Listening Partnerships

To hear yourself think…it helps to have somebody listen!

A Listening Partnership is not an ordinary conversation. It sets the stage for a special kind of listening.

There are two roles: the Explorer, person who speaks. And there’s the Listener.

After the Explorer’s turn, the Listener becomes the Explorer. But, at any one time, one person is either the Explorer or the Listener.

It’s different from an ordinary conversation.

Ordinary conversations are usually not focused on listening. Often, what we call a conversation is actually an argument – – you’re trying to convince each other that you’re right. Or one person is trying to be helpful, offering solutions, giving advice. In both cases, the listener is actively trying to make a point.

Of course, there are many situations in which giving advice or suggesting solutions is very appropriate, but not in a Listening Partnership. If the Listener starts to help or give advice, it takes away some of the Explorer’s precious space.

This is a very special space, a space where there is room for you, as the Explorer, to hear yourself think.

The Explorer

When you’re the Explorer, things slow down. The Listener is focused on listening to you. This helps you listen to what you feel in all its complexity. You go beyond the surface.

You will actually welcome moments when words seem to fail you, or when the words that come to mind don’t quite make sense. You listen for the “more” that is there, waiting to be sensed and expressed.

It’s a very special kind of paying attention. Like the way people pay special attention when they are at a wine tasting–holding a sip of wine in the mouth for a while, curious about all the nuances of the experience, as opposed to just saying: “It’s good” or “It’s bad”.

Like wine tasters who try to put words to their experience, you might struggle to put words to your experience. Don’t try to squeeze your brain to find the right words. Allow words to come out from the “taste” of the situation.

The Listener

How does creative thinking emerge? Not by putting pressure on yourself, but by making space, allowing fresh ideas to arise. The very presence of the Listener makes this more possible.

The Listener is there for you, patiently listening to what you say, sometimes saying it back to you so you can hear it too. The Listener does not complete your sentences for you, doesn’t urge you to go faster or to be more articulate… The Listener simply stays with you so that you can listen more intently to your own thoughts.

It’s as if the Listener were saying. “I want to listen to you. I’m interested even in the process of your meandering, not knowing what you want to say. I’m going to stay with you as you go through it.”

Checking for resonance 

Each time a word or phrase comes, the Explorer stays with it, gently comparing that word or phrase to the experience. Does it feel right? Does it describe the feel of the situation as a whole?

This is not about being logical. It’s about sensing whether it feels right or not. If it doesn’t totally feel right, then you, as the Explorer, can keep on exploring.

At some point, you find a word or phrase that fits your feeling more precisely. The Listener is there with you, so you can give yourself the time and space to make sure that what you say “resonates” with what you feel.

Wow. When you find that resonance, it feels so right!

It’s like it had been hiding in plain sight. As you are able to pay attention, to see things as they are, to hear yourself think, you get this “Wow!”

The Listener simply stays with you so that you are able to listen more intently to your own thoughts. This creates the space for fresh thinking to emerge.

Welcoming awkward silences

As the Explorer and Listener patiently wait for the Explorer’s words to come, there are moments of silence. In everyday life, that could be very uncomfortable. Here, instead of rushing to find something to say, you actually see the silence as a sign that something new wants your attention.

You welcome those moments when words seem to fail you. Of course, it can feel weird or troubling. It’s like you’re in the twilight zone, instead of the bright sunlight where everything is sharply defined. Being in that twilight zone, noticing the feeling without the words, actually stimulates your mind to go deeper.

The Listener stays with you so you know it’s OK to be have lost contact with the firm ground of clear meanings. This is where you can notice the “felt sense” of what is not yet in words.

Play with it!

Just do it. Explore your thoughts, or your feelings, in a Listening Partnership. Don’t worry about doing it right. Play with it.

You take turns, so that each one of you can have the space to hear yourself think, or feel. At the beginning, just take 15 minutes each.

You will get better at it with practice.

Thanks to Serge Prengel of activepause.com for developing this with me!

 

Thinking at the Edge for social and political activists

Everyone is so inspired and encouraged by the Women’s March.

How can we create new ways of acting in the world that directly address today’s political realities and at the same time reflect our deepest goals and values?

The old theories about how the world works don’t seem to hold water anymore.  Focusing and Thinking at the Edge help us develop new ideas based on our own lived experience.

Maybe after the march you have an inkling about something you’d like to make happen, or participate in, but you can’t quite put it into words. With Thinking at the Edge, you will be supported in listening to and valuing this inkling, based on your own life experience. Spacious listening allows your inkling to develop into something you can talk about and act on.

Thinking at the Edge involves tuning in to the bodily felt sense of your inkling. That’s called Focusing. I will help you get into Focusing if you are not familiar with it.

We need to step into our roles as courageous peacemakers now more than ever, so I want to make Focusing and Thinking at the Edge available to people involved in political and social change.

I’d love to give a free 2-hour introductory course in your community, so that you can see if you’d like to continue with a course which can be given either online or in person. Leave a reply below  and we will work something out!

Photo credit: Alma Har’el’s video of the I Can’t Keep Quiet choir

Focusing by the river

Saturday, June 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Spend the day on a peaceful bend in the Connecticut River, exploring how the “felt sense” of situations can help you reduce stress, think creatively, and connect to your inner compass.

Facilitator Beatrice Blake, originally trained as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, has been a Certified Focusing Trainer since 2000. She has studied Focusing and Thinking at the Edge with its developer, philosopher/psychologist Dr. Eugene Gendlin, and teaches in New England and internationally.

The workshop venue is a private home in Westmoreland, NH, 30 minutes northeast of Brattleboro. Directions given at time of registration.

Early bird price: $75 until June 20
$95 after June 20

Sign up by sending a comment below.

The felt sense is a wanting

“Don’t want too much,” the voices warned.

No. Want. Want life.

Want this fragile oasis of the galaxy to flourish.
Want fertility, want seasons, want this spectacular array of creatures,
this brilliant balance of need.

Want it. Want it all.
Desire. Welcome her raging power.
May her strength course through us.
Desire, she is life. Desire life.

Allow ourselves to desire life, to want this sweetness
so passionately, that we live for it.

Ellen Bass, “Live For It”

Creative thinking partnerships

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Serge Prengel of LifeSherpa.com. You can listen to the interview here.

We were talking about the joys and difficulties inherent in forming creative thinking partnerships. This is the first part of the interview.

Serge: We all are interested in thinking creatively, thinking outside the box, and yet, in the experience of it, when we have something difficult to resolve, we kind of tense up and that seems counterproductive.
You’ve been thinking a lot about that kind of thing.

Beatrice: I have been thinking about it because I used to think I couldn’t think. We think that thinking is something that really smart people do, really creative people do, but not something we can do.
When I want to think about something what I notice at first is a space that feels empty. And I think for all of us that blank or empty, wordless space is a bit scary and disorienting because we want the words to be there. In school you are trained to be the one with your hand up, saying “Teacher, I’ve got the answer.” A place where there are no words is uncomfortable and strange.

Serge: Imagine the teacher and the little kid, and the teacher says “So, what is the answer?” and there is a perceived urgency and impatience, and the kid says “Uh, uh, I don’t know!” and that is really a very uncomfortable position.

Beatrice: We don’t conceive that we have a process apart from what is being demanded from us on the outside.
It’s our own unique wiring. I remember Eugene Gendlin saying, if you don’t honor this and find out how to express it, your unique way of perceiving the world will die with you. And a lot of us live without even knowing that they have a right to find out, “What is my way of perceiving the world? What insights come out of my unique wiring as a person?” We think those are our problems. Things that bother us, where we feel a little lost or like outsiders–if we actually pay attention to them we will find our gifts there.

Serge: That is how we will find something that is original, that is us, rather than trying to buy it from the catalogue.

Beatrice: Yes, that’s thinking outside the box, but we don’t even have to let the box be defined by someone else. It’s thinking from who we are, our own experience, and then finding where that could be applied.

Serge: So if we want to really find something, find our original thinking, think outside of the box, there is going to be some degree of unease, discomfort, maybe even a little bit of pain in it.
By talking about it, we are validating that that’s the case–you can’t have access to it without going through that moment of disruption.

Beatrice: What is it that gets us through that blank space where we don’t know? We can easily slip into feeling “I don’t have the answer, I don’t know anything, I can’t do this.” That’s one way we could go.
Another way we could learn to go is to say “Oh, wow, here is this blank space without any words. I can welcome it, pay attention to it. I can ask someone to listen to me right there.” Because it’s hard to get into it all by yourself when you are just discovering this.

Serge: So it’s as if we have a map, and there are all these places with roads and forests and towns and then this area that is blank. We associate entering this area with signs that say “Danger! Wrong place! Difficult!” Instead we could say “Wow!”
It will be more difficult to navigate than if there were roads and signs, so that’s why it’s useful to have a person who helps us attend to this inner space.

Beatrice: Explorers don’t go out into the mountains or the desert alone, they have their teams. Our listener is on our team.
It requires a very special kind of listening. This kind of listener doesn’t feel he has to intervene or come in with his own ideas or advice, or finish your sentence for you. Those are all aspects of the normal kind of conversation. This kind of listener welcomes the silence of the explorer.
“Oh, you’re in a place where you don’t have any words. Great! I’m right here with you. We’re exploring this together and I’m going to listen because I know that’s how you will move ahead.”
The listener doesn’t feel any responsibility for making this work, solving anything. The listener is there for the explorer.
Later they switch roles: the listener becomes the explorer and the explorer becomes the listener, so both have their turn.

Serge: One person could be exploring vast territories that are part of his or her inner landscape. Then the other person might be exploring a whole different landscape.

Beatrice: As the explorer becomes interested and receptive to his or her own inner space, things are going to start coming up. It’s only by doing this process that you can see how things start coming up out of this big nothing place.

Serge: Usually thinking is conceived as a solitary endeavor, where we are trying very hard to do something. We want to have answers and the blank moments are unpleasant, a failure. But if we didn’t have these blank moments, nothing new could happen. You can’t have a plant without the seed. We’re recognizing, Wow, what an uncomfortable and disturbing blank moment. That’s the seed.

Beatrice: You put the seed in the ground and nothing happens for weeks. You have to have faith. You can’t say “I planted my seeds yesterday and there is still no tree!”

Serge: For all we know, the seed might be dead and nothing IS going to happen. There is that aspect of the waiting as opposed to trying to dig harder. The listening, instead of trying to force anything or trying hard, is like watching the process, watching the ice melt, watching the tree grow. The listener exemplifies that and helps the explorer get it.

Beatrice: At first it sounds like it would take a lot of time that we don’t have. But if you are able to do this concentrated exploring with a good listener, 20 minutes is all it takes to get some breakthroughs.

Serge: When you start the process, it is very likely that neither you nor your partner will be very good at it or very comfortable with it. So it’s really learning by practice.

Beatrice: The whole attitude toward exploring these deserts and forests is one of interest, curiosity and openness to what we find there. Not a gotta-get-there, gotta-come-up-with-this kind of thing. Both on the part of the explorer and the listener there is an open spaciousness.
In our society we all have so much to do and if we slow down for a minute and pay attention to what is going on inside, the first thing we come to will say “You don’t have time to do this exploring, you’ve got to pay those bills.” We are in a rhythm of ‘what I gotta do.”
The first purpose of a listener is another human being who says “Hey, it’s OK for you to take 20 minutes out of your busy life to explore this something that you are interested in.

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.

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

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.