The first is “Rainbow Bird and Blue Star Woman,” a vibrant painting from 2009. Joseph’s Tiwa name, Tsluu-teh-koh-ay means Beautiful Painted Arrow, it can also mean Double Rainbow. At the lower left of the painting is “entrance to Oceanus’ cave.” Joseph often describes a vision he had of going to the bottom of the sea to meet Oceanus, the Lord of the Waters. This vision and Joseph’s relation to the ocean, even though he lives in the high desert, is important to him and he has advocated a ceremony on the 7th of each month for the purification of the oceans.
The next painting is another favorite of mine, “Up to 2000 Songs per Day of Bird Song Chiuu-Cho-Cha-Aah-Neh.” This section of the book these paintings are found in includes chapter 17 Returning to the Garden of Paradise and 18 Secret Journey to the Secret Garden.
We are separated from the Garden by a paper thin space. It is a parallel reality. You are there without going there. We don’t have to walk there or even have to travel there. You travel with thought, not with physical energy and it pulls you there rather than you having to put effort on your part to get there. (Joseph Rael)
The first piece is “In the Currents of Time,” from 2005. We see a medicine wheel of the seasons moving sun-wise (clockwise) and two fish, one swimming upstream and one swimming downstream. Although time flows forward in ordinary reality, Joseph says that time can flow backward in non-ordinary reality. Everything is circular – if you don’t get something right the first time, you will circle back around to it and some point. Similarly, the past of the country and the past of the land continues to exert an influence.
The next piece is “Breath Matter Movement and Space Time,” from 2014. Breath Matter Movement is how Joseph translates the word for God in the Tiwa language, Wah-Mah-Chi.
We only have four more art works to feature and we will bring this Art of Becoming Medicine series to a close.
Joseph and I have been working on our next book together. He wants it to be for 10-12 year olds and it will include Joseph’s life & lessons from when he was growing up and what he thinks kids today should learn. I think kids of all ages (meaning adults, too) would find this interesting because we are always learning and growing. We started out with a working title of Journey of the Holy Beings, then moved to A Bowl Full of Ideas for Inventive Minds (we might still keep that for a younger kids book), currently the working title is Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons.
We are starting to look for publishers – young adult books are a whole different category from our past work. Let us know if you have ideas for publishers! Maybe we will get the book out within 2021!
These two pieces of art work by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) come from Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, chapter 15, “Refounding.” The concept of refounding comes from Gerald Arbuckle’s work on how individuals periodically help guide institutions back to their founding values while updating the institution to the current situation.
“By refounding I mean the process of returning to the founding experience of an organization or group in order to rediscover and re-own the vision and driving energy of the pioneers. . . . To refound formation is to re-enter the sacred time of the founding of religious life itself. . . . This model of symbolic death and rebirth, which is made up of three stages – separation, transition/liminality and reaggregation – also has a powerful scriptural foundation,” (Gerald Arbuckle, From Chaos to Mission: Refounding Religious Life Formation, 3–5).
These two art pieces are from the section of the chapter entitled “Refounding Mothers of Democracy.” As I was reading background material for this chapter, I kept coming across the phrase, “founding fathers,” and I wondered why there was not more emphasis on founding and refounding Mothers of Democracy and so focused on several women artists and writers whose work has been to refound principles of democracy – musician Anoushka Shankar, writer Rebecca Solnit, and, then of course, the original founder of spiritual democracy, Mother Earth.
Anoushka Shankar wrote about her album, Land of Gold:
“Everyone is, in some way or another, searching for their own “Land of Gold”: a journey to a place of security, connectedness and tranquillity, which they can call home. This journey also represents the interior quest that we all take to find a sense of inner peace, truth and acceptance – a universal desire that unites humanity…Land of Gold is the culmination of my journey to the interior, channelling my distress at the situation in a constructive way, exploring the stories of the voiceless and dispossessed. I believe that art can make a difference – it connects us to our hearts, bringing us back to what really matters. Music has the power to speak to the soul,” (AnoushkaShankar.com).
Rebecca Solnit stands out to me in any of my thinking about the United States, as I felt reading her work, particularly A Field Guide to Becoming Lost, helped me reimagine the best of the United States and to re-become an American after living abroad in New Zealand. In Hope in the Dark, she wrote,
“To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety…We all have to place a bet, but we have no reassurance of how it will turn out. Solnit writes that the “future is dark, with a darkness as much of the womb as of the grave,” (Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 4, 6).
Solnit also writes about activism – not as something you do once to put things right, but more as a kind of recurrent ceremony that you do to try to correct the coarse of history that is always going off track. I have been thinking a lot about medical activism being a foundational aspect of medical professionalism and Solnit’s writing on activism has been a great influence on me.
“I use the term activist to mean a particular kind of engagement—and a specific politic: one that seeks to democratize the world, to share power, to protect difference and complexity, human and otherwise,” (Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 18).
“The question, then, is not so much how to create a world as how to keep alive that moment of creation, how to realize that Coyote world in which creation never ends and people participate in the power of being creators, a world whose hopefulness lies in its unfinishedness, its openness to improvisation and participation,” (Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 108).
Joseph’s first art work in this series is “Holy Woman” from 1995
His next piece is “Mother Earth Dreaming All the Two Leggeds into Beauty,” from 2006.
Here is what Joseph wrote about our current time and Mother Earth:
“I believe that it is now time for the elders all over the world to talk to their people and instruct them. As elders we have more responsibility . . . a responsibility to talk about the sacredness of the Earth, and the sacredness of the people on the Earth. One of our journeys is to help the people as they walk on Mother Earth. Mother Earth is our land and she belongs to us because we are her children. She belongs to us and we belong to her. So we can take care of her the way she has been taking care of us,” (Joseph Rael, Sound, 256).
The first is “Rainbow Makers of the (tutah) Rainbow Light,” a colorful burst that reminds us that Beautiful Painted Arrow can also mean Double Rainbow.
The next piece is the second in a series, “Candle of the World #2 – People of the Sand Place – Stars Who Live in the Heavens – They Travel to Planet Earth.” This painting reminds us of the Picuris Elders telling young Joseph that there is an equivalency between the stars in the sky and the sand on the ground. There was a movement of peoples from the stars to the sands of Earth and the destiny of the people of Earth is to return to the stars.
The first work is “Rain Cloud and Oceanus.” Although Joseph grew up in the high desert of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, he has a special relationship with the oceans. One of his formative visions was of meeting Oceanus, the Lord of the Oceans. At the Sound Peace Chambers around the world, a fire ceremony is done on the 7th of each month for the purification of the oceans.
The next painting stands at the doorway of a very important chapter of the book, which we offer as a free pdf download – Chapter 14 Spiritual Democracy. I found this concept of Spiritual Democracy in Steven Herrmann’s book, Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward, and he had found it in the work of Walt Whitman. This concept resonated with me and for Joseph also. The painting below is an older one from 1997 that was called Earth Child, but Joseph added to the painting, making it “Earth Child of Spiritual Democracy.” I think of this fellow as the heart of our book, a seed to planted in the soil of the soul of the human being that blooms as spiritual democracy.
Here is what Joseph has to say about Spiritual Democracy:
“Religious liberty happens to every single human baby child when the human being swallows and drinks the milk from its mother’s breast at feeding time. Thus the American soul is in the making stage.
“What I am saying is we have to start at the foundation of what makes a human being to grow up in that religious liberty. That is the only way it is going to work if we are really going to follow the real way that we become individuals. If we don’t start at the beginning. . . .
“So I am telling you now as I am reading your paper that the idea of religious freedom was already being educated through the sound, and the being and vibration of every single swallow of swallowing-ness every time the baby was drinking its mother’s milk. This is my contribution to the idea of spiritual democracy and religious freedom,” (Joseph Rael, Becoming Medicine, 382).
The first painting was a gift given to me when I was leaving New Zealand. There is a story of the cultural Māori hero, Maui, catching the sun and holding it close to the Earth to bring it out of darkness.
Here is the text from the back of the painting:
Dr. Dave’s moment of Satori at Takapuna Beach in the middle of the night. Ranginui the sky father is present giving you his blessings of a safe trip home. Papatuanuku the Earth goddess is praying to Ranginui hoping you will visit Aotearoa’s shores some time again in your future. Maui has caught the sun slowing down its course across the sky so there is enough daylight for life to be reborn again.
The next painting is one I did. It had the feeling of many little circles emanating outward from one large circle. I made a play on words with the motto of the USA, e pluribus unum – out of many, one. I thought of creation as having an emanation and then a re-absorption, like the in-breath and out-breath, diversity arising out of unity and then diversity returning to unity.
With the second painting from The Art of Becoming Medicine.23 (Drinking from the Flowering Light of Mother Nature), we have entered into the final section of the book, Part III Return, Chapter 12, “Returning to the Land.” Out of One, Many is from Chapter 14, “We Are All Pangeans – We Are All Related.”
“When anything is occurring, in any moment in time, it is occurring not only to the individual, but it is also occurring to that geography—to that physical geography. What is happening to me is also happening to this place, this continent, this Planet Earth, this galaxy. I am giving and I am receiving energy back from the Earth, and so are we all. We are receiving it, each according to what he needs, and translating the energies we are receiving according to what we think is happening right now.”
(Joseph Rael from Sound: Native Teachings & Visionary Art – quoted in Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, page 339)
The first is Grandfather God Creates All the Universes. Joseph started sending me paintings that he would ask me to do some finishing work on, such as adding a few words, painting in a detail here and there. This piece Joseph sent me with just the outlines and no paint, so I painted in all the color on this one. I was not sure if I should follow his style, with lots of negative space, or to go with my intution of having space of absolute blackness and then also blackness of space with stars. I decided to follow my intuition and not over think it. This piece is thus a hybrid of Joseph’s inspiration and my finishing with the pain. I look at this as Joseph is the Artist and I was the craftsman on this one.
This next painting is a beautiful one! I recently had a dream that the hummingbird who has a nest outside our bedroom window landed on my shoulder twice and seemed to be thanking me for all the salvia we have planted.
The most recent time I spoke with Joseph, he told me about how he had noticed one time that a Hummingbird kept flying up near me as we were talking and he said, “The Hummingbird initiated you into the Sun Dance.” Then he reminded me of the good luck sign of the road runner coming up on to the fence while I was visiting his home. He told me, “You saw the road runner, then a little while later, I saw a bunch of little ones, scrambling around. You have to look at what came out of that initiation for you. I haven’t told you this yet – the best, best, best thing is that I was getting out of the car at the credit union and a road runner almost went right under my fett. It kept going and then it flew to the top of the bank and quick grabbed a bug. I looked up and said, ‘Hey, you did this wrong – you are supposed to run along the road, you don’t fly on to the top of a bank!‘”
I told Joseph about my hummingbird dream and he said, “If you see life this way, you’ll have a heck of a lot of fun!“
Na-yo ti-ay we-ah is a complicated concept. Joseph says it means “I don’t exist.” He teaches that most of the time we don’t exist because we are trying to persist in some kind of state. The times where we really exist are when we are entering into the new and the spontaneous – when non-ordinary reality is perfusing ordinary reality. The first place he explained this to me was when we first met and we were sitting in the rental car prior to Joseph directing me to drive around to different places on the land where key events happened for him. We were talking and then he said – “There, did you see that? We were just sitting here, but then all of a sudden we both started to get really animated – that was the place where we were existing.”
The first painting is titled “Planet Earth (Our Mother),” yet it has a lot of words on it, including Wa-Ma-Chi, the Tiwa word for God. The other text on the painting reads, “Planets of outer space – to our ancient relatives who have always lived there. We ask for your help – a passage way up. Offering to the Sky and All Our Relations. Earth children. Children of Mother Earth. Help!”
I’d like to include a section of dialogue with Joseph that led to him telling me about sending the above painting.
I asked Joseph what the Tiwa word for “zero” is. “Y-we-ah” he said, “the flesh does not exist.” And then he said:
“Ok, hold it right there. We are not going to go to the East or the West, we are not going to go to the North of the South. We are not going to go up or down. Write this down, I’m going to say it to you in Spanish. La vida no mas un sueño es. In English that means, ‘Life is but a dream.’ This life is not real. This life is a dream. We have talked ourselves into believing we are our ordinary reality bodies. We use these ordinary bodies to complain, to get in the car, to go around. In this life we are addictable. Use that word, I know I am making things up—we are addictable, we are addicted to this life of ordinary reality. We think we are going from 1 to 10, but we are already at ten (tehn-ku-teh). We were at number eight 10,000 years ago, but we are stuck because we are very addictable, we are stuck hanging on to life, we are hung up on the physical. Enticing as life is, it is a dream. Now, 99% of people are going to disagree with this. They are supposed to disagree because they decided to go with teamwork. All these generations have been stuck because we are very addicted to the idea of being solid, physical ideas—this leads to the idea of property and property leads to conflict. So now we have property problems between the Indians and the United States.
“The point for me—I’m being told, ‘Look you dummy, you are going around in circles, 10,000 years and you are still going around in circles.’ Every now and then, I see ancestors looking down from above—I climb and climb and climb all the way up there. They tell me, look, your ancestors got hooked on the physical. That is why they are still here but they are not supposed to be, they were supposed to have moved on. The trees stayed here with us because they love us. Plants stayed and that is where we got our language from. The mermen were planted in the ocean and now they are stuck here with us, too. It is like that man in the Bible who was stuck inside a whale—that’s us! We got addicted to the sunrise and the sunset, to seeing rainbows, then we got stuck in going to school, going to college, learning things so that we could get rich. We got stuck getting rich, traveling all over the place.
“We better start getting the message, La vida no mas un sueño es. It is dream, dream, dream! We have invested in our landedness, we get money and we buy land. We get a little money and then we buy property and we are stuck with ownership.
“This is what the Story Teller was telling us in the Picuris Children’s stories. I heard these when I was eight or nine years old. [He speaks for a while in Tiwa]. ‘Look up at the stars, they are like little bits of sand. That is where our ancestors are living. We are down here and we are supposed to be up there.’ Then they put you in a square sand box and you play with the sand. Look at people’s attraction to the ocean. They’ll travel across the world to put their feet in the sand and the ocean. They are trying to realize that they are the grains of sand and the grains of sand are the stars and that we do not belong here.
“It’s raining right now—finally I’m saying something worthwhile. This is more rain than I have seen in ten years. They’re saying, ‘Dang, David, you finally got it—you and that crazy Joseph Rael!’
“I was driving this morning and I saw a giant cloud and there was a rainbow up front on the left and then it went over and it was on the right, too. I was driving through it. The last time I saw that was driving back from Madison when I was in graduate school. It was around a place on the border of New Mexico and Texas called Texico. I drove through that rainbow and I thought, ‘It’s time to call David!’
“There’s something going on here that I’m not even going to try to explain.”
I totally resonate with this last statement and momentarily wonder if I can just say that in the book: “There’s something going on here that I’m not even going to try to explain!” But then Joseph continues and he tells me I do need to explain some things.
“We’re supposed to be here, you and I, for some dastardly reason. We need to put something in the book about what all this flooding in the world is about according to the mystic. Schools should be teaching this to kids. We need to understand that in non-ordinary reality we can leave these ordinary bodies behind. We can go out into outer space, to the moon, to other planets.
“We need to start with the premise that everything becomes its opposite. You are a scholar, you can explain this. We started with Pangea, the Indians came across the land bridge, across the straits. You need to orient people to where they come from and then tell them the statistics of what will happen with the flooding and rising oceans on the coasts. You have to look at where there is a lot of land and sooner or later that will turn into its opposite, a lot of water.
“I’m going to send you an art piece. In it I am asking for the people from outer space to come give us some technology. They can do it in our dreams, maybe the dream of a young scientist who will then get that idea to make something.” (Becoming Medicine, 308-310)
A gathering place for deer is peh mesa, peh mesa. Joseph goes over to a table and brings his hand down flat on it – peh. Then he drags it across the surface of the table – mesa. Peh mesa, peh mesa, he repeats it several times, looking in my eyes to see if I hear it and understand it. Then he goes to the TV console – peh mesa, peh mesa, peh mesa. Then he goes to the bed spread and does it again – peh mesa, peh mesa, peh mesa. Then he says, Put that in the book—Joseph Rael made the sound of the deer on the table, then on the console, then on the bed and it was always the same sound and it means “the power of true perception.” (J. Rael, Becoming Medicine, 298-299)
This painting reminds me of a passage I write about in the book where a deer bedded down for the night right outside my tent when I was backpacking on the way to Black Elk Peak in South Dakota. Here is what Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) says about the Deer:
Deer means peh ney. Peh means straight forward. Ney means a space in front of, before creation was made. What this is saying is that if we as a people are going to have peace, we have to go to that space beyond, before creation where Peace was. I did the Deer Dance when I was younger and I think that added to my medicine. That is an important point. The last time we were working a book, my father came in a vision and gave me permission to go forward. Now with this work with the deer medicine, the earlier dances are supporting us to go forward. True Peace is that space before there was anything that could create un-peace. (Joseph Rael, p. 298)
The next artwork in the book is also by Joseph, another great one, “Puma Giver of th Visionary Life to the People of Mother Earth.” These paintings are in chapter 11, “Initiation,” and we speak of the relationship between animals and humans and animals as guides.
“I felt like something was pulling me toward the stream and I went down there and I just washed myself, blessed myself with the water, but I knew that this place belonged to me and I was turning around and I saw at least five or six puma tracks, lion tracks and some had crossed the river, right where I was drinking water and maybe that was the vibration that was I picking up of the lions and I didn’t know that I was going to have a relationship with them.”
“Picuris Pueblo seemed so far away then, because now I was in Colorado and so I noticed that right there at the river, you remember where we did the visionquest that night with the tree spirits? Right there. There were tracks coming from the other side but they were going the other direction and so there were like two separate little pathways. It was an east-west crossing of the river and I had just drank from the energy of the tracks that were the lion’s. So somehow that seemed like a different vibration, but I saw the cat tracks. I wanted to know where are these lions from, so later I went to the top of the hill and I saw that if you go far enough in that direction, you will get to the mountains where the lions were that I had left a deer for. So here I got the sense that I was dealing with a family of lions, not lions in general, but the Puma; there was a family.” (Joseph Rael, p. 292-294)