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Eugene Gendlin on A Process Model

Focusing is a practice, not a theory. My friend Susana Alvarez from Argentina recently posted a saying that roughly translates to: “Communists until they get rich, lesbians until they get married, atheists until the plane starts to fall…”. I wrote back, “But Focusers forever.”

That’s because, by Focusing,  we tune into our own felt experiencing as long as we have bodies, to get our own body perspective on what’s happening.

Right now I am translating parts Marshall Rosenberg’s Speak Peace in a World of Conflict. I’m translating it into Spanish to be sure that I am faithfully transmitting his theory to my students in Latin America. His theories are extremely enlightening.

However, I have studied Gendlin. Therefore, I want to make sure that theories never become more important than the lived experience of my students.

AND, as Rob Parker points out in our Process Model class, it is also important to read a new theory with a humble mind, rather than thinking that one can discuss it from one’s own  philosophical stance. Once we have studied and understand the new theory, we can discuss it from within the new theory itself.

Theories are conceptual frameworks

Apparently Gene Gendlin used to entertain himself when he was young by absorbing various theoretical frameworks and seeing that he could out-argue proponents of those theories from within the frameworks they espoused. He could do it because he saw them all as “conceptual frameworks”, whether Marxism or evangelical Christianity, or what-have-you.

This awareness is so revolutionary! It could mean so much for peace if people could be taught from childhood to value their living experience rather than having to fit themselves into a theoretical structure.

Focusing and what it means and how to use it–all this grows as I grow. That’s why I can be a Focuser forever, within whichever theoretical framework I find helpful at the time. I am struggling to understand A Process Model. I want to understand Gendlin’s theory of what Focusing means and how it is possible. You can get a sense of Gendlin and of A Process Model from Nada Lou’s delightful 1998 video. But even if I don’t quite understand A Process Model, I do understand what Focusing is from having practiced it. So Focusing is practice, not theory, and as Gendlin says, A Process Model “is just a theory.”

When one tries to explain about experiential truth, or the knowing of the body, one runs up against philosophical constructs that are so much part of our culture that one doesn’t know how to speak without them. Constructs like a “body” that is separate from the “mind” that is separate from the “spirit” or “soul”. Concepts about “scientific, objective reality” as opposed to “what I know inside”. Our society honors and gives credence to scientific knowledge derived from breaking life down into “units”, as Gendlin calls them: neuropeptides, hormones, GABA receptors, etc. Gendlin does not diminish in any way the huge benefits that we have achieved by working from the “unit model” of the universe. But the “unit model” only works when things are divided up into their component parts.

Living things are interactive processes, so we need to adopt an additional way of seeing the universe in order to be able to address so many of the things that are going haywire because we have been dividing living things into units. How could we study life in a more relevant way?

A Process Model is Gendlin’s attempt to explain the world from a process oriented point of view. The book, A Process Model, can be quite difficult to understand if one is not steeped in the history of philosophy for the last several millennia. So Rob Parker, PhD leads a Process Model  class by phone. A well-known leader in the Focusing world, Ann Weiser Cornell, says “Friends don’t let friends read A Process Model on their own.” So I am starting Rob’s class today!

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 http://lifeforward.org/id2.html