This past Sunday I was joined by Ole Vadum Dahl for a dialogue entitled “How Going Blind Opened My Eyes.” We conducted the interview from his home in Denmark, while I was on the road, teaching in Europe. Throughout our dialogue, Ole maintained a raw honesty as he described a journey of identity and change, crisis and redemption, and what it means to be more than who we think we are.
What I especially appreciate about Ole is his uncanny combination of four unique capacities: a non-ordinary intuitive awareness; a deep feeling sensitivity to people, groups, and energetic dynamics; an ability to communicate with unusual attunement; and finally what can only be called his “plain, old” brilliant intelligence. And he manages to combine these unique capacities with being a very grounded fellow who makes a great deal happen in the practical world. The postgraduate educational academy he founded and leads is now the largest training program for psychotherapists and coaches in Denmark.
As a child and into his teens, Ole had a talent for drawing, painting and photography and he wanted to become an architect or a graphic artist. He spoke about how he enjoyed nature tremendously, “the mountains filled me with wonder.” In fact, he felt that the visual arts were one of the few things he excelled at. But there came a day when the principal of his high school gravely advised him to see an eye doctor because his visual degeneration was becoming increasing obvious. Soon after, his parents sat him down and told him that he was going to be blind for the rest of his life.
Surprisingly, his initial reaction, and his early experience of going blind, was curiosity. Learning Braille, learning to use a cane, traveling to the U.S. to be a part of an exchange program with guide dogs, all occurred to him as interesting and even fun. But losing his vision eventually plunged him into an existential struggle to reformulate his very identity, including his life’s purpose and creative dreams.
His very sense of who he was, his self-identity, was shaken to the core. He’d always thought of himself as a naughty hippie boy and now he was approached as a helpless, handicapped guy. He bristled at the inspiring stories of blind people who could “make their own food,” or accomplish other seemingly “basic” life tasks, that strangers were always offering him.
As Ole contemplated the disconnect between how the world interacted with him versus the way he thought of himself, and as he noticed how many students at the school for the blind seemed to narrow their self-identity to only being blind, he thought, “it’s bad enough that I can’t see, but what if I become ‘Blind’?” To Ole, it was clear that this distinction represented a choice between freedom and imprisonment.
Still in his twenties, his depression and anxiety finally led him to psychotherapy and eventually transcendental meditation which he says opened an extraordinary world up to him. With TM, for the first time he experienced a sense of being that was profoundly “me,” but very unlike the young man who could be so contracted around others that his body would ache.
Very quickly, Ole became aware of how fundamental one’s sense of identity is to well-being, success in life, relationships, and the will to engage with the world. But he also became aware of an even deeper identity of being-ness that transcends self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth, which still rely on the external and transitory. The most stable identity you can have is abiding in a deeper sense of being.
Resting there, when he sat with people in therapy groups and 1-on-1, Ole noticed that, perhaps because he wasn’t distracted by visual information, he was able to notice subtle shifts in his own feelings that gave him a lot of information about the people he was sitting with. And they responded to him, feeling deeply “seen” by him, even without his sense of sight. The section of our interview in which Ole describes the opening of this “second sight” is revelatory and valuable to anyone who is interested in sensing subtle fields.
Ole named the school he founded “ID Academy” because he structured it on comprehensive and in-depth integral processes of recognizing identification and embeddedness, and the process of dis-identification, or “making subject object.”
Listening to Ole speak about connecting at a certain level, both causal and subtle, with the essential goodness of my “being nature,” I thought of my own recent engagement Integral Soul Work. Ole affirmed the parallel and went on to speak about a “special flavor of being” that we all uniquely possess. When we get behind all the self-contraction we find a spiritual “personality” which is not based on any achievements or accomplishments, but which has spiritual qualities specific to you.
How Ole came to be the leader and teacher he is today is a powerful example not only how adversity can transform to strength and purpose, but also how opening the “eye of spirit” and awakening from limited identifications can transform our lives. And this is the foundational insight that underpins his cutting-edge work in psychotherapy, coaching, and spiritual and personal development and his establishment of the largest post-graduate psychotherapy academy in Denmark.
I invite you to listen to the full dialog here