Interviews with Karuna Students: Yeshe Clarke

Yeshe Clarke is therapist, social worker and Shambhala and teacher from Baltimore, MD who has a long history with Karuna Training, from student to teacher. Her first experience with Karuna was back in 2001, when living in Munich, Germany. She had been to a program that featured a few of the main techniques taught in Karuna Training and heard that Karuna might be the next step to deepening those practices. “I was very inspired by what I encountered there and I felt like this is what I want to be doing.” she explains. “I didn’t quite know exactly what ‘this’ was, other than the feeling and the way of engaging that I experienced there.”

Karuna Training in Germany
There was just one problem, the language barrier, since the program (taking place in Germany) was being held in German. “I spoke with Melissa more about my interest in doing it.” she explains. “Actually I found out about it from my boyfriend at the time who was planning on doing the three-year cycle at the time. And Melissa asked me how good my German was and I said ‘Well it’s OK. I’m not fluent. It’s not great.’ And she said ‘Can you do some deep process work in the German language?’ and I said ‘No.’ She said ‘Well, you know, I think maybe it’s not going to work’ and I was extremely disappointed.”

But this wasn’t the end of the story. Yeshe says that her “boyfriend went ahead and started the cycle and he came to discover that there was someone from the Czech Republic who did not speak German who was there, who needed some translation. So he advocated for me to come in. I was able to join and I was extremely pleased and I have to say, by the end of the three years, I was giving a half hour presentation on my practicum in German to everybody!”

According to Yeshe, the program helped her in many ways and shifted the way she approached many aspects of her life. “I think what I got out of the program was very much a deepening of that feeling of ‘this is how I want to engage in my life and in the world and in my career.’” she recounts. “And it still wasn’t exactly clear what form it took. But I think what I got out of it was, maybe not the container of what that would look like in action, but the kind of heart in essence and spirit of what would go into any container that I created from there on in my life.”

Bringing Karuna into Therapeutic Work
Yeshe has brought this essence into her professional work with everyone from Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Manhattan, to families in crisis in Baltimore City, to patients in hospice, to her clients in her private practice. “In all of those settings, the way that I work has that kind of heart and essence of what I trained in” she explains.

One big part of this training for Yeshe was “staying in a space of not knowing…That has actually been a really powerful and challenging practice to use as a therapist.” she says. “Because, there’s some sense that we’re supposed to know, to be the experts and know how to help people. But what is also extremely powerful is learning to stay in a space of not knowing but also in trusting the wisdom that spontaneously naturally arises. And I certainly trained in that throughout Karuna Training and I get to experience that, really on a daily level, in my work. The magic and the wisdom comes out of the space. That is not something that can be formulated experience. I think that has really given me, not only the tools, but the trust and the confidence in being willing to enter that space. And allow for the health and wisdom to arise in the space of the room, or the interaction that I’m in.”

The Wisdom of Compassionate Presence
As an example of Karuna Training’s effect on her work, Yeshe shared a story of working with a Holocaust survivor in Manhattan. The “woman in her 80s had been an Auschwitz survivor.” Yeshe recounts “And she was sharing with me her feelings of survivor’s guilt. She was recounting her experiences of being in Auschwitz, and hearing her mother’s voice in her ear and then turning around and her mother was gone. She never saw her again. And she talked about the life that she’s had since then, eventually coming to America, getting married having children and then with grandchildren. And she spoke about the different work that she had done. But she shared with me that she doesn’t feel like she should have lived. That her life hadn’t been worth living, and that she should have died in the camp.”

Yeshe recalled the conversation saying “That was this very poignant and painful moment, where she was expressing her deep hurt and pain. And I found myself wanting to go into a habitual response of trying to prove to her that her life has been worthwhile. But I stopped myself from doing that, and I just entered into that space with her and I was just present. I held what she was sharing with me and what she was bringing Into the moment. And I just held it with her and sat there with her and shared it with her. And that was so meaningful to her. When I ended up sharing with her eventually that I was leaving New York and moving to Baltimore, it was a tremendous loss for her, to have me leave, and lose my willingness to really bear witness to her and her pain and share that space with her. It was very hard. And she became quite emotional and tearful in our goodbye. And I feel like that’s a testament to the kind of work we do and an example of how you use it.”

Yeshe says Karuna has also helped her beyond her professional work. “It’s also how I engage as being a mother and a wife and a friend and a daughter. So it’s these fundamental life skills and training that I’ve gotten out of it.” According to Yeshe, “the journey of Karuna training is one of incredible depth. And It is also very powerful to be moving through it with a cohort of people.” She explains that “The opportunity that Karuna gives of being able to move through with a cohort of people on that level of depth and truly heart-opening experiences is something that you really can’t find elsewhere.”