Supporting Others by Being Human with Karen Kieffer

Karen Kieffer, my dear friend and colleague, comes on the podcast to talk consciousness and her journey with cancer.

Bio: Karen Kieffer currently is.

She is a trauma therapist, trainer, and integration coach, as well as mom, sister, daughter, friend, plant mom, and cancer egghead. She has lived in Massachusetts for over 30 years, but may soon become a nomad.

In this episode: What is reality? Karen discusses out of body experiences, pleasure activism, and how culture shapes us. Karen mentions her path to social work, the experience of being disabled by depression, peer support, becoming trauma informed, becoming a therapist, and her present work. She shares about open dialogue, a systems approach to mental health and working with families. A theme of this conversation is supporting others by being human. Karen has also helped white people understand why issues of race can be so hard for us. We discuss somatics, complexity, resilient movements, and psychedelics.

bell hooks –
Resmaa Menakem –
Pleasure Activism by adrienne marie brown –
Kimberly Ann Johnson and Stephen Jenkins –
Interesting talk about cancer:

Donate to support Karen through cancer treatment!:

Caption: an image of Karen. She is a white woman, bald, wearing colorful cat-eye glasses, softly smiling and looking into the camera. There is a turquoise impressionistic pattern behind her. At the top of the image it says Helping Others by Being Human with Karen Kieffer. At the bottom it says Episode #105 of The Psychedologist: consciousness positive radio


Leia: Karen Kieffer, my dear friend and colleague, comes on the podcast today to talk about consciousness and her journey with cancer. She is a trauma therapist, trainer and integration coach, as well as mom, sister, daughter, friend, plant mom, and cancer egg. She has lived in Massachusetts for over 30 years, but may soon become a nomad 

In this episode: what is reality? Karen discusses out of body experiences, pleasure activism, and how culture shapes us. Karen mentions her path to social work, the experience of being disabled by depression, peer support, becoming trauma informed. becoming a therapist and her present work, she shares about open dialogue, a systems approach to mental health and working with families.

A theme of this conversation is supporting others by being human. Karen has also helped white people understand why issues of race can be so hard for us. We discuss somatics, complexity, resilient movements, and psychedelics.

 Welcome to the Psychedologist, Karen

Karen: Thank you very much.

Leia: it’s good to have you here. Let’s start off as we always do, what was your relationship to consciousness as a child?

Karen: Hmm. Well, it’s certainly not a word that I knew about, but as a kid I did. grew up in the sixties as a young child, and all kinds of things were happening around consciousness among adults around me. And so I think some of those ways of thinking about things soaked into me in, in ways that I didn’t know or understand it till later.

and I was a kid who loved to be outside in the woods and so that was a pretty magical place for me. The younger you are, maybe, maybe we grow out of this young, young child thing of feeling like you’re part of everything around you, just naturally. And over time we lose that. So that magical quality of being in nature was very important to me.

 . And I also had, as a, as a child still in enter elementary school up through high school, I had night terrors, which I didn’t really know what they were.  and it was like being sucked into something evil. That’s how it felt to me. And so there was, there was always this menacing thing about not being in control.

that came along with those experiences. And,  just thinking about this now in response to your question,  about how all of those things have, have influenced how I think about this word, right? Of what consciousness is because,  during the night terrors, I was paralyzed, but, and I was terrified, but. , I knew what was going on at, you know, I hadn’t lost consciousness physiologically, but I was paralyzed.

And,  and that wa that was a really important experience,  for, for several years. So it was kind of,  this feeling of that I knew what evil things were like somehow.

and having come from a religious family but not feeling religious, I thought about these things as a child, about what, what does spiritual mean? And  but,  basically my, my universe of consciousness has been nature, I think. . When I was in my early twenties, I had this experience. It was a full body experience of I was sitting behind home plate in,  a baseball diamond near where I was living.

I was sitting on the hill there and all of a sudden I was whooshing through the galaxy at light speed, and if I didn’t grab my mother’s hand, we were going to be lost to each other. , I don’t know how much time elapsed,  in that thing. And I did not feel like I was dreaming.  it was a really interesting experience that,  puzzled me for a long time.

And so I remember researching out-of-body experiences and at the time I was living in Boston where,  A psychiatrist named John Mack was working with people out-of-body experiences. And,  I took a, a survey or something. Anyway, I went to a support group for people with out-of-body experiences and everyone there had the experience of, that I did not resonate with, of being abducted by aliens.

So I found myself in a support group of people who have been abducted by aliens and. I just, that was not my experience. And, but it was really interesting to be in the midst of that and feel, feel how real it was for other people. And,  just struggling with this, what, what, in terms of the, the consciousness word, is it?

Well, this is an internal experience for them, an external experience, like what is reality? And,  because it was clearly very real for them.  and so I think the out-of-body experience, that’s when I started thinking more specifically about consciousness and what that means and what is my experience of it.

Leia: Wow. So interesting. It’s making me think of. Hearing voices, support groups. I know you’ve facilitated before. Can you talk a little about that?

Karen: I have not facilitated them before.  I have supported the development of them and their, their existence in certain,  public me mental health systems spaces. And I’ve used some of the ideas in my work with people in therapy.  and I find it compatible with a lot of other things. But, but it’s that same character of.

trying to understand people’s experience or at least provide a space where they can be in dialogue with their experience and understand it better.  I’m not sure we ever really understand somebody else’s experiences, but,  but being exposed to the different ways that people do experience and think about their experiences of that is, is,   fascinating on one hand and, and can be harrowing on the other to, you know, sit with people,  trying to make sense of these experiences for themselves.

Leia: Yeah. Yeah. I, you might relate. Well, actually, you might not relate , we shall see. But when I studied psychology in high school and undergrad and grad school,  there was just no other viewpoint presented apart from one that pathologized. all, you know, any, any diversity of mental or emotional experience really.

And I just remember being so blown away when I read a study of that, you know, people who hear voices in. Western countries. I think it definitely was the United States, maybe Canada and I think some, not another country in Europe, perhaps. The voices were,  menacing and shaming and just like really unfriendly voices.

But people who they surveyed in Nigeria, the voices they heard were akin to like a, a caring auntie or some sort of grandparent or ancestor. And they were benevolent. They felt benevolent. Just like so interesting and, and I, you know, I’m grateful that support groups, like hearing voices exist.  yeah. It’s, it’s so, I’m so heartbroken over the way different mental experiences are pathologized.

Karen: Well, it relates to how, how useful they are to being productive, right? And if, if it takes you out of productivity, then it should not be allowed,  in our culture. And,  the more that I,  I guess live and learn and do work with people, the more,  it’s impressed upon me that. , it’s so common to think of culture as, oh, I eat different foods, or I dress differently.

I have different holidays and a different religion, or something like that. But culture shapes us so deeply in all of these ways,  that, you know, it influences the development of our physiology.  so that’s one thing that has really impressed me about. . It’s not just a different interpretation of experiences, it’s maybe different experiences.

Right. Yeah.

Leia: And so tell me about your pathway into social work. How did you end up in that field?

Karen:  well, it’s a, it’s a long trail, I guess. , I,  social justice work has been important to me for a long time.  and I, I studied environmental policy and I was doing different policy work,  before I became disabled by depression. And so I,  for about 12 years, I didn’t do, I didn’t. . And then when I tried to come back to work, I couldn’t go back in my field,  which was climate change, uh, stuff, because so much was happening.

I couldn’t make up, I couldn’t catch up 12 years of what was going on in the field. I, I couldn’t even get a volunteer job in my field.  then I,  tried to get a temp job doing administrative stuff that I was good at. I couldn’t even get a temp. . And so,  because I had, I had done the, the math of what, what kind of salary do I need to make to be able to get off of disability?

 it’s quite a challenging thing to do. And so I said, well, I could be an executive assistant, so again, I couldn’t get a job. And so I got a volunteer job as an executive assistant.  one of the directors of the, of a recovery learning community in Boston, and I didn’t know what that was.  uh, I was not that interested in mental health work.

It’s not,  in all my years of,  of different mental health stuff going on, I, I hadn’t really found any help or answers in the, in the mental health services. . So it was a really interesting place for me to land. And,  I was encouraged to become a certified peer specialist, and then I tried finding work in that field.

And if anybody knows about that, it’s, it’s, it’s not a field where you can make the kind of money that I wanted to make to get off disability. But anyway,  that’s how I came into the mental health world.  was through that volunteer job and in organizing,  the director’s amazing amount of resources.

I learned all about this history of mi of advocacy and social justice and mental health and,  self-help and peer support and all these things I’d never heard of before. So I learned a tremendous amount just from organizing those resource. . And so I got more involved in that work and I, I went on to work for another recovery learning community in Massachusetts, which those, there are five of them in Massachusetts and they are organ organized.

They’re supported by the Department of Mental Health to provide peer support, all kinds of different kinds of peer support,  for people with mental health diagnoses. And so from there,  I, uh, went to work for dmh doing, setting up peer support services and,  and doing system change work within dmh.

So,  so that’s how I came to the mental health field. And then working at dmh, it became very clear that the system wasn’t very good at, at working with. ,  clinically or,  being trauma informed. And so I spent a good deal of my time during those years of,  doing training and supporting change,  towards a more trauma informed system because, it seemed like, uh, there wasn’t even room really in the dsm.

how people’s life experiences turned into what are called symptoms and mental health conditions. So,  so in learning, of course, about all these things for myself as well of. Of trying to learn about things that are helpful systemically and in in the mental health system, but also for myself, I learned a lot about somatic therapies and trauma and trauma theory, and so I decided to go back to school to be able to do some of that work directly.

 finding it helpful for myself. , it just made everything make so much sense to me about what was happening to people.  and, and it gave some directions of how to support people. So I went back to school. I chose social work,  and uh, and I became a therapist.

Leia: Hmm. I’m reflecting as I listen to your story on my own,  learning about myself while studying psychology and. Uh, like , I had a thought of like, you know, does anyone study psychology without thinking about themselves? And I’m like, if someone didn’t think about themselves, that would be concerning

Karen: Yeah, they don’t.  although, um,

yeah, but that’s another thought.  so we can pause there.

Leia: Okay.

Karen:  okay. So, you know, before I ever thought about becoming a c. I spent two years studying open dialogue, which is a family systems,  approach to work with family in, in family therapy.  and it was the first time this training had been offered in the United States. So,  so I spent two years learning about this really different way of approach.

 whatever we call mental health and working with families, providing more space and more,  autonomy for people, more decision making in how this therapy went. And,   you know, it was hard for some of the clinicians in that training to unlearn some of what they already did. , it really provided a foundation for me of,  really helpful and caring approaches, human, human approaches to,  supporting people in a whole different way that didn’t pathologize them.

And,  that model is, is famous for people thinking that no medications are used and things like. But medications were used just in a whole different context and for different purposes. So it’s not an anti-medication model, but it was very different way of thinking from, from our traditional mental health system ways of thinking.

And so I was exposed to that before I was exposed to being trained in more, more traditional US mental healthcare ideas in school as. And in different trainings,  to be a clinician. So I’m really thankful that that was, that those things happened in that order for me, because that, that was pretty amazing, amazing opportunity that I had at that time.

Leia: Do you think that you’ll always support people as a therapist or, I mean, it just seems like in, in many different contexts you’ve been a support for others and I wonder if that feels like you’re forever thing.

Karen: I am really fascinated by the whole subject of agency, of inhabiting the self that can use self-knowing and learning and experiences as a basis for making good decisions.  I think this is both a practical subject as well as a philosophical one, and it shows up in both integration work and. ,  . I have a really awkward analogy to try to articulate the difference.

Let’s see if you can follow it. I developed and facilitated all kinds of workshops over the years, and I also got to teach Master’s students last year. I think coaching is more like workshops or trainings in that what people get out of training is more individual and they decide what they’ve learned from it.

Which is ideally true about therapy too, but due to the legal responsibilities and risk management requirements for evidence-based treatments, it’s more difficult to keep it real. So therapy can feel more like formal education sometimes where there’s a curriculum and certain tasks or processes that have to be done at the end of a class, you get a grade based on specific things you were supposed to.

And that’s not to say that people don’t have experiences, personal growth in formal education because they absolutely do just that. They’re graded on how they show their learning about very specific topics that they may or may not care about. And personal growth doesn’t matter for their grades in therapy.

I find I have to steer more and I am the one who’s supposed to interpret a person’s progress. Kind of like giving them grades in terms of the specific symptoms they came into therapy with. In coaching, the meaning of what we do and what constitutes progress is defined much more by the person and they decide their grade.

So I think of coaching as more like a, a workshop and therapy. It’s more like formal education..  it’s kind of like, this is not a great analogy, but I love,  training people and doing. that work. Uh, and then when I taught in a graduate program in a university, there’s so many similar elements, but it’s really different,  because you’re giving people grades, you’re judging their progress.

You have all these,  policies and ways of doing things that don’t really go along with necessarily learning principles. and autonomy that, that we like for people. So it’s kind of like that,  therapy, the way we have it, it gives a lot of responsibility and power to the therapists that is not always comfortable for me.

 legal responsibilities that, that,  are hard to hold and that are, are pretty stressful.  I. enjoy,  the training piece and, but now doing integration coaching is what I’m,  doing more of now since I’m not doing therapy.  I love that for the same reasons. It, it feels more human, more directed by, The person who are seeking out, you know, these experiences and supporting them to, to gain, you know, whatever insight they’re looking for and skills, and do things for themselves in a way that doesn’t put me in the position of being responsible for this process.

I couldn’t be responsible for if I tried, but I, you know, I’m not trying to do that and I love supporting that. . I really love it.  you know, some of the same things that happen in therapy that I love about therapy, you know, people are in this really vulnerable situation and they’re showing you really important parts of themselves, and even when they’re difficult, it’s just, you just see how beautiful people are and how much they’re, how hard they’re working.

 what they’re struggling with, what life has done to them. And I just find it such a privilege to sit with people and in their vulnerability.  and,  it, it’s really impressive and beautiful work and I get that from both therapy and integration coaching.  . So I’m finding I’m more satisfied with the coaching work,  because it doesn’t have a bunch of the downsides and it has has that, that character of really being present for the beautiful things that people are.

Leia: Hmm.  I know you’ve also done some anti-racism work and training. Can you speak to that?

Karen:  I don’t do anti-racism work.  but what I do is I take some of the things that I’ve learned about what is helpful for people in therapy,  and apply it to helping white people understand why. issues of race are so hard for us and what whiteness does to us as humans and, and where we can,  start an internal process of, of looking at whiteness in ourselves.

So it’s more opening the door to people. ,  having a relationship with that internal conversation so that they can go out in the world and not be defensive and reactive and really take advantage of opportunities for dialogue and action with other people.  and not just stay stuck in this bubble of whiteness.

 but open up to all the things. that can happen out there that are really amazing and powerful when we step out of our bubble of whiteness.  so I’ve done,  uh, a course for,  white people to, you know, learn, learn what to do with that discomfort of. Of dealing with issues of race and,  how to feel stronger and more grounded in it so that it’s not so scary and we can go out and interact with the rest of the world and, and, and,  let it change us and, and, and,  be a force for change, uh, in the.

Leia: Wow. Yeah. Is there, uh, any little tidbit that you could share as to, you know, for any white folks who are listening, how to  yeah. Become more comfortable engaging with race, talking about race?

Karen: I think we, especially the more progressive we think we are, the more we defend against any trace of whiteness in us. That, that we can’t possibly be,  have any racism in us. And that that denial that it’s in us, I think is, is where people get caught up.  . it’s more of learning to see where it is in us and what we wanna do with that.

 but it takes, it takes courage and it takes some skill to see where, how racism moves through us, right? We didn’t create it. We don’t want it, we don’t want it to be part of us.  but it does move through us and we can’t. and it’s not necessarily our fault until we become conscious of it, then, then it’s our responsibility.

So I think,  so often I’ve heard from all kinds of other communities,  you know, sit with the discomfort of this and learn about this and just like, just do it. And it’s impossible to just do it. , you know, sitting with discomfort takes. A lot of self-awareness and, and skills that you can actually learn.

So those are some of the things I wanna help people gain that skill for being able to hold those things cuz it’s really hard.  but while we’re still in that personal reactive space, nothing, we can’t hardly get out of our own way.  so I think it’s that. that understanding that it’s, it’s if you grew up as a white person in this country, it, it’s in us

And if we don’t want it to operate in us, we, we have to gain some skill to, to hold that process of looking at it.

Leia: Yeah. A prior guest, Phoenix Grace named it as the trauma of the oppressor and having to heal. Heal that. Yeah. Hm.

Karen: Yeah. Because we have a long, a long history, a European history of, of Traumati being traumatized. And you know, when you’re in that, that power dynamic, it’s always a struggle for power.  if you’re the oppressed, you’re always trying to,  gain some power in autonomy. But,  , but we carry, we carry all that trauma.

You know,  SMA Menke has my grandmother’s hands, that book if, if you’re familiar with it. But he addresses, you know, how, how white people, black people in the US and police officers. So these three groups of people, and of course police officers have both and more , right.  Uh, of black and white people and lots of other kinds of people being police officers, but they have a specific kind of experience that, that they need to navigate.

And so speaking about the somatic pieces of, of how we, those groups of people deal with oppression, empower, and looking at that in a somatic way,  I think that’s a really great book that helps. People who are descended from Europeans to understand how, how it moves through us.

Leia: Yeah. Yeah, I am. Yeah. I’m wondering. A somatic lens is ever not called for. It just seems to make everything so real.

Karen: Well, that’s where real life is, right? The re the rest is all in. Confused mind.

Leia: I ha I have a confused mind.

Karen: everyone does. That’s what minds are. Minds are just confused by nature. There’s so much going on up there that’s hard to sift through. You know,

Leia: And especially when only some small percentage of the information that we’re taking in is consciously aware. We’re consciously aware of.

Karen: Oh yeah. It’s just unbelievably complex. It is not complicated, is unbelievably complex. I once heard that a human being is the most complex thing in the universe, and I forget how, how they came to that, but, but I thought well just put more than one of ’em together. And, and that’s, you know, like how, how much more exponentially complex is that?

So if you’re into complexity theory and stuff like that,  . That’s pretty interesting to think that of how complex we are and how many systems and channels we have running in us. That’s why it’ll be keep us occupied forever as humans to figure ourselves out. Right.

Leia: Yeah. So you said earlier that,  you were disabled by depression and unable to work for 12 years, and now you’re, you’re working and you’re dealing with cancer and you even mentioned to me that so far depression is a lot harder than cancer. Can you speak on.

Karen: Yeah, that was,  a really. heavy feeling I had right when I was diagnosed,  with cancer.  that’s been about, I don’t know, uh, almost two months ago now. So I’m, I’m still in the beginning stages of that journey.  but what I experienced when I told people my diagnosis was this overwhelming outpouring of support,  of all kinds.

and, and I just had this sense like, wow.  if I had had this for depression or, or anybody did that, the suicide rate would plummet.  but it’s hard with depression because,  the help doesn’t necessarily resolve problems. And I think. humans are such helpers,  that if, if we can’t help, we don’t know what to do.

And so with depression, I think it’s really hard for other people to know what to do. It’s a hard experience to understand, and even when I’m not feeling it, I myself don’t even understand my own experience like, , how is it possible? Well, can’t you just do this? You know, I think that of my own self.  so I understand how other people get frustrated.

Well, why don’t you just do the one obvious thing that’s going to help you?  so it’s really, I think, a difficult thing to understand what, what keeps people from doing the obvious things that would be helpful. and I, I don’t know that myself, , just understanding my own experience in that way. I, I, you know, it’s really challenging to get in that space when I’m not in it.

And so, over decades, that’s gonna frustrate your friends and family. They don’t know what to do, nothing helps, and they’re sick of hearing the same thing over and over again. So it’s just, I, it just seems natural that people. Get tired of trying to help you. Obviously their efforts aren’t doing anything cuz your experience doesn’t seem to be changing.

So that’s a really frustrating thing.  and so yeah, they show up for you if you go to the hospital or whatever and have some difficult moment.  but then I think it, that, I think even for therapists depression can be really frustrating for therapists, you know?  and that was such a stark contrast with being diagnosed with cancer.

Cuz everyone can imagine,  you know, like you’re physically miserable, you’re confronting this, you know, your potential death and, and all that and, and you need food and you need company, you need a ride. You need all kinds of different things that people know what to do for you that I think aren’t so obvious with depression.

So, but what I found was, , you know, just people being there,  reminding you that they love you and support you and they’re there for whatever.  that’s so powerful. And, and the way you know, my whole community from people I’ve known my whole life, from every place I’ve ever worked or lived or gone to school,  just mobilizing.

 I just felt so held and cared for in a. I, I didn’t with depression. I mean, it’s so, such an isolating experience. So that, that really struck me.  yeah. So that, that felt like, I don’t know why it felt like a realization.  but,  it seems like it doesn’t, it doesn’t happen for. depression in the way that it does for other things.

Leia: Yeah. Well, I’m sorry for you going through either of those things. I mean, I am thinking about this ERO that I spoke with recently who said that if he comes into medicine space or any sort of consultation, any, any exchange with someone who’s there to, you know, receive. I don’t even know if it’s to receive healing, just like someone who’s coming to him for help.  and he says when he comes with anything other than neutrality, he’s weakening his medicine. And that the potency of his medicine is directly related to his neutrality as in not wanting any specific thing for them apart from healing. And, you know, love just the, the, yeah. The force of love. So it’s, it’s making me think a bit about that with the whole Yeah. With depression, people. Maybe if they could just come with neutrality and like, this is,  so what, okay, so what if you don’t get better, like, I’m still gonna bring you a fruit basket and come sit on the couch with you or something.

Karen: Exactly I, I. , yeah. The presence is because what presence does is say you’re, you’re a person who, who’s valuable. Doesn’t matter if you’re working. It doesn’t matter what you’re producing or achieving in this moment, right? You’re just valuable just because you are right. And that’s kind of what love is too, in lots of ways.

 that’s a tricky word.  it means so many important things.  and it’s kind of like being with the moment. It’s like acceptance. It’s, it’s a whole,  just being present like that, that like you said is enough.  but for, we’re such relational beings that,  that’s like a nutrient that we need.

Leia: Yeah. Hmm hmm. I think so many folks are, are nutrient deficient.

Karen: Like we have a whole culture that is, that is, you know, about that,  about independence,  and about productivity, right? Noth nothing else really matters.  and no other people matter. Uh, just, you know, in terms of, you know, general cultural values. , you earn more, you’re more important, you know, you have lots more power and, and,  opportunities of the world.

Lot of more respect. yeah, lots of people really struggle with, if I’m not working,  I don’t deserve anything.

Leia: Rest is.

Karen: and it’s like, I’m not a person. Yes, absolutely. But also if I don’t achieve anything, I’m not a person. Like I don’t even exist. Right. I, I don’t, I can’t be seen. I can’t be heard.  is such an important thing to happen for anybody having a difficult experience. Right. To be seen and.

 Just thinking about the pandemic and, and like this whole period of isolation that people have been in,  working through the pandemic as a therapist, uh, the overwhelming. Uh, lack of that nutrient of togetherness and care and the fear, uh, so much was uncertain and that isolation,  it was an amazing amount of anxiety.

And, you know, we’re all holding it. as a therapist, I’m holding that as well, right? But,  I’ve never seen, it was like a tidal wave of anxiety, a basic existential angst.

Leia: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, I felt it at times. And also the pandemic was part of me learning to rest. You know, it, my learning to rest coincided with this pandemic and, you know, permission to say no to. Going out and gathering has been radical.

Karen: And how many memes were there about that, of, of finally, introverts can, can relax. You know, so many memes around that, which I think really speaks to this pressure to produce all the time and be active and busy and do all these things.  a lot of pressure for that.

Leia: Yeah. Yeah. I’m thinking about,  , this idea of pleasure activism. You know, Adrian Marie Brown wrote that amazing book. And,  just thinking back to your days in the climate justice fight,  first of all, I’m like wondering if your depression could have, was like in some way worsened by that. And also I’m thinking. Just one of the nuggets I got from that book was that our social movements will be much more resilient and profound and deep and multifaceted and like powerful.  if we incorporate pleasure.

Karen: Absolutely. Because we have to live through, these are not short term movements. We have to live. Construct new ways of people thriving, and we have to do it in real time. While, while the plane is, while we’re flying the plane, we’re building the plane and the plane’s on fire. Right? And it’s flying over a typhoon and a wildfire and a earthquake.

Like it’s everything. I think,  what really, you know, the, the early nineties were, were very hard for me because,  we. working towards the 1992 meeting in Rio, one of the first global meetings right to to talk about action for climate change at the international level, level, in a cooperative way. And there was so much hope put on this one meeting.

And then when nothing came of that, and I already thought we we’re close to the limit of survivability. Now this was 1992. We’re not gonna make it. And,  when that meeting failed to produce any meaningful results, and then I forget what number meeting we’re on now,  uh, that that continued to fail to produce, you know, radical results that we were looking for.

 that was a really big impact for me,  of hopelessness and dread and doom.  and, and just grief and sadness. Like really humanity, we’re not gonna be able to pull this off. And so that, that, that was really difficult to manage for me for, I dunno, about 20 years .  and also during that time of,  experiencing domestic violence at the same time.

So those two things kind of put me over an edge in the early nineties. And,  I remember I was in the, in the hospital,

and and I, I had a Psychedologist who, who thought, I know it was a Roark test and some drawing tests, you know, only psychological tests and,  I will never forget. She said I had a fixation with nature and I just thought, what ? I just like, what else is. Like, what, what is not nature and a fixation like,  I, I just, I, I lost total respect for psychology at that moment.

I was like, are you kidding? Like, there is nothing you can ever help me with ever again, .  I was like, what a fixation with nature. I’ll never forget that.  yeah. that, yeah, I did not find any help at this moment in my life, at any of those moments in my life.

Leia: did. And then what help did come, like you said, for 20 years it was really hard, and yeah. Where do we find you now?

Karen: I think, um,

I think learning more about trauma and understanding that and leading to the somatic world,  was really,  it really important process for me.  and, and largely I would,  , I would attribute that to my friend Carol, who,  introduced me to a lot of things that I didn’t really know about in practice.

So,  yeah, that’s, that’s, uh, you know, a friendship I, I really value, but that has been really important part of my personal development. . from there, just finding the things that made sense.  you know, I first heard of psychedelics being used in terms of treatment,  at the trauma conference that Bessel VanDerKolk,  does every year.

 and hearing about these trials of psychedelics and,  I was like, hmm. , uh, what does that that mean makes you go, Hmm. And so that, that caught my attention, I don’t know, 2012 or 13 or something,  when we went to that conference. And,  so I wasn’t sure what that meant. I. , you know, for me at that time it was all in the clinical trials and all that, not knowing of all this other work outside of systems that was going on,  and had been going on for a long time.

So, uh, it took me a while to get there and learn more about that, that world. And so I think for me that. and I think of Terrence McKenna and the, the way he described, you know, having a relationship with the mushroom.  but the psilocybin work has been important for me. So for me, finding that somatic work,  those practices and, and, uh, developing that, all those aspects of personal growth and learning about that whole part of myself,  and then having support from psilocybin has been really important for me.

 yeah. And the, those, those that somatic doorways, I think so. Key.

Leia: Yeah, I agree with you there. Yeah. Hmm. So,

Karen: Yeah.

Leia: Well, obviously psilocybin and consciousness or, uh, well, consciousness, yes. And somatics is a consciousness hack for us. Uh, is there anything else,

Karen: Yes.

Leia: any other hacks that you wanna mention?

Karen: I think that’s, that’s really my, my main, my main consciousness hack, except outside of, of,  really focusing on my relationships, uh, in a different way. Like,  deepening my relationships. I mean, that goes to a trippy place without any substances , you know, of.  when. Are are in relationships that really support,  exploration and learning and,  and that unconditional love space.

 like that, that’s just amazing if you can,  get, get there. Uh, so I really value my relationships and. and I, I think that ha is, has been an important consciousness hack, uh, for me, . So those, those two things,  and that internal exploration of where all those things meet,  in a somatic way. Yeah.

Leia: Hmm. Uh, I’d love to read a paragraph from All About Love by Bell Hooks, which I’ve been rereading. That seems to speak to what you’re saying. Is that okay?

Karen: Yeah.

Leia: Okay. So yeah, this book is just her exploring love in all different dimensions. You know, love in families, childhood, spirituality, an ethic of love, romantic relationships, death and love, uh, mutuality.

So this is in the introduction. She says, imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word love is most often defined as a. Yet all the most astute theorists of love acknowledged that we would all love better if we used it as a verb. I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the word love and was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist m Scott Peck’s classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled first published in 1978, echoing the work of Eric.

He defines love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Explaining further, he continues. Love is as love does. Love is an act of will. Namely both an intention and an action will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to. That’s the end of the quote.

And then she says, since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually.

Karen: Love that. And you know, combined with the whole book of pleasure, activism, of what does love mean in a community and over time, and do you have to be a perfect person to love  and that really these are just helping all of us grow, grow towards the light.  uh, that it is about.

learning about our potential,  as human beings. And together, you know, I,  I have been asking myself this question,  partly from the Climate Doom,  place, but,  again, with,  you know, the cancer diagnosis, .  and also just like years of just managing this suicidality, like, you know, the mortality,  how much, how much control do I have over that at any given time?

 but the question of of who do I wanna be, when, when the shit goes down, right? Who do I want to be? How do I want to show up? And I get to decide that in every minute. , that’s been a really important question for me in terms of making life decisions and,  and just thinking about, you know, when you ask that question, you’re confronted with what things mean to you.

What, what are your priorities in living?  you know, that that’s what dying puts into perspective is. You’re living really, and what matters to you. So,

So all those things for me go together.

Leia: Hmm. I’m really moved by that. Dying puts into perspective that you’re living, huh?

Karen: I just,  today was the last day of a conversation between Kimberly and Johnson.  one of the people I’ve learned a lot from about,  somatics and trauma and Steven Jenkins. Who wrote, he’s a, she’s a doula and I would call him a death doula.  he works with end of life things, but,  at the beginning of this conversation, he asked the question.

He said he was, he was with doing a training with a bunch of healthcare providers and he asked them, do you know that you’re gonna die? And you know the reaction, everybody rolls their eyes, of course we know we’re gonna die. And he said, What would be the evidence that you knew you were going to die in how you live?

And that was a pretty profound question. Like, in our culture, in our individual lives, how, how does that show up that we know? Because in our culture, we avoid death and ideas of death and, and dealing with death. Like it’s just horrible how, how unskilled and inadequate we are in this area. . You know, death is always a tragedy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 90 and you’ve lived a wonderful life, you know,  or even 40, or, you know, being diagnosed with cancer at 59. Uh, you know, we’re not gonna live forever and, and we think of death as such a tragedy.  so I think the framing of that is so important.  but that. . The only reason that death matters is because it highlights how, you know, what’s important about living.

Otherwise, if we live forever, living would hardly even matter. You know, you could make all the mistakes you wanted and nothing would matter. So death is something that makes what we do in life matter. So I really,  that was another question that really, uh, impressed me was what is the evidence in your life that you know you’re gonna.

Leia: I think that’s a good question to leave folks with. Anything else you’d like to?

Karen: Yeah, no, just thank you for this, uh, conversation without a roadmap.

Leia: The conversation is


Karen: to live in moments. Yeah. Yeah. It’s all about the moments.

Leia: Mm-hmm. thank you so much, Karen.

Karen: Thank.

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