Welcome. This website began in 2018 as a companion to my final year of undergraduate work in English and environmental studies. In that year, I wrote a collection of essays that explored ways in which global society might reorient itself around a new sense of belonging to the physical terrains we call home. I believed then, and still believe now, that recovering our sense of groundedness – a returning to Earth – is necessary if we are to see our way through the maelstrom of global upheavals that define the 21st century.

More recently, I’ve begun referring to this period of upheaval as the Great Turning, a phrase promulgated  by the eco-philosopher Joanna Macy. The Great Turning is the profound shift towards an ecological, life-affirming age humanity can choose to initiate as the old industrial paradigm of extraction, atomization, and endless growth falls apart. This process of disintegration, which we can all see in our own lives, is the Great Unravelling. Our Industrial Age minds, which are accustomed to thinking in purely linear terms, may reason that the Great Unravelling is all there is and that apocalypse must inevitably follow. Yet evolution is not linear. Instead, growth moves in cycles. So it is that that integration and learning – the Great Turning – can follow and co-occur with the unravelling that bombards us every day in the form of economic failure, environmental collapse, social isolation, and general anxiety.

Narrative Medicine

I’m well-acquainted with unravelling. I was diagnosed in 2003 with a rare genetic disorder. After a progressive process of losing physical and sensory capacities, I spent the years 2014 through 2017 navigating through a low grade depression that culminated in a dark night of the soul and an attempt to take my own life.

Suicide, though, was the rock bottom that propelled me forward on the healing path I continue to travel today. One tool I’m utilizing now is narrative medicine. Narrative medicine, which plays a role in nearly all the world’s shamanic traditions, is both ancient and postmodern – postmodern because it rejects the idea that the origins of illness can be explained by a single biomedical story. In his book,  Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process, medical doctor and Native healer Lewis Mehl-Madrona describes narrative medicine as the practice of crafting explanatory stories of illness that make sense of past events while also connecting to a desired future that is free of sickness. Often, these patient-created stories de-emphasize biomedical explanations and focus instead on perceived imbalances and potential cures that are comprehensible to the patient and the wider community he or she is enmeshed in. For example, a sufferer of ovarian cancer is making use of narrative medicine when she explains her illness as not solely the result of a genetic predisposition, but as an outgrowth of a stressful marriage where she felt belittled and silenced. She may then reason that healing from cancer can come about if she leaves the unhealthy relationship, focuses on self-care, and finds a new, compassionate partner with whom to share her life. The findings of quantum physics tell us that human perception co-creates reality (see double-slit experiment), so it follows that changing one’s perception of an illness can change that illness’s trajectory.

I’ve been using narrative medicine to write stories of healing for myself even though medical dogma says that my condition is incurable. When I talk about healing, though, I’m not concerned just with me. At its core, all of my writing is focused on illuminating possibilities for the human collective amidst this chaotic churning of ages.  My personal healing is contingent on encouraging healing in others, on illustrating that there can in fact be a Great Turning beyond the Great Unravelling. So I will only occasionally post essays that are explicitly about my personal health situation. More often, I will be writing about the current cultural landscape, but from marginal perspectives that are too often ignored by mainstream dialogues. I believe  marginality creates the most room for the possibility of healing and that we must look to the shadows for guidance at this juncture in time.

My fixation on the margins is why I have assumed the identity of J. Coyote in this digital space. That’s not an all-encompassing nom de plume; I publish under my real name. It just so happens that Coyote (Canis latrans) is one of the few large mammals in North America that has been expanding its range in every habitat type on the continent despite urban sprawl. That’s because Coyote is an edge dweller and is willing to adopt whatever dietary and behavioral practices it needs to survive. Similarly, the spiritual and physiological exigencies of my life have led me to the fringe practice of narrative medicine. The answers and solutions to our collective sickness also lie hidden on the fringes, just waiting to be rediscovered and integrated into the human story. So join me on my journey to the edges.

-J. Coyote

July 18, 2020