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Very human ways to foster resilience

Recently I was treated to a wonderful production of A Lesson From Aloes, by the South African playwright, Athol Fugard, produced by the Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT. The play had a profound affect on me. It shows how friends who have worked together for a common cause can be pulled apart by not being able to talk about the difficult feelings that come up between them–their very human doubts, fears, vulnerabilities.

I wish that I could have given the characters in the play the tools of Focusing, Listening and Empathic Communication.

Focusing and Listening help you pause and tune in to the bodily felt sense of situations. When you are accompanied by a Focusing partner who gives you space to notice what is happening inside without advising, consoling, or trying to fix things for you, you can gradually express complex feelings that are hard to put into words.

Empathic Communication helps you identify your beautiful human needs so that you can request what you need. When you see how well that works, you become interested in listening for the needs of others, instead of trying to diagnose what is wrong with them.

When activists and those close to them engage in these simple practices, deep things that have been held inside can finally be expressed, and relationships become a source of support, transformation and renewed energy.

A brief glimpse into A Lesson from Aloes:

Piet is a white Afrikaner bus driver and former farmer who was greatly inspired by Steve, a black anti-apartheid activist. Piet joined the anti-apartheid movement during the bus boycott of 1957, and he and Steve became close friends, “comrades” as they say in the play. Because of his activism as a black man, Steve becomes subject to “banning orders” which limit his activities. He defies the orders by going to a party with his comrades and is discovered. He is arrested for violating the banning orders, and sent to jail for 6 months. There is suspicion among the comrades that someone among them was an informer who reported Steve’s presence at the party to the police.

Piet is married to Gladys, a white woman of British descent, a poet. After Steve’s imprisonment, Gladys and Piet’s home was raided by police. Her diaries were read by the Special Branch agent and confiscated. She felt violated by this, and started becoming suspicious and withdrawn, finally ending up with a nervous breakdown. She was interned at a mental hospital where she was subjected to shock treatments.

The play takes place after Gladys has been home from the mental hospital for about six months, and after Steve has been released from jail. Piet and Steve run into each other in the street. Steve, his wife and four children have decided to leave the country for England. Piet invites Steve and his family for a farewell dinner at his home.

In the first scene of the play, Piet and Gladys are preparing to receive their guests. We learn of Piet’s fascination with aloes, plants that survive and bloom in the desert, even during droughts. He goes out into the veld, collects aloes, and tries to identify them according to their scientific names. Aloe identification gives Piet a way to keep up his natural cheerful attitude. He tries to share his fascination with Gladys, but she feels ignored as a person. She is trapped in her own inner struggles, with no way to express herself. Piet tries to cheer her up, and is very attentive, but he doesn’t know the transformative power of listening–so Gladys sits there, getting more and more frustrated, silently blaming herself for being antisocial and unbalanced, not knowing how to get the understanding she longs for. When Piet is not talking about his aloes, he is reciting English poetry. He took up this hobby when he was asked to speak at a child’s funeral, and didn’t know what to say.  Now he has a whole treasure trove of poetry and quotations that he comes out with, hoping that the eloquence of Shakespeare or Longfellow will make up for deep feelings he feels powerless to express.

Some excerpts that illustrate the communication problems in Fugard’s play:

Piet: I’ve been through my book twice, page by page, and but there is nothing that looks quite like [this aloe]. I don’t think I can allow myself to believe I have discovered a new species. That would be something! I would name it after you, my dear. Hail aloe Gladysiensis! Sounds rather good, doesn’t it! And yet, as little Juliet once said: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Gladys: Are you talking to me?

Piet: Who else, my dear?

Gladys: The aloes…….or yourself. I’m never sure these days.

Piet: They and the thorn trees were the only things still alive… when I finally packed up the old truck and left the farm. Four years of drought, but they were flowering once again….surviving where I had failed.

Gladys: Is that the price of survival in this country? Thorns and bitterness?

Piet: For the aloe it is. Maybe there is some sort of lesson for us there…..We need survival mechanisms as well.

Gladys: Speak for yourself, Peter. I’m a human being, not a……prickly pear. I want to live my life, not just survive it…..[The aloes] frighten me….They’re turgid with violence, just like everything else in this country, and they are trying to pass it on to me.

Piet: (carefully): What do you mean, my dear?

Gladys: Don’t worry. I won’t let it happen. I won’t! (She pauses)

Piet: (Trying to break the mood) Well. (Looks at his wrist watch) Time to get ready. They’ll be here soon.

So Gladys is left alone, trying to control her feelings, with no hope that Piet will listen to her and understand what she is going through.

In Scene 2, Gladys mentions how strange it is that none of the old comrades have come around since she has been back from the hospital. “Is it because of me?” she asks.

Piet: No, you mustn’t think that.

Gladys: Then say something! Every time I mention it, you either ignore me or change the subject.

Piet: (Trying to placate her.) All right, my dear. Relax.

Gladys: God, I wish you would stop saying that!

Piet: There’s no mystery, Gladys. A lesson in human nature maybe, but that’s all. It’s a dangerous time and people are frightened….Everyone has crawled away into his own little shell. It’s as simple as that….I don’t accept it easily, but there is nothing else to do. I can’t change human nature.

Gladys: Not even a complaint about its lack of courage and faith. After all, it has meant an end to “The Cause.”

Finally, Gladys asks Piet if their friends think he was the one who informed on Steve.

Gladys: Peter. Do all the others think it’s you?

Piet: I don’t know.

Gladys: Are you lying to me, or to yourself? (She waits)

Piet: Yes….it looks as if…..they all think…I’m the one….

Gladys: (Quietly) My God! I want to scream…..How long have you known?

Piet: It isn’t something I “know” in that way. There is no one day on which a drought starts. But there were meetings to which I wasn’t invited, and then…I realized people were avoiding me. There is only one conclusion.

Gladys: And you didn’t tell me because you thought it would aggravate my condition. Didn’t you know I’d realize it sooner or later?….

Piet: It’s not as simple as that, Gladys. Obviously I wanted to avoid upsetting you. But even without that, could we have talked about it?  (He speaks with deep emotion) Sat down and discussed over supper that I was considered a traitor? That’s the correct word…..God! It’s the ugliest thing that has ever happened to me. It makes me feel more ashamed of….myself, my fellow men….of everything!…in a way I never thought possible.

Could we have talked about it?”

Gladys and Piet had no tools for talking about their vulnerable, difficult feelings. So those feelings remained inside. Piet was not only unable to listen to Gladys, but also unable to talk to her about his own distress.

I identify a lot with Piet. I was in a situation 23 years ago, as president of our local food coop, where an unexpected series of events triggered suspicion about me from some of the members. I felt confused, ashamed that people were suspicious of me, and “put upon” by others. I ended up getting into a lengthy spat with another board member whom I viewed as someone who was mobilizing people against me. I finally resigned. It was one of the most upsetting situations of my life. If I had known Focusing and Empathic Communication at that time, I would have realized that the members needed communication, clarity, information, and a sense that we would move forward together. I would have relied on my felt sense to shed light on my feelings of shame and embarrassment. I will explain more about this below.

In the second act, Steve arrives at Piet and Gladys’s house without his family. It turns out that Steve’s wife is convinced that Piet was the informer, and doesn’t want Steve to visit because she fears it is a trap that will prevent them from leaving the country. Steve admits that he was suspicious of Piet, but didn’t want to believe the rumors because he was sure of Piet’s friendship. The affection between Piet and Steve is obviously deep and sincere, but Piet doesn’t see how Steve could doubt his loyalty, despite the reality of his friend’s precarious situation. Piet doesn’t defend himself, telling Steve “If you could have believed it, there is no point in denying it.” Steve doesn’t see a way to make things better. He leaves. Gladys decides that she must go back to the mental hospital. Piet is left alone with his aloes.

Each of the characters, based on Fugard’s comrades from the apartheid struggle, shows a different reaction to the “drought” of a police state. My heartfelt feeling is that, as more humans learn how to communicate empathically with each other and with their children, authoritarian states will not be able to take root.

Examples of how they could have talked about it

Here is my made up attempt to give an example of how Gladys, Piet and Steve could have communicated differently if they both had learned how to Focus and Listen.

Piet: I have been through my book twice, page by page, and but there is nothing that looks quite like [this aloe]. I don’t think I can allow myself to believe I have discovered a new species. That would be something! I’d name it after you, my dear. Hail aloe Gladysiensis! Sounds rather good, doesn’t it! And yet, as little Juliet once said: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Gladys: Piet, I feel nervous and insecure right now. Would you be willing to sit down and listen to me for a while?

Piet:  Of course, my dear. (He comes over to Gladys and sits next to her, looking at her and listening in silence.)

Gladys: When I see the aloes, I feel afraid. They remind me of the violence in this country. There is something in me that fears they will pass the violence on to me.

Piet: You are noticing something in you that is afraid that the violence will be passed on to you.

Gladys: Yes, I feel that in the pit of my stomach.

Piet: Would it feel OK to be kind to that feeling in the pit of your stomach?

Gladys: No, I feel too fearful.

Piet: Maybe you could put your warm hand on that place for a moment, and tell it that you know it is there.

Gladys: (putting her hand where she feels the discomfort, then remaining silent for awhile, as if she is listening to something inside) I feel so powerless to change anything.

Piet: Powerless. Would it be OK to stay with that powerless feeling in your stomach for a while?

Gladys: (pausing in silence) It reminds me of how powerless I felt with my mother. I felt she never saw me, never listened, never knew me.

Piet: You felt she never saw you, never listened, never knew you.

Gladys: Yes, that is exactly how it was.

Piet: Maybe you could take a moment to see and hear and get to know that little girl inside.

Gladys: (Weeping) Yes, I can imagine holding her and letting her cry.

Piet: I will sit here with you and hold you as you let her cry.

Gladys: (after weeping in silence) Thanks so much for listening to me. I feel much less nervous and insecure. I know where my fear is coming from. I feel much more open to the reunion this evening with Steve and his family. I need a few minutes to rest and relax, then I will come back and help you get ready.

Comments:

  1. Piet is not trying to cheer Gladys up. When she expresses her fear, he reminds her that she is more than the fear. He reminds her of this with the Focusing phrase you are noticing something in you that feels afraid.
  2. This ability to remember that one is a whole person who is feeling fear allows Gladys to separate her sense of self from the part that is fearful. This inner awareness lets her get in touch with how the fear feels in her body. She locates it in the pit of her stomach.
  3. Piet leaves it up to her to determine whether she is willing to be kind to the feeling in the pit of her stomach.
  4. At first, Gladys feels that it is too uncomfortable to accompany the feeling. Piet suggests another Focusing move: to put her warm hand where she feels the discomfort. Putting her warm hand on her stomach lets the discomfort know that she feels it and wants to know more about it. Gladys takes the reminder, and is able to sense that the feeling is not only fear but powerlessness.
  5. Piet reminds her that she can choose to stay with the feeling of powerlessness if it feels OK. She decides to stay with it, and this leads to the body memory of feeling that her mother never saw her, never listened to her, never knew her.
  6. Piet reflects these words back exactly as Gladys says them, because they describe an awareness that comes from the felt sense. Gladys confirms that Yes, that was exactly how it was.
  7. Piet invites Gladys to get to know the little girl inside, and Gladys imagines holding her inner child and letting her cry. As her husband, Piet offers to hold Gladys while she accompanies the little girl. This holding would not usually be offered by one Focusing partner to the other, but because Piet is her husband, it seems natural and appropriate.
  8. Focusing and listening have helped Gladys feel the origin of her overwhelming fear. She is no longer fighting herself to keep it under control. She is no longer projecting violence onto the aloes and fearing that they will pass the violence on to her. She knows that she needs a few moments to rest and recuperate, but feels a natural willingness arising within her to help prepare for their guests.

In my made up version of Scene 2, Gladys is able to help Piet cut through his tendency to distraction and listen to his inner distress.

Gladys mentions how strange it is that none of the old comrades have come around since she has been back from the hospital. “Is it because of me?” she asks.

Piet: No, you mustn’t think that.

Gladys: There must be some reason they don’t visit us.

Piet: There’s no mystery, Gladys. A lesson in human nature maybe, but that’s all. It’s a dangerous time and people are frightened….Everyone has crawled away into his own little shell. It’s as simple as that….I don’t accept it easily, but there is nothing else to do. I can’t change human nature.

Gladys: Peter. Do all the others think it’s you?

Piet: I don’t know.

Gladys: (She waits). Is it OK to stay with that not knowing for a moment?

Piet: (Pauses) Yes….it looks as if…..they all think…I’m the one….

Gladys: (Quietly) You are sensing that they think you are the one.

Piet: It isn’t something I “know” clearly. There is no one day on which a drought starts. But there were meetings to which I wasn’t invited, and then…I realized people were avoiding me.

Gladys: You weren’t invited to meetings and people started avoiding you. You started fearing that they thought it was you.

Piet: (He speaks with deep emotion) Yes. And I was afraid to sit down and talk to you about it. It felt so bad to be considered a traitor. That’s the correct word…..God! It’s the ugliest thing that has ever happened to me. It makes me feel more ashamed of….myself, my fellow men….of everything!…in a way I never thought possible. I feel it like a coating of grime all over my body.

Gladys: You feel it’s like a coating of grime all over your body. Is it OK to say hello to that feeling and be with it?

Piet: It feels so uncomfortable. I never felt this way before. I cannot believe they would think that of me………But I’ll stay with this feeling for awhile, even though I can hardly stand it.

Gladys: I am right here with you.

Piet: (After a long silence) Now it’s like a storm in my chestI So many parts of me are fighting with each other. I don’t know how to express it all.

Gladys: Just take your time to feel all of it.

Piet: There’s the part that is furious with the government for making Steve suffer. There is the part that is so shocked that my friends would think I betrayed Steve. There is the fear of bringing it up at all. What if they are convinced that it was me and they don’t believe me?  There is the part that reminds me of when my older brother stole some money from my father’s wallet, then blamed it on me. Nobody would believe me. There was nothing I could do.

Gladys:  So many things! you’re furious at the government for Steve’s suffering, you’re shocked that your friends would think you betrayed him. You’re afraid to bring it up, because they might not believe you. It reminds you of when your were unjustly blamed for stealing from your father, and there was nothing you could do.

Piet: Yes, and I am heartbroken, Gladys, that all this has taken such a toll on you.

Gladys: You’re heartbroken that it has taken such a toll on me. Thank you, Piet. (She gives him a hug and he returns it)

Piet: (Silence.) Yes, I feel like I am understanding all the things that were warring inside me.  (Silence.) I feel calmer now, Gladys. I know I am not a traitor, no matter what the others think. And I can really understand how suspicious we have all become of one another with all this government repression.

Now, when Steve comes, Piet will have processed all that he was feeling.  He will be able to acknowledge the suspicions Steve and his wife have without having their suspicions mixed up with his former trauma of being unjustly accused.  He and Steve will be able to embrace and say goodbye, and their friendship and respect for each other can remain intact.

So where’s the drama?

Most dramatic plots are about people not understanding each other, not attempting to listen to each other. When you add empathic listening, the drama fades away. People get in touch with their own inner reality. They become able to put it into words instead of holding it silently in their bodies, where it festers and alters their view of reality.

In my non-dramatic version, Piet and Gladys don’t try to give each other advice, or to console each other or smooth things over. They encourage each other to be present to the uncomfortable feelings held in the body. Those bodily-held feelings often lead to a previous life situation where vital needs were unmet. The listening and reflecting back given by the partner helps the felt sense to be acknowledged and expressed. The end result is empathy for the younger self whose needs were unmet, and the ability to separate the former trauma from present experience, not only intellectually, but in the body. When the understanding happens in the body, there is an actual shift in the bodily felt sense. This shift means that the situation can no longer be seen and acted upon in the old way.

All this requires training. Our natural tendency is look for who or what is to blame for how we feel. It takes practice to learn to bear with uncomfortable feelings in the body, acknowledge them and listen to them. There are so many systems that need changing in order for our planet to survive. That is suspense and drama enough. We don’t need our interpersonal dramas to stand in the way.

Often, people in activist movements feel that they have to remain “strong” and cannot “give in” to their very human vulnerabilities. Others feel that they have to tune out from current events because the news is too distressing.

Today’s world calls for all of us to take our humanity into account. We especially need flexible organizations that provide space for human vulnerabilities to be expressed.

Organizations that train members and staff in systems for processing human feelings will have more of a chance for reaching their full potential. This training fosters cohesiveness and mutual respect, stimulates creative thinking, and turns conflict into an opportunity for growth and realization. I have seen it work many times in the organizations I am involved in.

With Focusing and Empathic Communication you come out in a different place than where you started. After you have become aware of your feelings and needs, a fresh sense of the problem emerges and you can see new steps toward addressing it, steps that you wouldn’t have thought of when you were stuck and upset.

Of course, this means slowing down for non-judgmental, non-evaluative listening. The reward is flowing human interaction, which actually can make solutions more relevant and organizations more efficient.

More on Empathic Communication and Focusing

Empathic Communication is based on Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It provides guidelines for how to talk in a way that does not put people on the defensive. The guidelines help people move out of labeling, blaming and judging, all deeply ingrained cultural behaviors that block connection. NVC promotes seeking out and addressing the unmet needs that give rise to conflict instead of only determining who is right and who is wrong.

According to the Philosophy of the Implicit of Dr. Eugene Gendlin, the developer of Focusing, stating what someone IS, ignores the reality that life is a process that is constantly developing toward more life, the way a plant grows toward the sun. This life-forward direction can become clear through listening gently to the pre-verbal “bodily felt sense” of situations. The body “gets” the intricate sense of the whole situation, often in a way that cannot easily be put into words. When one attends to the bodily felt sense in an open, empathic way, words, gestures, images, and memories emerge from the felt sense, giving meaning and indicating the next steps forward.

The paradoxical conclusion

Efficiency and efficacy in today’s activists and activist organizations depend on slowing down long enough for feelings and needs to be heard and acknowledged, and for felt senses to emerge. This can lead to personal and organizational resilience.

Beatrice Blake: I became a Certified Focusing Trainer in 2000. Working closely with colleagues in El Salvador since 2007, we developed ways of teaching Empathic Communication as a doorway to Focusing.  In my online class, Generating a Culture of Peace, people learn and practice the theory of Nonviolent Communication, and apply it to their interactions. They also see how the wisdom accessed by the bodily felt sense can give new and deeper insights on what the conflict was about in the first place. My experiences have taught me that far-reaching developments can come from listening to the felt sense.
I specialize in helping people develop their next steps in life, especially when the new direction is only a feeling that can’t yet be put into words (http://possibility-space.com).

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!

Deepen your self-connection with Focusing

Saturday, August 27, 1 to 4 p.m.
Westmoreland, NH
$60

Spend the day on a peaceful bend in the Connecticut River, exploring how the “felt sense” of situations can help you reduce stress, think creatively, and connect to your inner compass.

The workshop is at Great Meadows River House in Westmoreland, NH, half an hour northeast of Brattleboro, VT.

Facilitator Beatrice Blake, originally trained as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, has been a Certified Focusing Trainer since 2000. She has studied Focusing and Thinking at the Edge with its developer, philosopher/psychologist Dr. Eugene Gendlin, and teaches in New England and internationally.

Please ask about scholarships if needed.

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.

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.

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!