Listening in Focusing Partnership means protecting the Focuser’s birthing process

Watching leatherback turtles nest at night

I observed my first 5-foot long leatherback turtle laying her eggs about 30 years ago. Witnessing this ancient and sacred ritual, I felt somehow connected to these amazing reptiles. They have roamed the Earth’s oceans for the last 100 million years, and are now threatened with extinction. Nesting sea turtles are an apt metaphor for how to listen in a Focusing partnership.

The mother turtles emerge from the sea, where they are used to floating gracefully.  Once ashore they make their way slowly and clumsily across the sand until they find the place that feels right to dig their nests. The path made by their flippers looks like tractor treads on the beach. Nesting takes place after dark. Leatherback turtles lay about 110 eggs in a “clutch”, then return to the sea  by dawn.

Trained guides are familiar with the stages of the nesting process; observers may not approach until the mother turtle is so fully absorbed in laying her eggs that the observer’s presence will not disturb her. Flashlights, cameras, and video equipment are not allowed on the beach during turtle tours. Dark clothing is also recommended. 

There is something very similar when one is listening in a Focusing partnership.

A Focuser is like a nesting sea turtle

When starting a session, the Focuser talks about a situation until their felt sense tells them “Dig in here to find something new”.

At that moment, the Focuser must be protected in his or her process. As Jim Iberg describes in his article The Three Phases of Focusing, the Focuser is “parturient: bearing or about to bear young; bringing forth or about to produce something, such as an idea.”

When a mother turtle sees lights at night on the beach, she will often turn around and go back into the sea before digging her nest, thus the need for guides who understand her process.

The Listener keeps the Focuser from getting distracted

Focusers too can get distracted by the lights coming from other minds. Their bodies are calling them to dig down into their own tenuous and unclear truth. If disturbed at that moment, their relation to the subtle and hazy felt sense can be broken. Listening in a Focusing  partnership means protecting the Focuser from distraction.

After the Focuser as started to “lay eggs”, the Listener reflects back as faithfully as possible the words that are being born. The faithful reflecting back allows more new words and ideas to be born.

Domain Focusing

I am grateful to my friend and Focusing teacher Robert Lee, PhD for sensitizing me to the role of the listener in the different domains of the Focusing process. Now I teach Focusing Level One from the overview of Domain Focusing.

The Thinking Domain

The Focuser often has to talk for awhile to find the place where the felt sense invites him or her to “go in”. Effective Listening at this stage can involve reflecting back or summarizing just the main ideas expressed, so that the Focuser knows that the Listener understands. If the Listener really gets lost about what the Focuser is saying, it’s OK to ask a clarifying question so that the Listener and Focuser feel that they are on the same wavelength. But an intellectual understanding of the Focuser’s issue is not really necessary in order to foster the Focusing process.

The Felt Sensing Domain

The Listener reflects back the exact words that are coming from the Focuser’s felt sense. Usually the Focuser pauses and speaks more slowly than in the Thinking Domain. The Listener takes in the shape and texture of the words being born from the felt sense.

The Self Empathy Domain

Lack of self-empathy can block Focusing. That is why learning about self empathy is very important when learning how to Focus. Usually, experienced Focusers have their own ways of finding the right kind of empathy for themselves and don’t need to be reminded. They will notice when they come up against a place of self-judgment. However, if the process gets stuck, you might want to ask your partner if he or she can be friendly to what is coming up in the session. If your partner can’t be friendly, ask what kind of attitude they could have.

The importance of protecting the Focuser’s space even at the end of a session

Listening in a Focusing partnership means that Listeners should not bring in their own ideas and suggestions. Your ideas can be expressed if the Focuser clearly requests feedback after the session is complete.

One never knows what effect one’s words will have on someone who has recently given birth to an idea that only minutes before was held silently in the body. It is best remain silent so that the Focuser can fully experience the new place where he or she has landed.