A Process Model can show us how to describe Focusing in a new way.
All Focusers have the same problem: how to communicate what Focusing is. We can say “Focusing accesses the wisdom of the body.” Or “Focusing is a way of getting to know how you really feel.” If you have done Focusing, I’m sure you have thought about this and tried to put it into words, as I have over the years.
I’ve recently come to a new way of communicating what Focusing is. It’s based on A Process Model, which was Eugene Gendlin‘s way of explaining how there could be a world in which Focusing could exist, a world in which felt meaning could exist, a world in which human beings, with our strange and intricate felt senses, could exist. For Gendlin, the basic terms with which Western culture views reality make human beings seem impossible.
“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, p. 16
A Process Model vs. the Unit Model
Gendlin called the basis for today’s science and culture “The Unit Model”. In the Unit Model, things are observed and described as if a spectator is “here” and the thing described is “over there”. This allows us to analyze the units that make up what we see around us—the atoms and molecules that combine to form the chemicals, hormones and neurobiological impulses, et cetera, that animate the body and the world. Gene always stressed that this way of looking at the world is very necessary. It has allowed us to produce the technological and scientific achievements of the last 400 years. So we want to keep it, AND we need a different model to describe living processes.
The Unit Model is excellent for analyzing things, taking them apart and putting them together. But this does not work with what is alive. Gendlin holds that human beings ARE interaction. Interaction is not one person over here, with set characteristics, interacting with another person over there with set characteristics. No. He says each interaction determines who and how we are, because life is interaction.
Understanding life through different “environments”
To help us see the world in this new way, Gendlin asks us to consider the idea of different environments from which to look at the world. Because the notion of different environments is a new philosophical concept, he refers to them as “en”. The purpose is to keep this new concept from being confused with currently understood uses of the word “environment”.
In A Process Model, En #1 is the spectator’s view
Society’s current way of looking at life is from the standpoint of a spectator. I’m over here, looking at what is going on over there. Gendlin calls this Environment 1, or En #1. Spectators notice things that they can identify from their world. For instance, biologists will define a monkey’s environment in their own terms. Gendlin gives an example on page one of A Process Model.
“It is En #1 when scientists or hunters define the environment of an animal. They define the en factors…..The spectator’s bodies interact with [what they call] “the animal’s environment” — their own environment attributed to another living body.” —Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 1
Let’s pause and take that in. Doesn’t it seem that most of the troubles in the world today come when we take the spectator’s stance? Racism, sexism, bullying, lack of civil discourse, not to mention climate change, none of these acknowledge life as interaction. They result when we attribute what we are familiar with to another living body and expect that body to see, feel and experience life the way we do.
In A Process Model, En #2 is the interactive life process
Gendlin goes on to present an alternative to the familiar spectator’s stance. He calls it Environment 2, or En #2, where interaction IS the process of living.
“Body and environment are one event, one process. For example, it is air-coming-into-lungs-and-blood-cells. We can view this event as air (coming in), or as (a coming into) lungs and body cells. Either way it is one event viewed as en or as body. Here we are not calling it “environment” because it is all around, but because it participates within the life process…Air coming in and lungs expanding cannot be separate. The point is, we need not split between the lungs and air.” —Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 1
En #2 makes itself an environment in which life goes on further — En #3
Then Gendlin comes to Environment 3, or En #3. “The body is an environment in which body process goes on further.” The spider’s web is En #3. En #3 is where the spider finds what she needs to carry out her life process. And here, in En #3, is where Gendlin introduces the idea that we humans are the environment for each other.
“…the main “environment” of any animal is its species members, other animals like it.…..We must not take the physical environment as our basic model of environment although that too will often already be en#3…..En #3 is the cement you walk on, the mole’s hole, the beehive, the anthill, and our bodies and theirs. The life process (En #2) makes itself an environment in which it then goes on further. We can call it the “home-made” environment for the “domesticated environment”…en #3.” –Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 4
Providing the environment where living process can develop and grow
So here is my new way of saying what Focusing is:
Focusing means getting in touch with the felt sense of a situation and symbolizing it in words, gestures, sounds, images, colors, etc. The bodily felt sense of a situation is the body showing us where life is stuck and how it can move forward. Or it’s showing us something that wants to happen. When a felt sense is symbolized, it is “carried forward.” It incorporates more life.
Focusing involves Listening, not as a spectator, but as part of an interactive process. In that interaction, the Listener provides the spacious, non-directive atmosphere. The Listener provides the atmosphere in which the Focuser can Listen to all the voices inside, so that their life processes can develop and grow.
Focusing as En #3
Let’s notice when we fall into En #1, the spectator’s stance. It is so easy to forget that we are interaction first. If we see ourselves judging, or thinking that we know in advance what someone else will say, let’s pause and breathe and remember that we are each other’s environment. We can do that too with ourselves! We can step back and slow down and ask, how can I be an environment for myself in which my aliveness can develop and grow?
And what do I need to be able to support my aliveness during my daily activities? What do I need to ask for from others in order to feel more alive?
Thinking together at the edge
A wonderful example of this are the members of the Embodied Critical Thinking Program, who are developing the practice of thinking together, through Thinking at the Edge and in the process, inventing new ideas about education. Monika Lindner, a member of that group, described their work together like this:
“I start with and in myself, giving priority to my experiencing and that of each of my companions. I take into account each member’s situation, attending to their interests in a nurturing way. As a result, there is a connecting of each other’s ideas into a web of understanding more. Together, we create an atmosphere of sharing and receiving that allows ideas and projects to emerge.
“In the kindness held by the entire group, I connect more deeply with my ideas. I feel empowered and invited to develop further. It’s like growing together as a forest while becoming more the tree I am.” –Monika Lindner