“We are empathic beings who feel for each other. Our very success as a species is rooted in our ability to be aware of each other’s needs, to notice each other’s pain and to experience deeply felt physiological and emotional empathy.”
― Kae Tempest, On Connection
I recently read the beautiful book “On Connection” by poet, performer, writer and playwright Kae Tempest. The book had a big effect on me, and as soon as I had made it to the last page, I immediately went back to the start and read it all over again.
I think for the first time in my life I really understood what a poet is. There was something in the way that Kae was able to put words and imagery to the experiences that we as a collective group of people have been going through, that connected to some deep place in me.
The book is about lots of things. What I took to be the overall message is that we have found our way into a state of disconnection, both from ourselves and from other people (and also from nature) and this is what defines the time we are currently living in. And the way out of this place is re-connection.
I think this is something that many people can relate to and has been highlighted even more with the year that’s been in it.
Shortly after reading the book for a 2nd time. I was out for a walk by the sea listening to some of Kae Tempest’s performance poetry through my headphones. I experienced a profound feeling of being able to put the weight of the world down, just for a second. Their words made me feel seen and somehow in that seeing made the tension in my shoulders release and relax for a moment.
As I progress along in my counselling career and move further away from the time spent doing my formal counselling training, the more I am crafting myself into the kind of counsellor that makes the most sense for me to be. I find at the minute that what influences my practice the most are authors, artists, other counsellors and friends expressing their humanness.
I have come to understand that one of the most beneficial things I can do for my client is to sit with them in their pain and discomfort. Not try to rescue. Not try to fix. Not offer interpretation. But just to notice their pain and sit with them in it. To help them feel seen. With the hope that if my client feels seen, then they can feel like they can put down the weight they carry, even for just a moment.
But it can feel tricky sometimes, unnatural even to just sit with someone’s pain. We are not always very good with other people emotions. Sometimes they can scare us or feel too close to home. Sometimes we can feel that something might happen to the person if we don’t take action, give advice or intervene in some way (which in some cases can be true). Like everything, it can be a balance and judgment call. But in that moment when we are thinking of solutions, it moves to being more about us and less about the other person.
This is part of the practice.
In another part of the book, Kae Tempest says that the harder you try to connect with someone or something, the further away from connection you get. That you cannot force connection, it either happens or it does not.
But what you can do is to create the right kind of conditions, in your life and in yourself, so you are open and available to connection if it does appear;
“I can’t summon connection down from the ether and expect it to land in my lap. But I can do everything in my power to create a welcoming environment for it when it does decide to turn up”
I have thought about this a lot, about how to create the right kind of conditions for connection, that “collaborative and communal feeling” to appear in my work with clients.
Sometimes I try to get my thinking brain to take a back seat and become more aware of my body and emotional experiences, I try to stay open, and notice where and when my tendencies to close down are. I chip away it, daily over long periods of time with experimentation, experience and efforts to get to know myself as well as I can. Always knowing that it might happen, and it might not, and both of those things are ok.