Thinking at the Edge

Pausing, felt sensing and listening in TAE

In Thinking at the Edge (TAE), you work over time with a  certain issue, goal, problem, quest, paradox, etc. This  process  brings you in touch with the wellspring of life that is available when you pause, allow the bodily felt sense of a situation to form, and listen to the felt sense as it unfolds.

In this course, you will become familiar with the foundational practices of Thinking at the Edge: pausing, felt sensing and listening. You’ll learn

  • the differences between emotions and felt sensing
  • the importance of authentic self-empathy when working with the body
  • how to wait for the felt sense to form
  • how to listen for the unfolding of the life process in yourself and others

Carrying forward

As you experience this learning, you’ll start to understand one of Eugene Gendlin’s most revolutionary discoveries:

“What comes [at the edge] has a characteristic novelty and intricacy. You can tell that neither you nor the Focuser could have invented it.….Such steps do not follow by logic, and yet they make sense — we can follow them. They have a certain kind of order, different from logic and from irrationality, something deeper, more exact, more specific, more intricate…I call it “carrying forward.” It changes as it moves forward.  

” Interaction… is “carrying forward”, picking up on where the person is, making contact with where the person really is. And the very contact changes the form.”    —Gendlin, The Small Steps of the Therapy Process

So whether you are listening to someone else, or listening to a part of yourself, you’ll see how the very contact changes the way you conceive of situations. Problematic situations become opportunities to deepen your understanding of yourself and others.

Readings to prepare for The Foundational Practices of Thinking at the Edge

The class will be based on Gendlin’s article, The Small Steps of the Therapy Process: How they come and how to help them come, and on Robert Lee’s Domain Focusing. I’ll send you the reading material when you sign up.

Proposed dates and times 

Proposed dates:
Tuesdays, February 6, 13, 20, 27, March 5, 12, 19

Proposed times:
11 a.m. US Eastern,
4 p.m. (1600) GMT,
5 p.m. (1700) Central Europe

6 p.m. (1800) Eastern Europe.
Each class lasts 90 minutes. 

Investment: 

US$295, payable by PayPal: PayPal.me/BeatriceBlake

Let’s talk!

To let me know of your interest in The Foundational Practices of Thinking at the Edge, please contact me.

Your TAE Mentor

Beatrice Blake, TAE Mentor
I became a Certified Focusing Trainer in 2000 and took my first TAE course in 2004 with Gene Gendlin, Nada Lou and Kye Nelson. I’ve been a Certifying Coordinator with TIFI since 2011 and have been teaching TAE in English and Spanish since 2013.

I love to see how TAE brings Gendlin’s philosophy to life. This happens as I guide you through your own exploration and you witness the transformative processes in your TAE-mates.

“I trust how you bring forth the learning potential in each of us by your personal way of presenting TAE.”  —Michaël Hebert, Focusing Trainer, Quebec

Listening engenders change

Listening in a Focusing way

Listening in a Focusing Way will take place on Tuesdays, November 1 through December 13 from 1 to 3 p.m. Eastern (seven 2-hour sessions). 

Mentor: Beatrice Blake, a Certifying Coordinator with The International Focusing Institute (TIFI).

Prerequisites: Focusing Level One or at least three Focusing sessions with a certified Focusing trainer.

To sign up, please fill out the contact form. If you haven’t worked with me before, we can schedule a free introductory session. Please sign up soon–class is limited to eight participants.

Investment: $370.00 (10% discount for TIFI members: $333.00) via PayPal.

CCEs: Qualifies for 13 Continuing Coach Education credits from the International Coaching Federation.

Source material: The Small Steps of the Therapy Process: How They Come and How to Help Them Come by Eugene Gendlin.

A fresh source of information

We live in a time of existential challenges to life on earth. Despite growing awareness and ever-increasing data about these challenges, there is a split between our experiencing and our ability to change.  

When we allow the bodily felt sense of a situation to form, we have access to a fresh source of information about life. However, the felt sense has its own logic that can be quite different from the logic we are accustomed to. Listening in a Focusing way allows us to follow the felt sense so it can grow and develop.

A special kind of listening

In order for the felt sense to unfold, a special kind of listening is needed. It is not just “empathic listening”, though that can be helpful. Listening in a Focusing way involves reflecting back the essence of what someone is saying. When this essential meaning is heard and taken back in by a Focuser, a characteristic silence follows. In this silence, the Focuser is listening inside to the further unfolding of the felt sense.

In a normal conversation, there is no recognition of the importance of this silence. But in Focusing, we welcome that silence and give it space. We know that inside the Focuser, a certain kind of development is taking place. The felt sense is “carrying forward”.

In a normal conversation, this silence may look like spaciness, or disconnection. The silent person might feel they have to apologize for it: “Sorry, I spaced out for a moment. Where were we?” and thus the carrying forward is ignored or lost.

People who know how to listen in a Focusing way honor that silence, because they have experienced it for themselves as the source of inner knowing. They recognize the expression of inner attention that appears on the Focuser’s face. Often that expression turns into a calm smile of inner truth as the session comes to an end.  

Being with what is unclear

This source of development and change is not widely known yet. For both the Focuser and the Listener, it requires a letting go into what is unknown, unclear, difficult to put into words. That lack of clarity is the way the felt sense often presents itself. As we give the unclear bodily sense our gentle attention, words and meaning arise from it.  This is in contrast with the way we often address problematic situations, going round and round a set of known ideas in our heads. Given the amount of time we spend going round and round in our heads, if that could lead us to a solution, we would have found it.

Listening for the aliveness

But with today’s challenges, there are no known solutions. The bodily felt sense connects us to a new way of knowing. The felt sense of a situation is intimately connected to our sense of being alive, the way that plants and animals find the elements they need, without having the intellect we humans have. We need to balance our over-developed intellect with our very human sense of what is alive, growing, and developing inside.  Learning to listen in a Focusing way engenders meaningful change.

 

listening that allows the felt sense to carry forward

Spacious listening encourages new ideas

Henrik, the main character in the short Danish film On My Mind, is a metaphor for the felt sense. He is in a delicate and deeply significant situation that is difficult to articulate. When he sees what he needs to do, the people he encounters do not know how to create an atmosphere in which his next steps could emerge. Spacious listening and reflecting his words would have provided the simple accompaniment needed for his felt sense to “carry forward”.

Carrying forward is an interactive process that can be blocked by conventional cultural notions.  Cultural forms make for a comfortable social flow, but do not recognize the body’s capacity to make meaning. The body’s meaning-making process always wants to go further toward life.  Pre-determined social forms can block and misinterpret it.

Spacious listening welcomes what is sensed but difficult to put into words

In his 1993 article, Three Assertions about the Body, philosopher Eugene Gendlin writes:

“The society has become more complex than the routines and concepts that it teaches. Most commentators on the current society do not see the increased complexity. They see only the breakdown of the old patterns and the losses that this now involves…The breakdown of the old patterns is actually caused by a new development which has only [just] begun. It is not just a loss and a breakdown. It is also an opening to a further development…Sometimes we cannot do what we were taught because we sense more in a situation than the old routines can meet.

In a difficult situation, if w cannot act in some easy and usual way, and if a new way does not quickly come to us, what do we… feel? Confusion, frustration perhaps. We may just be stuck. But what is it that tells us that the ordinary actions a phrases won’t do or are not what is needed? If we ask ourselves that question and if we pay direct attention to what it is that stops us, we may find a sense of what is needed, what would work, if only we could devise it. “

In On My Mind, Henrik is stuck. The film opens with him rhythmically  banging his head against the window. He is in pain, but we don’t understand what is going on, and neither do the two people he encounters in the bar he walks into.

Spacious listening creates an atmosphere of safety, empathy, openness and trust for felt meaning to carry forward

Even though the bartender feels sympathetic toward Henrik, her first reaction to him is a rather judgmental suggestion. She says, “You don’t have to gulp [your whiskey] all at once. It’s OK to enjoy it.” Knowing what we know by the end of the film, this invitation doesn’t serve to create an atmosphere of safety, empathy, openness and trust.

Spacious listening recognizes the forming of felt meaning

Henrik pays and is on his way out when he sees a karaoke machine.

The karaoke machine becomes the “handle” that symbolizes Henrik’s next step.

He asks if the machine has the old Elvis Presley song On My Mind. The owner is doing his taxes and doesn’t want to be distracted by the music. He insists that karaoke only happens on weekends and today is Tuesday. Henrik finally puts down a 500 kroner bill, the equivalent of US$70. The owner agrees to let him sing, but for only 5 minutes.

Henrik asks the bartender to film his song on his phone. He says it’s for Trine. The bartender dutifully records the song, but a message comes through on the phone about Trine, so she stops recording and hands him the phone. He has to start over. Then halfway through the second recording, the owner pulls the plug on the machine. Five minutes is up. 

The felt sense is hard to put into words, so it is difficult to explain the reasoning behind it, especially if one is in an atmosphere of judgment. Spacious listening welcomes what is difficult to put into words, because that lack of clarity signals the development of something new and different. 

How “round, closed, common notions” get in the way of spacious listening

After the first interrupted attempt at recording, the bartender says “It’s a nice song.” That establishes some rapport. Henrik tells her that it’s his wife’s favorite. “She says it makes the soul fly.”

This could have been an opening for a more spacious listening and reflecting back. In fact, with these words, Henrik is indicating exactly why it is necessary for him to sing that song. But instead of reflecting this, the bartender asks him three questions, based on conventional notions of why a husband would want to record a song for his wife. Given Henrik’s unusual situation, these questions only block his self expression, especially the last question: “She’s not dead, is she?” This question brings a final draining of the whiskey glass, and a dispirited sigh.

With spacious listening, we don’t have to think of the right way to respond from our limited understanding. We respond by reflecting the words that express the felt meaning of the person we are listening to

After sighing into the glass, Henrik says,
“Look, the dew. The story it tells”.
“What’s the story then?” asks the bartender.
“A human breathed here. And now it’s gone. An imprint of the soul.”

That’s a pretty deep statement. I imagine a bartender wouldn’t know exactly how to respond. But as spacious listeners, we don’t have to respond from our own limited understanding of what is being said. We can just reflect back the life-forward meaning that we sense in the words.

A spacious listener might say, “Oh, this is something important (that touches you, that means something to you). A human breathed there and now it’s gone. That droplet is an imprint of the soul.” This open acknowledgement of a “something” helps validate that it exists. Its meaning might not be clear yet, but the felt meaning is definitely felt “there”, somewhere in the body. Hearing his words back would have shown Henrik that his felt sense was worth exploring.

But the moment is lost, with the bartender’s silence and a strange gust of wind that blows through the bar. Henrik seems to give up on the possibility of being understood. He just wants to get back to recording the song.

Cultural logic ignores the intricacy of the body sense

With her three questions, the bartender applies a cultural logic to Henrik’s need to sing the song. Is it for their anniversary, or his wife’s birthday, or to commemorate her after death?

In his article, The Small Steps of the Therapy Process: How They Come and How to Help Them Come, Eugene Gendlin says that carrying forward is  “…picking up on where the person is, making contact with where the person really is. And the very contact changes the form” (p. 212, paragraph 4)

Spacious listening creates a place for felt meaning to grow, for it to create its own logic.

Spacious listening is having faith that felt meaning will be carried forward into its own right way of being

If Henrik’s “felt meaning” had been acknowledged, a carrying forward might have happened. This would have enabled him to express his reasons for insisting that the recording needed to be made NOW. It would have avoided the argument with the bar owner, given that the owner immediately understood the situation once it was expressed.

But, of course, then there would have been less drama to make a movie about.

Expressing the body sense brings relief and opens possibilities

When felt meaning is expressed and reflected back, there is often a bodily sense of relief. A way forward opens that had not previously been seen.

We see this in Henrik’s ability to be calm, dignified and confident as he encourages his wife’s soul to fly away at the moment of death.

Spacious listening carries felt meaning forward: implications for human interactions in general 

Henrik followed the dictates of his felt sense, even though he was not understood at first. The well-intentioned bartender wanted to relate to him, but their communication was limited when she asked questions that were based on her accustomed cultural and conversational patterns.

Spacious listening and reflecting would have helped Henrik move forward. An agenda on the part of a listener can impose an already-existing pattern. That doesn’t leave space for the kind of interaction that seeks to contact and faithfully reflect the felt sense. Contact with the bodily felt sense brings something new and full of life.

Implications for the world

Can you feel the implications of this for the evolution that needs to happen in order for  life to continue on this planet? The logic that we have grown up with no longer serves us. Nobody knows what to do. War and fighting have been “go to” solutions for millennia, but internationally we are too aware of the destructive power unleashed by the weapons that have, up to now, seemingly insured safety and security. In the US and elsewhere, polarization leads to people not being able to listen to each other, and that eventually results in violence.

Change steps are an interactional process that respects and facilitates the ability of the body to “make sense”. This sense-making does not necessarily correspond to any already formed system of logic. It changes as it is carried forward. The changes come in a precise way, arising from the body’s implicit knowing of what will make life better.

Focusing partnership and truth

“Currently philosophers recognize that formulations [articulations, expressions, statements] don’t stand alone, but this fact has them stuck. Much worse — the current understanding is that there is no truth at all, no values either, because people still think that if the attempts at a single truth contradict each other, then there isn’t any truth at all. 

“Knowing Focusing, of course you don’t think that there is no truth just because there is a variety of stated truths. Rather, you know, perhaps without having thought about it, that truth consists in one or more RELATIONSHIPS between what is stated and…..[what we call] “experiencing”, but it would be better to say “experiencing, situation, the body, our interactional living, “…” Still better, just call it dot dot dot.” 

                             — Eugene Gendlin,  A Philosophical Car for Focusers, 1999 Model

The felt sense leads us to a new “place”, where our understanding of the original issue is no longer what it “was”.

When we know Focusing, we go inside and follow the unclear  “something”, the dot-dot-dot. This is the bodily felt sense of a situation or issue or feeling that we want to explore. As we follow the felt sense with our inner listening, it changes and develops, leading us to a new “place”. In this new place, our understanding of the original issue or situation or feeling is no longer what it “was”.

The vital presence of the Listener

The Listener provides protected time and space for the Focuser to accompany the felt sense as it develops and unfolds into meaning. The revealed meaning makes sense directly to the Focuser. It feels true. 

The Listener wordlessly receives what the Focuser says. If the Focuser requests it, the Listener repeats back what the Focuser expresses as s/he experiences each new development. The Listener’s vital presence helps the Focuser to stay inside and follow what is happening.

To foster this world-changing process toward truth, Listeners put aside all opinions, ideas, suggestions — all attempts to be “helpful”. The Listener is in receptive mode, receiving the meaning that is being revealed to the Focuser.

What is needed along the road to truth

In Focusing partnership, the Listener doesn’t have to understand the details, the “story”, or the context behind the Focuser’s expressions. The Listener relaxes into knowing that the felt sense is leading the Focuser along the road to truth. Both partners honor what the felt sense does as it develops and reveals meaning. This knowing and honoring grows by experiencing the Focusing process for oneself.