Magic and Thinking at the Edge

At the end of each class in Giving Language to Stress (a 5-week course in Applied Thinking at the Edge) each person’s process is distilled into what I call “talisman sentences.”

What is a talisman? According to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a cabal active in the United Kingdom during the late-19th and early-20th centuries, a talisman is “a magical figure charged with the force which it is intended to represent. In the construction of a talisman, care should be taken to make it … represent the universal forces that you wish to attract, and the more exact the symbolism, the easier it is to attract the force.”

The most important part of the above definition, to me, are the words “charged with the force which it is intended to represent”. In Giving Language to Stress, “charging with the force” comes with accessing different instances of stress as they are experienced in the body.  We sense into situations where we short-circuited under stress, and we sense into situations that we handled in a resourced way. Holding these instances at the same time (“crossing” them) results in a widening and deepening of the bodily felt sense of what stress means for each individual. We become aware of the ways in which those positive and negative experiences are related, uncovering patterns of thought, belief and behavior that we hadn’t seen before. Seeing these patterns allows us to outgrow them. From there, it is quite easy to convert a negative statement about stress into a positive statement that is charged with meaning, representing who we are now.

This intricate work with felt sensing and crossing, over the 5-week period of the class, corresponds to “care taken to make the talisman represent the universal forces that you wish to attract.”

The concept of “forces you wish to attract” seems out of place in the Philosophy of the Implicit, because it implies a separation between “me in here” and “the force out there”. If my bodily knowing implies a next step in which a certain quality would carry me forward, that needed element will naturally unfold in my life, or I will seek it out in my environment. So I would restate that sentence as  “Exploring the experiential intricacy that comes with stress uncovers the implying that has not been met, thus readying the space for the implied process to move forward.”

When the Hermetics say above: “The more exact the symbolism, the easier it is to attract the force”, I say “the more resonant the words, gestures, sounds, images, are with the bodily felt sense of the situation, the more naturally the carrying forward occurs”.

At the end of the process, then, your own talisman sentence becomes a succinct and resonant reminder of what you have learned. You keep remembering it, especially in difficult or confusing situations, as if you were carrying a talisman. In fact, one person charged her ring with her talisman sentence, before going to a potentially difficult family reunion, and had “the best time with them I’ve ever had.”

Monseñor Romero’s version of Focusing

Here is a beautiful quote from Monseñor Romero that could be used to introduce Focusing, the Pause, Thinking at the Edge (first in Spanish, then in English):

“Vivimos muy afuera de nosotros mismos. Son pocos los hombres que de veras entran dentro de sí, y por eso hay tantos problema. En el corazón de cada hombre hay como una pequeña celda íntima, donde Dios baja a conversar a solas con el hombre. Y es allí donde el hombre decide su propio destino, su propio papel en el mundo. Si cada hombre de los que estamos tan aproblemados, en este momento, entráramos en esta pequeña celda, y desde allí, escucháramos la voz del Señor, que nos habla en nuestra propia conciencia, cuánto podríamos hacer cada uno de nosotros por mejorar el ambiente, la sociedad, la familia en que vivimos.”

“We live very much outside ourselves.
Few people really enter inside themselves,
and for this reason, there are so many problems.
In the heart of each person there is a small, intimate place [like a monk’s cell], where God comes down to converse alone with us. That is where each person decides his or her own destiny, his or her own role in the world.
If each of us who have so many problems, in this moment, would enter into this small cell, and from there, listen to the voice of the Lord, that speaks to us in our own conscience, how much could each of us do
to improve the environment, the society, the family
in which we live.”
–Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero,
from his homily of July 10, 1977

Monseñor Romero’s version of Focusing

Here is a beautiful quote from Monseñor Romero that could be used to introduce Focusing, the Pause, Thinking at the Edge (first in Spanish, then in English):

“Vivimos muy afuera de nosotros mismos. Son pocos los hombres que de veras entran dentro de sí, y por eso hay tantos problema. En el corazón de cada hombre hay como una pequeña celda íntima, donde Dios baja a conversar a solas con el hombre. Y es allí donde el hombre decide su propio destino, su propio papel en el mundo. Si cada hombre de los que estamos tan aproblemados, en este momento, entráramos en esta pequeña celda, y desde allí, escucháramos la voz del Señor, que nos habla en nuestra propia conciencia, cuánto podríamos hacer cada uno de nosotros por mejorar el ambiente, la sociedad, la familia en que vivimos.”

“We live very much outside ourselves.
Few people really enter inside themselves,
and for this reason, there are so many problems.
In the heart of each person there is a small, intimate place [like a monk’s cell], where God comes down to converse alone with us. That is where each person decides his or her own destiny, his or her own role in the world.
If each of us who have so many problems, in this moment, would enter into this small cell, and from there, listen to the voice of the Lord, that speaks to us in our own conscience, how much could each of us do
to improve the environment, the society, the family
in which we live.”
–Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero,
from his homily of July 10, 1977

Listening inside

A few months ago, a student mentioned to me that almost everyone she focuses with encounters a strong inner critic. Recognizing this and learning to cultivate empathy for our inner experience is not easy for many of us.

On the other hand, felt sensing has nothing to do with what Gendlin has called “inner limpness”, where we accept “whatever happens to us” without sensing into what we really want, without noticing whether the acceptance brings an increased sense of soundness and health, or whether acceptance of a particular issue actually stifles the sense of life inside.

Both of these phenomena (the inner/outer critic and inner limpness) can be in play in political and religious conceptual structures (“in order to be a good communist, I must accept what my party chairman says”, “In order to be a good Christian, I must obey the teachings of my pastor, even though I sense something is wrong with them.” “I deserve to suffer because I am a sinner.” “Entitlements are bad because weak, dishonest, greedy poor people take advantage of them.”

In my humble opinion, a lot political and religious strife comes from this giving over of one’s own sense of life and judgement to conceptual frameworks within which we will be judged to be “good” or “right” by the groups that matter to one.

The practice of Focusing gives us access to how our bodily aliveness feels in reaction to the situations we encounter and the decisions we must make.

In 1984, Eugene Gendlin, PhD, the developer of Focusing, contributed an article to the publication Studies in Formative Spirituality, called The Obedience Pattern. In it, Gendlin distinguishes between, on one hand, the free, humble surrender of ones will to a higher power, and, in the other hand, obedience to an inner authoritarian OR a belief that giving up our own life impulse is “more spiritual” than paying attention to what arises from  our bodily knowing.

Gendlin’s description of this confusing territory can be helpful to people who are learning Focusing. I made a Powerpoint presentation about some of the most important points in The Obedience Pattern. You are welcome to download my Powerpoint presentation here: Listening inside .

Stress is Love and “awaring”

I asked my body what its experience of stress is.   I explored the steps involved in the Thinking at the Edge protocol and found much to my amazement that what I came up with was very different than the starting point although nothing was lost in the exploration.  The following is my conclusion thus far.

Stress is Love……   When directly experienced without  mental constructions or abstractions, the body’s felt sense of stress reveals contracted spot(s) which is/are inherently awaring and loving. These aware spots are calling us to enter into intimate contact with them.  Each of these seemingly separate spots are delighted when received by the larger field by means of our attention and respect. They want to merge with the Whole.   When welcomed, these contracted spots open and soften to the degree of existential trust.  Inhabiting the entire body all at once and feeling that the space inside the body and outside the body is one continuous space, creates the necessary trust. The more each spot is received with love, respect and curiosity,  just as it is, regardless of degree of expansion or contraction, the more the relationship deepens into a moving forward openness.  Stress, experienced from the body’s felt sense of contracted awaring spots, is a call for existential trust in fundamental wholeness.  When we heed this call, there is a sense of homecoming and a certainty that we belong to ourselves and one another.

–Claire Arnesen, psychotherapist, Sonoma, CA

Welcome difficulty

Welcome difficulty.
Learn the alchemy
True Human Beings know:
the moment you accept
what troubles you’ve been given,
the door opens.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by a friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,
and then are taken off.
That undressing
and the beautiful
naked body
underneath is the sweetness
that comes
after grief.

–Rumi

El hermanamiento–Sistering

The mango trees flourish behind the walls topped with razor wire

I see your eyes beautiful sister
your eyes tell me that we walk the same path

La lucha continúa
the struggle goes on

but with tears of love
with walls coming down
with hearts that are no longer afraid to feel what is there
say it
and receive what comes next

my life, my love, and the revolution
are not in separate boxes
one to be sacrificed for the other
one hidden away for the good of the other
one held up to prove my worth

my own confusing alienation
has led me step by step to share this sacred gift

our being human together
is the revolution

Beatrice
San Salvador

Focusing: A Self-Help Tool for Self-Awareness and Emotional Healing

By Ruth Hirsch, MSW, MPH

Naomi was outwardly happy, active in her community and her children’s schools, and working part-time in a satisfying job when she came to see me. “I’d really like to get in shape, but just don’t seem to be able to stay on a diet, or get the exercise I know I need.”
Conventional wisdom would advise her to use willpower to “just stick to a diet.” Unfortunately, as most of us know, willpower alone simply won’t help us to accomplish many of the things that we’d like to in our lives. Despite knowing what might be “good” for us, it is as if there is another part inside that has other ideas.

In Focusing we find that by turning our attention to these other places, by showing them respectful curiosity and even compassion, they open up and share with us what is going on for them that has made them say no to what another part wants.
For Naomi, by listening to the parts of herself that did not want to go on a diet, she learned that they were scared of what losing weight might mean for her. So, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to diet per se, but that in their own way they felt that they were protecting her.
Once Naomi was able to hear this, to be curious about what this part was really scared might happen, to really take this in, and to show compassion to this place, staying on a diet became relatively easy for her.

In everyday living, we normally move so quickly that we are aware of only surface layers of our lives, the people, events, and such that are right in front of us. There is so much more that is important, that affects us in many ways, but we’re not consciously aware of. When we slow down a bit, we might have the sense of a vague feeling, perhaps sadness, anxiety, or a not so subtle feeling that something is missing, or even a wanting for something in our lives to be different. We usually brush these feelings away, determined to move forward, to not be sidelined by something that feels peripheral, or worse, that threatens to upset the balance of our already full lives.

We are all blessed with far more wisdom than we can access through our
conscious minds. Focusing is a body-oriented process we can use to access
deeper levels of knowing not readily accessible through our conscious minds
that involves a unique way of paying attention and listening to oneself and
to others; It involves shifting attention from the level of conscious
understanding to the vaguer edge of thinking/feeling/sensing.
The process of Focusing allows us to “see” and “hear” at increasingly deeper
and subtler levels within. We learn how to “listen” to our hearts, to our
souls, to our inner depths. Focusing promotes the deepening of understanding
of oneself and others, and thereby facilitates insight, healing and growth.
The process may be done alone, with a partner, or with a professional such
as a therapist, body worker, spiritual leader, or guide.

Focusing was developed by Eugene Gendlin , PhD, based on research into the question, “What leads to successful outcomes in psychotherapy?” Gendlin found that clients who connected with a vague edge of awareness progressed more rapidly in therapy. He developed the process of Focusing to allow others who do not do this naturally to be able to shift their attention in this way.

What does Focusing offer us that is different from other inner awareness
processes? Focusing differs in three important ways from many other
techniques that involve listening within in that it is:
1.      grounded in the body;
2.      a practical, specific process that may easily be learned. Essential aspects of the process include the important steps of acknowledging, accepting, and caring about whatever is present; and
3.      inherently a tremendously empowering process in that it involves “looking” directly at our inner experience. This differs from the general approach of western and nearly all alternative approaches to healing of trying to get rid of what is perceived as uncomfortable or otherwise unwanted feelings or physical sensations.

How does Focusing differ from mindfulness meditation? The goal of mindfulness meditation is to notice what is present in one’s consciousness, but not to engage with it in any other way. Just to notice. The process of Focusing takes mindfulness meditation several steps further to actually acknowledge, and then to be curious about and compassionate to all that we notice. The goal is to cultivate a positive inner relationship. That is, whereas the meditator’s goal is simply to observe what is present in the inner space, the Focuser engages in compassionate curiosity and active listening to whatever is present.

What results can you expect from Focusing? A few examples of some of the
many benefits include:
. Improved relationships;
. Inner peace;
. Clarity and ease in making decisions;
. Improved attention; and
. Enhanced spiritual growth and understanding.
Focusing “expands” our experience to allow us to feel more whole. Many
people have a dominant mode of experience. That is, our worlds are primarily
experienced on the intellectual, emotional, physical, or spiritual
dimension. The process of Focusing enables us to experience reality in a
more integrated way, which creates a more holistic, multi-dimensional
experience.
Focusing enables us to make peace with who we really are. So often we think
of ourselves in one way, but our bodies or emotions or spirit (or all
three!) seem to be drawn in different directions. Focusing is a process that
helps us come to a sense of ourselves that is more integrated.
The essence of Focusing is to be present in a compassionate and spacious way
with what is true in the body/mind/spirit at a given time. While the
Focusing process does involve specific steps, most important is not so much
the structure of the process. Rather, maintaining an attitude of kindness,
curiosity, patience, spaciousness, and general acceptance with whatever is
in us that wants to have our attention, to be “birthed,” is most important.
Focusing is a profound approach to honoring and understanding aspects of
inner experience that are often hidden from conscious awareness. Although
developed as a mind/body practice, Focusing offers a way to inform and
enhance our spiritual lives as well.

Suggestions for further reading:
Web Resources
The International Focusing Institute website: http://www.focusing.org/
The author’s website:  http://www.ruthhirsch.com
Books & Manuals
Cornell, Ann Weiser (1996). The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to
Emotional Self-Healing. California: New Harbinger Publications.
Gendlin, Eugene T (1986) Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams.
Illinois: Chiron Publications.
Gendlin, Eugene T (1981). Focusing. Second Edition. New York: Bantam Books.
Hirsch, Ruth G. (2010). Focusing Training Manual: Level One & Two. Second
Edition.

Origins of Thinking at the Edge

“TAE stems from my course called “Theory Construction” which I taught for many years at the University of Chicago. Students came to it from many fields. The course consisted half of philosophy and logic, half of the difficult task of getting students to attend to what they implicitly knew but could not say and never considered trying to say. It took weeks to explain that the usual criteria were reversed in my course. Whereas everywhere else in the University only what was clear counted at all, here we cared only about what was as yet unclear. If it was clear I said “We don’t need you for this; we have it in the library already.” Our students were not used to the process we call “FOCUSING,” spending time with an observation or impression which is directly and physically sensed, but unclear. All educated people “know” such things in their field of study. Sometimes such a thing can feel deeply important, but typically people assume that it “makes no sense” and cannot be said or thought into.

“Oh,” one student exclaimed when he grasped what I was looking for, “you mean something about which we have to do hemming and hawing.” Yes, that was just what I meant.”

Eugene Gendlin, PhD

The right to be me

Today I had a welcome call from my longtime collaborator, Dr Juan Prado of México, DF. We ended up doing some Focusing. Here is what came for me:

Self empathy (Domain Focusing), or the Caring-Feeling Presence (Bio-spiritual Focusing), or Presence (Inner Relationship Focusing) are all ways of talking about the attitude of friendliness and openness to what we find inside. But often, when we come in contact with felt sensing for the first time, what we touch inside is an overwhelming physical sensation accompanied by a “Get me out of here!” feeling, and a direct line to all the voices that tell us how “lazy”, “uncentered”, “out in left field”, or just generally “wrong” we are. We have no practice finding the feeling that is “just me being me”.

This initial touching in can feel frustrating, tedious or panicky, as if by touching in to our bodies we are getting in touch with too much, or that there is nothing there. We are “merged” with the critical voices inside.

I remember Gene describing the critical voice and the “just me being me” voice as similar to two kids. One is bigger, older, more experienced and stronger than the other, like a 16-year-old with a four-year-old little brother. They have to be separated. Give the teenager some money to go buy a pizza with his friends, so you can spend some time with the younger, tenderer one, who maybe doesn’t have words yet, but has plenty of feelings and  beautiful life energy that is welling up, trying to be expressed. He has to be protected from being picked on by his big brother.

It came to me that before we can really give loving attention to difficult places inside, we have to cultivate our own right to exist and have our life separate from the multitude of powerful voices inside. That’s a process in itself.

Maybe it would help to remember a time “when I really felt like me”. It may be hard to get in touch with this experience.

I remember when I was at my first Thinking at the Edge seminar with Gene Gendlin, Nada Lou and Kye Nelson in 2004, I had a really hard time getting to Step 0, the place you start from. I wanted to think about how to go about my project in El Salvador, but we were supposed to start from “something we know”. I was baffled. It was the third day, and I hadn’t been able to get anywhere. I finally asked Nada for help. She took me outside in the sun and we sat on a stone bench in front of the Garrison Institute. Tears come to me now as I think of it. Her question was something like “When have you felt really alive, really felt like you?” The only answer I could come up with was “When I am singing the blues with a blues band.” She reflected that back to me in her charming Croatian accent with her sparkling blue eyes: “When you are singing the blooce…”

What the hell did that have to do with starting a project to teach Focusing to poor people in El Salvador? And yet there it started, from getting in touch with an instance of really feeling like I was expressing my aliveness.

There is so much energy in that tender shoot, that young child that may not be listened to by anyone else, but who wants so much to express all the life inside, and who may have been met with well-meaning adults whose duties are to train it, protect it, make sure it is disciplined enough to succeed, instill unshakable spiritual values in it–adults who may not take the time to just honor the special gift of life that each child brings. Tears come again. Just as we celebrate at Christmas, the child brings something new, something that is outside the old understanding, the old paradigm. If the adults didn’t know how to listen, we have to learn how to find it in ourselves.

it is that precious, wise child inside that can bring new energy and direction if we allow it to “just be me.”