Thinking at the Edge is empowering
Thinking at the Edge (TAE) empowers us because it shows us how to think and speak from what we know from living. Teaching TAE brings me joy and faith in the future of humanity. I love to see the smiles on my student’s faces as they experience their own generative thinking process.
In this article, first I’ll lay out the problems with the common concept of what thinking is, then I’ll attempt to explain the new way of thinking that happens in Thinking at the Edge and give some examples. Next, I’ll show how Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit takes us beyond the helplessness and despair of theories that deny that we can say what we mean. After that, I’ll give an example of how Thinking at the Edge has empowered me. Finally, I’ll give you a short guide on how to practice TAE for yourself.
What is usually meant by “thinking”?
Somehow, we think (feel, are accustomed to the idea, believe) that only very smart people or “experts” can think (formulate valid ideas, propose realistic solutions, understand what is going on). I have often felt that I was incapable of thinking (coming up with new ideas, understanding the big picture, knowing what would work).
In the above paragraph, I have offered many different meanings for the word “think”. Post-modern Deconstructionist philosophers like Derrida have convinced society that words can no longer have meaning. Of course we can still look words up in the dictionary and find the meanings that are currently agreed upon. But we need new understandings. New words and phrases allow us to say new things. For instance, the meaning of “to think” has all the above meanings and many more, but the agreed-upon meanings do not contemplate the empowerment to think and speak that happens in Thinking at the Edge.
What do I want “thinking” to mean?
I’ll attempt to define “thinking” in terms of Thinking at the Edge. First, you notice something you know but cannot yet put into words. There is a bodily felt sense of this. You can learn to notice and describe it instead of skipping over moments when you struggle for words. You’ll learn to welcome the felt sense with openness and receptivity. When you welcome the bodily felt sense of something that has no words, it responds to your interest. Words, phrases and images start to come. The felt sense will offer you examples of times when you have experienced the knowing you are trying to articulate.
At first, especially, it works best to have a listening partner who accompanies you in this space, writing down what you say. It doesn’t take long: usually a 20- to 25-minute session is enough to make some steps in the process. Further sessions will enable you to speak about what was previously unclear.
Here are some examples that are similar to the felt sensing you use in Thinking at the Edge. You might recognize them.
- An artist senses what color is needed next in a painting.
- An actor immerses himself in a character. That feeling guides his portrayal.
- A mother senses something in her child’s demeanor that tells her the child is becoming ill.
- A musician ‘hears” the notes and chords that will convey a certain feeling.
- A coach senses that one of his players has a problem, even though nothing has been said.
- Authors “love their characters”. From that love and receptivity comes an unfolding of what each character will do or say in a situation, and that in turn influences the course of the novel.
- A gardener senses that a plant needs something, but cannot put her finger on it at first.
Once we have a felt sense, it can dialog back and forth with our intellect. As that dialog happens we must make sure that the felt sense is not left out.
Deconstruction can now be seen as making way for something new
Post-modern ideas like Deconstructionism have lead to a kind of helplessness, stagnation and despair. They make it seem that true communication is not possible. But Eugene Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit, and its practice, Focusing, open up new realms that value and validate human experience in the creation of meaning.
Instead of trying in vain to agree on the lowest common denominator and impose definitions on experience, human experiencing can enrich meaning and make words more relevant to our situations. We can actually pay attention to our experience instead of wondering automatically “Is it just me?” Thinking at the Edge empowers us to open up relevant meaning instead of imposing outside, publicly agreed-upon definitions. When there is space to explore the experiencing behind words, real thinking and communication start to happen.
How Thinking at the Edge has empowered me
Teaching TAE has shown me that I can think from what I have lived. For example, if I am looking at the subject of “communication”, I can
- Notice and name my own experiences.
- Acknowledge gaps in my understanding and, instead of skipping over them, go into them, explore them.
- Recognize what blocks communication, separating us and diminishing us.
- Concentrate on communication that connects, validates and encourages us.
It reminds me of the Quakers, who stood up for the right to experience God in their own ways, by waiting in silence for the Light. They had no patience for “steeple-houses” (churches) and priests, the accepted ways of connecting to God.
It also reminds me of the recent revolution in music distribution. Now everyone can hear “their” music through Pandora, Spotify, etc. As a result, the record labels and radio stations no longer determine what we can listen to.
Thinking at the Edge empowers us to make our own connections, based on experience.
It’s time for us to learn about our own capacity for generative thinking
“…I am very aware of the deep political significance of all this, People, especially intellectuals, believe that they cannot think! They are trained to say what fits into a preexisting public discourse. They remain numb about what could arise from themselves in response to the literature and the world. People live through a great deal which cannot be said in the common phrases. People are silenced! TAE can empower them to speak from what they are living through.” —-Eugene Gendlin, Introduction to Thinking at the Edge
Right now, people are living through unprecedented situations. It becomes clear that economists and politicians, spiritual leaders, even scientists, don’t know the answers. This is an opening for new ideas, new ways of doing things. This moment is offering transformation. We need to empower ourselves to think and communicate from a generative place in order to meet the opportunities that might not come again.
Empower yourself with Thinking at the Edge
Do you skip over moments where words are difficult to find?
Do you try to complete someone’s sentence when they struggle to express themselves?
Try welcoming those moments. Here’s how:
- First of all, take time to slow down right there and breathe.
- Don’t strain your brain.
- In that moment of pausing and relaxing, notice if there is a place in your body where the thing you are trying to express “lives”.
- Next, describe how it feels in your body. It could be a pressure or tightness, a vague cottony feeling, a slight discomfort, a subtle feeling of excitement, an image, or many other subtle sensations.
- Patiently go there and be with that place.
- You might feel it start to unfold into the words you were seeking.