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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.

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.

 

For people who think they can’t think

For most of my life, I didn’t think that I could think! I thought I had to fit myself into the systems that other people had written in books, because they were smarter than I am. It’s true, I am not intellectually smart. I can’t hold onto ideas in a rigorous way. But thanks to my dear Gene Gendlin, I know how to go into my own knowing, which is at another level than intellectual smarts. In fact a lot of intellectually smart friends of mine become imprisoned in their intellect, in a maelstrom of air-tight arguments that leave no space for who they are, for their own wantings, for the longings of the soul. So the smartness becomes a source of suffering and self rejection. I want to extend my hand and say, “We are so much more than that!”

Right now I am dealing with at least three forms of software that I hoped would make my work more effective. But that’s not what is happening. So I am going to let go of at least one of the programs, and spend some time today going back to my goals. That brings me to something Gendlin has helped me to grasp. My goals evolve with my interactions. Since I started learning the software, I have had some real life experiences that show me what I love, what fulfills me, what I want more of. So on this snowy day, I will stop and let my ideas catch up to my lived experience.

 

 

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.”

Listening to stress helps you overcome stress

Just got this letter from a participant in our online class, Giving Language to Stress. It feels very fulfilling to have this feedback, because it speaks to my vision, many years ago, of why I wanted to switch from being an acupuncturist to a Focusing teacher. I deeply respect acupuncture and what it can do. Acupunture is my first choice when I have a physical problem that I am not able to handle myself. And yet there are so many ways that we can improve our health by becoming aware of the patterns held silently in our bodies. I am grateful to Sue for wanting to share her story, and publish it here with her permission.

“In your TAE tele seminar, Giving Language to Stress, I learnt a huge amount about how I carry stress. I have been a lifelong stress suppressor, so wasn’t very aware of my bodily manifestations of stress.  Most helpful to me was the notion that we all carry stress in ways that are unique to each of us, and, of course, that what we stress about, is also unique to each person.
“I learned that, for me, stress was activated by being caught by surprise, or shocked, in some interpersonal interaction. Being caught off-guard would prevent my ‘internal editor’ from checking or inhibiting my real, authentic response (in case it might cause me to experience disapproval, anger, or worse from the other person/s). This was intricately intertwined with a severe lack of assertiveness. I was doing Conflict Management in my Counselling course, and observed how hard it was for me to be assertive. This puzzled me, as I am very articulate and can argue my case well in many situations. But not, as the TAE & Stress course showed me, in situations where I was caught unawares, or was uncertain of potential responses.  This was all happening at a very unconscious level. My ‘internal editor’ was protecting or guarding me, so non-Focusing approaches didn’t make much headway.
“This was also one of the other benefits of TAE. The structured nature of the steps gave me what was necessary then: a way of looking at my stress that was less identified with the ‘blocking’ part, which felt ‘safer’.
“Using the step of taking a situation that triggered stress, and stepping back to look at the patterns in this and another similar situation, really brought my ‘internal editor’ into clear view.  I have since learnt that this response-suppression pattern consumes an enormous amount of energy, and is stress-inducing in and of itself! The cost of not being authentic is huge.
“Before your class, I started going to a great chiropractor, who tested my adrenal function. This involved placing a heart rate monitor on my chest, and then simply having me stand up from lying down. This sophisticated software, used by cardiologists, reads the body’s response to this effort. Around 1000 was normal – my graph was basically flat-lining! The chiropractor asked me whether I had been under huge stress, and back then, my answer was no, because I just didn’t recognise it!!
“So, a couple of years later, post your TAE course, and some good supplements (Adrenotone by Metagenics), as well as a couple of Focusing partnering session a week, my levels are up round 600+. In addition, a recent blood test showed my usually very high cholesterol levels – 7-8+ (family pattern) had dropped 2 points , as had my blood sugar levels.
“I attribute this to Focusing, and I have been very grateful to your TAE and Stress course for being the precursor to these great bodily improvements, and really opening up this whole area of stress, and my personal manifestation of that, in a way that has allowed me to release a lot of those blockages to living and feeling, authentically.” –Sue Burrell, Sydney, Australia

A new 3-class in Giving Language to Stress starts Tuesday, May 19 at 6 p.m. Eastern (Wednesday at 8 a.m. in Australia). Or sign up for private, individual sessions.

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!

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.

Sharing Focusing and NVC in Europe

Focusing and Nonviolent Communication are inter-related.

NVC brings the awareness of beautiful human needs and how naming and blaming divert us from expressing what we need. Then Focusing can give us insight into ways that we can fulfill that need.

The bodily felt sense that is at the center of Focusing practice, shows us what our needs are, if we learn how to pay attention in a kind and gentle way. Giraffe language teaches us to look for feelings and needs instead of  judging, analyzing, diagnosing, giving advice, etc.

Focusing teaches how  to listen beyond  concepts and theories, to what is real inside us. In the Netherlands and the UK, I shared simple NVC games that we use in El Salvador to teach Listening, self empathy, implicit intricacy (the many-faceted nature of the bodily felt sense of a situation), resonating between words and the felt sense, and that the Focuser is the one who knows what he or she is feeling.

Participants felt that these games were helpful for themselves and in their work.

Many thanks  to Harriet Teeuw of  Nijeholtpade, Friesland; to Erna de Bruijn and Christine Langeveld of Focus Centrum  Den Haag; and to Mohamed Altawil and David Harod of the Palestine Center in Hatfield, UK, for arranging these workshops for me. And thanks to Harriet and René for making it possible for Nicolas Areiza from El Salvador to attend the weeklong training in Being Seriously Playful. It was a transformative experience for all!

The photo is of psychologist and woman-of-the-world Branca Sa Pires of Portugal modeling the giraffe ears I made.