt Wilt’s section on discovering one’s animal. It turned out it was not something we talked about, which was ok. When the same bird lands on your head for no apparent reason, you don’t really need someone else to tell you that there is something to learn from the Nuthatch. Back to this story, though, the last thing Joseph did before I left was a ceremony with an eagle feather. I left his house after three super-charged days and I had some more daylight left that afternoon. The old neurosis had been raising its head – I wanted to get up into the mountains while I was in Colorado and my mind had been running through a bunch of different possibilities: Mesa Verde National Park, the San Juan National Forest, Animas Mountain, maybe that would be a fitting place to go since the Animas River ran through where the hotel was in Durango, Ignacio near where Joseph first lived, and Aztec New Mexico, where we went on a field trip to see the ancient dwellings there.
I came to accept, on a different level, what I have always viewed as my back and forth neurotic tendency. Joseph explained that with our face and our eyes, we are always entering, moving forward into experience and the world, but we also back up, which is receiving, and that these two movements must both happen and support each other. He made a big point of this movement in many of the dances, the forward and backward movement. So, now I have a different paradigm from which to view my moving back and forth, such as driving to Ignacio for what seemed like a fruitless meeting (although I saw such a beautiful sky, sun and clouds),
then driving past where Joseph lives since I had some time before meeting him, then driving back to meet him, then driving back the way I had gone earlier and turned around. This wasn’t pointless neurosis, it was also tracing out a backwards and forwards movement across the land, entering and receiving, taking in and metabolizing, coming into relationship with myself and the land. And then, even though I had made the choice to go to San Juan, I ended up not seeing the exit I had seen earlier and ended up at Mesa Verde and spent an amazing couple hours driving around the park. It is now fitting that I share some of those photos of Mesa Verde National Park, as I had been in the Olympic National Park 25 years ago.
But I never finished my story, at Mesa Verde, after the ceremony with the eagle feather, I saw, in the sunset clouds, the most beautiful vision of a vast eagle in the sunset (I was driving and couldn’t photograph it). Scientists and psychologists can take comfort in this being a projection of my mind as a meaningless unconscious association, but another explanation is that during my visit my soul had started as a little smudge of a hummingbird and grown to a glowing sky eagle with a wing span of many miles. For this next part of my life, I will choose the second explanation.
I’d like to end with a few quotes from my journal from 25 years ago:
Today I am born. I AM ALIVE. Today alone was worth the price and troubles of the trip. I am seated atop a mountain. The view is breathtaking and it is even more spectacular because I climbed up the whole damn thing! I passed snow in the shady spots coming up. Except for a couple of chirpers and a multitude of bugs…it is silent. What more could there be?
When nothing is lost
nothing is gained
When nothing is gained
things are not as they should be
Right now I am at Kyak.
Yesterday…well, there is that earlier entry. After that I went up still higher and a view opened up that was indescribable. I had been on the north face of the mountain and had been viewing the smaller mountains to the north. After I crossed over to the south side and climbed a bit higher, I could see the entire Olympic Range, along with snow/glacier covered Mount Olympus. Breathtaking is the only way to describe the section of mountain I stood on. There was about a 60 degree slope of about 150′ without trees. The only thing between the mountains and valleys beyond and myself was air. I stood and stared for quite a while. I think it would be hard to say that you had been alive if you have not seen something so spectacular.
By the time I had hiked 9.2 miles and found a decent site, I was in a foul mood once again. If I would have seen the guy who wrote that shit about nothing lost, nothing gained, I would have pushed him off a cliff. In the last dying light of the day I opened Zen Mind, Beginners Mind and the only word I could make out was “constancy.”
Yesterday was anything but constancy, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows…
When water comes to a tough spot, it yields and flows through, sure it may foam a lot and make a lot of noise, but in no time it continues on its way, calm and smooth.
I am here at Flapjack and this is the nicest campsite yet. It is on a small, sunny plain with a lot of birch trees. The river is broad and shallow here. The hike wasn’t too bad, but still my body aches, but it isn’t that bad. I saw a bald eagle soaring around today. I think I heard it earlier, but I couldn’t catch a glimpse of it. There are a lot of swallows or swifts flying about the river. When I got here it was so hot and sunny that I took off my shirt and put on a pair of shorts and wandered down to the river. I tried to wade in, but nearly fell over because all the rocks on the bottom are slippery as hell.
~ 9:30 AM: This morning is a glorious morning. I woke up a little while ago because I was hot, the 1st time since I left Illinois. The sun is shining on the side of the tent and it feels great in here. Every now and then a cool breeze comes through the flaps. There are a lot of low lying, misty clouds at about the level of the hill tops, hopefully the sun will burn those off. Today I think I will hike up the river and look for a secluded spot to take a dip, which would feel great about now. At least I will wash my hair today with my water bottle.
A battle has been going on all morning between the sun and the clouds. Right now the clouds appear to be winning, so I am just lying around camp now. I did wash my hair this morning it was cold and great!
These swallows seem to want to sing together, but always end up being a little off beat or they produce a different tone or pitch, but the effect is more beautiful than if it was planned.
Even though the clouds have carried the day, it is still beautiful out here. The greens have a more muted tone and there is a clear contrast between the lighter birch trees and the darker firs higher up. It is amazing the number of sounds I sometimes hear in the water. I don’t know if it is aural deprivation that makes me hear things or what. I often hear voices or footsteps or hollow clanking, like boats, and today I heard a Native American holy procession. It is easy to imagine how rivers and woods were thought to have spirits.
“We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with new experience and character.” (Thoreau)
I was sitting and reading a section of Thoreau, “On Higher Laws,” when the mist started descending down from the hills. I quickly made a fire, started my beans cooking, and put everything inside the tent. I put on my rain suit and alternately watched the fire or the mist for about an hour. It was really something to see. My rain suit got damp, but there were never any visible drops falling. I saw an eagle, flying much lower this time, go off into the mist between the hills. It would have made a great Japanese painting, if only I was a great Japanese painter. I ate my beans, they were great, and I opened up my tortillas and had a few of those. It is hard to believe, but my food is finally down to a small, manageable weight. Now I am lying in my tent, digesting my dinner. It has stopped being wet outside, but it is still cloudy.
“To be passing is to live: to remain and continue is to die.” (Watts)
“If you look at it carefully, you will see that consciousness- the thing you call ‘I’- is really a stream of experiences, of sensations, thoughts and feelings in constant motion. But because these experiences include memories, we have the impression that ‘I’ is something solid and still like a tablet upon which life is writing a record.” (Watts)
Today has been a day entirely devoid of human beings. I didn’t even realize this until just now.