Welcome, Karen Connelly, to our virtual gathering. How I wish we were sitting on a couch, legs pulled up, hands wrapped around a cup of tea, but this will have to do. We’ll begin by focusing on how you are keeping in these strange, life altering days, and then move to a poem you’ve selected to share today with us. I know you read this poem on Instagram recently, so I invite folk to head over there after our time together here.
It has been a week or so since I’ve listened to one of your midnight readings on Instagram. It became a way into deeper breaths, resting in the soothing sound of your voice, and readying myself for sleep. I am so grateful to you for those late evening posts.
Here are the three questions we have been cycling back to each day, and your generous answers;
1. We often say we wish we had more time for certain things. Are you spending your time differently in view of our current world challenges? If so, how?
Karen: Hello Lesley Anne,
Because I’m a writer and therapist and work primarily from my home office, I haven’t changed my schedule all that much, except for a daily walk with my teenage son, which is a wonderful gift. Usually he doesn’t want to be seen with me in public, but now that his parents are his only companions, we’re all spending more time together. This has been an unexpected blessing for all of us. Though I also yell at him more—usually from the kitchen to the second floor– because of the Nefarious Screen Factor. We’re all spending even more time than usual in front of our screens.
But that also has brought a surprisingly positive benefit. I practice a neural-somatic trauma therapy called OEI, Observed Experiential Integration, and it’s been challenging and exciting to figure out how to work with clients on screen instead of in person. I have a couple of older and differently abled clients, for whom this change has been extremely helpful. They don’t have to leave their homes in these times of social distancing, and I’ve learned that doing this special body-based work is possible at a distance. So that’s really thrilling—it’s always exciting to learn something new, or to be challenged and realize you can figure out a solution. In fact, for a couple of these clients, working online is much easier. If someone has more ease in the experience of the therapeutic hour, the work tends to be more effective.
2. What is the core factor that brings vitality and life to you?
Karen: I’ve always been a spiritual person with spiritual habits and practices—I’ve been a meditator and student of yoga for decades– but that part of my character has become more defining and more definitive since I underwent an extraordinary crisis a few years ago. I’d let myself slide into that handy category of ‘emergency meditator’—I’d do the work when I really needed to, but I had a lot of secret resistance to the idea of goodness and service.
Cue the major crisis! I was crushed, so my resistances were also crushed. It was excellent. And terrifying. Heartbreaking. It was like Rilke’s poem: you must change your life. There was no more dabbling. I became a trauma therapist (an area in which I’d also meandered and read for years and years). During my training, the spirituality work became very focused and disciplined; I began studying Buddhist and Vedic texts again– really studying them–and meditating, praying and doing yoga every day. So. That is what gives me joy and vitality.
And trees. Walking around. The sky. This world and its creatures. The human voice.
3. What is one surprising thing that happened today?
Karen: A breakthrough that a client had. Completely out of left field; something we hadn’t really talked about before. The realization brought her great relief. More than relief: a feeling of resolution and profound grace. I can’t say more than that about her work but I can talk about my own sense of breakthrough, witnessing that, hearing the lightness in her voice, seeing it in her body. Working with people who are wrestling with PTSD seems, on the surface, to be so depressing. I think this is why I resisted deeper healing myself and resisted becoming a therapist for so long (though I was doing ‘mental health first aid’ for years, mostly with friends and students).
But today I glimpsed in my client’s moment of resolution my own emergence from crisis some years ago. People who’ve experienced severe abuse as children sometimes discover an unexpected freedom when they realize that the worst is truly over. The worst is over because we’ll never be children again, and (usually with good therapy) the trapped feelings that characterize PTSD begin to loosen and resolve. The resiliency, the ability to survive, indeed, the ability to thrive and find goodness in this world: human beings are absolutely extraordinary. There are many qualities about us as a species that are pretty deplorable, but when people heal, when they go down into those depths and emerge, their transformations are always surprising. We’re witnessing a lot of that goodness circulating right now, in this time of global crisis. I love that. I love us!
Karen is a literary writer, editor, teacher, and trauma-informed therapist. You can read more about Karen’s work and sign up for her Courage Room blog and newsletter at www.karenconnelly.ca.
Blessings and gratitude to you for spending time here today, Karen,
From Sonnets for Orpheus, by Rainier Maria Rilke,
translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy in 2003,
during the early months of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Quiet friend who has come so far,
Feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
And you the bell. As you ring,
What batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself into wine.
In this uncontainable night,
Be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
The meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
Say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.