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.

 

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.”

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…..it’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.

Teleclass: Listening that empowers people to heal

Learn to listen in a way that gives people the space to listen to themselves. This awakens a natural process of self-healing.
Change is not one-size-fits-all. In this course, you will experience the intricate meaning that each problem holds for each individual. Once this meaning is expressed and heard, next steps naturally emerge.
Parents, co-workers and helping professionals can benefit from understanding this process of change, formulated from the work of philosopher/psychologist Eugene Gendlin, PhD.
Small teleclasses form monthly. Dates and times determined by participants based on their time zones.
$95 for four weekly classes, 90 minutes each.
Classes can be in English or Spanish.
Participants must have computers, a reliable internet connection, and headphones.
For more information or to sign up, contact Beatrice Blake.

A Cycle of Fostering

The system said: Welcome to Fostering. You’ll make great foster parents.

We said: Thank you. We hope we can do well.

 

The neighbors said: Aren’t you wonderful people.

We said: Everyone gives back in their own way, this is just ours.

 

The system said: You are doing a great job.

We said: We are trying for the sake of the children.

 

The neighbors said: We couldn’t do that, we would be too heartbroken when they would leave.

We said: What makes you seem so uncomfortable?

 

The neighbors said: Aren’t they lucky children to have you.

We said: We are the lucky ones to have them.

 

The system said: We know they’re difficult but,

We said: We need help.

 

The neighbors said: You’re just doing it for the money.

We said: We were doing it before the money.

 

The system said: We give you enough training.

We said: We need more.

 

The system said: We know you’re in difficulty but,

We said: We can’t keep them any longer.

 

The system said: You’re not good enough.

We said: We are the same people we were when we started.

 

The Focusing teacher said: There is another way.

We said: Focusing does help us to deal.

 

The Focusing teacher said: Your problems are only part of you.

We said: We enjoy our other parts to help us deal with our problems part.

 

–Joanne Lowry, Focusing Trainer in Training

 

 

 

How to understand the universe as a process, rather than breaking it down into its component parts

When one tries to explain about experiential truth, or the knowing of the body, one runs up against philosophical constructs that are so much part of our culture that one doesn’t know how to speak without them. Constructs like a “body” that is separate from the “mind” that is separate from the “spirit” or “soul”. Concepts about “scientific, objective reality” as opposed to “what I know inside”. Our society honors and gives credence to scientific knowledge derived from breaking life down into “units”, as Gendlin calls them: neuropeptides, hormones, GABA receptors, etc. Gendlin does not diminish in any way the huge benefits that we have achieved by working from the “unit model” of the universe. But the “unit model” only works when things are divided up into their component parts.

Living things are interactive processes, so we need to adopt an additional way of seeing the universe in order to be able to address so many of the things that are going haywire because we have been dividing living things into units. How could we study life in a more relevant way?

A Process Model is Gendlin’s attempt to explain the world from a process oriented point of view. The book, A Process Model, can be quite difficult to understand if one is not steeped in the history of philosophy for the last several millennia. So Rob Parker, PhD leads a Process Model  class by phone. A well-known leader in the Focusing world, Ann Weiser Cornell, says “Friends don’t let friends read A Process Model on their own.” So I am starting Rob’s class today!

Why I visited the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia

I was visiting my son in Philadelphia and he had to work. On my previous visit to Philly in early February I had visited Constitution Hall and the Constitution Museum. I noticed signs for the Philosophical Society, and decided that the next time I was in town, I would go there.

I wanted to talk to an American philosopher about the Philosophy of the Implicit, because it has many answers that people need today. People need to be able to validate their own lived experiencing as human beings.

Many people think they have to fit their reality into some belief system or another, whether it be religion, atheism, paganism, science, communism, “the bottom line” or what have you, as if there were just one system that held the ultimate truth. Children are not encouraged to pay attention to something inside that feels and knows.

On the other hand, many people feel the miraculous mystery of life and have no need to believe or prove themselves right or argue about it.

The bodily felt sense is an excellent indicator of personal truth. When truth is there, the body feels full of life and meaning. It feels open, and new possibilities arise.

A body sense of wanting to convince, or of fear that if one is not an exemplary representative of ones belief system, one will “go to hell” or “be exposed as a hypocrite”—this body sense might feel tight, troubled, pressured, uncomfortable, limited and limiting.

The bodily felt sense of situations is part of the process of life and what moves life forward. It is not about belief systems or conceptual frameworks. Familiarity with felt sensing can help people get perspective on the polarization that is happening in America that prevents us from living the vaslues upon which our country was founded.

When we know how to Focus and how to Listen, we can listen for the reasons that each person feels as he or she does.

Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit has a practice: the practice of Focusing. Since 2008, I have been a member of the Community Focusing Lab. We try out and share ways to teach Focusing so that children, young people and adults can use it–through games, art, play, learning to listen.

So that is why I came to the Philosophical Society. From a kind lady at the front desk, I learned that in Benjamin Franklin’s time, the word “philosophical” referred to natural history and science. So the American Philosophical Society does not actually deal with philosophy. I have gone on to have an interesting correspondence with her.

And I am sharing my thoughts with you, dear reader. Let me know what you think!

 

Gendlin video at Marlboro Grad Center, Brattleboro, Tuesday, October 8, 7 p.m.

During the month of October, Focusers all over Gene,jpgthe world will be showing a video of Eugene Gendlin, PhD, talking about why therapy works when it works. His Philosophy of the Implicit validates the experience of helping professionals and goes beyond traditional theories to open up a world of new possibilities.

The video showing will be interspersed with interactive breaks in which you can integrate what you are hearing by asking questions or sharing your own experience. Discussion will be facilitated by Beatrice Blake and other professionals with decades of experience in the practice of Focusing, developed by Gendlin.

Dr. Eugene Gendlin has received the American Psychological Association’s highest award for Distinguished Theoretical and Philosophical Contributions to Psychology. In 2008 he was awarded Vienna’s Viktor Frankl prize.
He was editor for many years of the APA’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.
His book, Focusing, has sold over 500,000 copies and is translated into 17 languages. His other books include, Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams, and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
He is internationally recognized as a major American philosopher and psychologist.

The state of Vermont Office of Professional Regulation will award 2.5 CEUs for Psychologists and Mental Health Counselors who attend the October 8 event. A follow-up weekend workshop in Focusing will be given November 2 and 3 for 11 CEUs. Please contact Beatrice for more information.

The video showing is a fundraiser for The Focusing Institute. A donation of $25 is suggested. $10 for students.