Thinking at the Edge

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 discover their own ability to generate ideas from their experience.  

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 Postmodern philosophical 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 subtle bodily felt sense of this. You can learn to notice and describe the felt sense instead of skipping over moments when you struggle for words. You’ll learn to welcome it 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. 

Examples of felt sensing

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 thought connections, based on experience.

It’s time for us to learn about our own capacity for generating new ideas

“…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 with interest and receptivity
  • You might feel it start to unfold into the words you were seeking. 

Find out more about my online classes in TAE.

The personal is political. What does that mean?

Trump’s current attempt to exploit fear in order to convince people to vote for him is one manifestation of “the personal is political”. This tactic has been used by dictators the world over.  

For example, behavioral science is being used to “market” political candidates and opinions. According to the New York Times, the 2016 Trump campaign used Facebook data to create “a behavioral model powerful enough to manipulate people’s activity and, potentially, sway elections.”

If your Facebook personality profile showed that you were fearful, you’d get a message about how dangerous immigrants were. In 2020 you’ll probably get a message that “you’ll never be safe” if the Democrats win the election. 

As a result of this successful combination of behavioral psychology and marketing, our political system is not based on reasoned arguments. This form of manipulation appeals to knee-jerk reactions. 

You can move beyond these emotional triggers by learning to notice your bodily felt sense of a situation.  You’ll learn how to “accompany” your emotions from a place of “Presence” so that you can be aware of what is going on inside without being overcome by it. Focusing puts you in the driver’s seat of your life.

An experiment in “the personal is political”

Here is a short experiment in Thinking at the Edge with “the personal is political”. It’s based on an exercise from Donata Schoeller, a leading scholar and teacher of Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit. Would you like to play?
1. First, please choose one of the following 3 words:
“police”, “election”, or “hospital”.
2. Once you have chosen a word, notice what situation from your life “arises from” or “comes with” that word.
3. Check to see if the situation that came calls forth a bodily sensation 
4. Describe the bodily sensation of that situation with words, metaphors, emotions, textures, colors, shapes, memories, gestures, sounds.
5. Now, take this description back to the original word and notice how it affects or re-informs the word you chose.
6. If it feels right to do so, reply below, or share your response in an email to me.

After this short form of Thinking at the Edge, can you sense the meaning of “the personal is political”?

Thinking at the Edge (TAE) has helped me move from feeling powerless about climate change to a place of hope, with clear steps ahead that feel right for me.

My TAE process developed into how to position myself before any storm on the horizon, not just climate change. So I feel like I’m ready to go with coronavirus, straight into action, without the weeping and wailing. Action, in the instance of corona virus, means:

I am moved and grateful to Merilyn Mayhew of Sydney, Australia for this rich essay on her transformational process in my 7-week online class in Thinking at the Edge (TAE). Merilyn and I want to share her story of how TAE led her from helplessness to hope on climate change. This attitude has extended to her actions around COVID-19 as well:

Everyone is so inspired and encouraged by the Women’s March.

How can we create new ways of acting in the world that directly address today’s political realities and at the same time reflect our deepest needs, goals and values?

Marshall Rosenberg’s theory of Nonviolent Communication has a lot to offer as we learn how to navigate this new political landscape. We need to step into our roles as courageous peacemakers now more than ever, so I want to make Focusing, NVC and  and Thinking at the Edge available to people involved in political and social change.

I’d love to give a free one-hour introductory course online, so that you can see if you’d like to continue with the full 8-week course online or in person. Leave a reply below  and we will work something out!

Creative thinking partnershipI recently had the pleasure of being interviewed about creative thinking partnership by Serge Prengel of ActivePause.com You can listen to the interview here.

The wordless, empty space is a bit disorienting at first.

Serge: We all are interested in thinking creatively, thinking outside the box, and yet, in the experience of it, when we have something difficult to resolve, we kind of tense up and that seems counterproductive. You’ve been thinking a lot about that kind of thing.

Beatrice: I have been thinking about it because I used to think I couldn’t think. We think that thinking is something that really smart people do, really creative people do, but not something we can do.
When I want to think about something what I notice at first is a space that feels empty. And probably for all of us that blank or empty, wordless space is a bit scary and disorienting because we want the words to be there. In school you are trained to be the one with your hand up, saying “Teacher, I’ve got the answer.” A place where there are no words is uncomfortable and strange.

Serge: Imagine the teacher and the little kid, and the teacher says “So, what is the answer?” and there is a perceived urgency and impatience, and the kid says “Uh, uh, I don’t know!” and that is really a very uncomfortable position.

We don’t conceive that we have a process, our own unique wiring, apart from what is being demanded of us on the outside

Beatrice: We don’t conceive that we have a process apart from what is being demanded from us on the outside.
It’s our own unique wiring. I remember Eugene Gendlin saying, if you don’t honor this and find out how to express it, your unique way of perceiving the world will die with you.

Often it seems that our unique gifts are our problems

A lot of people live without even knowing that they have a right to find out, “What is my way of perceiving the world? What insights come out of my unique wiring as a person?” We think those are our problems.

But I’ve learned from teaching Thinking at the Edge that the things that bother us, where we feel a little lost or like outsiders–if we actually pay attention to those very things, we will find our gifts there. A creative thinking partnership gives us a safe container in which to find those gifts. 

Serge: That is how we will find something that is original, that is us, rather than trying to buy it from the catalogue.

Beatrice: Yes, that’s thinking outside the box, but we don’t even have to let the box be defined by someone else. It’s thinking from who we are, our own experience, and then finding where that could be applied.

Serge: So if we want to really find something, find our original thinking, think outside of the box, there is going to be some degree of unease, discomfort, maybe even a little bit of pain in it.
By talking about it, we are validating that that’s the case–you can’t have access to it without going through that moment of disruption.

Welcoming the blank, wordless space

Beatrice: Yes. What is it that gets us through that blank space where we don’t know? We can easily slip into feeling “I don’t have the answer, I don’t know anything, I can’t do this.” That’s one way we could go.
But with Focusing, we learn another way to go. We can say “Oh, wow, here is this blank space without any words. I can welcome it, pay attention to it. I can ask someone to listen to me right there.” Because it’s hard to get into it all by yourself when you are just discovering this.

Serge: So it’s as if we have a map, and there are all these places with roads and forests and towns and then this area that is blank. We associate entering this area with signs that say “Danger! Wrong place! Difficult!” Instead we could say “Wow!”
It will be more difficult to navigate than if there were roads and signs, so that’s why it’s useful to have a person who helps us attend to this inner space.

Creative thinking partnership means listening in a special way

Beatrice: Explorers don’t go out into the mountains or the desert alone, they have their teams. Our listener is on our team.
It requires a very special kind of listening. This kind of listener doesn’t feel he has to intervene or come in with his own ideas or advice, or finish your sentence for you. Those are all aspects of the normal kind of conversation. This kind of listener welcomes the silence of the explorer.
“Oh, you’re in a place where you don’t have any words. Great! I’m right here with you. We’re exploring this together and I’m going to listen because I know that’s how you will move ahead.”
The listener doesn’t feel any responsibility for making this work, solving anything. The listener is there for the explorer.
Later they switch roles: the listener becomes the explorer and the explorer becomes the listener, so both have their turn.

Serge: One person could be exploring vast territories that are part of his or her inner landscape. Then the other person might be exploring a whole different landscape.

Beatrice: As the explorer becomes interested and receptive to his or her own inner space, things are going to start coming up. It’s only by doing this process that you can see how things start coming up out of this big nothing place.

The listener embodies the patience of planting a seed and letting it grow

Serge: Usually thinking is conceived as a solitary endeavor, where we are trying very hard to do something. We want to have answers and the blank moments are unpleasant, a failure. But if we didn’t have these blank moments, nothing new could happen. You can’t have a plant without the seed. We’re recognizing, Wow, what an uncomfortable and disturbing blank moment. That’s the seed.

Beatrice: You put the seed in the ground and nothing happens for weeks. You have to have faith. You can’t say “I planted my seeds yesterday and there is still no tree!”

Serge: For all we know, the seed might be dead and nothing IS going to happen. There is that aspect of the waiting as opposed to trying to dig harder. The listening, instead of trying to force anything or trying hard, is like watching the process, watching the ice melt, watching the tree grow. The listener exemplifies that and helps the explorer get it.

A creative thinking partnership session doesn’t take long

Beatrice: At first it sounds like it would take a lot of time that we don’t have. But if you are able to do this concentrated exploring with a good listener, 20 minutes is all it takes to get some breakthroughs.

Serge: When you start the process, it is very likely that neither you nor your partner will be very good at it or very comfortable with it. So it’s really learning by practice.

Beatrice: The whole attitude toward exploring these deserts and forests is one of interest, curiosity and openness to what we find there. Not a gotta-get-there, gotta-come-up-with-this kind of thing. Both on the part of the explorer and the listener there is an open spaciousness.
In our society we all have so much to do and if we slow down for a minute and pay attention to what is going on inside, the first thing we come to will say “You don’t have time to do this exploring, you’ve got to pay those bills.” We are in a rhythm of ‘what I gotta do.”
The first purpose of a listener is another human being who says “Hey, it’s OK for you to take 20 minutes out of your busy life to explore this something that you are interested in. Find out more.

Today I learned of the passing of Mary Hendricks Gendlin, PhD, wife and creative partner in the development of Focusing and TAE, 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 NOW be free.

 

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.