Carol O’Dowd from Prajna Partnerships offers counseling and coaching services while blending Western and Eastern approaches to guide and support others on their healing journey.
If you were to take the best of both Western and Eastern approaches to healing, what would they be?
It depends. The ‘best’ for one person can be ‘hell’ for another. During the year 2000, a born-again Christian tried to convince me that because the world was going to end, I needed to pursue his definition of the best religion. When he learned I was Buddhist, he leaned back in shock and said, “Don’t you know you’re going to hell?” My response was, “No. Are you sure?” He replied emphatically, “Yes! The end of the world is coming, and you are going to hell because you have not taken Jesus as your savior!” At that, I smiled and with enthusiasm said, “Why that is the best news I’ve heard in months. Thank you! Thank you! Have a wonderful day!” The man stared at me for a couple of seconds and then said, “I just told you that you are going to hell. How can you be happy about that?” I said, “Well, I’ve read about your heaven. It is a place where everything is perfect and there are no problems.” As he nodded, I added, “I truly mean no offence when I tell you that sounds a bit boring to me. You see I’m a therapist and trauma is my specialty. Gee, if I go to hell, I’ll have clients for an eternity. What wonderful news! Again, thank you and have a pleasant day!” The man was so confused, he left without uttering another word.
Life can be confusing. Teachers in the East and West advise us to journey with life where and as we are. Whether in the East or West, the approach is to enjoy the moments, the best we can with what is available.
How much of a role does spirituality play in the work you perform?
My training, education and experiences have led me to do my best to listen to the workings of body, mind and spirit in each situation. Being client centered, spirituality plays a prominent role in counseling only if that works for the client.
What actually qualifies as ‘trauma’ as this is something that can’t be measured?
It depends. As military veterans will share, what is traumatic for one person can be a bump in the road for another. Typically, trauma is categorized by frequency of occurrence such as from one event, from repeated or prolonged occurrences or from having experienced multiple events. Clients answering questions about a past experience, sometimes respond with, “Gee, I never saw that as traumatic, but it was and I’m still dealing with it.!” Trauma is defined by the client and is something to be addressed when it interferes with the client’s ability to function in daily life.
How important is the PRESENT and what repercussions can play out if we fail to achieve this?
Being present is essential to living life fully. Although we live in the present, it is so elusive. Once the word ‘present’ is uttered, it is in the past. The way to experience the present, as many athletes or artists describe it, is to be “in the zone.” This is because instead of analyzing, being present is about experiencing with all the senses. What can help us stay present is to ask the question, “What’s happening?” The answer is to focus on what is instead of what we think is or we judge to be happening.
When we engage with our thoughts or judgments about what’s happening, we can get trapped in dialogue with our own thoughts. It is so easy to get pulled into acting based on assumptions from the past, our emotions, and/or projections of what we think others think. The major repercussion of being focused on thoughts or expectations is that we don’t see or hear what is present around us. In times of crisis, not being present can block us from being open to events as they arise and change. Being led around by emotions, we forget to be curious and discover what is happening in and around us. Getting trapped in the age-old mantra of ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ we miss opportunities. As Isaac Asimov explains it, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” but, “That’s funny…”
What do you offer your clients and what can one expect to walk away with?
I offer a safe environment to realign with strength and wisdom. Clients leave with tools for living life fully. Most of all, I enjoy helping clients walk free from the traps in which they may find themselves. My current and past clients consistently thank me for techniques I share that they continue to use in their daily lives to live life fully.
What personal life experience has helped you connect with and understand the healing of others?
After being awarded one of the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards in Thailand by the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, a Senator for Thailand gave me a tour of the slums of Bangkok. Having lived in the United States, I lacked experience with real poverty. We walked alongside rooms made from tin roofing. Cutout squares were the windows and openings for the entrances sometimes lacked doors. It was normal for five people to be living in one room. Sewage flowed in the gutter that ran next to the sidewalks. The Senator walking in front of me, stopped often to chat with residents who came out to greet her while I fought back the urge to vomit. The sidewalk was so narrow that we had to step into the street to pass a young woman sitting on the sidewalk washing her clothes in a bucket.
As we approached the woman’s face lit up with a smile. After she spoke briefly with the Senator, the Senator explained she would be the translator because the woman wanted to talk with me. Despite my concerns about the conditions of the slum and the woman, I was touched by the beautiful smile on the face of the young mother. Still squatting behind the bucket in a slightly soiled t-shirt that hung over her long skirt, she invited me to stay. The Senator explained that she wanted to serve me some tea.
I was shocked that she would want to share what little she had with a stranger and one from a country not always seen in a positive light. I bowed down to her as I explained that I was on a tour and could not stop. At the Senator’s encouragement, we chatted for a few minutes. As we talked, I began to relax and realized we were laughing at shared perceptions. I was no longer focused on my judgments of what was not there or missing. Instead, I became aware of a swing-set that had been created from soldered pieces of metal sitting off in a small open area. I noticed how the walkway or street, despite the open sewer, was free of trash. As we waved good-bye to each other, I no longer saw us as standing in a slum. I was wishing a happy day to a resident in a neighborhood. I realized I had been healed of my arrogance by the woman’s generosity. She taught me that, no matter how difficult our situation might be, we can stand with integrity. The experience taught me that in addition to aligning with strength and wisdom, sharing it can be healing. Also, I learned how generosity is healing. Generosity of laughter and one’s presence heals because in such times, there is no giver and receiver. There is only the mutual sharing of open hearts.