The tree with ears

I want to share with you the delightful spirit of the traditions of El Salvador in this piece by Salvadoran poet Eric Doradea, inspired by legends of the beautiful spreading guanacaste or conacaste tree with its ear-shaped seed pods. It graces the landscape and provides welcome shade in the dry Pacific regions of Central America. The tree is called conacaste in El Salvador. It is the national tree of Costa Rica, and the namesake of Guanacaste province.
Conacaste comes from Kuyu, the Nahuatl word for tree, and Nakas, the word for ear. In Nahuatl, Kunakas is the Tree with Ears.

Kunakas: Listening, the cure for loneliness

The grandmothers say that the Tree with Ears is a refuge for those in need of rest.

Its presence is like an elder brother who knows how to listen.
Many gather around it to tell their secrets.
They speak of dreams and loves, and the tree
with its four hundred ears
patiently listens to everything they have to tell it.

Its replies are not always silent.
T
hey say that the sound of its fruits shaken by the wind is like music,
like magic,
like the spell of four hundred snakes shaking their rattlers at once.

The grandmothers say that their original grandmothers learned the craft of listening,
that every evening when the sun grew tired, they listened
to the sunset,
to the flight of the birds,
to the mad river,
to the flowers as they fell asleep,
to the wanderings of the heart.

They say that knowing how to listen is the best cure for loneliness,
and when the moon is full,
they gather the littlest ones around the trunk of the Tree with Ears
and listen intently to the thoughts of the heart.

En español:
Conacaste proviene de los sonidos Náhuat Kuyu: Árbol y Nakas: Oreja, Kunakas: árbol de oreja.
REMEDIO CONTRA LA SOLEDAD.
Cuentan las abuelas que el árbol de orejas es casa para quien quiere descansar y su presencia es la de hermano mayor que sabe escuchar, que a su cintura muchos se acercan a contarles sus secretos, le hablan de sueños y amores, el árbol con sus cuatrocientas orejas pacientemente escucha todo lo que tienen que decirle, sus respuestas no siempre son en silencio, cuentan que el sonido de sus frutos sacudidos por el viento recuerdan la música, la magia, el encantamiento de cuatrocientas culebras moviendo sus cascabeles. Las abuelas cuentan que sus abuelas primeras aprendieron el oficio de escuchar, que todas las tardes cuando se cansaba el sol escuchaban el atardecer, el vuelo de los pájaros, la locura del río, el dormir de las flores, el andar del corazón; cuenta que saber escuchar es el mejor remedio contra la soledad, que en noches de luna madura reúnen a los más pequeños en la cintura del árbol de Orejas y escuchan atentamente lo que piensa el corazón.
Eric Doradea

Happy Easter

Resurrection was always meant to be felt as a continuing NOW deep in the cells of our bodies,

Where something so mundane

As simply pausing to own our feelings, in a caring way,

Could call forth,

From an eternal and timeless presence,

Such a PENETRATION of those cells,

That our changing body ITSELF, would become our spiritual companion and teacher.

–Fr. Ed McMahon

Fr Ed  shares his inspiring story in this 5-minute video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuCUVNQb1Hg

Thanks to Nada Lou for filming and sharing this video!

How to cultivate a white rose

 I am very moved by President Obama’s starting his speech in Cuba with the words “Cultivo una rosa blanca.” In that opening line, he established cultural recognition, respect, and the deep challenge of repairing relationships. The audience seemed totally with him in that moment, and responded with heart-felt applause. For my English-speaking friends who are not familiar with this poem by Cuba’s most famous poet, José Martí, I will translate it here:
 
Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca
 
Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazón con que vivo
Cardo ni ortiga cultivo
Cultivo una rosa blanca.
 
English translation:
 
I grow a white rose
In July as well as in January
For the sincere friend
Who openly gives me his hand.
 
And for the cruel one who tears out
The heart that keeps me alive
Neither thistles or stinging nettles do I grow
I grow a white rose.
 
In Spanish, the verb “cultivar” is the action of growing or raising plants, as well as the usage common to both languages: cultivating or developing relationships as we would plants.
 
There is something deep in the heart of this poem that speaks to why the combination of Focusing and Nonviolent Communication is so powerful. How do we cultivate a white rose, all year, for our friends as well as for those that have hurt us? Certainly not by burying the reality of our feelings, but by recognizing them and allowing them to guide us on the way to expressing what we need, then listening with openness to what the other person needs.
 
Society doesn’t know how to do this yet. People like Trump and Cruz appeal to those who think that thistles and nettles will somehow protect them. Obama’s gesture to Cuba shows that he understands that change is a deep process, not an either/or.

Nonviolent Communication as a doorway to Focusing

I find it useful to use NonvioLogo_Focusing_ES_croplent Communication as a doorway to Focusing, especially when people are not used to the idea of self empathy.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps us notice when we are naming, blaming, diagnosing, trying to prove who is right and wrong, etc. (Jackal language). NVC encourages us to speak Giraffe Language:

  • describing an interaction without evaluating it,
  • turning inward to notice ones own feelings and needs,
  • listening empathically to the needs of others,
  • making requests to meet needs.

People can identify easily with the big difference in the two languages. I don’t usually go into the request step until later, because my goal is to teach felt sensing through noticing feelings and needs.

The Revolutionary Pause is the moment when one decides which language to speak. It’s difficult to pause in daily life! But after the initial difficulty, people start to see what a difference the pause can make. People start noticing when they are making statements that imply judgements and blame. Then they can notice the way they are judging themselves, thus opening to the notion of empathy toward their own inner world. As people start noticing their own feelings and needs, they are already in levels 4 or 5 of the Experiencing Scale: http://www.experiential-researchers.org/instruments/exp_scale/exp_scale_long.html

In NVC, our Beautiful Human Needs are seen as something that unites us as human beings. A beautiful human need is defined as “vital energy that motivates us to act and to grow.” This concept is new for most people, experienced Focusers as well as non-Focusers. Noticing ones beautiful human needs and how they feel inside can lay the groundwork for noticing naturally-arising felt senses.

In Nonviolent Communication, other people are not responsible for how we feel. Our needs, met and unmet, give rise to how we feel. Everyone is trying to meet their needs. Without sensing into our own needs and listening for another’s needs, we often don’t understand the basic motivations in each other.

Through sensitive, spacious listening for needs, people can make space around that which can’t yet be put into words. With practice and good listening, people are on their way to learning to pause and pay attention to the felt sense of the whole, which  situation often extends far beyond what could be defined as needs and values. When people access the felt sense, what started as a conflict can transform into forward movement. Conflict can then be seen as an opportunity for “crossing”, where the carrying forward, the right next step, becomes something that could not have been conceived by either individual.

NVC is a theory, the practice of which can lead to felt sensing. Felt sensing is pre-conceptual— fresh, intricate and unpredictable in every moment. A lot of practice and careful listening are necessary before people can learn to trust the felt sense in all its transformative power.

I find that the seamless combination of NVC and Focusing lays a good groundwork for learning both.

What is it that looks back at you?

Wonderful excerpt from one of Nada Lou’s videos of Gene Eugene (Gene) T. Gendlin at the Focusing Institute Summer School. “What is it that looks back at you?”
https://youtu.be/5-CdjM7Owh0

Felt sensing and nesting sea turtles

I observed my first 5-foot long leatherback turtle laying her eggs about 30 years ago. I felt that I was witnessing an ancient and sacred ritual that somehow connected me and all humans to these amazing reptiles. They have have roamed the Earth’s oceans for the last 100 million years, and are now threatened with extinction.

For many years, as author of a guidebook to Costa Rica, I made sure to tell my readers about how important it is to follow certain rules when observing nesting sea turtles. The mother turtles emerge from the sea, where they are used to floating gracefully, and slowly and clumsily make their way across the sand until they find the place that feels right to dig their nests. The path made by their flippers looks like tractor treads on the beach. The whole process takes place after dark. Most mother turtles are in the sea again by dawn.

As I said in my book, The New Key to Costa Rica, “Visitors who want the opportunity to observe this fascinating natural phenomenon must participate in an organized tour with a registered local guide. The guides are familiar with the stages of the nesting process; they only let people approach once the mother turtle is so fully absorbed in laying her eggs that the observer’s presence will not disturb her…… Flashlights, cameras, and video equipment are not allowed on the beach during turtle tours. Dark clothing is also requested to reduce your visibility to the mother turtles on the beach.”

There is something very similar when one is listening to a Focuser. Experienced Focusers will sense the moment when their talking about a situation has taken them to the point where their felt sense tells them “here is where you can go in and find something new”.

At that moment, the Focuser must be protected in his or her process. As Jim Iberg describes in his article The Three Phases of Focusing, the Focuser is “parturient”–bearing or about to bear young; bringing forth or about to produce something, such as an idea.

When  mother turtles see lights at night on the beach, they often turn around and go back into the sea before digging their nests, thus the need for guides who understand their process.

Focusers too can get distracted by the lights coming from other minds. Their bodies are calling them to dig down into their own tenuous and unclear truth. If disturbed at that moment, their relation to the pre-verbal felt sense can be broken. The Focusing partner must be sensitive to that moment.

After the Focuser as started to “lay eggs”, the Listener reflects back as faithfully as possible the words that are being born. The faithful reflecting back allows more new words and ideas to be born.

Leatherback turtles lay about 110 eggs in each clutch!

I am grateful to my friend and Focusing teacher Robert Lee, PhD for sensitizing me to the role of the listener in the different domains of the Focusing process:

The Thinking Domain: The Focuser often has to talk for awhile to find the place where the felt sense invites him or her to “go in”. Effective Listening at this stage can involve reflecting back or summarizing just the main ideas expressed, so that the Focuser knows that the Listener understands. If the Listener really gets lost about what the Focuser is saying, it is OK to ask a clarifying question so that the Listener and Focuser feel that they are on the same wavelength. But an intellectual understanding of the Focuser’s issue is not really necessary in order to foster the Focusing process.

The Felt sensing domain: The Listener reflects back the exact words that are coming from the felt sense. Usually the Focuser pauses and speaks more slowly than in the Thinking Domain. The Listener can take in the shape and texture of the words being born from the felt sense.

The Self Empathy Domain: When the Focusing process is blocked, it usually involves some kind of lack of self-empathy. Reminding Focusers about the necessity of self empathy is very important while someone is learning how to Focus. Usually, experienced Focusers have their own ways of finding the right kind of empathy for themselves and don’t need to be reminded. They will notice when they come up against a place of self-judgement.

During the Focusing process is it not appropriate for the Listener to bring in his or her own ideas and suggestions. Those can be expressed if the Focuser clearly requests feedback after the session is complete. However, one never knows what effect one’s words will have on someone who has recently given birth to an idea that only minutes before was held silently in the body. It is best remain silent so that the Focuser can fully experience the new place where he or she has landed.

Mr. Holmes: Don’t jump to solutions–let all the voices be heard

Mr_HolmesI saw the excellent and evocative film Mr. Holmes last night. The film points to something important about how Focusing works.

Spoiler alert: I’ll be talking about parts of the film that unfold toward the end.

Mr. Holmes is a beautifully crafted film that has an important message for our time, to wit: logical thinking and the ability to deduce clever solutions–these have their limits. More comprehensive solutions can emerge only if we open ourselves to the “mystery of life”, the more-than-logical. Focusing gives us the “how to” do this.

Sherlock Holmes trails Ann, the wife of a client, through London, and finally initiates a conversation with her. He comprehends the motives for her actions and, for a brief moment, she feels seen and understood. She shares her feeling of aloneness, and he admits that he has been alone all his life. She wonders if there would be a way for two souls to accompany each other in their solitude. They feel connected to one another.

Then, much too quickly, he advises her to go back to her husband, who loves her. His advice and his urge to jump to a solution seem perfectly rational and well-meaning, yet they trample upon the intricate meaning that their interaction has awakened in both of them. And, as he admits years later, they come from his own fear.

She does not need advice. She needs to be seen for who she is, to acknowledge the longings of her soul with another human being. These longings have been ignored by her husband, who has not validated her sorrow, nor given her space to mourn her losses, and who has not, despite his love for her, been open to her insights about life and death.

Mr. Holmes feels all this, yet looks for a solution rather than receiving her feelings, and his own buried longings, just as they are. His suggested “solution” leads her to discard the brief reprieve from suicide that came in the moments they shared. And it leads him into guilt, anguish, a sense of failure, and the abandonment of his life-long profession.

In Focusing, we pay attention to the felt sense of a situation in all its complexity, knowing that as we express one part of its intricacy, more meaning can come. We take time to listen to all the voices. Only then does the implied next step emerge, on its own, to carry the whole situation forward.

Ann has suffered loss. Loss implies mourning. When mourning can’t happen, there is no carrying forward of the sequence of loss-mourning-renewal. Things remain stuck, and as Parker Palmer recently said, “Violence happens because there seems to be no other way to express our suffering.”

Now I am going to apply this to something that might appear to be unrelated, moving from Holmes-era England to the current situation with racism in the United States.

Our country is still dealing with the impact of slavery. Back in 1903, W.E.B. Dubois chronicled the enormous vacuum in thought, care and policy that surrounded the freeing of the slaves, and which led to the growth of Jim Crow.  It was only through the Civil Rights movement, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that the situation started to be addressed. Laws like the Voting Rights Act, were seen as solutions, but are starting to unravel today.

So now we have an complex mesh of circumstances evolving from slavery, economic exploitation, racism, lack of opportunity. Many black people have made the best of these circumstances and have led productive, expressive and successful lives. Many have not. The Black Lives Matter movement is trying to increase awareness of institutionalized racism, calling attention to the feelings of suffering, loss and mourning that are unexpressed and unheard.  Many white southerners also have a sense of loss. The problem affects our society as a whole.

There will be no solution until all the voices can be heard. We will continue at an impasse. Having a black president moves our society forward, but it also means that these deeper contradictions can rise to the surface. We are now at a point where dialog has to happen.

There are no easy solutions. The deep feelings that are evoked in this encounter affect all of us. Instead of expecting a solution at this point, we are called upon to bring this national problem out into the sunlight, listen to each other, to acknowledge the pain, and mourn together.

If we did this, it would imply a change in our whole exploitative system. If we don’t do it, I’m afraid that a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who has always stood for change, will not be able to win. Because we would be jumping to a solution without previously acknowledging the pain, without allowing all the voices to be heard, so that the collective wisdom can emerge.

May your spirit now be free

Today I learned of the passing of Mary Hendricks Gendlin, PhD, wife and creative partner of the developer of Focusing, Eugene Gendlin.

From 2004-2006, when I was exploring teaching Focusing in El Salvador, Mary was one of my main encouragers. She raised money for the project, and sent me off with a number of Focusing books in Spanish. In those years, she really was the heart and soul of The Focusing Institute, helping many people launch new projects.

It was a great loss to the community as Parkinson’s disease took its gradual but devastating toll, and she became less and less able to interact with us and to give all she was capable of giving.

She, Gene and Kye Nelson developed the Thinking at the Edge, the amazing practice that I now teach. Gene couldn’t see how to develop a process that would allow felt sensing and thinking to happen together, but Mary knew there had to be a way, and made sure that they stuck with it until the steps were in place. I am eternally grateful to the three of them for persevering in creating this beautiful system.

When my mother died suddenly, I felt her spirit, huge, vital and beyond the bounds of personality. I wish that for Mary now. Mary, may your spirit finally be free.

 

I want to see them shine

I’m thinking of one of my students, J, a young man 25 years old. He volunteers with a youth group in his community and at a camp for disabled children. I am inspired by the way he works with my classes. We first started corresponding when he signed up for a free lesson that involved reading about a Focusing experience and noticing the elements of Focusing. The homework was to practice the pause and notice one’s feelings.  After a couple of weeks, he wrote back that he couldn’t do the homework because it was very difficult to pause. I replied that he did the assignment perfectly, because pausing IS difficult. I could see that he had really taken the exercise seriously. We corresponded a bit more about befriending our inner world, and how that helps one to pause.

Now he is taking one of our interactive video classes. He brought a friend, R, another young man who works with youth groups, who has had no Focusing experience, but who naturally went into Focusing during the first class.  The class is very interactive. That is something I value. But it takes some reaching out to find those who are willing to work with their own lives, like these young men.  I want people like J and R to feel empowered and to let their lights shine.

For people who think they can’t think

For most of my life, I didn’t think that I could think! I thought I had to fit myself into the systems that other people had written in books, because they were smarter than I am. It’s true, I am not intellectually smart. I can’t hold onto ideas in a rigorous way. But thanks to my dear Gene Gendlin, I know how to go into my own knowing, which is at another level than intellectual smarts. In fact a lot of intellectually smart friends of mine become imprisoned in their intellect, in a maelstrom of air-tight arguments that leave no space for who they are, for their own wantings, for the longings of the soul. So the smartness becomes a source of suffering and self rejection. I want to extend my hand and say, “We are so much more than that!”

Right now I am dealing with at least three forms of software that I hoped would make my work more effective. But that’s not what is happening. So I am going to let go of at least one of the programs, and spend some time today going back to my goals. That brings me to something Gendlin has helped me to grasp. My goals evolve with my interactions. Since I started learning the software, I have had some real life experiences that show me what I love, what fulfills me, what I want more of. So on this snowy day, I will stop and let my ideas catch up to my lived experience.