Welcome. This website began in 2018 as a companion to my undergraduate honors thesis in English and environmental studies. That project consisted of a collection of essays that, broadly speaking, explored ways in which global society might re-orient 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 I used to refer as the Crisis of Now.

More recently, however, I’ve begun referring to this period of global upheaval as the Great Turning, a phrase which was coined 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. Evolution, especially human spiritual growth, moves in cycles. So it is that that ascension and learning – the Great Turning – can follow 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 because of my diagnosis, 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 necessary rock bottom that propelled me forward on the healing path I continue to travel today. The most important healing tool I’m utilizing now is narrative medicine. Narrative medicine, which forms the basis of 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, doctor and Native healer Lewis Mewl-Madrona explains narrative medicine as the practice of crafting explanatory stories of illness that make sense of past events while also connecting to the present and 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 make sense 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 not as 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 marriage, 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, especially if this new perception is shared by a cohesive community to which the patient belongs

I’ve been using narrative medicine to write stories of healing for my own health condition, even though medical dogma says that my condition is incurable. When I talk about healing, though, I’m not concerned just with myself. At its core, all of my writing is focused on illuminating possibilities for the human collective amidst this chaotic churning of ages.  Intuition tells me that my personal healing will be contingent on inspiring hope and healing in others; I have to show others that there can in fact be a Great Turning beyond the Great Unravelling. So I will only occasionally post essays to this site that are explicitly about my personal health situation. More often, I will be writing about cultural matters and global affairs, 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 as a global collective must look to the shadows for guidance at this juncture in history.

My fixation on the margins is why I have assumed the identity of J. Coyote in this online space. That’s not an all-encompassing nom de plume; you can easily learn my real name by clicking on the “published works” tab above. 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 coyotes are edge dwellers and are willing to adopt whatever dietary and behaviorial practices they need to survive. Well, the spiritual and physiological exigencies of my life situation have led me to the fringe practice of narrative medicine. The answers and solutions to our collective illness also lie hidden on the fringes, just waiting to be discovered and integrated into the human story. So join me on my journey to the edges.

-J. Coyote

July 18, 2020