Tag Archive for: felt sense

Gendlin's A Process Model

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. 

Interaction first

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

 

Focusing addresses the mental health crisis

Addressing the worldwide crisis in mental healthcare

Focusing can help address the world’s mental healthcare crisis. People all over the world need mental healthcare and it is not available. The conversation about how to fill that need often ends with “We can’t possibly pay for it.” So people’s mental health care needs are not addressed. This is because the current treatment model relies on professionals with extensive training in mental health diagnostics and treatment. Clearly, we do not want to do away with the benefits of experienced therapists and the therapeutic relationship! However, not everyone needs that kind of help. In many situations, people just need someone who will listen to them without judgement, without giving advice or telling them what to feel. Focusers can do this. We help people listen to themselves in an empathic way. 

Focusing provides an atmosphere of inner freedom where learning can take place

Focusing Trainers are highly effective at helping people change their lives without any knowledge of diagnostics. Focusers see mental healthcare as a process of learning to listen to their bodily felt sense of situations. The body doesn’t lie. For that reason, learning to be aware of the bodily felt sense leads to increased self awareness, self empathy, and the ability to think more clearly about one’s situation. As a result, people with training in Focusing become more resourceful and resilient. Focusing Trainers provide an atmosphere of spacious listening and inner freedom where that learning can take place. 

Focusing training helps Salvadoran scholarship recipients stay in school

For example, In El Salvador, Focusing Trainer Heazel Martínez has been working with a grassroots organization, Nueva Esperanza. This Salvadoran NGO gives college scholarships to deserving young women from a troubled neighborhood. It also gives them leadership training, with the vision that the young women can become Community Healers. 

Low-cost Focusing sessions make scholarship program more effective

Scholarship recipients with traumatized backgrounds often have problems in college. Nueva Esperanza helps the young women create community in their neighborhood and provides loans for small business ventures and stipends for university expenses. The scholarship recipients also receive a Focusing and Listening session every other week, plus monthly workshops in Focusing and Nonviolent Communication. This is exactly what Focusing El Salvador is meant to do. Salvadoran mental health services are scarce and seeking help is stigmatized. In this situation, the kind of Listening that Heazel provides is transformative.

Focusing trainers can take pressure off of mental health care professionals

This is also an example of something that Community Focusing can offer the world.  The social worker at Nueva Esperanza has determined that two of the young women have mental health problems that require professional help. So those two are receiving professional mental health care. But the others are clearly benefitting from their individual Focusing sessions and classes. They don’t need professional help right now in order to move forward.

How Focusing training addresses the mental healthcare crisis

This shows one way that Focusing can address the mental healthcare crisis. Individual Focusing sessions and classes in Focusing and NVC can produce positive change without the traditional treatment mode. Moreover, learning Focusing and Listening give life-long tools that empower people to be in the drivers’ seat of their own lives.

Could this model help solve the mental healthcare crisis?

Let’s do an up-dated reality check on how the Nueva Esperanza model might work to address the crisis in mental healthcare. What do we call it? How do we present it? Is it a viable way of supplementing mental health services? Can we introduce the “triage” idea? A professional could determine who needs traditional mental health services and who could benefit from Focusing.

Adding Focusing’s embodied mental healthcare to programs that address material needs

The Nueva Esperanza example provides another compelling avenue for change: How can we embed Focusing within programs that address material needs but are missing the aspect of embodied mental health? How can we evaluate the progress of people who receive Focusing sessions and classes in addition to grants, scholarships and stipends? Perhaps the recent APA award recognizing Eugene Gendlin’s lifetime contribution could help this move forward. For Gene, Focusing is a human ability that anyone can learn, that can enhance and enliven any endeavor.

Creative thinking partnershipI recently had the pleasure of being interviewed about creative thinking partnership by Serge Prengel of ActivePause.com You can listen to the interview here.

The wordless, empty space is a bit disorienting at first.

Serge: We all are interested in thinking creatively, thinking outside the box, and yet, in the experience of it, when we have something difficult to resolve, we kind of tense up and that seems counterproductive. You’ve been thinking a lot about that kind of thing.

Beatrice: I have been thinking about it because I used to think I couldn’t think. We think that thinking is something that really smart people do, really creative people do, but not something we can do.
When I want to think about something what I notice at first is a space that feels empty. And probably for all of us that blank or empty, wordless space is a bit scary and disorienting because we want the words to be there. In school you are trained to be the one with your hand up, saying “Teacher, I’ve got the answer.” A place where there are no words is uncomfortable and strange.

Serge: Imagine the teacher and the little kid, and the teacher says “So, what is the answer?” and there is a perceived urgency and impatience, and the kid says “Uh, uh, I don’t know!” and that is really a very uncomfortable position.

We don’t conceive that we have a process, our own unique wiring, apart from what is being demanded of us on the outside

Beatrice: We don’t conceive that we have a process apart from what is being demanded from us on the outside.
It’s our own unique wiring. I remember Eugene Gendlin saying, if you don’t honor this and find out how to express it, your unique way of perceiving the world will die with you.

Often it seems that our unique gifts are our problems

A lot of people live without even knowing that they have a right to find out, “What is my way of perceiving the world? What insights come out of my unique wiring as a person?” We think those are our problems.

But I’ve learned from teaching Thinking at the Edge that the things that bother us, where we feel a little lost or like outsiders–if we actually pay attention to those very things, we will find our gifts there. A creative thinking partnership gives us a safe container in which to find those gifts. 

Serge: That is how we will find something that is original, that is us, rather than trying to buy it from the catalogue.

Beatrice: Yes, that’s thinking outside the box, but we don’t even have to let the box be defined by someone else. It’s thinking from who we are, our own experience, and then finding where that could be applied.

Serge: So if we want to really find something, find our original thinking, think outside of the box, there is going to be some degree of unease, discomfort, maybe even a little bit of pain in it.
By talking about it, we are validating that that’s the case–you can’t have access to it without going through that moment of disruption.

Welcoming the blank, wordless space

Beatrice: Yes. What is it that gets us through that blank space where we don’t know? We can easily slip into feeling “I don’t have the answer, I don’t know anything, I can’t do this.” That’s one way we could go.
But with Focusing, we learn another way to go. We can say “Oh, wow, here is this blank space without any words. I can welcome it, pay attention to it. I can ask someone to listen to me right there.” Because it’s hard to get into it all by yourself when you are just discovering this.

Serge: So it’s as if we have a map, and there are all these places with roads and forests and towns and then this area that is blank. We associate entering this area with signs that say “Danger! Wrong place! Difficult!” Instead we could say “Wow!”
It will be more difficult to navigate than if there were roads and signs, so that’s why it’s useful to have a person who helps us attend to this inner space.

Creative thinking partnership means listening in a special way

Beatrice: Explorers don’t go out into the mountains or the desert alone, they have their teams. Our listener is on our team.
It requires a very special kind of listening. This kind of listener doesn’t feel he has to intervene or come in with his own ideas or advice, or finish your sentence for you. Those are all aspects of the normal kind of conversation. This kind of listener welcomes the silence of the explorer.
“Oh, you’re in a place where you don’t have any words. Great! I’m right here with you. We’re exploring this together and I’m going to listen because I know that’s how you will move ahead.”
The listener doesn’t feel any responsibility for making this work, solving anything. The listener is there for the explorer.
Later they switch roles: the listener becomes the explorer and the explorer becomes the listener, so both have their turn.

Serge: One person could be exploring vast territories that are part of his or her inner landscape. Then the other person might be exploring a whole different landscape.

Beatrice: As the explorer becomes interested and receptive to his or her own inner space, things are going to start coming up. It’s only by doing this process that you can see how things start coming up out of this big nothing place.

The listener embodies the patience of planting a seed and letting it grow

Serge: Usually thinking is conceived as a solitary endeavor, where we are trying very hard to do something. We want to have answers and the blank moments are unpleasant, a failure. But if we didn’t have these blank moments, nothing new could happen. You can’t have a plant without the seed. We’re recognizing, Wow, what an uncomfortable and disturbing blank moment. That’s the seed.

Beatrice: You put the seed in the ground and nothing happens for weeks. You have to have faith. You can’t say “I planted my seeds yesterday and there is still no tree!”

Serge: For all we know, the seed might be dead and nothing IS going to happen. There is that aspect of the waiting as opposed to trying to dig harder. The listening, instead of trying to force anything or trying hard, is like watching the process, watching the ice melt, watching the tree grow. The listener exemplifies that and helps the explorer get it.

A creative thinking partnership session doesn’t take long

Beatrice: At first it sounds like it would take a lot of time that we don’t have. But if you are able to do this concentrated exploring with a good listener, 20 minutes is all it takes to get some breakthroughs.

Serge: When you start the process, it is very likely that neither you nor your partner will be very good at it or very comfortable with it. So it’s really learning by practice.

Beatrice: The whole attitude toward exploring these deserts and forests is one of interest, curiosity and openness to what we find there. Not a gotta-get-there, gotta-come-up-with-this kind of thing. Both on the part of the explorer and the listener there is an open spaciousness.
In our society we all have so much to do and if we slow down for a minute and pay attention to what is going on inside, the first thing we come to will say “You don’t have time to do this exploring, you’ve got to pay those bills.” We are in a rhythm of ‘what I gotta do.”
The first purpose of a listener is another human being who says “Hey, it’s OK for you to take 20 minutes out of your busy life to explore this something that you are interested in. Find out more.