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Thinking at the Edge and your creative process

Thinking at the Edge is different for everyone. But I want to share the insights of one of my students on how TAE helps us understand our own creative process:
“Working on the very process of “working creatively” creates a vast structure. At first I thought Thinking at the Edge was “only” about taking material which is vague and coming up with a fully formed thought that I could express to the world. And that it is! But we began by working on what was troubling us about our own process. 
“We did many things that I had not encountered before in my Focusing practice, like writing after our Focusing sessions. We explored the patterns of our own experience, then used them as keys to unlock our own creative process so that the ‘product’ of our work could unfold. 
“Why is it so difficult to understand what happens in TAE? 
At first you are working with what is diffuse, hard to perceive, latent, implied. You have a felt sense of it all, but it feels chaotic because it’s so full of diverse perceptions. Gradually you unpack them. They don’t yet have precise meanings. You are going from a world where you have self-mastery: “I know what these concepts mean and I am able to use them deftly”. You lose all that and come to invite undeveloped impressions that you have not yet explored. You look into your own life experience and follow what has a kind of allure. It’s all kind of dreamlike in the initial stages of “instancing” and “crossing”– then it starts to take shape. 
“What I have come to at the end of the class is clear, precise, generative, and very usable!” 
It’s fun and satisfying to accompany people on this journey of self discovery. Try it for yourself!

Nonviolent Communication as a doorway to Focusing

I find it useful to use NonvioLogo_Focusing_ES_croplent Communication as a doorway to Focusing, especially when people are not used to the idea of self empathy.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps us notice when we are naming, blaming, diagnosing, trying to prove who is right and wrong, etc. (Jackal language). NVC encourages us to speak Giraffe Language:

  • describing an interaction without evaluating it,
  • turning inward to notice ones own feelings and needs,
  • listening empathically to the needs of others,
  • making requests to meet needs.

People can identify easily with the big difference in the two languages. I don’t usually go into the request step until later, because my goal is to teach felt sensing through noticing feelings and needs.

The Revolutionary Pause is the moment when one decides which language to speak. It’s difficult to pause in daily life! But after the initial difficulty, people start to see what a difference the pause can make. People start noticing when they are making statements that imply judgements and blame. Then they can notice the way they are judging themselves, thus opening to the notion of empathy toward their own inner world. As people start noticing their own feelings and needs, they are already in levels 4 or 5 of the Experiencing Scale: http://www.experiential-researchers.org/instruments/exp_scale/exp_scale_long.html

In NVC, our Beautiful Human Needs are seen as something that unites us as human beings. A beautiful human need is defined as “vital energy that motivates us to act and to grow.” This concept is new for most people, experienced Focusers as well as non-Focusers. Noticing ones beautiful human needs and how they feel inside can lay the groundwork for noticing naturally-arising felt senses.

In Nonviolent Communication, other people are not responsible for how we feel. Our needs, met and unmet, give rise to how we feel. Everyone is trying to meet their needs. Without sensing into our own needs and listening for another’s needs, we often don’t understand the basic motivations in each other.

Through sensitive, spacious listening for needs, people can make space around that which can’t yet be put into words. With practice and good listening, people are on their way to learning to pause and pay attention to the felt sense of the whole, which  situation often extends far beyond what could be defined as needs and values. When people access the felt sense, what started as a conflict can transform into forward movement. Conflict can then be seen as an opportunity for “crossing”, where the carrying forward, the right next step, becomes something that could not have been conceived by either individual.

NVC is a theory, the practice of which can lead to felt sensing. Felt sensing is pre-conceptual— fresh, intricate and unpredictable in every moment. A lot of practice and careful listening are necessary before people can learn to trust the felt sense in all its transformative power.

I find that the seamless combination of NVC and Focusing lays a good groundwork for learning both.

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.

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!