Focusing is a practice, not a theory

My friend Susana Alvarez from Argentina recently posted a saying that roughly translates to: “Communists until they get rich, lesbians until they get married, atheists until the plane starts to fall…”. I wrote back, “But Focusers forever.”
That’s because Focusing is a practice, not a theory. We can tune into our own felt sense as long as we have bodies, to get our own body perspective on what’s happening.
Right now I am translating parts Marshall Rosenberg’s Speak Peace in a World of Conflict. I’m translating it to Spanish to be sure that I am faithfully transmitting his theory to my students in El Salvador and México. They find his theories extremely enlightening.
But because I have also studied Gendlin, I want to make sure that in interacting with my students, the theory does not become more important or valid than their own lived experience. And I recognize this as a value in the Salvadoran left-wing ethos. BUT, as Rob Parker points out in our Process Model class, it is also important to read a new theory with a humble mind, rather than thinking that one can discuss it from one’s own  philosophical stance. Once we have studied and understand the new theory, we can discuss it from within the new theory itself.
Apparently Gene Gendlin used to entertain himself when he was young by absorbing various theoretical frameworks and seeing that he could out-argue proponents of those theories from within the frameworks they espoused. He could do it because he saw them all as “conceptual frameworks”, whether Marxism or evangelical Christianity, or what-have-you. This awareness is so revolutionary and could mean so much for peace if people could be taught from childhood to value their living experience rather than becoming part of a theoretical machine. Focusing and what it means and how to use it–all this grows as I grow. That’s why I can be a Focuser forever, within whichever theoretical framework I find helpful at the time. I am struggling to understand A Process Model, in order to understand Gendlin’s theory of what Focusing means and how it is possible, but as Gendlin says, “it is just a theory.”

Listening to stress helps you overcome stress

Just got this letter from a participant in our online class, Giving Language to Stress. It feels very fulfilling to have this feedback, because it speaks to my vision, many years ago, of why I wanted to switch from being an acupuncturist to a Focusing teacher. I deeply respect acupuncture and what it can do. Acupunture is my first choice when I have a physical problem that I am not able to handle myself. And yet there are so many ways that we can improve our health by becoming aware of the patterns held silently in our bodies. I am grateful to Sue for wanting to share her story, and publish it here with her permission.

“In your TAE tele seminar, Giving Language to Stress, I learnt a huge amount about how I carry stress. I have been a lifelong stress suppressor, so wasn’t very aware of my bodily manifestations of stress.  Most helpful to me was the notion that we all carry stress in ways that are unique to each of us, and, of course, that what we stress about, is also unique to each person.
“I learned that, for me, stress was activated by being caught by surprise, or shocked, in some interpersonal interaction. Being caught off-guard would prevent my ‘internal editor’ from checking or inhibiting my real, authentic response (in case it might cause me to experience disapproval, anger, or worse from the other person/s). This was intricately intertwined with a severe lack of assertiveness. I was doing Conflict Management in my Counselling course, and observed how hard it was for me to be assertive. This puzzled me, as I am very articulate and can argue my case well in many situations. But not, as the TAE & Stress course showed me, in situations where I was caught unawares, or was uncertain of potential responses.  This was all happening at a very unconscious level. My ‘internal editor’ was protecting or guarding me, so non-Focusing approaches didn’t make much headway.
“This was also one of the other benefits of TAE. The structured nature of the steps gave me what was necessary then: a way of looking at my stress that was less identified with the ‘blocking’ part, which felt ‘safer’.
“Using the step of taking a situation that triggered stress, and stepping back to look at the patterns in this and another similar situation, really brought my ‘internal editor’ into clear view.  I have since learnt that this response-suppression pattern consumes an enormous amount of energy, and is stress-inducing in and of itself! The cost of not being authentic is huge.
“Before your class, I started going to a great chiropractor, who tested my adrenal function. This involved placing a heart rate monitor on my chest, and then simply having me stand up from lying down. This sophisticated software, used by cardiologists, reads the body’s response to this effort. Around 1000 was normal – my graph was basically flat-lining! The chiropractor asked me whether I had been under huge stress, and back then, my answer was no, because I just didn’t recognise it!!
“So, a couple of years later, post your TAE course, and some good supplements (Adrenotone by Metagenics), as well as a couple of Focusing partnering session a week, my levels are up round 600+. In addition, a recent blood test showed my usually very high cholesterol levels – 7-8+ (family pattern) had dropped 2 points , as had my blood sugar levels.
“I attribute this to Focusing, and I have been very grateful to your TAE and Stress course for being the precursor to these great bodily improvements, and really opening up this whole area of stress, and my personal manifestation of that, in a way that has allowed me to release a lot of those blockages to living and feeling, authentically.” –Sue Burrell, Sydney, Australia

A new 3-class in Giving Language to Stress starts Tuesday, May 19 at 6 p.m. Eastern (Wednesday at 8 a.m. in Australia). Or sign up for private, individual sessions.

The benefits of paying attention to the felt sense

Example of felt sensing from my life: I have wanted to integrate a shopping cart on my website.  Experienced people had told me to go with a certain well-known ecommerce site. I signed up for the trial period, and did everything necessary to get it going. But when the time came to pull the switch and launch the new addition to my site, I felt hesitant. I lived with the discomfort for a few weeks, trying to ignore it. Finally I decided to pay attention to my felt sense. As I paid attention, my body sense became clearer. It was “the new addition won’t be true to the feeling I want on my site”. So I decided to ask my experienced advisers about it. They said, “Just go ahead, don’t worry about it”. But it still didn’t feel right.

I decided to learn more about ecommerce providers, an very complex field. I did some research and found that there are some providers that are integrated with the kind of site I had designed. Then I found out about a new kind of software called learning management systems. I became very excited, because learning management systems are directed toward education, not just toward selling shoes or other commodities. The learning management system was a way to organize my classes so that they  would be easily accessible to all my students in different countries. They even have a Spanish translation!

My feeling that something wasn’t right led me to find a whole new system that was much more compatible with what I wanted to do, and provided opportunities I hadn’t even considered.


Citizenfour: Edward Snowden and the felt sense

citizenfourLast night I saw the documentary Citizenfour. I think everyone should see it. Despite Variety’s catchy comparison to Psycho, it is a quiet, thoughtful, inspiring film about real people.

It is mostly about the 8 days in which former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden met for the first time with journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in a hotel room in Hong Kong. He had contacted them via encrypted emails in January 2013 because he was looking for the best way to tell the American public about the data on all of us that he had as a NSA contractor.

We also get to know William Binney, a mathematician/cryptologist who devised a lot of the data-intercepting methods that are used today by the government. Binney had expected that his inventions would be used in a way that was consistent with the US constitution, but saw that after 9/11, data intercepting systems were used to track everyone, indiscriminately. He resigned on October 31, 2001 after 30 years with the NSA. Binney was interrogated by the FBI after contributing to a 2005 New York Times exposé on warrentless eavesdropping. In July 2007, his home office was raided by the FBI, guns drawn. They confiscated his computer, discs and personal and business records. The film also records various congressional hearings and court cases in which the issue of government surveillance was brought up and flatly denied by NSA officials or deflected by them.

So Snowden knew that he had to set up his revelations very carefully. Instead of the rogue Wikilieaks style, Snowden chose to turn his information over to journalists whom he trusted would not sensationalize the issue and “make it about him”, but would open the subject for public debate.

When they met for the first time in Snowden’s hotel room in June 2013, Poitras asked if she could film their interaction.  We see the first uneasy meeting, and we observe Snowden as he deals quietly and poignantly with having left his girlfriend, his job, contact with his family, and stepped out into an action space where he did not know what would happen next.

First Greenwald’s initial article was published in the Guardian, then Poitras’s article was published in the Washington Post –about how Verizon was turning over all client records to the NSA. The next day, Snowden followed his plan of revealing his identity, so that people would know that these revelations were coming from a concerned citizen and not from some unpredictable rogue entity.

After he has revealed his identity (but not his whereabouts) there is a moment in the film where Snowden expresses his felt sense of the situation. He says something like “I feel strange…’s hard to put into words….It’s scary, but I feel GOOD…..There is something liberating about being finally able to act, then act again.”

This is why I teach Focusing and Thinking at the Edge. Not all of us have Edward Snowden’s courage and commitment to act on our felt senses. Not all of us let our felt sense be known to ourselves, let alone anyone else. But in this moment, we can see the simplicity and the clear direction that happens when we give expression to implicit knowing. There is something inside that feels right.

Snowden paid attention to the sense of incongruity between his work and everything he had learned as an American citizen.  He also used his cognitive ability to set up his revelations in the most protected and responsible way he could, even though it led him to a place that felt like stepping off a cliff.

As a species, we need to develop and trust this innately human felt sensing capacity. We all have it, if we learn how to pay attention to it. Felt sensing can never be done by computers. It is not based on “the numbers” of probability. The felt sense gives us access to the whole of our situation, in all its implications, so that we can act as human beings, and act again.

My data can be tracked easily on the internet. But this same internet allows me to connect with you. And to have intimate, life-changing interactions with people in India and El Salvador. Something tells me that we have not fully grasped the implications of this ability to connect with each other. It feels more powerful than governments. As long as we pay attention to what makes us human, we can use this to go way beyond the probabilities.