The Dragonfly Experience
“Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to present a class on existential psychotherapy to a cohort of first-year Master’s-level clinical students. As I attempted to explain the shift from a mode of existence in which we look at how things are into a more ontological state wherein we focus on being itself and that things are (Heidegger, 1962), I was met by a roomful of furrowed brows, quizzical expressions, and raised hands. Confronted with the most profound of clinical questions, “What exactly would that look like?” I searched for a description that would help bring this concept to life. My mind fell upon an experience I had some months ago while walking through a nearby park.
I recounted the following events to the students. After about an hour of walking my usual route during which I had been mentally recounting the number of lit reviews I had to grade before next week, the paper I had to write for my own PhD class, how much time I had to get ready for where I needed to be that night, and a hundred other to-do’s that were on my list, I suddenly became aware of the lake that I was passing. I stopped and stood, staring at the water and the shadows cast upon it by the late afternoon sun. As I stood there, I stopped thinking about all the things that had been in my head just a moment before. I was drawn by the shadows on the water, by the ever-so-slight flowing of the water in the afternoon breeze, by the silence. I just stood rooted on the trail without conscious thoughts, experiencing my own existence. Suddenly, I was surrounded by what must have been 30 or 40 dragonflies. They just descended around me and seemed to be suspended in the air. I saw them, felt them near me, but remained in that moment without explaining or analyzing or doing anything; I just was. I don’t know exactly how long I was standing there; it felt like a long time, but I think it was only a few minutes. It was that moment in which time not only stands still, but also ceases to exist at all, as though you are existing without time.
I finished my description and waited to see what kind of responses it might engender in the class. Students were smiling, nodding, and one young woman looked close to tears. There were comments of understanding and agreement, which told me that we could now proceed with the rest of the lesson sharing a common language. As the class progressed, the students began to spontaneously phrase their comments and questions in relation to “the dragonfly experience.” I had not coined this phrase when I described the event; as a matter of fact I had simply begun by saying, “let me describe something that happened to me that might help you understand what we’re talking about.” However, for the rest of the three-hour class, the students continued to pose questions such as “So if a client presents a dragonfly experience, how do we proceed with that in a session?” and “How much of my dragonfly experience should I disclose to a client?” along with many other such questions. It was clear that something in this description had resonated with these students and created a shared construct of meaning. Something had come into being.
Augustine of Hippo (396-430). Retrieved on April 14, 2012 from http://thinkexist.com/quotation/miracles_are_not_contrary_to_natur e-but_only/149651.html
Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. New York: Harper & Row.
-- LuAnn Conforti-Brown