How Nonviolent Communication and Focusing can enhance each other

Many of us are dismayed about the violent rhetoric in politics and on social media. We need ways to be able to communicate across social, cultural, economic and political divides. Both Nonviolent Communication and Focusing, when practiced, are accessible tools for change.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, provides invaluable guidelines for how to talk in a way that does not put people on the defensive. If these guidelines were taught in schools and other community groups, it would help move society out of labeling, blaming and judging–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.

In order to believe peace is possible, people have to experience how communication can produce change in their own lives. NVC’s needs consciousness is a game changer. I am convinced that if needs consciousness were widely studied and put in practice, much violence, strife and misunderstanding would be eliminated. The electoral process and political leadership would become more effective. Families would get along better. Schools would be more harmonious.

Focusing and NVC share the awareness that using the words IS and ARE when describing people and groups can be very limiting, for example:

  • John is aggressive.
  • Jane is kind.
  • Children are naïve.
  • Her ex-husband is insensitive.
  • His ex-wife is greedy.

In NVC theory, these blanket statements separate us instead of uniting us with the awareness that all people have needs, and our actions are strategies to meet our needs. Some strategies can be unsuccessful, but until the underlying need is identified and addressed, the strategy (action to meet a need) will continue, even if violent or ineffective.

So instead of “Marsha is incompetent,” one would say, “When Marsha failed to turn in the year-end report, I felt angry, because my needs for cooperation, efficacy, consideration and communication were not met.” That would be followed by an action request of Marsha, outlining what would meet my needs. There would also be a listening process with Marsha about the needs that might have led her to delay turning in the report. This hopefully would lead to mutual understanding of everyone’s needs and requests designed to meet those needs.

Focusing: According to the Philosophy of the Implicit, developed by Eugene Gendlin,  PhD., stating what someone IS, ignores the reality that life is a process that is constantly developing toward more life. 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 in a way that encompasses more than what can be put into words. When one attends to the bodily felt sense in an open, empathic way, then words, gestures, images, and memories emerge from the felt sense, giving meaning and indicating the next steps forward.

In both NVC and Focusing, empathic Listening is an essential catalyst to the process. In NVC, an empathic listener helps us acknowledge our feelings and needs. We then can listen to the others involved, and/or formulate requests for what would make life better for us. In Focusing, an empathic listener provides the space for the Focuser to listen to pre-verbal bodily knowing.  The Listener reflects back the essential words and images that emerge from the Focuser’s felt sense. The emerging of meaning from that which previously had no words has a transformative effect on the person and the situation as a whole.

In my blog postof October 14, 2017, I recounted an NVC/Focusing session I did with a puzzling feeling of annoyance. If I had paid attention only to my Feelings and Needs, I would have said, “I was annoyed at my women’s group because of my need for efficient use of technology to facilitate communication. I was annoyed at myself for not having implemented the use of better technology even though I am very familiar with using it.”

But after stating my Feelings and Needs, I paused and awaited the formation of a bodily felt sense of the situation. An uncomfortable tightness in my head moved down to my throat. I could tell that a lot more was going on in this situation. As I sensed into the feeling in my throat, it felt like two armies at war. I paused with the feeling of armies clashing. Then I could see that my inner conflict was between the very pro-active tendencies of my grandmother, versus my loyalty to my mother. I could see that the situation had much wider implications for my life. Once I had seen the pattern of being caught between the proactivity of my grandmother, and my own “not wanting to impose”, I could step out of that pattern, apologize to my group-mates, and offer to plan a future meeting using better technology. In my larger life, I was able to have more confidence in sharing what I know, freed from the mother/grandmother pattern.

Points where Nonviolent Communication theory and exercises can be helpful to Focusers

  1. Acknowledging feelings and needs can help quiet emotions so that felt senses can form. When an emotion like anger is overwhelmingly present, it can be difficult to quiet down enough inside to allow a felt sense to form. In that case, it can be very helpful to look at a list of feelings and needs from NVC. I can see “Oh, I am feeling all these emotions and they come from all these needs.” The list of feelings and needs helps me acknowledge what is going on inside on an emotional level and helps me understand myself. That really helps! Then I can let go of all those feelings and needs and allow a felt sense to form.
  2. Looking at Needs is much more forward-moving than blaming and diagnosing others and creating enemy images. One of the most helpful insights that NVC can provide for Focusers is this quote from Marshall Rosenberg:
    “The cause of our feelings is not other people’s behavior, it’s our needs.”
    –Rosenberg, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict, p. 35.
    We can waste a lot of time Focusing on other people as enemies if we don’t understand that everyone is just trying to meet their needs. My first task is determining what I need. Doing this leads me to a place where a felt sense can form and transformation can happen.
  3. Finding our needs makes it easier to feel compassion for the needs of others: Compassion doesn’t always come easily. In NVC theory, anger arises from unmet needs. When we are able to identify our needs in a conflict, our anger makes sense. Then we can accept our needs and look for ways to meet them. This sense-making can open us to wanting to know the needs of others. After this, it is easier to get a felt sense of the whole situation, which leads to further insight and next steps.
  4. NVC provides “training wheels” for learning Focusing. I have found that the above sequence can give people the experience of a felt sense and a felt shift without having to give instructions in Focusing. NVC provides “training wheels” that lead to natural felt sense formation. In the company of an experienced Focuser, the emerging felt sense can be noticed and followed, leading to the felt shift, where the larger meaning and relevance become clear.
  5. A window to implicit intricacy: Acknowledging feelings and needs is often a revelation. It’s surprising to see, during the Feelings and Needs card game, that we have, for example, 20 feelings about a situation and 15 needs! This opens us up to the intricacy of our own inner world. After we have become familiar with the process of identifying our feelings and needs, we are often immersed in the situation enough that we can let go of the words and allow a wordless felt sense of the situation to come. Meaning and next steps emerge from there.
  6. Developing “the Focusing attitude”: Felt sensing requires pausing in silence—at least 30 seconds to a minute, sometimes less, sometimes more. It requires developing a patient, curious, empathic attitude toward ones inner experience. Seeing that our feelings are the results of our needs, met or unmet, helps develop this empathic attitude, rather than the self-critical, self-negating inner voice that can come up in moments of introspection.
  7. Dealing with guilt and shame. NVC recognizes mourning as a basic human need. If we feel guilty or ashamed, NVC guides us to mourn the actions that we regret having done, and to acknowledge the needs we were trying to meet with the action we regret. This is an effective way to address the guilt and shame that often come up when we begin to look inside.
  8. Teaching felt sense formation:It is difficult to teach about felt sense formation without giving people the experience of it. Many people have difficulty when asked to “Notice how it feels in your body.” For other people, noticing how a situation feels in the body is quite natural. We don’t want to discourage people, so it’s good to find other ways of inducing the felt sense experience.
    Noticing feelings and needs takes us out of talking “about” the situation and gets us into actually experiencing it. Even if we are just looking at a list of needs or at cards with a need printed on each one, we begin to feel which ones resonate inside.
    If people are unfamiliar with the concept of Beautiful Human Needs, this process can be revelatory. It can take people out of their heads and into their bodies. This becomes especially powerful in the Feelings and Needs Card Game when a companion reads aloud the Needs cards that a person has chosen. The person feels deeply understood. This often produces a bodily felt shift in which the person begins to see the situation differently. This also teaches the power of reflective listening.
  9. The experiencing scale: In the 1960s, Eugene Gendlin and colleagues devised the Experiencing Scale (EXP). The EXP allowed them to predict which clients would be successful in therapy. When people are at EXP Levels 1 to 3, it is almost impossible for them to benefit from therapy because they don’t bring their own experiencing into the session. In Levels 4 and 5, people are talking about their feelings. At Levels 6 and 7 they are Focusing. Research with the EXP scale is summarized at http://www.focusing.org/research_basis.html – Experiencing Level. Rob Parker’s article about 2006 research with the EXP scale indicates that people who are able to be in Level 6 of the EXP scale are 20 to 27 times more likely to have successful results in therapy than people who spend time at lower EXP levels.

(Rob Parker, Focusing Oriented Therapy: The message from research Volume 1, Chapter 17 of Beyond the Talking Cure, Greg Madison, ed.)

Points where Focusing can enhance Nonviolent Communication

  1. Deeper insights. One gains further insight if one lets go of all the words, sinks into the body, and allows a bodily felt sense of the situation to develop freshly. Invariably, the felt sense of the whole situation takes me to completely unexpected places that are much more interesting and relevant than where I get to by looking at my feelings and needs alone.
  2. Making more room for implicit intricacy and autonomy. An NVC teacher who is aware of implicit intricacy will always make room for feelings and needs that are not on the lists or that manifest in uncommon expressions such as:
    “I need to see the trees still standing.”
    “I need dynamic empathy.”
    And especially: “It’s hard to express what I feel (or need)—I can’t find the words.”
    The speaker is probably a natural Focuser who can feel there is something important there but doesn’t know how to say it. Instead of making suggestions about what the person might need, the Focusing-oriented NVC teacher will make space and time for that which is as yet without words, so that relevant new meaning can emerge.
  1. Going beyond Observation-Feelings-Needs-Requests: Once one has taken a situation to the felt sense, the whole idea of what originally happened to cause a conflict can change completely. One might see that a situation is part of a lifelong pattern, and therefore might end up making a request of oneself rather than another person, or of both oneself and another. One might see a deeper level of responsibility for what happened, or get clear that the solution comes from a larger context than was originally thought.
  1. Going beyond “what is alive in you”. NVC teachers who are unfamiliar with Felt Sensing might think they are “going into the body” by asking “What is alive in you right now?” That is a good way to notice what is really happening inside at the moment, but it does not necessarily access the wisdom of the felt sense. It accesses emotions which can be felt in the body and which can be easily named, once acknowledged. It is a good starting place, but it might not reach the preverbal body-sense of the situation.
  1. Focusing partners supply the space to enter the implicit meaning: NVC practitioners are encouraged to have “empathy buddies” who provide a place to “let the jackals howl”, an important first step in decompressing during conflict. After the “jackal show” in which unlimited complaining and criticizing are encouraged, empathy buddies provide practice space for how to express ones needs and requests in an effective, compassionate way. A Focusing partner encourages the Focuser to take time with something inside that is nebulous and unclear, allowing the felt sense to emerge and change. Focusing partners are trained to listen for meaning. This takes NVC beyond being a language tool, in which people bend their inner sense of rightness to “speak proper NVC”. NVC language can be difficult to speak at first, because it goes against deeply ingrained cultural patterns. But there can be many points in which a Focusing partner can facilitate authenticity when one encounters legitimate problems in applying the NVC steps.

For instance, some people as children received the message that they should not “observe” what was going on around them, much less state it out loud. This can create a moment of blockage in the NVC steps, unless a sensitive partner can allow the person to explore right there, where the message to “not observe” is felt in the body.

Conclusions

I don’t think it is necessary to devise an exact formula for combining Focusing and Nonviolent Communication. NVC’s needs consciousnessis very enlightening if learned and put into practice. Focusing is a way of allowing inner meaning to unfold from the bodily felt sense.

Most people, even Focusers, don’t understand how counter-productive it is to judge, blame, shame and diagnose other people. They think that these tendencies are natural, that they are “just what happens” in conflict. Instead of concentrating on proving why someone else is wrong, evil, crazy or “deserving of blame”, we can shift our gaze inward to notice our own feelings and the very human needs that give rise to them. The self-understanding that comes from this can calm our emotions so that a forward-moving form of communication is possible. Often, noticing our feelings and needs gives the “holding and letting” space necessary for a felt sense to form.

Most people, even NVC practitioners, don’t recognize when a pause has the potential to lead to the emerging of implicit meaning. They don’t notice or honor the pregnant pause. Focusing partners allow space for the pause, and provide a welcoming reception for what comes next, even if it “goes against the rules”. Focusers are trained to listen and reflect meaning.

In El Salvador, where Focusing didn’t seem to make much sense to people at first, we have found that teaching NVC can cultivate the ground for felt sensing. If people pay attention to their feelings and needs over time, they can often be easily guided into felt sensing and they can experience a felt shift. It is nice to be able to say, “What you were just doing is Focusing” rather than trying to explain how to Focus.

Of course, if someone is actually angry at us, it is important to just humanly acknowledge that they are angry and upset before translating it into NVC language or doing Focusing moves.

My conclusions are that Nonviolent Communication is an effective door to Focusing if the teacher understands the power of felt sensing and can leave space for the More. And NVC theory can be life-changing to Focusers who are experiencing conflict in their lives.

How NVC and Focusing enhance each other

Many of us are dismayed about the violent rhetoric in politics and on social media. We need ways to be able to communicate across social, cultural, economic and political divides. Both Nonviolent Communication and Focusing, when practiced, are accessible tools for change.

How NVC enhances Focusing

The basic NVC concepts help people learn the Focusing Attitude by experience:

  • Pausing
  • Self-empathy
  • Listening with empathy, without trying to give advice, consoling, trying to fix, etc.
  • Sensing inside
  • The intricacy of the inner world as revealed in the number of feelings and needs there are in any given situation

The “Needs consciousness” of NVC explicitly pauses the usual cultural responses to conflict, opening people to new ways of thinking and reacting.

Looking at a written list of Feelings and Needs is an exercise in resonating with what feels right inside, like Focusing with training wheels!

Dwelling on Feelings and Needs creates a “holding and letting” space where a felt sense can form about the whole, leading to changes in the whole mesh of experiencing.

What Focusing gives NVC

Felt sensing: the bodily felt sense of the situation goes far beyond the categories of “feelings and needs”.

Implicit intricacy: honoring the richness and complexity of each person’s life experience.

Carrying forward: by giving words to the felt sense, the whole situation can transform in ways that seemed impossible to the cognitive mind.

“When a direct referent [felt sense] forms and comes, something has jelled, something has happened, something–a great deal–has fallen into place.”
–Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 225

“What if”?: Modeling a different reality

Many ideas have been coming up since I started my TAE project yesterday. They have to do with interacting with groups. How to interrupt a group process to make space for more listening, reflection, without imposing.

In Dynamic Facilitation, which I have participated in with Rosa Zubizarreta, things are set up from the beginning so that the facilitator can reflect what is being said by writing it down on sheets labeled “Statements of the Problem”, “Possible Solutions”, “Data” and “Concerns”. Attention is on each speaker long enough for their contributions to be written down, and, I believe, for what comes next to be written down, because when someone is listened to, what comes next is often a further development of the initial idea. So it helps to have things set up in advance.

I am wondering how this could be extended in a friendly, playful, welcoming way, even when things are not set up in advance. That feels like the growing edge for me.

Can playfulness change my dynamic? It goes from “you gotta” to “what if”? Both come from my having an idea about how to do things better, but one is open-ended, no pressure, no imposition, re-grouping to look for the next opportunity to share something inevitable. I feel that in my chest as true self-confidence. My grandmother was actually a very funny, entertaining person.

Crux sentence: moving from “You gotta” to “What if”, I step into self confidence.

Keyword: “What if”.

Step 2: Looking for paradox or contradiction: When I think of “you gotta”, I get a subtle band of energy at the back of my head, like I’m putting on blinders. When I think of “What if”, there is a new feeling of spaciousness in my heart, but no guarantees. So sharing what I know is not done out of the old fear that no one will understand. It means suggesting or creating or modeling a different reality in which the hoped-for result is presented first, and then the floor can be opened to ideas of how to get there.

Focusing session on the topic of “sharing what I know”

I am going to give you a play-by-play example of Focusing from my own life.

Triggering experience: I was at an online meeting with a group of friends. We started meeting over 25 years ago. We all used to live in the same small town, and had formed a support/listening group with each other while we all had young children. We each would take 15 minutes to share whatever we were going through without being interrupted. This “15 minutes for me” proved invaluable to us all as we navigated the seas of motherhood and selfhood.

So here we were, reunited after several years of not meeting. Five of us were together in one room in the town where we used to live, and myself and one other were online, via Skype. Skype was not working well, and I was getting increasingly annoyed. I had suggested before the meeting that we could meet by Zoom, which works much better than Skype when there are more than 2 computers involved. But no-one had encouraged me to pursue this idea, and I had not insisted. My annoyance with the inadequate technology was affecting my sharing when my turn came up.

Later I decided to Focus on this, because I didn’t understand why I had been so upset. In one way, it seemed like such an unnecessary attitude on my part. I hadn’t devoted a lot of energy to thinking about the technology before the meeting, and I had not prepared an easy way to shift over to the new technology if problems arose. So why couldn’t I just accept that, instead of getting mad about it? Also, I noticed I was blaming people in the group for not listening to me about the technology. I could have judged myself for overreacting and left it at that, but luckily, I had a Focusing partnership coming up, so I decided to look at what was going on that had made me so upset.

What came to me first: “I know that Zoom is much better than Skype for multi-person calls because I use Zoom all the time for my online classes. The other people in my women’s group don’t have to deal with these issues all the time, so they aren’t aware of the potential difficulties. If I had thought about it more, I could have gently guided everyone over to my Zoom room and used my experienced knowledge to set up a more successful online meeting.”

I noticed something in me that didn’t want to impose, didn’t want to insist, even though I clearly had the knowledge and experience to make the meeting better. The “not wanting to impose” felt like a buzzy, chaotic sensation in the lower part of my head. When I noticed and welcomed the sensation, I could feel that there was much more going on there. The feeling lowered into my throat, as if there were a war going on between two opposing tribes. “Yes, there does seem to be a lot going on inside about all this”, I realized.

I stayed with it in a Focusing way, and soon I could sense that the war was between my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother projected an aura of self-confidence. She was sure of herself. This led her to a lot of successful creative endeavors which are unbelievably inspiring. But her self confidence did not leave room for other people, especially for my mother, who was always doing her best to follow in the footsteps of her mother, all the while feeling an inner frustration and resentment at not being seen for her own merits, her own selfhood.

The felt sense of a battle had lowered into my body, where I could feel it as a pressure in my heart. As I stayed with it, I could feel that my loyalty was to my mother, and that implied a rejection of my grandmother’s tendency to steamroll those around her. In a restaurant, my grandmother would imperiously send food back if it were not to her liking. I always found that embarrassing. It seemed to symbolize everything I rejected about my grandmother, everything I didn’t want to be.

I could now see that insisting on having the right technology for my women’s group meeting reminded me too much of my grandmother. Even though I was very familiar with a better system, it would have meant imposing my will on the group if I had insisted on using Zoom. It was less complicated internally for me to just go along, without sharing what I know. That way I could maintain my inner loyalty to my mother, and not risk becoming a steamroller of others, like my grandmother.

Wow, interesting. So what is this showing me about my larger life now?

It came to me that I want to emerge from this period of my life with more confidence to share what I know. To find a balance between sharing what I know and feeling that I am imposing on others.

That evening I was going to go to a dinner for cancer survivors. I could feel myself facing the dilemma all over again–how can I share what I know in this new group of people who don’t know me? I realized that I could go to the dinner “armed” or “prepared”, by making copies of articles about the research done with Focusing and breast cancer by Doralee Grindler Katonah and Joan Klagsbrun. The research shows that even doing simple Focusing exercises like Clearing a Space, can prolong the lives of cancer survivors. This gave me a jumping off point for sharing what I know. At the end of the dinner, there was a brief time to introduce oneself and say what we were involved in. I mentioned the articles, and several people asked me for information afterwards.

So, gentle reader, if you have gotten this far, I have been describing an experience that can happen in a Focusing partnership.

I had an uncomfortable, triggering experience. I Focused on it with my partner and found that there was a lot more going on there than I had been aware of.

I already have a negative and a positive “instance” of the way this acts in my life:

Instance 1: I got angry at my women’s group for “not listening to me” about meeting on Zoom instead of Skype, even though I had not really explained the advantages or set things up to implement what I know.

Instance 2: I went to the cancer survivor’s dinner “armed” with articles about how Focusing has been proven to increase longevity in cancer survivors. It led to several inquiries about Focusing.

Thanks for listening!

Listening Partnerships

To hear yourself think…it helps to have somebody listen!

A Listening Partnership is not an ordinary conversation. It sets the stage for a special kind of listening.

There are two roles: the Explorer, person who speaks. And there’s the Listener.

After the Explorer’s turn, the Listener becomes the Explorer. But, at any one time, one person is either the Explorer or the Listener.

It’s different from an ordinary conversation.

Ordinary conversations are usually not focused on listening. Often, what we call a conversation is actually an argument – – you’re trying to convince each other that you’re right. Or one person is trying to be helpful, offering solutions, giving advice. In both cases, the listener is actively trying to make a point.

Of course, there are many situations in which giving advice or suggesting solutions is very appropriate, but not in a Listening Partnership. If the Listener starts to help or give advice, it takes away some of the Explorer’s precious space.

This is a very special space, a space where there is room for you, as the Explorer, to hear yourself think.

The Explorer

When you’re the Explorer, things slow down. The Listener is focused on listening to you. This helps you listen to what you feel in all its complexity. You go beyond the surface.

You will actually welcome moments when words seem to fail you, or when the words that come to mind don’t quite make sense. You listen for the “more” that is there, waiting to be sensed and expressed.

It’s a very special kind of paying attention. Like the way people pay special attention when they are at a wine tasting–holding a sip of wine in the mouth for a while, curious about all the nuances of the experience, as opposed to just saying: “It’s good” or “It’s bad”.

Like wine tasters who try to put words to their experience, you might struggle to put words to your experience. Don’t try to squeeze your brain to find the right words. Allow words to come out from the “taste” of the situation.

The Listener

How does creative thinking emerge? Not by putting pressure on yourself, but by making space, allowing fresh ideas to arise. The very presence of the Listener makes this more possible.

The Listener is there for you, patiently listening to what you say, sometimes saying it back to you so you can hear it too. The Listener does not complete your sentences for you, doesn’t urge you to go faster or to be more articulate… The Listener simply stays with you so that you can listen more intently to your own thoughts.

It’s as if the Listener were saying. “I want to listen to you. I’m interested even in the process of your meandering, not knowing what you want to say. I’m going to stay with you as you go through it.”

Checking for resonance 

Each time a word or phrase comes, the Explorer stays with it, gently comparing that word or phrase to the experience. Does it feel right? Does it describe the feel of the situation as a whole?

This is not about being logical. It’s about sensing whether it feels right or not. If it doesn’t totally feel right, then you, as the Explorer, can keep on exploring.

At some point, you find a word or phrase that fits your feeling more precisely. The Listener is there with you, so you can give yourself the time and space to make sure that what you say “resonates” with what you feel.

Wow. When you find that resonance, it feels so right!

It’s like it had been hiding in plain sight. As you are able to pay attention, to see things as they are, to hear yourself think, you get this “Wow!”

The Listener simply stays with you so that you are able to listen more intently to your own thoughts. This creates the space for fresh thinking to emerge.

Welcoming awkward silences

As the Explorer and Listener patiently wait for the Explorer’s words to come, there are moments of silence. In everyday life, that could be very uncomfortable. Here, instead of rushing to find something to say, you actually see the silence as a sign that something new wants your attention.

You welcome those moments when words seem to fail you. Of course, it can feel weird or troubling. It’s like you’re in the twilight zone, instead of the bright sunlight where everything is sharply defined. Being in that twilight zone, noticing the feeling without the words, actually stimulates your mind to go deeper.

The Listener stays with you so you know it’s OK to be have lost contact with the firm ground of clear meanings. This is where you can notice the “felt sense” of what is not yet in words.

Play with it!

Just do it. Explore your thoughts, or your feelings, in a Listening Partnership. Don’t worry about doing it right. Play with it.

You take turns, so that each one of you can have the space to hear yourself think, or feel. At the beginning, just take 15 minutes each.

You will get better at it with practice.

Thanks to Serge Prengel of activepause.com for developing this with me!

 

Thinking at the Edge for social and political activists

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 goals and values?

The old theories about how the world works don’t seem to hold water anymore.  Focusing and Thinking at the Edge help us develop new ideas based on our own lived experience.

Maybe after the march you have an inkling about something you’d like to make happen, or participate in, but you can’t quite put it into words. With Thinking at the Edge, you will be supported in listening to and valuing this inkling, based on your own life experience. Spacious listening allows your inkling to develop into something you can talk about and act on.

Thinking at the Edge involves tuning in to the bodily felt sense of your inkling. That’s called Focusing. I will help you get into Focusing if you are not familiar with it.

We need to step into our roles as courageous peacemakers now more than ever, so I want to make Focusing and Thinking at the Edge available to people involved in political and social change.

I’d love to give a free 2-hour introductory course in your community, so that you can see if you’d like to continue with a course which can be given either online or in person. Leave a reply below  and we will work something out!

Photo credit: Alma Har’el’s video of the I Can’t Keep Quiet choir

Focusing by the river

Saturday, June 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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.

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.

The workshop venue is a private home in Westmoreland, NH, 30 minutes northeast of Brattleboro. Directions given at time of registration.

Early bird price: $75 until June 20
$95 after June 20

Sign up by sending a comment below.

The felt sense is a wanting

“Don’t want too much,” the voices warned.

No. Want. Want life.

Want this fragile oasis of the galaxy to flourish.
Want fertility, want seasons, want this spectacular array of creatures,
this brilliant balance of need.

Want it. Want it all.
Desire. Welcome her raging power.
May her strength course through us.
Desire, she is life. Desire life.

Allow ourselves to desire life, to want this sweetness
so passionately, that we live for it.

Ellen Bass, “Live For It”

Creative thinking partnerships

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Serge Prengel of LifeSherpa.com. You can listen to the interview here.

We were talking about the joys and difficulties inherent in forming creative thinking partnerships. This is the first part of the interview.

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 I think 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.

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. And a lot of us 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. Things that bother us, where we feel a little lost or like outsiders–if we actually pay attention to them we will find our gifts there.

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.

Beatrice: 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.
Another way we could learn to go is to 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.

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.

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.

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.

Happy Easter

Resurrection was always meant to be felt as a continuing NOW deep in the cells of our bodies,

Where something so mundane

As simply pausing to own our feelings, in a caring way,

Could call forth,

From an eternal and timeless presence,

Such a PENETRATION of those cells,

That our changing body ITSELF, would become our spiritual companion and teacher.

–Fr. Ed McMahon

Fr Ed  shares his inspiring story in this 5-minute video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuCUVNQb1Hg

Thanks to Nada Lou for filming and sharing this video!