These essays have been a warning about how Words Create Worlds and the dangerous words that create fascism. If words create worlds, then we have the power to create and the responsibility for creation. There are spiritual traditions in which the world is created anew – every moment, every day, every season, every year. Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) teaches from such a tradition. Na-yo ti-ay we-ah, “I do not exist,” “we do not exist.” To me these words of Joseph’s tell us that we do not exist when we strive to persist as fixed, permanent objects, rather, we do exist when we are flowing and changing within an infinite field of interconnected relationship. We flash into and out of existence, like Joseph’s concept of being & vibration, or the Hindu concept of spanda, the divine creative pulsation. We are ancient, but we are not a thing of the past. We are eternal, but we are always becoming. We always in a state of becoming: becoming human, becoming medicine, becoming spiritual humanity.
We have choice in every moment, in the words we use to describe ourselves and our world. Like Adam in the Garden, we are continually naming our reality and using our words to create our worlds. If Rebecca Solnit tells us that “one of the crises of this moment is linguistic,” then the cure is also linguistic as well. Solnit tells us she thinks “of the act of naming as diagnosis,” and “sometimes what’s diagnosed can be cured.” Diagnosis reminds us of the need for Doctors Against Fascism – but we cannot only be against something, we also need to be for something. This is when we use our words to reach deep for goodness, to use words of unity, and to speak of spiritual humanity. This essay will introduce a number of words, different ways of describing alternative word choices to fascist words – words that remind us that we are both matter and spirit, we are both body and soul, we are both shadow and light.
One more caution. We must take care that we do not create new dogmatisms in trying to fight against fascism. Our minds must be dynamic, as must our hearts. Think about the heart – four chambers, multiple valves – it keeps us alive through continual motion and adjustment. So too, our spiritual heart – it is always in a state of interrelationship, it is always balancing and adjusting.
Be Careful in Fighting Monsters, Lest Ye Become One
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” (Nietzsche).
Nietzsche cautioned us – when you fight something you can end up becoming that very thing which you fight. He goes on to say that when you gaze into the darkness of the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. In your fight, in your resistance, you need to continually be reconnecting to your spiritual humanity, to your inner gentle nature.
Ceremonial Elder of the Veterans Sweat Lodge, Mike Lee, of the Blackfeet People, teaches that we are inherently gentle human beings. When we fight with others we can develop iwauzan azuyeya, “sickness as a result of being in battle with people.” We are not meant to fight, we are not meant to be at war, but it is part of what occurs, as we live our lives. While Mike works with veterans and is speaking of physical battle, during these times we are in battle throughout the day. Whenever we forget our gentle nature, our original instructions, whenever we forget our spiritual humanity, we become sick with iwauzan azuyeya. We become sick through being materialists, because spiritual humanity means that we always are embodying spirit in matter, we are always materializing spirit and spiritualizing matter. Henry Corbin learned there is a word for the place that this occurs which comes from esoteric Islam, ‘ālam al-mithāl.
The Held-back Place of Goodness
In our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, Joseph Rael taught me that there is a held-back place of goodness in our hearts. No matter what we do, no matter what is done to us, God keeps a held-back place of goodness in our hearts. That means that we can never be wholly bad, we are never a lost cause. No matter how far off track we go, there is a source of goodness within the depths of our heart. The Hindus have a word for this place of divinity within the heart, gūha – the cave of the heart. The way that we re-humanize and re-spiritualize ourselves is through the quest to rediscover and reconnect to our divine humanity, our spiritual humanity – the held-back place of goodness within the human heart.
Refounding & Refinding
Father Gerald Arbuckle, anthropologist and Marist priest, has taught me about the principle of refounding – returning, recapturing, and re-enlivening the original vision, the original instructions of an institution or organization. Refounding is a dynamic process, it is never completed once and for all. Fundamentalisms, of various forms, teach that the future is fixed by a law from the past. Fundamentalism is a distorted form of refounding. Refounding requires recognizing that the words we are using in the present are no longer living. Then there is a movement, a return, back to the past to find once again the Living Word. Fundamentalism gets stuck at this point, concretizing and solidifying the word into a rigid dogma that is used as a stick to beat people with, to divide rather than to heal and unite. Refounding has a next step, the Living Word is brought back and spoken in the present. The vision or transmission that occurred in the past now happens in the present – the Dove of the Holy Spirit is not kept in a cage, but is released like a tongue of fire to dance in the present moment, investing it with sacredness and divinity. While Gerald Arbuckle speaks of organizations needing to be re-invigorated by a refounding person, perhaps when speaking of the individual we can call this refinding – refinding the held-back place of goodness within the gūha, the cave of our heart, the place of the ‘ālam al-mithāl, the place where we are continually refinding our spiritual humanity.
Rehumanize Your Self
The band, The Police, have a song called “Rehumanize Yourself” on their 1981 album Ghost in the Machine. The song is about fascism and the need to counter it by rehumanizing yourself. In 2014 I published a book called, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. I felt that in the process of learning the words of medicine, which focus so much on pathology, I was becoming dehumanized, I was losing my soul, my sense of spiritual humanity. I developed the idea of a counter-curriculum – a curriculum of Continuing Human Education that was as necessary as our technical Continuing Medical Education. At the end of the book, I came to the conclusion that anything that separates, divides, or disconnects – takes away our humanity. To be human is to be connected (both inner & outer). I learned the word antakolouthia – that every virtue requires others to complete it. In a way, that is what this essay is about – learning a vocabulary of virtues.
Re-Spiritualize Your Self
The conclusion I came to in Re-humanizing Medicine, was that we could not appeal to concrete things like numbers and studies and objective reasons why we should strive to re-humanize ourselves. I have felt there is a need for a second book after Re-humanizing Medicine – Re-spiritualizing Medicine. Medicine was once a physical practice grounded in the spiritual. When we practice only the medicine of matter, we are practicing dehumanized medicine, because human beings are more than just matter. I would say that we would be practicing veterinary medicine, but even most veterinarians treat their patients with humanity. The justification for becoming human comes from elsewhere, like Havel said of hope, it comes from beyond. The “thing” that makes us most human is not a thing. Maybe this is why Joseph Rael teaches that we do not exist – we are not things, we are processes of becoming medicine.
In our most recent book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, Joseph Rael and I introduce a lot of different words and stories. The purpose is to understand the process of initiation, which is a process of transformation. We can work at becoming visionaries, becoming mystics, becoming shamans, but what we were really getting at was that we should be working at becoming True Humans. To be a True Human is not to exist in a dogmatic fundamentalism, but to be continually refounding and refinding our gentle human nature, releasing the held-back place of goodness into the world. To return to who we are and to release it into the world is both heroic and healing.
Heroism & Healing
Heroism and healing are two virtues of the True Human Being. Yet, when you think about it, heroism is only needed when there is darkness and healing is only needed when there is wounding. These two virtues are only needed when we are wounded in the dark. We find ourselves in such a place, now, where the untrue words of fascism are darkening the world and wounding us.
The Sacred Hoop is Broken
In Black Elk’s vision, the tree at the center of the Earth was sick and dying and the sacred hoop of the medicine wheel was broken. Joseph Rael often reminds me, we are all working on repairing the medicine wheel – it has been broken. He doesn’t tell me why it is broken, but it seems obvious: genocide, theft, greed, environmental degradation, selfishness, dehumanization, and now we can add fascism as well. Joseph tells me that in his visions he sees the ancestors repairing the medicine wheel. We can help in this work – by choosing our words carefully, by choosing words of heroism and healing, by choosing words of becoming medicine, by refinding our spiritual humanity and becoming True Human Beings. We can repair the sacred hoop and the good red road. We can assist humanity’s ancestor, Black Elk, in repairing the sacred hoop and tending to the tree at the center of Mother Earth until she blooms again.
Another word I learned in writing Becoming Medicine was spiritual democracy. I learned this word from Steven Herrmann who learned it from Walt Whitman. Joseph uses this word, too. Joseph was taught that there is a world above this world, a spirit world, and that what exists here has its counter-part there. I always think of the idea of archetypes when he talks about this, a set of ideal forms that gives rise to particulars here on Earth. I think of this as a place of goodness from which we can always draw strength. There are the various national democracies in the world, but there is also a spiritual democracy, an idea of democracy that we are all striving for. Sometimes we are struggling toward this idea, this ideal in the dark, and other times it is illuminating the way for us. Spiritual Democracy is an idea that reminds us of our spiritual humanity and it is also a place that we reach when we are refinding our spiritual humanity. Spiritual humanity is both a path and a destination. Is it a destination, though? Perhaps spiritual democracy is more like a mirage that draws us into the uncertainty of the future, or maybe spiritual democracy is like the torch of Lady Liberty, illuminating darkness. When the torch goes out, how can you re-ignite it? By speaking words of spiritual humanity – the fire that dwells in the cave of your heart.
To be a True Human we must be continually on the path, on the good red road. It is a path of continuous epiphany and theophany. Joseph Rael teaches that we should strive to be hollow bones – not identifying as solid matter, but matter as a vehicle for spirit to flow through. That is how a shaman heals, not be being important, but by being nothing – a space which the divine can flow through. Oddly enough, we are most spiritual when our humanity is in service of the divine, which is also the service of others. We are most human when caring for human being – and that means caring for self and others.
Nobility of Spirit
Rob Riemen’s To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism was one of the inspirations for the words that I have been writing. It makes sense to pair fascism and humanism and to see a choice between them, as fascism could be said to be dehumanism. A good book is a doorway into other books, and so it was with To Fight Against This Age, it led me to Riemen’s earlier book, Nobility of Spirit. Here he speaks of the German word, bildung, which translates as education and self-cultivation. This word gets at the idea of spiritual humanity as a responsibility to cultivate our nature. Cultivation has no end and is continual adaptation as seasons change. To cultivate means to combine care and labor. Joseph Rael teaches us that “work is worship,” the work of humanity is spiritual. The Proto-IndoEuropean root of cultivate is *kwel, which means to revolve, move around. This reminds us of the medicine wheel, of the sacred hoop, of the refounding and refinding of our spiritual humanity.
Call Them By Their True Names
Another inspiration for these words I am writing comes from Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them By Their True Names. This book is where she writes that one of the crises we are facing is linguistic. In this 2018 book, she argues that we should call the president’s words by their true name and we call these words fascist. Solnit tells us that naming is like diagnosis. We can also say that naming is like the cure as well. In magic, such as in Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea books, to know someone’s true name gives power over them. Words are power, words can be disease, words can be healing, words are creative, words create worlds. This phrase comes from Rabbi Heschel and he cautions about the little words that led to big words and to the terrible word, Holocaust. Holocaust comes from the Latin holocaustum, and the Greek holokauston, and was originally a sacred offering of a thing burnt whole. Our words are sacred offerings, they come from the fire of our hearts or the divine dancing doves of flame of the Holy Spirit. Our original instructions for using our words was to focus on the whole, not to divide, to subdivide, to disconnect. To speak words of spiritual humanity is to bring together and heal. We are not meant to burn others, although many traditions teach that we are to burn ourselves, that we our bildung requires that we bake and burn, becoming hollow bones through which spirit can flow.
The whole of my life
is summed up in these three phrases:
I used to be raw
Then I was cooked
I am on fire.
To revivify, to cultivate our spiritual humanity, the matter of our bodies must be continually composting to become fertile ground for the seed of the spirit to sprout and take root. As Nietzsche said, humanity is something that is to be overcome.
A Vocabulary of Virtues
Rumi tells us to die before you die. Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.” A Vocabulary of Virtues could be a Rumi poem that lists the many virtues – perhaps both the absurd and the profound. I imagine the end of this poem would say, “And of all the virtues, there is one word that contains them all, that word, and as always, is Love.”
 Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names, 4.
 Ibid., 1.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, transl Walter Kaufman, 89.
 Mike Lee in Kopacz & Rael, Walking the Medicine Wheel, 56.
 Rumi in Omid Safi, Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition, xxx.
 Friedrich Nietzsche in The Portable Nietzsche, transl Walter Kaufman, 124.
 Rumi “Die Before You Die,” in The Soul of Rumi, transl Coleman Barks, 168.
 Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.