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Today I learned of the passing of Mary Hendricks Gendlin, PhD, wife and creative partner in the development of Focusing and TAE, Eugene Gendlin.

From 2004-2006, when I was exploring teaching Focusing in El Salvador, Mary was one of my main encouragers. She raised money for the project, and sent me off with a number of Focusing books in Spanish. In those years, she really was the heart and soul of The Focusing Institute, helping many people launch new projects.

It was a great loss to the community as Parkinson’s disease took its gradual but devastating toll, and she became less and less able to interact with us and to give all she was capable of giving.

She, Gene and Kye Nelson developed the Thinking at the Edge, the amazing practice that I now teach. Gene couldn’t see how to develop a process that would allow felt sensing and thinking to happen together, but Mary knew there had to be a way, and made sure that they stuck with it until the steps were in place. I am eternally grateful to the three of them for persevering in creating this beautiful system.

When my mother died suddenly, I felt her spirit, huge, vital and beyond the bounds of personality. I wish that for Mary now. Mary, may your spirit NOW be free.

 

the intricate ongoingness inside of life

“You need to stand again in your own experiencing … in your own felt ongoingness, which is that intricate complexity inside of life … to put into the world
what hasn’t been said yet, that you are carrying from your particular experience.
 
—Eugene Gendlin

Going into my experiencing. What does that mean? For most of my life, I thought I had to fit myself into the systems that other people had thought or written. True, I can’t hold onto ideas in a rigorous way. But thanks to my dear Gene Gendlin, developer of Focusing and Thinking at the Edge, I know how to go into my own knowing from “experiencing“. Knowing from experiencing is at a different level than intellectual smarts. In fact, some intellectually smart friends of mine become imprisoned in their intellect. The maelstrom of air-tight arguments leaves no space for who they are, for their own wantings, for the longings of the soul. So the smartness becomes a source of suffering and self-rejection. I want to extend my hand and say, “We are so much more than that!”

Right now I am dealing with three forms of software that I hoped would make my work more effective. But that’s not what is happening. So I am going to spend some time today going back to my felt sense of what I want to be doing. That brings me to something Gendlin has helped me to grasp. My goals evolve with my interactions. Since I started learning the software, I have had some real life experiences that show me what I love, what fulfills me, what I want more of. So today, I will stop and let my ideas catch up to my “experiencing”: my own felt ongoingness, which is that intricate complexity inside of life.

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.”

Dealing with stress

Dealing with stress by becoming aware of the patterns held silently in our bodies

Listening to stress helps in dealing with stress. Just got this letter from a participant in our online class in Thinking at the Edge (TAE). It feels very fulfilling to have this feedback. It speaks to my vision, many years ago, of why I wanted to switch from being an acupuncturist to a Focusing teacher. I deeply respect acupuncture and what it can do. Acupunture is my first choice when I have a physical problem that I am not able to handle myself. But we can improve our health by becoming aware of the patterns held silently in our bodies. I am grateful to Sue for wanting to share her story. I publish it here with her permission.

“In your  online seminar in Thinking at the Edge (TAE), specializing in Giving Language to Stress, I learned a huge amount about how I carry stress. I have been a lifelong stress suppressor, so wasn’t very aware of the way stress manifested itself in my body. 

We deal with stress in ways that are unique to each of us

“The notion that we all carry stress in ways that are unique to each of us–this notion was most helpful. Of course, what we stress about is also unique to each person. I learned that, for me, stress was activated by being caught by surprise, or shocked, in some interpersonal interaction. Being caught off-guard would prevent my ‘internal editor’ from checking or inhibiting my real, authentic response. My internal editor didn’t want me to experience disapproval, anger, or worse from other people.

“This was intricately intertwined with a severe lack of assertiveness. I was doing Conflict Management in my Counselling course, and observed how hard it was for me to be assertive. This puzzled me, as I am very articulate and can argue my case well in many situations. Your course showed me that I become inarticulate when caught unawares, or when I’m uncertain of potential responses.  This all happens at a very unconscious level. My ‘internal editor’ was protecting or guarding me, so non-Focusing approaches didn’t make much headway.

A safe way of listening to stress

“This was one of the other benefits of TAE. The structured nature of the steps helped me feel safe. I could look at my stress in a way that was less identified with the ‘blocking’ part.

“Using the step of taking a situation that triggered stress, and stepping back to look at the patterns in this and other stress situations, really brought my ‘internal editor’ into clear view.  This response-suppression pattern consumes an enormous amount of energy, and is stress-inducing in and of itself! The cost of not being authentic is huge.

“Before your class, I started going to a great chiropractor, who tested my adrenal function. This involved placing a heart rate monitor on my chest, and then simply having me stand up from lying down. This sophisticated software, used by cardiologists, reads the body’s response to this effort. Around 1000 was normal – my graph was basically flat-lining! The chiropractor asked me whether I had been under huge stress, and back then, my answer was no. I just didn’t recognize it!!

Better adrenal function, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar

“So, a couple of years later, post your TAE course, and some good supplements (Adrenotone by Metagenics), as well as a couple of Focusing partnership session a week, my levels are up round 600+. In addition, a recent blood test showed my usually very high cholesterol levels – 7-8+ (family pattern) had dropped 2 points, as had my blood sugar levels.

“I attribute this to Focusing, and I’m very grateful to your TAE and Stress course for being the precursor to these great bodily improvements. Your course opened up the whole area of stress, and the way it manifests in me. It has allowed me to release a lot of those blockages to living and feeling, authentically.”                                                                                                      –Sue Burrell, Sydney, Australia

Want to find out more about dealing with stress? Contact Beatrice for a free consultation.

Snowden and the felt sense

Citizenfour won an Oscar for best documentary of 2015

A felt sense feels right despite the uncertainty of the circumstances. This illustrated in the documentary Citizenfour, a quiet, thoughtful, inspiring film about the week in June 2013 when Edward Snowden turned over thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in a Hong Kong hotel room. Snowden was a contractor with the National Security Agency. He had become increasingly concerned about global surveillance programs run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecommunication companies. He wanted US citizens to know that their data was being turned over to the government, as it would be in China. 

“…every time you wrote an email, every time you typed something into that Google search box, every time your phone moved, you sent a text message, you made a phone call … the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment were being changed. This was without even the vast majority of members of Congress knowing about it. And this is when I start to think “Maybe we need to know about this, maybe if Congress knew about this, maybe if the courts knew about this, we would not have the same policies as the Chinese government.” *

Snowden had tried to raise his ethical concerns through internal channels at the NSA but had been ignored. He knew that he had to set up his revelations very carefully. Instead of the more random Wikileaks style, Snowden chose to turn his information over to Greenwald and Poitras, principled journalists who had, themselves, been subjects of surveillance. He trusted that they would not sensationalize the issue. He hoped that his revelations would open the subject for public debate.

By hoping to alert Americans to their loss of freedom, he was setting himself up to lose his freedom completely

When they met for the first time in Snowden’s hotel room, Poitras asked if she could film their interaction. We witness their first uneasy meeting. Snowden deals quietly and poignantly with having left his partner of many years, his job, and his family without having revealed to them any of his plans. He has stepped out into an action space, not knowing what would happen next.

Greenwald’s initial article was published in the Guardian, then Poitras’s article was published in the Washington Post. The next day, Snowden followed his plan to reveal his identity. He wanted people to know that the information was coming from a concerned citizen and not from some unpredictable rogue entity.

In the first part of the film, we get to know William Binney, a mathematician/cryptologist who devised a lot of the data-intercepting methods that are used today by the government. Binney had expected that his inventions would be used in a way consistent with the US constitution. However, he saw that after 9/11, data intercepting systems were used to track everyone, indiscriminately. He resigned on October 31, 2001 after 30 years with the NSA. The FBI interrogated Binney after he contributed to a 2005 New York Times exposé on warrentless eavesdropping. In July 2007, the FBI, raided his home. They confiscated his computer, discs and personal and business records. Citizenfour also documents congressional hearings and court cases in which NSA officials flatly deny or deflect surveillance charges. Snowden had a lot of examples of what can happen to people who protest NSA policies. 

To see someone put his life on the line like the 29-year-old Snowden, is quite compelling. We follow him day by day until his escape to the office of the UN High Commission on Refugees and his eventual exile in Russia. 

A cinematic example of felt sensing

I am interested in cultural examples of felt sensing. The slow, sensitive nature of this film shows Snowden listening to a felt sense. The felt sense can often be at odds with practicalities, but it leads to an inner sense of congruence and truth. 

From minute 56 to 58 of the film, there is a moment that illustrates what a felt sense can look like. After the journalists have revealed his identity (but not his whereabouts) to the media, Snowden gets some worrisome news from his girlfriend about government efforts to find him. He stands up, walks to the window, and stares silently outside for awhile.  Then he turns and says “It’s an unusual feeling that’s kind of hard to describe or convey in words. Not knowing what’s going to happen the next day, the next hour, the next week, is scary….. but at the same time it’s liberating. The planning comes a lot easier because you don’t have that many variables to put in play. You can only act and then act again.”

Here are the elements of felt sensing that you can see in these two minutes from Citizenfour. Snowdene pauses and senses inside as he stares out the window in silence. He notices a feeling that is hard to put into words. Like many of the most dynamic felt senses, it is multifaceted and paradoxical in nature. On one hand, the uncertainty of his situation is scary. On the other, it’s liberating. He is no longer planning things in his head. He knows he must just act, then act again.

Felt sensing can never be done by computers

This is why I teach Focusing and Thinking at the Edge. Not all of us have Edward Snowden’s courage and commitment to act on our conscience in a public way as he did. And yet we have many felt senses every day. Paying attention to our felt sense can help us act with integrity in situations large and small. In Citizenfour, we can see the simplicity and the clear direction that happens when Snowden gives expression to his implicit knowing. The felt sense feels right, despite the uncertain circumstances. 

As a species, we need to develop and trust this innately human felt sensing capacity. We all have it, and we can learn how to listen to it. Felt sensing can never be done by computers. It is not based on “the numbers” of probability. The felt sense gives us access to the whole of our situation, in all its implications, so that we can act as human beings.

Felt sensing helps us pay attention to what makes us human. Our humanity must always balance technology. Felt sensing reveals new and relevant truth, and when it does so, we feel free, liberated. Balancing our inner truth with our technological knowledge enables us to find new possibilities, far beyond probabilities that depend on what has gone before.

*Here’s a link to a recent interview with Snowden.

 

Focusing and Nonviolent Communication are inter-related.

NVC brings the awareness of beautiful human needs and how naming and blaming divert us from expressing what we need. Then Focusing can give us insight into ways that we can fulfill that need.

The bodily felt sense that is at the center of Focusing practice, shows us what our needs are, if we learn how to pay attention in a kind and gentle way. Giraffe language teaches us to look for feelings and needs instead of  judging, analyzing, diagnosing, giving advice, etc.

Focusing teaches how  to listen beyond  concepts and theories, to what is real inside us. In the Netherlands and the UK, I shared simple NVC games that we use in El Salvador to teach Listening, self empathy, implicit intricacy (the many-faceted nature of the bodily felt sense of a situation), resonating between words and the felt sense, and that the Focuser is the one who knows what he or she is feeling.

Participants felt that these games were helpful for themselves and in their work.

Many thanks  to Harriet Teeuw of  Nijeholtpade, Friesland; to Erna de Bruijn and Christine Langeveld of Focus Centrum  Den Haag; and to Mohamed Altawil and David Harod of the Palestine Center in Hatfield, UK, for arranging these workshops for me. And thanks to Harriet and René for making it possible for Nicolas Areiza from El Salvador to attend the weeklong training in Being Seriously Playful. It was a transformative experience for all!

The photo is of psychologist and woman-of-the-world Branca Sa Pires of Portugal modeling the giraffe ears I made.

Last night I had a long conversation with my son, who is 25 years old, and works as a civil engineer for a large project that is redesigning and revamping the water drainage system of a major US city. His department is responsible for looking at traditional water drainage projects and adding “green” components, like water- permeable pavement that filters rain water instead of shunting it off into drainage systems, or “rain gardens”: areas planted with native species that are watered by the flow of the drainage system and thus filter the water and retain some of it as well.

His department looks for where these innovative green systems can fit into already-planned public works. Naturally, his department encounters resistance and complaints when they suggest their green innovations, because the traditional engineers are not used to working with natural systems like rain and plants, or thinking about permeable pavement, etc.

Dan told me that when he encounters this kind of resistance and rivalry between his department and the “sticks and bricks” engineers, he remembers that in Nonviolent Communication, everyone is acting from their needs. They are not “enemies” or “difficult people”. He said his department relies on him to go downstairs and deal with the “sticks and bricks” engineers, because he knows how to listen to them, find out what their needs are, and communicate those to his department and vice versa. He said that he was surprised by the amount of strife and “talking behind each others backs” that he encountered in both the engineering jobs he has had, and that listening to people’s needs helps him get around all that and makes it easier to get things done.

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
experience.
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: http://www.focusing.org/
The author’s website:  http://www.ruthhirsch.com
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
Edition.

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