The mango trees flourish behind the walls topped with razor wire

I see your eyes beautiful sister
your eyes tell me that we walk the same path

La lucha continúa
the struggle goes on

but with tears of love
with walls coming down
with hearts that are no longer afraid to feel what is there
say it
and receive what comes next

my life, my love, and the revolution
are not in separate boxes
one to be sacrificed for the other
one hidden away for the good of the other
one held up to prove my worth

my own confusing alienation
has led me step by step to share this sacred gift

our being human together
is the revolution

San Salvador

By Ruth Hirsch, MSW, MPH

Naomi was outwardly happy, active in her community and her children’s schools, and working part-time in a satisfying job when she came to see me. “I’d really like to get in shape, but just don’t seem to be able to stay on a diet, or get the exercise I know I need.”
Conventional wisdom would advise her to use willpower to “just stick to a diet.” Unfortunately, as most of us know, willpower alone simply won’t help us to accomplish many of the things that we’d like to in our lives. Despite knowing what might be “good” for us, it is as if there is another part inside that has other ideas.

In Focusing we find that by turning our attention to these other places, by showing them respectful curiosity and even compassion, they open up and share with us what is going on for them that has made them say no to what another part wants.
For Naomi, by listening to the parts of herself that did not want to go on a diet, she learned that they were scared of what losing weight might mean for her. So, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to diet per se, but that in their own way they felt that they were protecting her.
Once Naomi was able to hear this, to be curious about what this part was really scared might happen, to really take this in, and to show compassion to this place, staying on a diet became relatively easy for her.

In everyday living, we normally move so quickly that we are aware of only surface layers of our lives, the people, events, and such that are right in front of us. There is so much more that is important, that affects us in many ways, but we’re not consciously aware of. When we slow down a bit, we might have the sense of a vague feeling, perhaps sadness, anxiety, or a not so subtle feeling that something is missing, or even a wanting for something in our lives to be different. We usually brush these feelings away, determined to move forward, to not be sidelined by something that feels peripheral, or worse, that threatens to upset the balance of our already full lives.

We are all blessed with far more wisdom than we can access through our
conscious minds. Focusing is a body-oriented process we can use to access
deeper levels of knowing not readily accessible through our conscious minds
that involves a unique way of paying attention and listening to oneself and
to others; It involves shifting attention from the level of conscious
understanding to the vaguer edge of thinking/feeling/sensing.
The process of Focusing allows us to “see” and “hear” at increasingly deeper
and subtler levels within. We learn how to “listen” to our hearts, to our
souls, to our inner depths. Focusing promotes the deepening of understanding
of oneself and others, and thereby facilitates insight, healing and growth.
The process may be done alone, with a partner, or with a professional such
as a therapist, body worker, spiritual leader, or guide.

Focusing was developed by Eugene Gendlin , PhD, based on research into the question, “What leads to successful outcomes in psychotherapy?” Gendlin found that clients who connected with a vague edge of awareness progressed more rapidly in therapy. He developed the process of Focusing to allow others who do not do this naturally to be able to shift their attention in this way.

What does Focusing offer us that is different from other inner awareness
processes? Focusing differs in three important ways from many other
techniques that involve listening within in that it is:
1.      grounded in the body;
2.      a practical, specific process that may easily be learned. Essential aspects of the process include the important steps of acknowledging, accepting, and caring about whatever is present; and
3.      inherently a tremendously empowering process in that it involves “looking” directly at our inner experience. This differs from the general approach of western and nearly all alternative approaches to healing of trying to get rid of what is perceived as uncomfortable or otherwise unwanted feelings or physical sensations.

How does Focusing differ from mindfulness meditation? The goal of mindfulness meditation is to notice what is present in one’s consciousness, but not to engage with it in any other way. Just to notice. The process of Focusing takes mindfulness meditation several steps further to actually acknowledge, and then to be curious about and compassionate to all that we notice. The goal is to cultivate a positive inner relationship. That is, whereas the meditator’s goal is simply to observe what is present in the inner space, the Focuser engages in compassionate curiosity and active listening to whatever is present.

What results can you expect from Focusing? A few examples of some of the
many benefits include:
. Improved relationships;
. Inner peace;
. Clarity and ease in making decisions;
. Improved attention; and
. Enhanced spiritual growth and understanding.
Focusing “expands” our experience to allow us to feel more whole. Many
people have a dominant mode of experience. That is, our worlds are primarily
experienced on the intellectual, emotional, physical, or spiritual
dimension. The process of Focusing enables us to experience reality in a
more integrated way, which creates a more holistic, multi-dimensional
Focusing enables us to make peace with who we really are. So often we think
of ourselves in one way, but our bodies or emotions or spirit (or all
three!) seem to be drawn in different directions. Focusing is a process that
helps us come to a sense of ourselves that is more integrated.
The essence of Focusing is to be present in a compassionate and spacious way
with what is true in the body/mind/spirit at a given time. While the
Focusing process does involve specific steps, most important is not so much
the structure of the process. Rather, maintaining an attitude of kindness,
curiosity, patience, spaciousness, and general acceptance with whatever is
in us that wants to have our attention, to be “birthed,” is most important.
Focusing is a profound approach to honoring and understanding aspects of
inner experience that are often hidden from conscious awareness. Although
developed as a mind/body practice, Focusing offers a way to inform and
enhance our spiritual lives as well.

Suggestions for further reading:
Web Resources
The International Focusing Institute website:
The author’s website:
Books & Manuals
Cornell, Ann Weiser (1996). The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to
Emotional Self-Healing. California: New Harbinger Publications.
Gendlin, Eugene T (1986) Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams.
Illinois: Chiron Publications.
Gendlin, Eugene T (1981). Focusing. Second Edition. New York: Bantam Books.
Hirsch, Ruth G. (2010). Focusing Training Manual: Level One & Two. Second

“TAE stems from my course called “Theory Construction” which I taught for many years at the University of Chicago. Students came to it from many fields. The course consisted half of philosophy and logic, half of the difficult task of getting students to attend to what they implicitly knew but could not say and never considered trying to say. It took weeks to explain that the usual criteria were reversed in my course. Whereas everywhere else in the University only what was clear counted at all, here we cared only about what was as yet unclear. If it was clear I said “We don’t need you for this; we have it in the library already.” Our students were not used to the process we call “FOCUSING,” spending time with an observation or impression which is directly and physically sensed, but unclear. All educated people “know” such things in their field of study. Sometimes such a thing can feel deeply important, but typically people assume that it “makes no sense” and cannot be said or thought into.

“Oh,” one student exclaimed when he grasped what I was looking for, “you mean something about which we have to do hemming and hawing.” Yes, that was just what I meant.”

Eugene Gendlin, PhD

Today I had a welcome call from my longtime collaborator, Dr Juan Prado of México, DF. We ended up doing some Focusing. Here is what came for me:

Self empathy (Domain Focusing), or the Caring-Feeling Presence (Bio-spiritual Focusing), or Presence (Inner Relationship Focusing) are all ways of talking about the attitude of friendliness and openness to what we find inside. But often, when we come in contact with felt sensing for the first time, what we touch inside is an overwhelming physical sensation accompanied by a “Get me out of here!” feeling, and a direct line to all the voices that tell us how “lazy”, “uncentered”, “out in left field”, or just generally “wrong” we are. We have no practice finding the feeling that is “just me being me”.

This initial touching in can feel frustrating, tedious or panicky, as if by touching in to our bodies we are getting in touch with too much, or that there is nothing there. We are “merged” with the critical voices inside.

I remember Gene describing the critical voice and the “just me being me” voice as similar to two kids. One is bigger, older, more experienced and stronger than the other, like a 16-year-old with a four-year-old little brother. They have to be separated. Give the teenager some money to go buy a pizza with his friends, so you can spend some time with the younger, tenderer one, who maybe doesn’t have words yet, but has plenty of feelings and  beautiful life energy that is welling up, trying to be expressed. He has to be protected from being picked on by his big brother.

It came to me that before we can really give loving attention to difficult places inside, we have to cultivate our own right to exist and have our life separate from the multitude of powerful voices inside. That’s a process in itself.

Maybe it would help to remember a time “when I really felt like me”. It may be hard to get in touch with this experience.

I remember when I was at my first Thinking at the Edge seminar with Gene Gendlin, Nada Lou and Kye Nelson in 2004, I had a really hard time getting to Step 0, the place you start from. I wanted to think about how to go about my project in El Salvador, but we were supposed to start from “something we know”. I was baffled. It was the third day, and I hadn’t been able to get anywhere. I finally asked Nada for help. She took me outside in the sun and we sat on a stone bench in front of the Garrison Institute. Tears come to me now as I think of it. Her question was something like “When have you felt really alive, really felt like you?” The only answer I could come up with was “When I am singing the blues with a blues band.” She reflected that back to me in her charming Croatian accent with her sparkling blue eyes: “When you are singing the blooce…”

What the hell did that have to do with starting a project to teach Focusing to poor people in El Salvador? And yet there it started, from getting in touch with an instance of really feeling like I was expressing my aliveness.

There is so much energy in that tender shoot, that young child that may not be listened to by anyone else, but who wants so much to express all the life inside, and who may have been met with well-meaning adults whose duties are to train it, protect it, make sure it is disciplined enough to succeed, instill unshakable spiritual values in it–adults who may not take the time to just honor the special gift of life that each child brings. Tears come again. Just as we celebrate at Christmas, the child brings something new, something that is outside the old understanding, the old paradigm. If the adults didn’t know how to listen, we have to learn how to find it in ourselves.

it is that precious, wise child inside that can bring new energy and direction if we allow it to “just be me.”

Science tells us we are basically machines,
that consciousness, meaning, and spirituality are
Impossible…and yet…
Since we humans are here,
we can be certain that
we are not impossible.

A conceptual model of “reality”
that makes us seem impossible
has to have something wrong with it.

— Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, Chapter III

For a wonderful introduction to Gendlin’s philosophy, go to

This afternoon, 4 “empathizers” showed up on the daily conflict resolution call from 4-6. There was Jesse from North Carolina, Harald from Portugal, Jonathan from Scotland, and myself.

There were no “takers” for our services, so we ended up having a fascinating discussion for 2 hours.

The calls that Jonathan and Jesse have been in on had to do mainly with problems within the movement, like friction between protesters and homeless people who have been living in places that are now Occupy sites, or who have joined Occupy sites. Jesse pointed out that often this is the first contact protesters have had with the realities of poverty in the US. Also mentioned were dealing with the reality of winter coming and of inner resources wearing thin.

While admiration was expressed for the way the movement is self-organized and not willing to define itself yet in one way or another, there was also concern that there needs to be inquiry into what we DO want. Visioning needs to be done about the society we want to create.

Jesse observed that in the day to day necessities of survival in the camps, not enough time and attention go into connection to self, in ways that can renew inner resources AND lead to the visioning and thinking process. Those actively involved in the protests often have had no experience with the value of empathic listening or thinking from the felt sense.

If deep listening and thinking in new ways are not incorporated into the movement, there is the danger of easy enemies being targeted: there might be no real recognition of the part we all play in having created this societal and economic structure that doesn’t work anymore. We run the risk giving all our energy to “removing Mubarak” (in the US, the “one percent”) but having no real and lasting change.

We agreed that the kind of empathic listening that we offer can do a lot to facilitate the change that needs to take place.

We somehow need to build trust in our services and get people to experience the value of touching into what is emerging from inside, both to prevent burnout, ease pain and aid the new thinking process.

Jesse’s observation from listening to the protesters was that “a lot of the pain is from raw confusion of what to do next.”

From my perspective, it would be great if all the people familiar with Focusing and Thinking at the Edge could inundate the Occupy Wall Street groups, pencils in hand. It could go a long way to allowing fresh thinking and action to emerge.

It felt to all four of us that human interaction is uniquely central to these protests, and therefore those of us familiar with Focusing, NVC and other tools for peace really need to take our place as part of it. We need to let the protesters know that we are there for them not just when conflicts erupt, but also to listen deeply to their ideas, discomforts, and soul urgings, so that the movement can really express the richness it wants to bring to the world.

Focusing is a simple way of connecting with our deeper selves.  In the rush of our everyday lives it can be hard to reach inside and get a deeper sense of what we are truly experiencing.  It can be hard to reach beyond the habits that define our lives.  For me, focusing with another person creates a space, a shelter from the whirl of my own “shoulds” and the feeling that time is so limited.

When I am focusing it is as if time expands.  I really love that this is not therapy, it is self care and  helping each other.  I enjoy listening to another person’s process and I feel honored that my presence can make a difference.

Focusing is simple, basic self care at the deepest level.  It is a special way of connecting with other human beings.  In the time that we live in, stress fills us and it can be very hard to find peace with the turbulence within.  Focusing can help us find a valuable space to pause amongst the rush and look within.

How listening and being heard brings hope

“She just didn’t hope. Didn’t know how to begin to hope.
I imagine that after thirty years the machinery for hoping requires more than twenty-four hours to get started, to get into motion again…..

“And she was still groping, you see. She was still trying to find something which that mind which had apparently not run very much in thirty years, could believe in, admit to be actual, real. And I think that she found it there, at Hightower’s, for the first time: someone to whom she could tell it, who would listen to her. Very likely that was the first time she had ever told it. And very likely she learned it herself then for the first time, actually saw it whole and real at the same time with Hightower. “

–William Faulkner, The Light in August, Chapter 19

Focusing is what keeps me going. Checking with myself and getting a sense of how life is for me. When I feel that sense inside, I say “Oh, that’s what this is.”
Sometimes I can’t feel it right away. I need to pause and give myself some space.
Sometimes I need to ask a fellow Focuser to listen to me. I know that anyone who knows Focusing, anywhere in the world, will allow me the space to go inside and meet my felt sense.

It feels so good to be heard.
It feels so good to listen and hear what it is like for you inside your inner world.

The revolutionary thing about felt sensing is that I don’t have to believe anything, or think positively, or be spiritually or politically correct. Familiarity with my bodily felt sense gives me authority in my own world. And that grounds me and allows me to act in our world.