Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT June 24th 2020

Today’s session comprised 25 participants from the UK, Canada, and India, as well as California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and New Hampshire. After the group’s brief silent-centering exercise, one narrator and two “actors” read an excerpt from Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with two characters: Astrov, a middle-aged country doctor faced with a typhoid epidemic, and the elderly nanny, Marina. “Place” was a dominant theme in the discussion, both in terms of the scene’s physical space (a terrace garden’s avenue of trees) and the place/status reflected in society (aristocracy vs. serfdom). The discussion evolved into a series of keen observations and personal associations: trainees trembling under their blankets at night, like Astrov praying they won’t be called to work; knitting as not only textile but text, Chekhov’s weaving a story; and the numbness resulting from overwork in the medical realm. One participant noted that Astrov seems to construct his identity in relation to his patients, but not in relation to the structural dynamics of his profession.  Beyond what was explicitly stated in the text, participants compared assumptions made about the caregiver Astrov as he “spills out his feelings” to a caretaker, Marina, whom one participant identified as a truth teller, “a stand-in for God.” What is it, the group wondered, that awakens Astrov’s numbed feelings: guilt? Judgment? Awareness of his privileged status? Feeling himself to be “as stupid” as anyone else? This question segued into the prompt: “Write about an awakening.”

Writers addressed both rude awakenings and gentle ones. A splintered door became a metaphor for awakening into sexual identity.  A glacier’s slow descent with “ice falling away” described one writer’s gradual “waking up to truth.”  The sudden trauma of a car accident was the catalyst for recognizing the impact of a longer, more destructive trauma. The last writer to read offered a gentler awakening to the morning sounds at a country house and the sight of a  lake that “resembles eternity.”

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday, June 29th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!


A country house on a terrace. In front of it a garden. In an avenue of trees, under an old poplar, stands a table set for tea, with a samovar, etc. Some benches and chairs stand near the table. On one of them is lying a guitar. Near the table is a swing. It is three o’clock in the afternoon of a cloudy day.

MARINA, a stout, slow old woman, is sitting at the table knitting a stocking.

ASTROV is walking up and down near her.

MARINA. [Pouring some tea into a glass] Take a little tea, my son.

ASTROV. [Takes the glass from her unwillingly] Somehow, I don’t seem to want any.

MARINA. Then will you have a little vodka instead?

ASTROV. No, I don’t drink vodka every day, and besides, it’s too hot now. [A pause] Tell me, Nanny, how long have we known each other?

MARINA. [Thoughtfully] Let me see, how long is it? Lord — help me to remember. You first came here, into these parts — let me think — when was it? Sonya’s mother was still alive — it was two winters before she died; that was eleven years ago — [thoughtfully] perhaps more.

ASTROV. Have I changed much since then?

MARINA. Oh, yes. You were handsome and young then, and now you’re an old man and not handsome any more. You drink now, too.

ASTROV. Yes, ten years have made me another man. And why? Because I’m overworked. Nanny, I’m on my feet from dawn till dusk. I know no rest; at night I tremble under my blankets for fear of being dragged out to visit some one who is sick; I’ve toiled without repose or a day’s freedom since I’ve known you; could I help growing old? And then, existence here is tedious, anyway; it’s a senseless, dirty business, this life, and gets you down. Everyone about here is eccentric, and after living with them for two or three years one grows eccentric oneself. It’s inevitable. [Twisting his moustache] See what a long moustache I’ve grown. A foolish, long moustache. Yes, I’m as eccentric as the rest, Nanny, but not as stupid; no, I haven’t grown stupid. Thank God, my brain isn’t addled yet, though my feelings have grown numb. I want nothing, I need nothing, I love no one, unless it is yourself alone. [He kisses her head] I had a nanny just like you when I was a child.

MARINA. Don’t you want a bite of something to eat?

ASTROV. No. During the third week of Lent I went to the epidemic at Malitskoe. It was an outbreak of typhoid fever. The peasants were all lying side by side in their huts, and the calves and pigs were running about the floor among the sick. Such dirt there was, and smoke! Unspeakable! I slaved among those people all day, not a crumb passed my lips, but when I got home there was still no rest for me; a switchman was carried in from the railroad; I laid him on the operating table and he went and died in my arms under chloroform, and then my feelings that should’ve been deadened awoke again, my conscience tortured me as if I had killed the man. I sat down and closed my eyes — like this — and thought: will our descendants one or two hundred years from now, for whom we’re clearing the way, remember to give us a kind word? No, Nanny, they’ll forget us.

MARINA. Man is forgetful, but God remembers.

ASTROV. Thank you for that. You’ve spoken the truth.

From Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov

9 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT June 24th 2020

  1. antoinette56

    When I came out – relatively late, in my late twenties, although really I’d always been a boyish soul – suddenly and ironically I could be a woman because I knew what kind of woman I was – a butch lesbian. I hadn’t been able to join the medical students’ women’s association because that word “woman” was locked, a door I couldn’t open, that hid a world I misperceived, locked as firmly as a communion ritual. I thought I was some monster, a perversion of gender, and suddenly I understood the skin I wore was something venerable and named, an essential piece to the array of personhood, once the door was not only propped open but torn from its hinges and splintered underfoot.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      This is sublime. I loved listening to you read this. There was a matter of fact quality in the reading that the power of the narrative sounded detached. It felt like you were reading about someone else. However, my experience reading this on screen, is so different. It reminds me of Swati’s comment about weaving the text. In contrast to weaving, the text feels like you were ripping the warp and weft of the fabric of your life, in your twenties. The power of naming your experiences with brutal honesty, matches the brutality of exclusion. This awakening was forceful and final. “once the door was not only propped open, but torn from its hinges and splintered underfoot” gave me so much satisfaction.

      I had a moment of clarity. Awakenings can’t be half hearted. It’s like cutting the cord. It has to have intention, and precision. I misheard you in the session. As I thought you said vulnerable. Yet, “suddenly I understood the skin I wore was something venerable and named, an essential piece to the array of personhood,” was a powerful moment of reclaiming yourself from the inside out. It is this acceptance of self which galvanised the energy to tear down the door. The beauty of the power of the mind to metaphorically tear down doors is insightful. Thank you for sharing.

      Like

  2. Awakening~~~
    I slept.
    I slept for a long time.
    Life passing by,
    warm air passing over me.
    My eyes drowsy,
    my mind asleep, my body numb.

    But there came an unraveling,
    and sleep was disturbed.
    The sheer coldness of reality picked me up,
    set me on my feet,
    opened my eyes.

    What to do?
    Fight,
    fight against oblivion,
    fight against complacency.
    Fight to claim my spot in this world.

    And so I awakened,
    with new meaning,
    with a renewed sense of value,
    with a new purpose
    as I travel down the rest of the road.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      Awakening~~~ I love this creative intervention of form. My mind suggests, awakening with angels. The mind is a funny thing as
      I can’t explain why I have this association. Now, I get it. I see angel wings. Thank you for sharing your poem which has a similar theme to mine. I really enjoy how these sessions cultivate diverse interpretations yet create a space for commonality. The journey through the warm breath of the body sleeping to the coldness which abruptly awakens you is palpable. Upon awakening, you create movement where you fight in different directions. It feels rather manic. Then, the switch in tone feels purposeful and grounded. I feel a sense of focus and mission “as I travel down the rest of the road”. Beautiful.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    Rest in power
    beautiful sleep

    In sleep
    I dream
    of beauty
    In dream
    rest assured
    my soil is refreshed

    In sleep
    sweet waters
    of Ọṣun dissolve
    piercing crystals
    of fear
    fat
    and
    frozen dreams

    Biorhythms impatient
    to rekindle
    friendships
    as cupped hands
    massage
    the void
    in my heart

    I wake and die
    a dance of
    echoes
    reverberating
    through
    time

    woke

    woke as I died
    In clarity
    I
    remember
    my silence

    woke as I died
    now
    I
    hear
    your silent prayers

    woke as I died
    I awake
    to act
    to love
    to cherish
    to honour
    you

    we both find peace
    in shalom
    inshallah

    inshallah
    in shalom

    sleep – in – power
    always

    Liked by 3 people

    • antoinette56

      Wow – so much I’d like to know more about in this, and these beautiful repetitions, including the idea of “woke as I died” = thank you! Antoinette

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dr Yewande Okuleye

        Thank you, Antoinette.
        I am still processing ” woke as I died.” I was thinking about the liminal space between different types of consciousness.

        Like

  4. Swati

    A Caring Crawl

    The chubby twins crawling on the soft, moist blades of grass soon became the centre of attarction at the park, and not simply because they looked beautiful. But because they were conjoined twins, sharing a common leg. Their rhythmic, careful, slow crawl reflected their love for each other. Co-incidently, they both lacked what they shared- a leg, their leg. The lacking leg. The bonding leg.

    Liked by 1 person

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