Tag Archive for: philosophy of the implicit
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’
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 11 in class and practice them with fellow students between classes. We will also go over Steps 12-14, although Step 12 often takes more time for the dedicated effort of building a theory. At the end of the course, there will be the opportunity to continue your process in collaboration with your TAE companions.
Thinking at the Edge Proficiency Award:
You need to have a minimum of 36 hours of class time and TAE practice sessions in order to fulfill the basic requirements for the Proficiency in TAE Award, but often the process of understanding TAE takes longer than that. The hours that you spend learning and practicing in this course will count toward the Award. When you qualify, you’ll be able to join the TAE Partnership Network.
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.”
Donna Abela, Australia:
“Thank you for your recent TAE course. I found so much depth and direction in my project, and discovered a love of being “at the edge”. Until recently this represented a place of fear, if not terror, as far as my writing was concerned. It was lovely to see how you reflected our words and process, and warmly held the group as we found surprising new insights. Thank you for a wonderful experience.”
If this resonates with you, please sign up for a free consultation.
Up-coming TAE courses:
THURSDAY GROUP: 9-session course over 4 months
Every other week, with practice sessions in between classes:
Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Eastern (1500 GMT, 1600 CET, 1700 EET)
February 2 and 16, March 2, 16, and 30, April 13 and 27, May 11 and 25, 2023.
Investment: US$475 per person for nine 2-hour sessions.
10% discount for members of The International Focusing Institute (US$428 per person.)
2023 Yearlong TAE course: TAE, A Deepening
Last Monday of each month at 7 p.m. Eastern
Investment: $495 for 12 two-hour sessions
$450 for my previous TAE students
Find your time zone here: http://www.thetimezoneconverter.com
To join, please submit a contact form.
Your TAE mentor:
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
Listening in a Focusing way
Listening in a Focusing Way will take place on Tuesdays, November 1 through December 13 from 1 to 3 p.m. Eastern (seven 2-hour sessions).
Mentor: Beatrice Blake, a Certifying Coordinator with The International Focusing Institute (TIFI).
Prerequisites: Focusing Level One or at least three Focusing sessions with a certified Focusing trainer.
To sign up, please fill out the contact form. If you haven’t worked with me before, we can schedule a free introductory session. Please sign up soon–class is limited to eight participants.
Investment: $370.00 (10% discount for TIFI members: $333.00) via PayPal.
CCEs: Qualifies for 13 Continuing Coach Education credits from the International Coaching Federation.
Source material: The Small Steps of the Therapy Process: How They Come and How to Help Them Come by Eugene Gendlin.
A fresh source of information
We live in a time of existential challenges to life on earth. Despite growing awareness and ever-increasing data about these challenges, there is a split between our experiencing and our ability to change.
When we allow the bodily felt sense of a situation to form, we have access to a fresh source of information about life. However, the felt sense has its own logic that can be quite different from the logic we are accustomed to. Listening in a Focusing way allows us to follow the felt sense so it can grow and develop.
A special kind of listening
In order for the felt sense to unfold, a special kind of listening is needed. It is not just “empathic listening”, though that can be helpful. Listening in a Focusing way involves reflecting back the essence of what someone is saying. When this essential meaning is heard and taken back in by a Focuser, a characteristic silence follows. In this silence, the Focuser is listening inside to the further unfolding of the felt sense.
In a normal conversation, there is no recognition of the importance of this silence. But in Focusing, we welcome that silence and give it space. We know that inside the Focuser, a certain kind of development is taking place. The felt sense is “carrying forward”.
In a normal conversation, this silence may look like spaciness, or disconnection. The silent person might feel they have to apologize for it: “Sorry, I spaced out for a moment. Where were we?” and thus the carrying forward is ignored or lost.
People who know how to listen in a Focusing way honor that silence, because they have experienced it for themselves as the source of inner knowing. They recognize the expression of inner attention that appears on the Focuser’s face. Often that expression turns into a calm smile of inner truth as the session comes to an end.
Being with what is unclear
This source of development and change is not widely known yet. For both the Focuser and the Listener, it requires a letting go into what is unknown, unclear, difficult to put into words. That lack of clarity is the way the felt sense often presents itself. As we give the unclear bodily sense our gentle attention, words and meaning arise from it. This is in contrast with the way we often address problematic situations, going round and round a set of known ideas in our heads. Given the amount of time we spend going round and round in our heads, if that could lead us to a solution, we would have found it.
Listening for the aliveness
But with today’s challenges, there are no known solutions. The bodily felt sense connects us to a new way of knowing. The felt sense of a situation is intimately connected to our sense of being alive, the way that plants and animals find the elements they need, without having the intellect we humans have. We need to balance our over-developed intellect with our very human sense of what is alive, growing, and developing inside. Learning to listen in a Focusing way engenders meaningful change.
Spacious listening encourages new ideas
Henrik, the main character in the short Danish film On My Mind, is a metaphor for the felt sense. He is in a delicate and deeply significant situation that is difficult to articulate. When he sees what he needs to do, the people he encounters do not know how to create an atmosphere in which his next steps could emerge. Spacious listening and reflecting his words would have provided the simple accompaniment needed for his felt sense to “carry forward”.
Carrying forward is an interactive process that can be blocked by conventional cultural notions. Cultural forms make for a comfortable social flow, but do not recognize the body’s capacity to make meaning. The body’s meaning-making process always wants to go further toward life. Pre-determined social forms can block and misinterpret it.
Spacious listening welcomes what is sensed but difficult to put into words
In his 1993 article, Three Assertions about the Body, philosopher Eugene Gendlin writes:
“The society has become more complex than the routines and concepts that it teaches. Most commentators on the current society do not see the increased complexity. They see only the breakdown of the old patterns and the losses that this now involves…The breakdown of the old patterns is actually caused by a new development which has only [just] begun. It is not just a loss and a breakdown. It is also an opening to a further development…Sometimes we cannot do what we were taught because we sense more in a situation than the old routines can meet.
In a difficult situation, if w cannot act in some easy and usual way, and if a new way does not quickly come to us, what do we… feel? Confusion, frustration perhaps. We may just be stuck. But what is it that tells us that the ordinary actions a phrases won’t do or are not what is needed? If we ask ourselves that question and if we pay direct attention to what it is that stops us, we may find a sense of what is needed, what would work, if only we could devise it. “
In On My Mind, Henrik is stuck. The film opens with him rhythmically banging his head against the window. He is in pain, but we don’t understand what is going on, and neither do the two people he encounters in the bar he walks into.
Spacious listening creates an atmosphere of safety, empathy, openness and trust for felt meaning to carry forward
Even though the bartender feels sympathetic toward Henrik, her first reaction to him is a rather judgmental suggestion. She says, “You don’t have to gulp [your whiskey] all at once. It’s OK to enjoy it.” Knowing what we know by the end of the film, this invitation doesn’t serve to create an atmosphere of safety, empathy, openness and trust.
Spacious listening recognizes the forming of felt meaning
Henrik pays and is on his way out when he sees a karaoke machine.
The karaoke machine becomes the “handle” that symbolizes Henrik’s next step.
He asks if the machine has the old Elvis Presley song On My Mind. The owner is doing his taxes and doesn’t want to be distracted by the music. He insists that karaoke only happens on weekends and today is Tuesday. Henrik finally puts down a 500 kroner bill, the equivalent of US$70. The owner agrees to let him sing, but for only 5 minutes.
Henrik asks the bartender to film his song on his phone. He says it’s for Trine. The bartender dutifully records the song, but a message comes through on the phone about Trine, so she stops recording and hands him the phone. He has to start over. Then halfway through the second recording, the owner pulls the plug on the machine. Five minutes is up.
The felt sense is hard to put into words, so it is difficult to explain the reasoning behind it, especially if one is in an atmosphere of judgment. Spacious listening welcomes what is difficult to put into words, because that lack of clarity signals the development of something new and different.
How “round, closed, common notions” get in the way of spacious listening
After the first interrupted attempt at recording, the bartender says “It’s a nice song.” That establishes some rapport. Henrik tells her that it’s his wife’s favorite. “She says it makes the soul fly.”
This could have been an opening for a more spacious listening and reflecting back. In fact, with these words, Henrik is indicating exactly why it is necessary for him to sing that song. But instead of reflecting this, the bartender asks him three questions, based on conventional notions of why a husband would want to record a song for his wife. Given Henrik’s unusual situation, these questions only block his self expression, especially the last question: “She’s not dead, is she?” This question brings a final draining of the whiskey glass, and a dispirited sigh.
With spacious listening, we don’t have to think of the right way to respond from our limited understanding. We respond by reflecting the words that express the felt meaning of the person we are listening to
After sighing into the glass, Henrik says,
“Look, the dew. The story it tells”.
“What’s the story then?” asks the bartender.
“A human breathed here. And now it’s gone. An imprint of the soul.”
That’s a pretty deep statement. I imagine a bartender wouldn’t know exactly how to respond. But as spacious listeners, we don’t have to respond from our own limited understanding of what is being said. We can just reflect back the life-forward meaning that we sense in the words.
A spacious listener might say, “Oh, this is something important (that touches you, that means something to you). A human breathed there and now it’s gone. That droplet is an imprint of the soul.” This open acknowledgement of a “something” helps validate that it exists. Its meaning might not be clear yet, but the felt meaning is definitely felt “there”, somewhere in the body. Hearing his words back would have shown Henrik that his felt sense was worth exploring.
But the moment is lost, with the bartender’s silence and a strange gust of wind that blows through the bar. Henrik seems to give up on the possibility of being understood. He just wants to get back to recording the song.
Cultural logic ignores the intricacy of the body sense
With her three questions, the bartender applies a cultural logic to Henrik’s need to sing the song. Is it for their anniversary, or his wife’s birthday, or to commemorate her after death?
In his article, The Small Steps of the Therapy Process: How They Come and How to Help Them Come, Eugene Gendlin says that carrying forward is “…picking up on where the person is, making contact with where the person really is. And the very contact changes the form” (p. 212, paragraph 4)
Spacious listening creates a place for felt meaning to grow, for it to create its own logic.
Spacious listening is having faith that felt meaning will be carried forward into its own right way of being
If Henrik’s “felt meaning” had been acknowledged, a carrying forward might have happened. This would have enabled him to express his reasons for insisting that the recording needed to be made NOW. It would have avoided the argument with the bar owner, given that the owner immediately understood the situation once it was expressed.
But, of course, then there would have been less drama to make a movie about.
Expressing the body sense brings relief and opens possibilities
When felt meaning is expressed and reflected back, there is often a bodily sense of relief. A way forward opens that had not previously been seen.
We see this in Henrik’s ability to be calm, dignified and confident as he encourages his wife’s soul to fly away at the moment of death.
Spacious listening carries felt meaning forward: implications for human interactions in general
Henrik followed the dictates of his felt sense, even though he was not understood at first. The well-intentioned bartender wanted to relate to him, but their communication was limited when she asked questions that were based on her accustomed cultural and conversational patterns.
Spacious listening and reflecting would have helped Henrik move forward. An agenda on the part of a listener can impose an already-existing pattern. That doesn’t leave space for the kind of interaction that seeks to contact and faithfully reflect the felt sense. Contact with the bodily felt sense brings something new and full of life.
Implications for the world
Can you feel the implications of this for the evolution that needs to happen in order for life to continue on this planet? The logic that we have grown up with no longer serves us. Nobody knows what to do. War and fighting have been “go to” solutions for millennia, but internationally we are too aware of the destructive power unleashed by the weapons that have, up to now, seemingly insured safety and security. In the US and elsewhere, polarization leads to people not being able to listen to each other, and that eventually results in violence.
Change steps are an interactional process that respects and facilitates the ability of the body to “make sense”. This sense-making does not necessarily correspond to any already formed system of logic. It changes as it is carried forward. The changes come in a precise way, arising from the body’s implicit knowing of what will make life better.
“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.
A Process Model can show us how to describe Focusing in a new way.
All Focusers have the same problem: how to communicate what Focusing is. We can say “Focusing accesses the wisdom of the body.” Or “Focusing is a way of getting to know how you really feel.” If you have done Focusing, I’m sure you have thought about this and tried to put it into words, as I have over the years.
I’ve recently come to a new way of communicating what Focusing is. It’s based on A Process Model, which was Eugene Gendlin‘s way of explaining how there could be a world in which Focusing could exist, a world in which felt meaning could exist, a world in which human beings, with our strange and intricate felt senses, could exist. For Gendlin, the basic terms with which Western culture views reality make human beings seem impossible.
“Since we humans are here, we can be certain that we are not impossible. A conceptual model of “reality” that makes us seem impossible has to have something wrong with it.” — Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 16
A Process Model vs. the Unit Model
Gendlin called the basis for today’s science and culture “The Unit Model”. In the Unit Model, things are observed and described as if a spectator is “here” and the thing described is “over there”. This allows us to analyze the units that make up what we see around us—the atoms and molecules that combine to form the chemicals, hormones and neurobiological impulses, et cetera, that animate the body and the world. Gene always stressed that this way of looking at the world is very necessary. It has allowed us to produce the technological and scientific achievements of the last 400 years. So we want to keep it, AND we need a different model to describe living processes.
The Unit Model is excellent for analyzing things, taking them apart and putting them together. But this does not work with what is alive. Gendlin holds that human beings ARE interaction. Interaction is not one person over here, with set characteristics, interacting with another person over there with set characteristics. No. He says each interaction determines who and how we are, because life is interaction.
Understanding life through different “environments”
To help us see the world in this new way, Gendlin asks us to consider the idea of different environments from which to look at the world. Because the notion of different environments is a new philosophical concept, he refers to them as “en”. The purpose is to keep this new concept from being confused with currently understood uses of the word “environment”.
In A Process Model, En #1 is the spectator’s view
Society’s current way of looking at life is from the standpoint of a spectator. I’m over here, looking at what is going on over there. Gendlin calls this Environment 1, or En #1. Spectators notice things that they can identify from their world. For instance, biologists will define a monkey’s environment in their own terms. Gendlin gives an example on page one of A Process Model.
“It is En #1 when scientists or hunters define the environment of an animal. They define the en factors…..The spectator’s bodies interact with [what they call] “the animal’s environment” — their own environment attributed to another living body.” —Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 1
Let’s pause and take that in. Doesn’t it seem that most of the troubles in the world today come when we take the spectator’s stance? Racism, sexism, bullying, lack of civil discourse, not to mention climate change, none of these acknowledge life as interaction. They result when we attribute what we are familiar with to another living body and expect that body to see, feel and experience life the way we do.
In A Process Model, En #2 is the interactive life process
Gendlin goes on to present an alternative to the familiar spectator’s stance. He calls it Environment 2, or En #2, where interaction IS the process of living.
“Body and environment are one event, one process. For example, it is air-coming-into-lungs-and-blood-cells. We can view this event as air (coming in), or as (a coming into) lungs and body cells. Either way it is one event viewed as en or as body. Here we are not calling it “environment” because it is all around, but because it participates within the life process…Air coming in and lungs expanding cannot be separate. The point is, we need not split between the lungs and air.” —Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 1
En #2 makes itself an environment in which life goes on further — En #3
Then Gendlin comes to Environment 3, or En #3. “The body is an environment in which body process goes on further.” The spider’s web is En #3. En #3 is where the spider finds what she needs to carry out her life process. And here, in En #3, is where Gendlin introduces the idea that we humans are the environment for each other.
“…the main “environment” of any animal is its species members, other animals like it.…..We must not take the physical environment as our basic model of environment although that too will often already be en#3…..En #3 is the cement you walk on, the mole’s hole, the beehive, the anthill, and our bodies and theirs. The life process (En #2) makes itself an environment in which it then goes on further. We can call it the “home-made” environment for the “domesticated environment”…en #3.” –Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, p. 4
Providing the environment where living process can develop and grow
So here is my new way of saying what Focusing is:
Focusing means getting in touch with the felt sense of a situation and symbolizing it in words, gestures, sounds, images, colors, etc. The bodily felt sense of a situation is the body showing us where life is stuck and how it can move forward. Or it’s showing us something that wants to happen. When a felt sense is symbolized, it is “carried forward.” It incorporates more life.
Focusing involves Listening, not as a spectator, but as part of an interactive process. In that interaction, the Listener provides the spacious, non-directive atmosphere. The Listener provides the atmosphere in which the Focuser can Listen to all the voices inside, so that their life processes can develop and grow.
Focusing as En #3
Let’s notice when we fall into En #1, the spectator’s stance. It is so easy to forget that we are interaction first. If we see ourselves judging, or thinking that we know in advance what someone else will say, let’s pause and breathe and remember that we are each other’s environment. We can do that too with ourselves! We can step back and slow down and ask, how can I be an environment for myself in which my aliveness can develop and grow?
And what do I need to be able to support my aliveness during my daily activities? What do I need to ask for from others in order to feel more alive?
Thinking together at the edge
A wonderful example of this are the members of the Embodied Critical Thinking Program, who are developing the practice of thinking together, through Thinking at the Edge and in the process, inventing new ideas about education. Monika Lindner, a member of that group, described their work together like this:
“I start with and in myself, giving priority to my experiencing and that of each of my companions. I take into account each member’s situation, attending to their interests in a nurturing way. As a result, there is a connecting of each other’s ideas into a web of understanding more. Together, we create an atmosphere of sharing and receiving that allows ideas and projects to emerge.
“In the kindness held by the entire group, I connect more deeply with my ideas. I feel empowered and invited to develop further. It’s like growing together as a forest while becoming more the tree I am.” –Monika Lindner
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.
Gendlin, E.T. (1997). Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, p 162
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.
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.”
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.