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.

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