Sitting in the small room with no furniture and black and grey carpet on the ground, my feet bare and my chin resting on one knee, I was transfixed. It was, beautiful; at times tragic, at times tender, but constantly and unrelentingly beautiful. I could feel the connectedness of the participants in the room and could sense the change in everyone. I could feel warmth in space that had previously been neutral. It was a feeling of presence rather than absence and I knew it had worked. We had hoped to create an experiential space for feeling what it’s like to be in safe space where you are able to say anything and feel anything and it had worked. We all chose to participate and rather than facilitate a space of academic learning we had all created a space of emotional learning. This is, in my personal opinion, what it takes to truly be a great counselor. Not theory, not supposition, but the capacity to build a relationship and to sit, just sit, with intense emotions.
Interesting, and to the credit of my talented local trainers, it seemed that with time I became less and less noticeable. I, the tall, looming, foreigner with big feet and a strange name, had become background noise and with time it appeared participants tended to notice one thing about me when I spoke up – that they hadn’t noticed me earlier. I became recessive and long stretches of time would pass before anyone realized that I was there. Impact assessment interviews suggest the real meaning behind the work is simple: helping people realize every human being has dignity and value and that we are all human beings. A small group of HIV+ women here reminded of this simple truth and once again I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to simply be with people and to see their burning capacity to be great. Although the experiential trainings I have facilitated here have been some of the most powerful experiences of my personal and professional life, I will stop there in my description of recent events because everything else belongs to the group and we all promised the important promise of confidentiality.
What I have been reflecting upon….
My time in the developing world always offers me one thing, intellectual refuge. I typically notice but don’t truly recognize how noisy my life in the developed world is. And, although in some ways I have no doubt that my life in Yangon and Fang and Gbarnga and Voinjama and Yelwa have actually been surrounded by more noise than I am surrounded by in Denver, I find I am still able to sit in almost total silence when I am away. Strange scents waft over me and new flavors dance on my tongue but the visual vistas seem to be more defined and my mind gets a little more free, my time a little less varied and unbroken. I realize when I am out of my home environment that it is important to take a break to roam and that it becomes evident that if I allow it to happen my mind making quick and clear connections and my imagination is unfettered and supple. I can stay with these thoughts for as long as I able and then I am back to my baseline way of being, slightly anxious, undoubtedly neurotic and slightly odd. My only hope is that I can hold on to some of this for a while because I have found that the fast paced American way makes it even more difficult for me to simply be and the minute I land my mind and my body just start to run.