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.”

We are possible

Science tells us we are basically machines,
that consciousness, meaning, and spirituality are
Impossible…and yet…
Since we humans are here,
we can be certain that
we are not impossible.

A conceptual model of “reality”
that makes us seem impossible
has to have something wrong with it.

— Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, Chapter III

For a wonderful introduction to Gendlin’s philosophy, go to http://lifeforward.org/id2.html

Meeting with NVC empathizers for Occupy Wall Street

This afternoon, 4 “empathizers” showed up on the daily conflict resolution call from 4-6. There was Jesse from North Carolina, Harald from Portugal, Jonathan from Scotland, and myself.

There were no “takers” for our services, so we ended up having a fascinating discussion for 2 hours.

The calls that Jonathan and Jesse have been in on had to do mainly with problems within the movement, like friction between protesters and homeless people who have been living in places that are now Occupy sites, or who have joined Occupy sites. Jesse pointed out that often this is the first contact protesters have had with the realities of poverty in the US. Also mentioned were dealing with the reality of winter coming and of inner resources wearing thin.

While admiration was expressed for the way the movement is self-organized and not willing to define itself yet in one way or another, there was also concern that there needs to be inquiry into what we DO want. Visioning needs to be done about the society we want to create.

Jesse observed that in the day to day necessities of survival in the camps, not enough time and attention go into connection to self, in ways that can renew inner resources AND lead to the visioning and thinking process. Those actively involved in the protests often have had no experience with the value of empathic listening or thinking from the felt sense.

If deep listening and thinking in new ways are not incorporated into the movement, there is the danger of easy enemies being targeted: there might be no real recognition of the part we all play in having created this societal and economic structure that doesn’t work anymore. We run the risk giving all our energy to “removing Mubarak” (in the US, the “one percent”) but having no real and lasting change.

We agreed that the kind of empathic listening that we offer can do a lot to facilitate the change that needs to take place.

We somehow need to build trust in our services and get people to experience the value of touching into what is emerging from inside, both to prevent burnout, ease pain and aid the new thinking process.

Jesse’s observation from listening to the protesters was that “a lot of the pain is from raw confusion of what to do next.”

From my perspective, it would be great if all the people familiar with Focusing and Thinking at the Edge could inundate the Occupy Wall Street groups, pencils in hand. It could go a long way to allowing fresh thinking and action to emerge.

It felt to all four of us that human interaction is uniquely central to these protests, and therefore those of us familiar with Focusing, NVC and other tools for peace really need to take our place as part of it. We need to let the protesters know that we are there for them not just when conflicts erupt, but also to listen deeply to their ideas, discomforts, and soul urgings, so that the movement can really express the richness it wants to bring to the world.

Focusing is simple, basic self care at the deepest level

Focusing is a simple way of connecting with our deeper selves.  In the rush of our everyday lives it can be hard to reach inside and get a deeper sense of what we are truly experiencing.  It can be hard to reach beyond the habits that define our lives.  For me, focusing with another person creates a space, a shelter from the whirl of my own “shoulds” and the feeling that time is so limited.

When I am focusing it is as if time expands.  I really love that this is not therapy, it is self care and  helping each other.  I enjoy listening to another person’s process and I feel honored that my presence can make a difference.

Focusing is simple, basic self care at the deepest level.  It is a special way of connecting with other human beings.  In the time that we live in, stress fills us and it can be very hard to find peace with the turbulence within.  Focusing can help us find a valuable space to pause amongst the rush and look within.
–Susie

How listening and being heard brings hope

“She just didn’t hope. Didn’t know how to begin to hope.
I imagine that after thirty years the machinery for hoping requires more than twenty-four hours to get started, to get into motion again…..

“And she was still groping, you see. She was still trying to find something which that mind which had apparently not run very much in thirty years, could believe in, admit to be actual, real. And I think that she found it there, at Hightower’s, for the first time: someone to whom she could tell it, who would listen to her. Very likely that was the first time she had ever told it. And very likely she learned it herself then for the first time, actually saw it whole and real at the same time with Hightower. “

–William Faulkner, The Light in August, Chapter 19

What keeps you going?

Focusing is what keeps me going. Checking with myself and getting a sense of how life is for me. When I feel that sense inside, I say “Oh, that’s what this is.”
Sometimes I can’t feel it right away. I need to pause and give myself some space.
Sometimes I need to ask a fellow Focuser to listen to me. I know that anyone who knows Focusing, anywhere in the world, will allow me the space to go inside and meet my felt sense.

It feels so good to be heard.
It feels so good to listen and hear what it is like for you inside your inner world.

The revolutionary thing about felt sensing is that I don’t have to believe anything, or think positively, or be spiritually or politically correct. Familiarity with my bodily felt sense gives me authority in my own world. And that grounds me and allows me to act in our world.