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Focusing partnership and truth

“Currently philosophers recognize that formulations [articulations, expressions, statements] don’t stand alone, but this fact has them stuck. Much worse — the current understanding is that there is no truth at all, no values either, because people still think that if the attempts at a single truth contradict each other, then there isn’t any truth at all. 

“Knowing Focusing, of course you don’t think that there is no truth just because there is a variety of stated truths. Rather, you know, perhaps without having thought about it, that truth consists in one or more RELATIONSHIPS between what is stated and…..[what we call] “experiencing”, but it would be better to say “experiencing, situation, the body, our interactional living, “…” Still better, just call it dot dot dot.” 

                             — Eugene Gendlin,  A Philosophical Car for Focusers, 1999 Model

The felt sense leads us to a new “place”, where our understanding of the original issue is no longer what it “was”.

When we know Focusing, we go inside and follow the unclear  “something”, the dot-dot-dot. This is the bodily felt sense of a situation or issue or feeling that we want to explore. As we follow the felt sense with our inner listening, it changes and develops, leading us to a new “place”. In this new place, our understanding of the original issue or situation or feeling is no longer what it “was”.

The vital presence of the Listener

The Listener provides protected time and space for the Focuser to accompany the felt sense as it develops and unfolds into meaning. The revealed meaning makes sense directly to the Focuser. It feels true. 

The Listener wordlessly receives what the Focuser says. If the Focuser requests it, the Listener repeats back what the Focuser expresses as s/he experiences each new development. The Listener’s vital presence helps the Focuser to stay inside and follow what is happening.

To foster this world-changing process toward truth, Listeners put aside all opinions, ideas, suggestions — all attempts to be “helpful”. The Listener is in receptive mode, receiving the meaning that is being revealed to the Focuser.

What is needed along the road to truth

In Focusing partnership, the Listener doesn’t have to understand the details, the “story”, or the context behind the Focuser’s expressions. The Listener relaxes into knowing that the felt sense is leading the Focuser along the road to truth. Both partners honor what the felt sense does as it develops and reveals meaning. This knowing and honoring grows by experiencing the Focusing process for oneself.

Gendlin's A Process Model
The “kindness” fostered by Thinking at the Edge

I recently attended the Gendlin Center’s online symposium, Saying What We Mean. At the gathering, the Embodied Critical Thinking project (ECT) demonstrated how they create an environment in which meaning can be expressed and grow.

The group uses Thinking at the Edge (TAE) as one of their tools. Until now, I have thought of TAE as primarily an individual endeavor, to be protected from what Gendlin called “group process”.  However, more and more, I see the spacious listening of TAE engendering an atmosphere of group connection and creativity. TAE listeners are carefully trained to respect and protect each member’s ideas, so they have a different orientation than regular groups. Monika Lindner of the ECT, says that TAE fosters a unique “kindness.”

We ARE each other’s environment

I was fascinated by Monika’s presentation as part of the ECT panel, where she said “We ARE each other’s environment.” We need to understand this new group process.  For that reason, I am sharing Monika’s ideas here:

“The kindness of Thinking at the Edge in a group is soft and strong. It comes through noticing my own and others’ interests, wantings, curiosities and desires to develop further. This kindness patiently attends to each interest that is brought forward, in order to empower the voice of each group member. Listeners hold the uncertainty of on-going exploration, as well as the warmth that comes with each bit of clarity. We invite interests to appear and be born into relevance in every given moment.

“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.

Growing together as a forest while becoming more the tree I am

“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.

“The kindness of Thinking at the Edge comes from these basic elements of Focusing:

  • pausing, sensing the body and its implying
  • sharing something that matters to you and having others listen
  • having the time and space to find words for what matters
  • others say carefully back what they heard. At the same time they are in touch with what wants to be said and formulated further
  • knowing that your listeners are resonating with what you say through their own living process
  • knowing that there is no judgment, offense, pressure or need to defend or explain in order to be understood. Words are even allowed to be poetic, unique and unusual.

Creating a changed pattern of collaboration with Thinking at the Edge

“Experiencing such an atmosphere creates a changed pattern of collaboration. But so often, in academia and education, teachers and students don’t have that atmosphere.  Logics other than ‘interaction first’ create and structure the environment. What counts in most academic environments is outcome, testing, and repeating predefined tasks and knowledge. “Education” usually ignores the body’s needs–it limits accepted body postures and, more importantly, it is unaware of how the bodily felt sense can contribute to free and critical thinking. Philosopher Eugene Gendlin’s concepts, such as en#2 and en#3, and behavior space, can open up a precise understanding, not only for how we create our own environment but how we ARE each other’s environment.

Being the environment that helps students open to the living place inside them

“What if I follow the thesis that we are each others environment? I imagine myself as being my students’ environment and not “the boss“ or the guide or the professional one.

“The kindness of Thinking at the Edge can become a professional attitude. According to Gendlin, thinking is “successively selecting symbols for present felt meaning”. This supports the unfolding of ones interest and its implying.  Such kindness leads to generative interaction: connecting by listening, saying back, pausing, holding uncertainty, protecting vulnerability, sensing into the yet-unformulated felt quality. As an educator I can chose to BE that environment through engaging students to notice their experiencing. I can help them open up to more understanding and development from this living place inside them.”

Please click on our names if you’d like to tell us about something here that resonates for you. Monika and Beatrice.

Bibliography
Gendlin, E.T. (1997). Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, p 162

Thinking at the Edge

What is life calling you to do?

This online course in Thinking at the Edge will help you appreciate, enjoy and revel in your unique way of being. Your deepening relationship with felt sensing will enable you to let go of old ways of thinking and step into the urgings of the soul.

You’ll have the time and space to delve into the ideas and information that come through your body, your lived experience. You’ll explore the ways you connect with the world, the universe, nature and other people. You will gravitate toward your gifts. As your flower unfolds, your idiosyncrasies might even start to make sense!

My kind of TAE could be called ‘Living from Who You Are’

Eugene Gendlin developed Thinking at the Edge in collaboration with his partner, Mary Hendricks Gendlin. Gendlin challenged the world to bring human experiencing into thinking and theory construction. Thinking at the Edge is a truly revolutionary practice! It holds promise for healing the huge rift between science and spirituality, inner and outer, thinking and feeling, etc. Gendlin talks about it in this 5-minute video

TAE grounds you in your lived experience so that you can better express who you are and what comes through you.  You will return to the felt sense of a chosen theme over and over again, leading you to a deeper understanding of your own intricacy. Your felt senses become even more trusted and useful guides.

You will experience Gendlin’s steps 1 to 10 in class and practice them with fellow students between classes. At the end of the course, there will be the opportunity to continue your process in collaboration with your new TAE companions. 

Comments from recent participants

Judy Allen, UK:

“This well-organised and supported course provided a sense of security that had tangible and completely positive outcomes for me. 

“We did not follow the TAE steps in order but went straight to our own experience. This was key to the positive outcome.

“Beatrice is a quiet presence, encouraging sharing by her responses. She knows when to gently intervene in the group learning and does so with consideration to the benefit of all.

“This class brought a whole new dimension to Focusing as well as TAE. I feel I really ‘got’ it. I am inspired to study the process as it stands and contemplate ways in which it could best be disseminated to a wider, possibly non-Focuser audience.”

Phil Bender, US:

“I entered TAE seeking clarity on what I thought was a specific intention. TAE made me more aware of the impetus of the felt sense behind (or inside) that desire. I could feel its inner energy–it had a trajectory.

“I came out of TAE not so much with a blueprint on how to move forward but with tools for being in relationship with a deeper stream in me. Developing the relationship with this felt sense, and honoring it with time and patience, has led to shifts in my life that are conspiring to bring forward what I wanted from TAE at the beginning.” 

Helen Bryant, UK:

“TAE supports the opening of a chosen Felt Sense into learning that only you and your connection with Life can experience. It is a deeply personal enquiry but is grounded in the support of both Gendlin’s  steps and a group of fellow students. Most importantly, you will be guided by Beatrice Blake; a wise, warm and very experienced fellow traveller.

“Your process might start with the Felt Sense of a glimpsed/half forgotten ‘knowing’ or a theme that calls you. TAE is a further stage of Focusing requiring a certain courage; you may feel disturbance as a new perspective/level of consciousness is born, but it is also deeply affirming of your connection to Life in all its manifestations.” 


If this resonates with you, please sign up for a free consultation.

Dates and times:

Dates: Thursdays, November 4, 11 and 18, December 2, 9 and 16 (skipping Thursday, November 25)
Times: 5 p.m. Eastern, except for the class on November 4, which will start at 6 p.m.)
(Friday mornings at 9 a.m. in Sydney)

Find your time zone here: http://www.thetimezoneconverter.com

To join, please submit the contact form below.

Investment:

US$295 per person for six 2-hour sessions
Classes are limited to 6 people, so it’s best to sign up early!
Payment can be by check or PayPal. Payment details will be given at enrollment.

The implicit carried forward

Facilitator:

Beatrice Blake, Certifying Coordinator with The International Focusing Institute. For more information or to sign up, contact me for a free consultation.

Photo credit: https://www.carriebakerphd.com/photography
Thinking at the Edge

Thinking at the Edge is empowering

Thinking at the Edge (TAE) empowers us because it shows us how to think and speak from what we know from living.  Teaching TAE brings me joy and faith in the future of humanity. I love to see the smiles on my student’s faces as they discover their own ability to generate ideas from their experience.  

In this article, first I’ll lay out the problems with the common concept of what thinking is, then I’ll attempt to explain the new way of thinking that happens in Thinking at the Edge and give some examples. Next, I’ll show how Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit takes us beyond the helplessness and despair of Postmodern philosophical theories that deny that we can say what we mean. After that, I’ll give an example of how Thinking at the Edge has empowered me. Finally, I’ll give you a short guide on how to practice TAE for yourself.

What is usually meant by “thinking”?

Somehow, we think (feel, are accustomed to the idea, believe) that only very smart people or “experts” can think (formulate valid ideas, propose realistic solutions, understand what is going on). I have often felt that I was incapable of thinking (coming up with new ideas, understanding the big picture, knowing what would work). 

In the above paragraph, I have offered many different meanings for the word “think”. Post-modern Deconstructionist philosophers like Derrida have convinced society that words can no longer have meaning. Of course we can still look words up in the dictionary and find the meanings that are currently agreed upon. But we need new understandings. New words and phrases allow us to say new things. For instance, the meaning of “to think” has all the above meanings and many more, but the agreed-upon meanings do not contemplate the empowerment to think and speak that happens in Thinking at the Edge. 

What do I want “thinking” to mean?

I’ll attempt to define “thinking” in terms of Thinking at the Edge. First, you notice something you know but cannot yet put into words. There is a subtle bodily felt sense of this. You can learn to notice and describe the felt sense instead of skipping over moments when you struggle for words. You’ll learn to welcome it with openness and receptivity. When you welcome the bodily felt sense of something that has no words, it responds to your interest. Words, phrases and images start to come. The felt sense will offer you examples of times when you have experienced the knowing you are trying to articulate.

At first, especially, it works best to have a listening partner who accompanies you in this space, writing down what you say.  It doesn’t take long: usually a 20- to 25-minute session is enough to make some steps in the process. Further sessions will enable you to speak about what was previously unclear. 

Examples of felt sensing

Here are some examples that are similar to the felt sensing you use in Thinking at the Edge. You might recognize them.

  • An artist senses what color is needed next in a painting.
  • An actor immerses himself in a character. That feeling guides his portrayal.
  • A mother senses something in her child’s demeanor that tells her the child is becoming ill.
  • A musician ‘hears” the notes and chords that will convey a certain feeling.
  • A coach senses that one of his players has a problem, even though nothing has been said. 
  • Authors “love their characters”. From that love and receptivity comes an unfolding of what each character will do or say in a situation, and that in turn influences the course of the novel.
  • A gardener senses that a plant needs something, but cannot put her finger on it at first.

Once we have a felt sense, it can dialog back and forth with our intellect. As that dialog happens we must make sure that the felt sense is not left out.

Deconstruction can now be seen as making way for something new

Post-modern ideas like Deconstructionism have lead to a kind of helplessness, stagnation and despair. They make it seem that true communication is not possible. But Eugene Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit, and its practice, Focusing, open up new realms that value and validate human experience in the creation of meaning.

Instead of trying in vain to agree on the lowest common denominator and impose definitions on experience, human experiencing can enrich meaning and make words more relevant to our situations.  We can actually pay attention to our experience instead of wondering automatically “Is it just me?” Thinking at the Edge empowers us to open up relevant meaning instead of imposing outside, publicly agreed-upon definitions.  When there is space to explore the experiencing behind words, real thinking and communication start to happen. 

How Thinking at the Edge has empowered me

Teaching TAE has shown me that I can think from what I have lived. For example, if I am looking at the subject of “communication”, I can 

  • Notice and name my own experiences. 
  • Acknowledge gaps in my understanding and, instead of skipping over them, go into them, explore them. 
  • Recognize what blocks communication, separating us and diminishing us.
  • Concentrate on communication that connects, validates and encourages us.

It reminds me of the Quakers, who stood up for the right to experience God in their own ways, by waiting in silence for the Light. They had no patience for “steeple-houses” (churches) and priests, the accepted ways of connecting to God. 

It also reminds me of the recent revolution in music distribution. Now everyone can hear “their” music through Pandora, Spotify, etc. As a result, the record labels and radio stations no longer determine what we can listen to.

Thinking at the Edge empowers us to make our own thought connections, based on experience.

It’s time for us to learn about our own capacity for generating new ideas

“…I am very aware of the deep political significance of all this, People, especially intellectuals, believe that they cannot think! They are trained to say what fits into a preexisting public discourse. They remain numb about what could arise from themselves in response to the literature and the world. People live through a great deal which cannot be said in the common phrases. People are silenced! TAE can empower them to speak from what they are living through.”  —-Eugene Gendlin, Introduction to Thinking at the Edge

Right now, people are living through unprecedented situations. It becomes clear that economists and politicians, spiritual leaders, even scientists, don’t know the answers. This is an opening for new ideas, new ways of doing things. This moment is offering transformation. We need to empower ourselves to think and communicate from a generative place in order to meet the opportunities that might not come again.

Empower yourself with Thinking at the Edge 

Do you skip over moments where words are difficult to find?
Do you try to complete someone’s sentence when they struggle to express themselves?
Try welcoming those moments
. Here’s how:

  • First of all, take time to slow down right there and breathe.
  • Don’t strain your brain.
  • In that moment of pausing and relaxing, notice if there is a place in your body where the thing you are trying to express “lives”.
  • Next, describe how it feels in your body. It could be a pressure or tightness, a vague cottony feeling, a slight discomfort, a subtle feeling of excitement, an image, or many other subtle sensations.
  • Patiently go there and be with that place with interest and receptivity
  • You might feel it start to unfold into the words you were seeking. 

Find out more about my online classes in TAE.

Thinking at the Edge (TAE) has helped me move from feeling powerless about climate change to a place of hope, with clear steps ahead that feel right for me.

My TAE process developed into how to position myself before any storm on the horizon, not just climate change. So I feel like I’m ready to go with coronavirus, straight into action, without the weeping and wailing. Action, in the instance of corona virus, means:

I am moved and grateful to Merilyn Mayhew of Sydney, Australia for this rich essay on her transformational process in my 7-week online class in Thinking at the Edge (TAE). Merilyn and I want to share her story of how TAE led her from helplessness to hope on climate change. This attitude has extended to her actions around COVID-19 as well:

Listening for Feelings and Needs in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can lead to felt sense formation. For that reason, it’s useful to use Nonviolent Communication as a doorway to Focusing, especially if you are not used to the idea of self empathy.

Jackal language and Giraffe language

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps us notice when we are speaking Jackal language, i.e. naming, blaming, diagnosing, trying to prove who is right and wrong, etc.  NVC encourages us to speak Giraffe Language:

  • First, you describe an interaction without evaluating it.
  • Next you turn inward to notice your own Feelings and Needs.
  • Then you listen empathically to the Feelings and Needs of others.
  • As a result of knowing your Needs, you can make requests of yourself or others to meet your needs.

You can easily see the big difference in the two languages, right?

The Revolutionary Pause–an opportunity to decide which language we want to speak. 

When there is a conflict, the Revolutionary Pause is an opportunity to decide which language to speak. It’s difficult to pause in daily life! But after the initial difficulty, you’ll start to see what a difference the pause can make. You’ll start noticing when you are making statements that imply judgements and blame. Then you’ll start to notice the way you have been judging yourself! This helps you open to the notion of empathy toward your own inner world. As you start listening to your own Feelings and Needs, you’ll already be in levels 4 or 5 of the Experiencing Scale: http://www.experiential-researchers.org/instruments/exp_scale/exp_scale_long.html

Noticing our Beautiful Human Needs

In NVC, our Beautiful Human Needs are seen as something that unites us as human beings. A Beautiful Human Need is defined as “vital energy that motivates us to act and to grow.” This concept is new for most people, experienced Focusers as well as non-Focusers. Listen to your Beautiful Human Needs and how they feel inside. This lays the groundwork for you to notice naturally-arising felt senses.

Beautiful Human Needs can be physical or emotional, such as the needs for safety, respect, connection, authenticity. There are many more Beautiful Human Needs. We feel angry, resentful, sad, fearful, etc. when our needs are not met.

According to Nonviolent Communication theory, other people are not responsible for how we feel. Our Needs, met and unmet, give rise to how we feel. Everyone is trying to meet their Needs. Sensing into our own Needs and listening for another’s Needs, helps us understand each other’s motivations.

Listening for Feelings and Needs can help a felt sense to form. 

Through sensitive, spacious listening for Feelings and Needs, an inner space is created in which a body felt sense can form.  With practice and good listening, people are on their way to learning to pause and pay attention to the felt sense of the whole situation. The felt sense of a situation often extends far beyond what could be defined as needs and values. When people access the felt sense, what started as a conflict can transform into forward movement. The carrying forward, the right next step, is often something that could not have been conceived by either individual in a conflict.

NVC is a theory, the practice of which can lead to felt sensing. Felt sensing is pre-conceptual— fresh, intricate and unpredictable in every moment. A lot of practice and careful listening for Feelings and Needs are necessary before people can learn to trust the felt sense in all its transformative power.

Building resilience into activism

Activism needs tools that build resilience. Recently I was treated to a wonderful production of A Lesson From Aloes, by the South African playwright, Athol Fugard, produced by the Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT. The play had a profound affect on me. It shows how friends who have worked together for a common cause can be pulled apart by not being able to talk about the difficult feelings that come up between them–their very human doubts, fears, vulnerabilities.

I wish that I could have given the characters in the play the tools of Focusing, Listening and Empathic Communication.

Focusing and Listening help you pause and tune in to the bodily felt sense of situations. When you are accompanied by a Focusing partner who gives you space to notice what is happening inside without advising, consoling, or trying to fix things for you, you can gradually express complex feelings that are hard to put into words.

Empathic Communication helps you identify your beautiful human needs so that you can request what you need. When you see how well that works, you become interested in listening for the needs of others, instead of trying to diagnose what is wrong with them.

Activists and those close to them can engage in these simple practices, expressing deep things that have been held inside. As a result, relationships become a source of support, transformation and renewed energy.

The three characters in A Lesson from Aloes:

Piet is a white Afrikaner bus driver and former farmer who was greatly inspired by Steve, a black anti-apartheid activist. Piet joined the anti-apartheid movement during the bus boycott of 1957, and he and Steve became close friends, “comrades” as they say in the play. Because of his activism as a black man, Steve becomes subject to “banning orders” which limit his activities. Steve goes to a party with his comrades. Police raid the party and arrest Steve for violating the banning orders. He is in jail for 6 months. There is suspicion among the comrades that someone among them was an informer who reported Steve’s presence at the party to the police.

Piet is married to Gladys, a white woman of British descent, a poet. After Steve’s imprisonment, the police raid Gladys and Steve’s home. Her diaries were read by the Special Branch agent and confiscated. She felt violated by this, and started becoming suspicious and withdrawn, finally ending up with a nervous breakdown. She was interned at a mental hospital where she was subjected to shock treatments.

The development of the play:

The play takes place after Gladys has been home from the mental hospital for about six months, and after Steve has been released from jail. Piet and Steve run into each other in the street. Steve, his wife and four children have decided to leave the country for England. Piet invites Steve and his family for a farewell dinner at his home.

In the first scene of the play, Piet and Gladys are preparing to receive their guests. We learn of Piet’s fascination with aloes, plants that survive and bloom in the desert, even during droughts. He goes out into the veld, collects aloes, and tries to identify them according to their scientific names. Aloe identification gives Piet a way to keep up his natural cheerful attitude. He tries to share his fascination with Gladys, but she feels ignored as a person. She is trapped in her own inner struggles, with no way to express herself. Piet tries to cheer her up, and is very attentive, but he doesn’t know the transformative power of listening–so Gladys sits there, getting more and more frustrated, silently blaming herself for being antisocial and unbalanced, not knowing how to get the understanding she longs for.

When Piet is not talking about his aloes, he is reciting English poetry. He took up this hobby when he was asked to speak at a child’s funeral, and didn’t know what to say.  Now he has a whole treasure trove of poetry and quotations that he comes out with, hoping that the eloquence of Shakespeare or Longfellow will make up for deep feelings he feels powerless to express. But his poetry only serves to create more distance between him and Gladys. 

Some excerpts that illustrate the communication problems in A Lesson from Aloes:

Piet: I’ve been through my book twice, page by page, and but there is nothing that looks quite like [this aloe]. I don’t think I can allow myself to believe I have discovered a new species. That would be something! I would name it after you, my dear. Hail aloe Gladysiensis! Sounds rather good, doesn’t it! And yet, as little Juliet once said: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Gladys: Are you talking to me?

Piet: Who else, my dear?

Gladys: The aloes…….or yourself. I’m never sure these days.

Piet: They and the thorn trees were the only things still alive… when I finally packed up the old truck and left the farm. Four years of drought, but they were flowering once again….surviving where I had failed.

Gladys: Is that the price of survival in this country? Thorns and bitterness?

Piet: For the aloe it is. Maybe there is some sort of lesson for us there…..We need survival mechanisms as well.

Gladys: Speak for yourself, Peter. I’m a human being, not a……prickly pear. I want to live my life, not just survive it…..[The aloes] frighten me….They’re turgid with violence, just like everything else in this country, and they are trying to pass it on to me.

Piet: (carefully): What do you mean, my dear?

Gladys: Don’t worry. I won’t let it happen. I won’t! (She pauses)

Piet: (Trying to break the mood) Well. (Looks at his wrist watch) Time to get ready. They’ll be here soon.

So Gladys is left alone, trying to control her feelings, with no hope that Piet will listen to her and understand what she is going through.

In Scene 2, Gladys mentions how strange it is that none of the old comrades have come around since she has been back from the hospital. “Is it because of me?” she asks.

Piet: No, you mustn’t think that.

Gladys: Then say something! Every time I mention it, you either ignore me or change the subject.

Piet: (Trying to placate her.) All right, my dear. Relax.

Gladys: God, I wish you would stop saying that!

Piet: There’s no mystery, Gladys. A lesson in human nature maybe, but that’s all. It’s a dangerous time and people are frightened….Everyone has crawled away into his own little shell. It’s as simple as that….I don’t accept it easily, but there is nothing else to do. I can’t change human nature.

Gladys: Not even a complaint about its lack of courage and faith. After all, it has meant an end to “The Cause.”

Finally, Gladys asks Piet if their friends think he was the one who informed on Steve.

Gladys: Peter. Do all the others think it’s you?

Piet: I don’t know.

Gladys: Are you lying to me, or to yourself? (She waits)

Piet: Yes….it looks as if…..they all think…I’m the one….

Gladys: (Quietly) My God! I want to scream…..How long have you known?

Piet: It isn’t something I “know” in that way. There is no one day on which a drought starts. But there were meetings to which I wasn’t invited, and then…I realized people were avoiding me. There is only one conclusion.

Gladys: And you didn’t tell me because you thought it would aggravate my condition. Didn’t you know I’d realize it sooner or later?….

Piet: It’s not as simple as that, Gladys. Obviously I wanted to avoid upsetting you. But even without that, could we have talked about it?  (He speaks with deep emotion) Sat down and discussed over supper that I was considered a traitor? That’s the correct word…..God! It’s the ugliest thing that has ever happened to me. It makes me feel more ashamed of….myself, my fellow men….of everything!…in a way I never thought possible.

Could we have talked about it?”

Gladys and Piet had no tools for talking about their vulnerable, difficult feelings. So those feelings remained inside. Piet was not only unable to listen to Gladys, but also unable to talk to her about his own distress.

I identify a lot with Piet. Several decades ago, as president of our local food coop, an unexpected series of events triggered suspicion about me from some of the members. I felt confused, ashamed that people were suspicious of me, and “put upon” by others. A lengthy spat developed between me and another board member whom I viewed as someone who was mobilizing people against me. I finally resigned. It was one of the most upsetting situations of my life. If I had known Focusing and Empathic Communication at that time, I would have realized that the members needed communication, clarity, information, and a sense that we would move forward together. I would have relied on my felt sense to shed light on my feelings of shame and embarrassment. I’ll explain more about this below.

Old friends who can’t say goodbye because of un-processsed feelings

In the second act, Steve arrives at Piet and Gladys’s house without his family. It turns out that Steve’s wife is convinced that Piet was the informer, and doesn’t want Steve to visit because she fears it is a trap that will prevent them from leaving the country. Steve admits that he was suspicious of Piet, but didn’t want to believe the rumors because he was sure of Piet’s friendship. The affection between Piet and Steve is obviously deep and sincere, but Piet doesn’t see how Steve could doubt his loyalty, despite the reality of his friend’s precarious situation. Piet doesn’t defend himself, telling Steve “If you could have believed it, there is no point in denying it.” Steve doesn’t see a way to make things better. He leaves. Gladys decides that she must go back to the mental hospital. Piet is left alone with his aloes.

Piet’s unfamiliarity with his own feelings blocks his communication with his wife. Equally, he is blocked in his connection with his old friend. Steve took a risk to come and say goodbye. Piet can’t see that Steve, just by being black, is constantly in danger of being falsely accused. None of the white comrades had to go to jail for going to party. Piet doesn’t have to leave the country in order to avoid the consequences of apartheid. Piet can’t fully respond to Steve’s attempt to honor their friendship by saying goodbye. 

Each of the characters, based on Fugard’s comrades from the apartheid struggle, shows a different reaction to the “drought” of a police state. My heartfelt feeling is that, as more humans learn how to communicate empathically with each other and with their children, authoritarian states will not be able to take root.

Examples of how they could have talked about it

Here is my made up attempt to give an example of how Gladys, Piet and Steve could have communicated differently if they both had learned how to Focus and Listen.

Piet: I have been through my book twice, page by page, and but there is nothing that looks quite like [this aloe]. I don’t think I can allow myself to believe I have discovered a new species. That would be something! I’d name it after you, my dear. Hail aloe Gladysiensis! Sounds rather good, doesn’t it! And yet, as little Juliet once said: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Gladys: Piet, I feel nervous and insecure right now. Would you be willing to sit down and listen to me for a while?

Piet:  Of course, my dear. (He comes over to Gladys and sits next to her, looking at her and listening in silence.)

Gladys: When I see the aloes, I feel afraid. They remind me of the violence in this country. There is something in me that fears they will pass the violence on to me.

Piet: You are noticing something in you that is afraid that the violence will be passed on to you.

Gladys: Yes, I feel that in the pit of my stomach.

Piet: Would it feel OK to be kind to that feeling in the pit of your stomach?

Gladys: No, I feel too fearful.

Piet: Maybe you could put your warm hand on that place for a moment, and tell it that you know it is there.

Gladys: (putting her hand where she feels the discomfort, then remaining silent for awhile, as if she is listening to something inside) I feel so powerless to change anything.

Piet: Powerless. Would it be OK to stay with that powerless feeling in your stomach for a while?

Gladys: (pausing in silence) It reminds me of how powerless I felt with my mother. I felt she never saw me, never listened, never knew me.

Piet: You felt she never saw you, never listened, never knew you.

Gladys: Yes, that is exactly how it was.

Piet: Maybe you could take a moment to see and hear and get to know that little girl inside.

Gladys: (Weeping) Yes, I can imagine holding her and letting her cry.

Piet: I will sit here with you and hold you as you let her cry.

Gladys: (after weeping in silence) Thanks so much for listening to me. I feel much less nervous and insecure because I know where my fear is coming from. I feel much more open to the reunion this evening with Steve and his family. Give me a few minutes to rest and relax, then I will come back and help you get ready.

Comments:

  1. Piet is not trying to cheer Gladys up. When she expresses her fear, he reminds her that she is more than the fear. She can be present to her fear without letting it overwhelm her. He reminds her of this with the Focusing phrase you are noticing something in you that feels afraid.
  2. This ability to remember that one is a whole person who is feeling fear allows Gladys to separate her sense of self from the part that is fearful. This inner awareness lets her get in touch with how the fear feels in her body. She locates it in the pit of her stomach.
  3. Piet leaves it up to her to determine whether she is willing to be kind to the feeling in the pit of her stomach.
  4. At first, Gladys feels that it is too uncomfortable to accompany the feeling. Piet suggests another Focusing move: to put her warm hand where she feels the discomfort. Putting her warm hand on her stomach lets the discomfort know that she feels it and wants to know more about it. Gladys takes the reminder, and is able to sense that the feeling is not only fear but powerlessness.
  5. Piet reminds her that she can choose to stay with the feeling of powerlessness if it feels OK. She decides to stay with it, and this leads to the body memory of feeling that her mother never saw her, never listened to her, never knew her.
  6. He reflects these words back exactly as Gladys says them, because they describe an awareness that comes from the felt sense. Gladys confirms that Yes, that was exactly how it was.
  7. Piet invites Gladys to get to know the little girl inside, and Gladys imagines holding her inner child and letting her cry. As her husband, Piet offers to hold Gladys while she accompanies the little girl. This holding would not usually be offered by one Focusing partner to the other, but because Piet is her husband, it seems natural and appropriate.
  8. Focusing and listening have helped Gladys feel the origin of her overwhelming fear. She is no longer fighting herself to keep it under control. She is no longer projecting violence onto the aloes and fearing that they will pass the violence on to her. Gladys knows that she needs a few moments to rest and recuperate, but feels a natural willingness arising within her to help prepare for their guests.

In my made up version of Scene 2, Gladys is able to help Piet cut through his tendency to distraction and listen to his inner distress.

Gladys mentions how strange it is that none of the old comrades have come around since she has been back from the hospital. “Is it because of me?” she asks.

Piet: No, you mustn’t think that.

Gladys: There must be some reason they don’t visit us.

Piet: There’s no mystery, Gladys. A lesson in human nature maybe, but that’s all. It’s a dangerous time and people are frightened….Everyone has crawled away into his own little shell. It’s as simple as that….I don’t accept it easily, but there is nothing else to do. I can’t change human nature.

Gladys: Peter. Do all the others think it’s you?

Piet: I don’t know.

Gladys: (She waits). Is it OK to stay with that not knowing for a moment?

Piet: (Pauses) Yes….it looks as if…..they all think…I’m the one….

Gladys: (Quietly) You are sensing that they think you are the one.

Piet: It isn’t something I “know” clearly. There is no one day on which a drought starts. But there were meetings to which I wasn’t invited, and then…I realized people were avoiding me.

Gladys: You weren’t invited to meetings and people started avoiding you. You started fearing that they thought it was you.

Piet: (He speaks with deep emotion) Yes. And I was afraid to sit down and talk to you about it. It felt so bad to be considered a traitor. That’s the correct word…..God! It’s the ugliest thing that has ever happened to me. It makes me feel more ashamed of….myself, my fellow men….of everything!…in a way I never thought possible. I feel it like a coating of grime all over my body.

Gladys: You feel it’s like a coating of grime all over your body. Is it OK to acknowledge that feeling and be with it?

Piet: It feels so uncomfortable. I never felt this way before. I cannot believe they would think that of me………But I’ll stay with this feeling for awhile, even though I can hardly stand it.

Gladys: I am right here with you.

Piet: (After a long silence) Now it’s like a storm in my chest! So many parts of me are fighting with each other. I don’t know how to express it all.

Gladys: Just take your time to feel all of it.

Piet: There’s the part that is furious with the government for making Steve suffer. There is the part that is so shocked that my friends would think I betrayed Steve. There is the fear of bringing it up at all. What if they are convinced that it was me and they don’t believe me?  There is the part that reminds me of when my older brother stole some money from my father’s wallet, then blamed it on me. Nobody would believe me. There was nothing I could do.

Gladys:  So many things! you’re furious at the government for Steve’s suffering, you’re shocked that your friends would think you betrayed him. You’re afraid to bring it up, because they might not believe you. It reminds you of when your were unjustly blamed for stealing from your father, and there was nothing you could do.

Piet: Yes, and I am heartbroken, Gladys, that all this has taken such a toll on you.

Gladys: You’re heartbroken that it has taken such a toll on me. Thank you, Piet. (She gives him a hug and he returns it)

Piet: (Silence.) Yes, I feel like I am understanding all the things that were warring inside me.  (Silence.) I feel calmer now, Gladys. I know I am not a traitor, no matter what the others think. And I can really understand how suspicious we have all become of one another with all this government repression.

Now, when Steve comes, Piet will have processed all that he was feeling.  He will be able to acknowledge the suspicions Steve and his wife have without having their suspicions mixed up with his former trauma of being unjustly accused.  He and Steve will be able to embrace and say goodbye, and their friendship and respect for each other can remain intact.

So where’s the drama?

Most dramatic plots are about people not understanding each other, not attempting to listen to each other. When you add empathic listening, the drama fades away. People get in touch with their own inner reality. They become able to put it into words instead of holding it silently in their bodies, where it festers and alters their view of reality.

In my non-dramatic version, Piet and Gladys don’t try to give each other advice, or to console each other or smooth things over. They encourage each other to be present to the uncomfortable feelings held in the body. Those bodily-held feelings often lead to a previous life situation where vital needs were unmet.

The partner listens and reflects back. This helps the felt sense to be acknowledged and expressed. The end result is empathy for the younger self whose needs were unmet. As a result, one develops the ability to separate the former trauma from present experience, not only intellectually, but in the body. When the understanding happens in the body, there is an actual shift in the bodily felt sense. This shift means that we see the situation in a new way. We no longer act from our old patterns.

All this requires training. Our natural tendency is look for who or what is to blame for how we feel. It takes practice to learn to bear with uncomfortable feelings in the body, acknowledge them and listen to them. There are so many systems that need changing in order for our planet to survive. That is suspense and drama enough. We don’t need our interpersonal dramas to stand in the way.

Activism needs tools that build resilience

Often, people in activist movements feel that they have to remain “strong” and cannot “give in” to their very human vulnerabilities. Non-activists feel that they have to tune out from current events because the news is too distressing.

Today’s world calls for all of us to take our humanity into account. We especially need flexible organizations that provide space for human vulnerabilities to be expressed.

Organizations that train members and staff in systems for processing human feelings will have more of a chance for reaching their full potential. This training fosters cohesiveness and mutual respect, stimulates creative thinking, and turns conflict into an opportunity for growth and realization. I have seen it work many times in the organizations I am involved in.

With Focusing and Empathic Communication you come out in a different place than where you started. After you have become aware of your feelings and needs, a fresh sense of the problem emerges and you can see new steps toward addressing it, steps that you wouldn’t have thought of when you were stuck and upset.

Of course, this means slowing down for non-judgmental, non-evaluative listening. The reward is flowing human interaction, which actually can make solutions more relevant and organizations more efficient.

More on Empathic Communication and Focusing

Empathic Communication is based on Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It provides guidelines for how to talk in a way that does not put people on the defensive. The guidelines help people move out of labeling, blaming and judging, all deeply ingrained cultural behaviors that block connection. NVC promotes seeking out and addressing the unmet needs that give rise to conflict instead of only determining who is right and who is wrong.

According to the Philosophy of the Implicit of Dr. Eugene Gendlin, the developer of Focusingstating what someone IS, ignores the reality that life is a process that is constantly developing toward more life, the way a plant grows toward the sun. This life-forward direction can become clear through listening gently to the pre-verbal “bodily felt sense” of situations. The body “gets” the intricate sense of the whole situation, often in a way that cannot easily be put into words. When one attends to the bodily felt sense in an open, empathic way, words, gestures, images, and memories emerge from the felt sense, giving meaning and indicating the next steps forward.

The paradoxical conclusion

Today’s activists and activist organizations need to slow down long enough for feelings and needs to be heard and acknowledged, and for felt senses to emerge. This can lead to personal and organizational resilience and, as a result, more efficacy in the work.

Beatrice Blake: I became a Certified Focusing Trainer in 2000. Working closely with colleagues in El Salvador since 2007, we developed ways of teaching Empathic Communication as a doorway to Focusing.  In my online class, Generating a Culture of Peace, people learn and practice the theory of Nonviolent Communication, and apply it to their interactions. They also see how the wisdom accessed by the bodily felt sense can give new and deeper insights on what the conflict was about in the first place. My experiences have taught me that far-reaching developments can come from listening to the felt sense.
I specialize in helping people develop their next steps in life, especially when the new direction is only a feeling that can’t yet be put into words.

focusing brings insight on our inner battles

Here’s an example of how Focusing partnership brings insight into our life issues. 

The issue: I have a triggering experience

I was at an online meeting with a group of friends. We started meeting with each other over 25 years ago. We all used to live in the same small town, and had formed a support group with each other while we all had young children. We would take 15 minutes each to share whatever we were going through without being interrupted. This “15 minutes for me” proved invaluable to us all as we navigated the seas between motherhood and selfhood.

So here we were, reunited after several years of not meeting. Five of us were together in one room in the town where we used to live, and myself and one other were online, via Skype. Skype was not working well, and I was getting increasingly annoyed. I had suggested before the meeting that we could meet by Zoom, which works better for groups than Skype. But the group had not encouraged me to pursue this idea, and I had not insisted. My annoyance with the inadequate technology was affecting my sharing when my turn came up.

I take my triggering experience to my Focusing partnership

Later I decided to Focus on this, because I didn’t understand why I had been so upset. In one way, it seemed like such an unnecessary attitude on my part. I hadn’t devoted a lot of energy to thinking about the technology before the meeting. Neither had I prepared an easy way to shift over to the new technology if problems arose. So why couldn’t I just accept that, instead of getting mad about it?

Also, I noticed I was blaming people in the group for not listening to me about the technology. I could have judged myself for overreacting and left it at that. Luckily, I had a Focusing partnership coming up, so I decided to Focus on that issue in order to gain insight on the situation.

My initial understanding of the problem:

What came to me first: “I know that Zoom is much better than Skype for multi-person calls because I use Zoom all the time for my online classes. The other people in my women’s group don’t do much online, so they aren’t aware of the potential difficulties. If I had thought about it more, I could have gently guided everyone over to my Zoom room. My experienced knowledge would have made for a more successful online meeting.”

I allow a bodily felt sense of the problem to form

I noticed something in me that didn’t want to impose, didn’t want to insist, even though I clearly had the knowledge and experience to make the meeting better. The “not wanting to impose” felt like a buzzy, chaotic sensation in the lower part of my head. When I noticed and welcomed the sensation, I could feel that there was much more going on there. The feeling lowered into my throat. It felt as if there were a war going on between two opposing tribes. “Yes, there does seem to be a lot going on inside about all this”, I realized.

Turning toward my felt sense and staying with it brings a new perspective

As my Focusing partner listened in silence, I stayed with it in a Focusing way. Soon I could sense that the war was between my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother projected an aura of self-confidence. She was sure of herself. This led her to a lot of successful creative endeavors which are unbelievably inspiring. But her self confidence did not leave room for other people. My mother was always doing her best to follow in the footsteps of her mother. All the while she felt an inner frustration and resentment at not being seen for her own merits, her own selfhood.

The felt sense of a battle had lowered into my body. Now I could feel it as a pressure in my heart. As I stayed with it, I could feel that my loyalty was to my mother. This implied a rejection of my grandmother’s tendency to steamroll those around her. In a restaurant, my grandmother would imperiously send food back if it were not to her liking. I always found that embarrassing. It seemed to symbolize everything I rejected about my grandmother, everything I didn’t want to be.

I could now see that insisting on having the right technology for my women’s group meeting reminded me too much of my grandmother. Even though I was very familiar with a better system, I was hesitant to “impose my will” on the group by insisting that we use Zoom. It was less complicated internally for me to just go along, without sharing what I know. That way I could maintain my inner loyalty to my mother, and not risk becoming a steamroller of others, like my grandmother. Wow, interesting!

I gain insight about how this is affecting my life right now

It came to me that I want to emerge from this period of my life with more confidence to share what I know. I need to find a balance between sharing what I know and feeling that I am imposing on others.

That evening I was going to go to a dinner for cancer survivors. I could feel myself facing the dilemma all over again–how can I share what I know in this new group of people? I realized that I could go to the dinner “armed” or “prepared”, by making copies of articles about the research done with Focusing and breast cancer by Doralee Grindler Katonah and Joan Klagsbrun. The research shows that even doing simple Focusing exercises, like Clearing a Space, can prolong the lives of cancer survivors. This gave me a jumping off point for sharing what I know. At the end of the dinner, there was a brief time to introduce oneself and say what we were involved in. I mentioned the articles, and several people asked me for information afterwards.

This is an example of how Focusing partnership brings insight

Gentle reader, if you have gotten this far, I have been describing the insight that can come from a Focusing partnership.

First, I had an uncomfortable, triggering experience. Then I explored it with the quiet, receptive listening of my Focusing partner. I found that there was a lot more going on there than I had been aware of.

As a result of my Focusing partnership I became aware of negative and a positive “instances” of how the issue acts in my life:

Instance 1 (negative): I got angry at my women’s group for “not listening to me” about meeting on Zoom instead of Skype, even though I had not really explained the advantages or set things up to implement what I know.

Instance 2 (positive): I went to the cancer survivor’s dinner “armed” with articles about how Focusing has been proven to increase longevity in cancer survivors. It led to several inquiries about Focusing.

With the insight I have gained, I am much more likely to be bolder about sharing what I know. 

In conclusion, Focusing partnership brings insight on any issue you are facing. Try it!

Focusing partnership training

To hear yourself think…it helps to have somebody listen!

A Listening Partnership sets the stage for a special kind of listening.

There are two roles: the Explorer, person who speaks. And there’s the Listener.

After the Explorer’s turn, the Listener becomes the Explorer. But, at any one time, one person is either the Explorer or the Listener.

A Listening Partnership is different from an ordinary conversation

Ordinary conversations are usually not focused on listening. Often, what we call a conversation is actually an argument – – you’re trying to convince each other that you’re right. Or one person is trying to be helpful, offering solutions, giving advice. In both cases, the listener is actively trying to make a point.

Of course, there are many situations in which giving advice or suggesting solutions is very appropriate, but not in a Listening Partnership. If the Listener starts to help or give advice, it takes away some of the Explorer’s precious space.

This is a very special space, a space where there is room for you, as the Explorer, to hear yourself think.

The Explorer

When you’re the Explorer, things slow down. The Listener is focused on listening to you. This helps you listen to what you feel in all its complexity. You go beyond the surface.

You’ll actually welcome moments when words seem to fail you, or when the words that come to mind don’t quite make sense. You listen for the “more” that is there, waiting to be sensed and expressed.

It’s a very special kind of paying attention. Like the way people pay special attention when they are at a wine tasting–holding a sip of wine in the mouth for a while, curious about all the nuances of the experience, as opposed to just saying: “It’s good” or “It’s bad”.

Like wine tasters who try to put words to their experience, you might struggle to put words to your experience. Don’t try to squeeze your brain to find the right words. Allow words to come out from the “taste” of the situation.

The Listener

How does creative thinking emerge? Not by putting pressure on yourself, but by making space, allowing fresh ideas to arise. The very presence of the Listener makes this more possible.

Your Listener is there for you, patiently listening to what you say, sometimes saying it back to you so you can hear it too. The Listener does not complete your sentences for you, doesn’t urge you to go faster or to be more articulate… Your Listening Partner simply stays with you so that you can listen more intently to your own thoughts.

It’s as if the Listener were saying. “I want to listen to you. I’m interested even in the process of your meandering, not knowing what you want to say. I’m going to stay with you as you go through it.”

Checking for resonance 

Each time a word or phrase comes, the Explorer stays with it, gently comparing that word or phrase to the experience. Does it feel right? Does it describe the feel of the situation as a whole?

This is not about being logical. It’s about sensing whether it feels right or not. If it doesn’t totally feel right, then you, as the Explorer, can keep on exploring.

At some point, you find a word or phrase that fits your feeling more precisely. The Listener is there with you, so you can give yourself the time and space to make sure that what you say “resonates” with what you feel.

Wow. When you find that resonance, it feels so right!

It’s like it had been hiding in plain sight. As you are able to pay attention, to see things as they are, to hear yourself think, you get this “Wow!”

The Listener simply stays with you so that you are able to listen more intently to your own thoughts. This creates the space for fresh thinking to emerge.

Welcoming awkward silences

As the Explorer and Listener patiently wait for the Explorer’s words to come, there are moments of silence. In everyday life, that could be very uncomfortable. Here, instead of rushing to find something to say, you actually see the silence as a sign that something new wants your attention.

You welcome those moments when words seem to fail you. Of course, it can feel weird or troubling. It’s like you’re in the twilight zone, instead of the bright sunlight where everything is sharply defined. Being in that twilight zone, noticing the feeling without the words, actually stimulates your mind to go deeper.

The Listener stays with you so you know it’s OK to be have lost contact with the firm ground of clear meanings. This is where you can notice the “felt sense” of what is not yet in words.

Play with it!

Just do it. Explore your thoughts, or your feelings, in a Listening Partnership. Don’t worry about doing it right. Play with it.

You take turns, so that each one of you can have the space to hear yourself think, or feel. At the beginning, just take 15 minutes each.

You will get better at it with practice.

Thanks to Serge Prengel of activepause.com for developing this with me!

 

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.