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.

Creative thinking partnership

I 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.