Podcast Series: Carol O’ Dowd

Gina: Hi everyone, welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. It’s my pleasure today to be joined by Carol O’Dowd, who is a registered psychotherapist with the Center for Connected Communities. Welcome, Carol.

Carol: Thank you.

Gina: So great to have you here at Harmony.

Carol: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Gina: I’ve been very excited about doing this podcast with you because I’ve had some time to do some research around your background, and it’s just been a delight to be able to learn. And you’ve got an amazing story anyway, which unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to talk about. However, I would like to give the listeners an opportunity to hear more about who you are in particular around the practice of what you do in psychotherapy, which is, in my opinion, incredibly unique.

So you have a very interesting approach to clinical care. You’re trained in mindfulness, which is not uncommon in the field of addiction treatment, but you also adopted a Japanese psychology with ordination as a Shin Buddhist priest, which is a blend of eastern and western views. So for those that are new to this whole idea of Shin Buddhism and what you’re doing with the psychology aspect of it, can you talk with us a little bit about how do you do that? I mean, what does that look like?

Carol: It’s a blend of east, which is taking very ancient wisdoms and combining it with the west, which is very practical tools that allow access to body, mind, and spirit. So how I do that in Shin Buddhism, the core practice is what’s called deep listening, but that means that we don’t listen just with our ears. We challenge you to listen with your feet. So it’s the practice of being open and listening to what is as is, not as it is. The minute you say “as it is” that’s solidifying.

So it’s being open to the fact that life is always changing. So similar to addiction, that high gives you this big high and then it goes away. Life is the same way. Okay? What you like, it’s going to change. What you don’t like is going to change. So the real question then is combining, again, [morito 00:02:20] practice, which is where do you want to place your attention? Do you want to place your attention on what you don’t have or do you want to place your attention on what you do have and let in more?

Gina: That’s beautiful, and it sounds so fluid.

Carol: It is.

Gina: I mean, that’s a big part of it, is like you said. It’s not rooting yourself in one thing, which in mindfulness, especially around meditation, it’s always about the concrete of being present in that moment. But I hear what you’re saying is that it’s not just about being concrete in that moment, but recognizing the fluidity of it.

Carol: Well the fluid … What moment lasts?

Gina: Right, right. That’s a great point. There is no such thing is there?

Carol: Right. And so my view of clinical care is more that it is a transformative journey. So to me, it’s a process of working with my client as experts. I’m not the expert. I haven’t lived their life, so I have to find out where are they, what are they doing, and what’s always changing? So I just give tools so I can reach into a eastern bag or a western bag, whatever works for the client because it’s what works for them not what works for me.

Gina: Great. So you have, I guess it’s training also, in …

Carol: Ikebana.

Gina:Ikebana, thank you, which is Japanese flower arranging.

Carol: Correct.

Gina: Which I always think of just the bonsai tree when I think of that, but I’m sure that’s not even close.

Carol: No.

Gina: And then kyudo?

Carol: It’s kyudo, which is the way of the bow.

Gina: Okay, which is an archery, correct?

Carol: Yes.

Gina: Okay. What’s the disciplines that carry into these practices? As you look at that and you’re mentoring and coaching your clients, how do you take these two very unique aspects and bring them into a client’s life where they can adopt it? It seems like there’s a tremendous amount of metaphor work that happens there.

Carol: Yes, a bit. Kyudo is a fascinating exercise because it comes out of Japan and also was practiced intently by the Samurai. What’s fascinating is that the Samurai warriors, before they went into battle carrying the bow, this is before the days of guns and such, it’s strictly arrows, the practice that they engaged in to prepare for battle, ikebana. So these great big tense guys sitting and ikebana is arranging flowers, but the practice of ikebana involves, again, listening to the flowers.

So it’s being aware of body, mind, and spirit when moving the flowers and listening to the flowers. Allow the flowers to show face. Also, what’s a little bit different from ikebana versus just standard flower arranging and lots of just sticking the flowers in the pot is, or the vase I mean, it’s the practice of being aware of space and arranging the space as well as the physical space the flower takes up.

Gina: The space between too.

Carol: Yes.

Gina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carol: Yes. So it’s being aware of that and listening to that. So how that translates into a client’s life is, okay, who are you sitting next to when you go to a particular environment? Do you want to be next to that or are you getting stuck? Are you next to a cactus or are you being a cactus? Right?

Gina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carol: Where are you in space and time? So the practice of ikebana helps with the awareness of space and time. Kyudo, it’s a very intense practice. It involves standing meditation. It also involves being truly aware of body, mind, and spirit, because with kyudo, you have to be aware of totally where you are and how are you connecting with the bow? Different from western archery, in kyudo, you are throwing the arrows because of the way the bow works. It spins around and literally throws the arrow. And when you’re … As I was trained by my sensei, when you look at the target, the target is you.

Gina: Hm.

Carol: So it’s this connection with everything, the bow, the string, the arrow, the target, and realizing you too are part of this great oneness. Be aware of where you are. That is also a practice you can use in daily life because what it is is, again, where do you want to place your attention?

Gina: Which is so much about recovery. Recovery is all about, where do you see your mind being? Where do you see … Because so much of the time they’re in the past and they’re in the future, but they’re not looking at where they want their mind to be in the moment and in the present, and that sounds like a wonderful exercise and helping them with that.

Carol: And from these practices is, okay, the past is fine, but how are you bringing it forward? What are you throwing out there? What, from your past, do you want to bring forward? What future do you wish to create? Where do you want to be? Because the present, you can’t hold onto it. It’s always moving. So where are you going? Where have you been?

Gina: So different. Such a different way to look at it.

Carol: Yeah.

Gina: That’s fantastic.

Carol: Thank you.

Gina: So switching gears a little bit, you’re also the executive director for the Colorado Association of Psychotherapists.

Carol: Yes.

Gina: What is it? Tell us a little bit about this group.

Carol: It’s an exciting group because it’s a place that really promotes diverse practices and diverse therapies for all of Colorado. That’s our venue. What’s wonderful about Colorado is we have numerous indigenous peoples living here as well as those coming from other countries, certainly quite a population from Ethiopia, even Indonesia.

So back to each person, what works for them may not be something that came out of a western college or a single specific academic training. It might be shamanistic practice. Who are we to judge? If that works and it heals, let’s promote it and make it available. Now, we don’t do it in the sense of saying, “Well, whatever you feel like is what you can do.”

We truly encourage anyone who’s been trained because if you, having spent time personally in Indonesia with some of the healers there, the enormous amount of training I’m in awe of. It’s a different form of education, but it’s education training and high standards. Again, focusing on the healing aspects of the client. If you can’t heal the client, you aren’t being allowed to practice. Okay?

Gina: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carol: So what we’re doing as an association is promoting legislation that will continue to keep a variety of diverse practices available to all peoples living in Colorado as well as offering our members and even the public education, networking opportunities, and introducing the background behind these many diverse therapies because even some of the Japanese ones that I use, finally science, which is the great god in the west, is verifying what has been used for hundreds of years, and in some cases, thousands of years.

Gina: Right. So it’s a great group of folks where if you wanted to find a therapist that would meet the needs of what you’re looking for, you could easily find someone within that group.

Carol: Yup. You could go to www.coloradopsychotherapists.com.

Gina: Okay.

Carol: And our advisory board, we’ve got the directors of different schools here in Colorado, the Boulder Psychotherapy Institute, Colorado School for Family Therapy, and an academy that is trained, they’re one of the trainers for hypnotherapists. So again, we’ve got folks who are leaders in the development, even, of some new technology. So I guess what I would underscore is not only can you find therapists, you can also look at what’s being tested in the field. So we support and encourage innovation and exploration in ways that serve the needs of residents of Colorado.

Gina: That’s fantastic. It’s great to have that resource here.

Carol: Thank you.

Gina: Thanks for your leadership with that.

Carol: Thank you.

Gina: So if someone wanted to access services for the Center for Connected Communities, how could they get in touch with you?

Carol: They can call me at 720-244-2299 or they can go to www.centerforconnectedcommunities.org.

Gina: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking with you, Carol. I feel like we could spend an hour going through some of the amazing things that you’re doing. But if folks are interested in learning more about you, please have them visit the website. And we thank you for visiting Harmony today.

Carol: Oh, and thank you. It’s an honor to be at Harmony. It’s amazing what you folks are doing.

Gina: Thank you.