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.”
Gendlin, E.T. (1997). Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, p 162
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 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 11 and 18, December 2, 9, 16 and 23 (skipping Thursday, November 25)
Times: 5 p.m. Eastern
(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.
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.
Photo credit: https://www.carriebakerphd.com/photography
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:
Dealing with stress by becoming aware of the patterns held silently in our bodies
Listening to stress helps in dealing with stress. Just got this letter from a participant in our online class in Thinking at the Edge (TAE). It feels very fulfilling to have this feedback. It speaks to my vision, many years ago, of why I wanted to switch from being an acupuncturist to a Focusing teacher. I deeply respect acupuncture and what it can do. Acupunture is my first choice when I have a physical problem that I am not able to handle myself. But we can improve our health by becoming aware of the patterns held silently in our bodies. I am grateful to Sue for wanting to share her story. I publish it here with her permission.
“In your online seminar in Thinking at the Edge (TAE), specializing in Giving Language to Stress, I learned a huge amount about how I carry stress. I have been a lifelong stress suppressor, so wasn’t very aware of the way stress manifested itself in my body.
We deal with stress in ways that are unique to each of us
“The notion that we all carry stress in ways that are unique to each of us–this notion was most helpful. Of course, what we stress about is also unique to each person. I learned that, for me, stress was activated by being caught by surprise, or shocked, in some interpersonal interaction. Being caught off-guard would prevent my ‘internal editor’ from checking or inhibiting my real, authentic response. My internal editor didn’t want me to experience disapproval, anger, or worse from other people.
“This was intricately intertwined with a severe lack of assertiveness. I was doing Conflict Management in my Counselling course, and observed how hard it was for me to be assertive. This puzzled me, as I am very articulate and can argue my case well in many situations. Your course showed me that I become inarticulate when caught unawares, or when I’m uncertain of potential responses. This all happens at a very unconscious level. My ‘internal editor’ was protecting or guarding me, so non-Focusing approaches didn’t make much headway.
A safe way of listening to stress
“This was one of the other benefits of TAE. The structured nature of the steps helped me feel safe. I could look at my stress in a way that was less identified with the ‘blocking’ part.
“Using the step of taking a situation that triggered stress, and stepping back to look at the patterns in this and other stress situations, really brought my ‘internal editor’ into clear view. This response-suppression pattern consumes an enormous amount of energy, and is stress-inducing in and of itself! The cost of not being authentic is huge.
“Before your class, I started going to a great chiropractor, who tested my adrenal function. This involved placing a heart rate monitor on my chest, and then simply having me stand up from lying down. This sophisticated software, used by cardiologists, reads the body’s response to this effort. Around 1000 was normal – my graph was basically flat-lining! The chiropractor asked me whether I had been under huge stress, and back then, my answer was no. I just didn’t recognize it!!
Better adrenal function, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar
“So, a couple of years later, post your TAE course, and some good supplements (Adrenotone by Metagenics), as well as a couple of Focusing partnership session a week, my levels are up round 600+. In addition, a recent blood test showed my usually very high cholesterol levels – 7-8+ (family pattern) had dropped 2 points, as had my blood sugar levels.
“I attribute this to Focusing, and I’m very grateful to your TAE and Stress course for being the precursor to these great bodily improvements. Your course opened up the whole area of stress, and the way it manifests in me. It has allowed me to release a lot of those blockages to living and feeling, authentically.” –Sue Burrell, Sydney, Australia
Want to find out more about dealing with stress? Contact Beatrice for a free consultation.
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.
Last night I had a long conversation with my son, who is 25 years old, and works as a civil engineer for a large project that is redesigning and revamping the water drainage system of a major US city. His department is responsible for looking at traditional water drainage projects and adding “green” components, like water- permeable pavement that filters rain water instead of shunting it off into drainage systems, or “rain gardens”: areas planted with native species that are watered by the flow of the drainage system and thus filter the water and retain some of it as well.
His department looks for where these innovative green systems can fit into already-planned public works. Naturally, his department encounters resistance and complaints when they suggest their green innovations, because the traditional engineers are not used to working with natural systems like rain and plants, or thinking about permeable pavement, etc.
Dan told me that when he encounters this kind of resistance and rivalry between his department and the “sticks and bricks” engineers, he remembers that in Nonviolent Communication, everyone is acting from their needs. They are not “enemies” or “difficult people”. He said his department relies on him to go downstairs and deal with the “sticks and bricks” engineers, because he knows how to listen to them, find out what their needs are, and communicate those to his department and vice versa. He said that he was surprised by the amount of strife and “talking behind each others backs” that he encountered in both the engineering jobs he has had, and that listening to people’s needs helps him get around all that and makes it easier to get things done.
This afternoon, 4 “empathizers” showed up on the daily conflict resolution call from 4-6. There was Jesse from North Carolina, Harald from Portugal, Jonathan from Scotland, and myself.
There were no “takers” for our services, so we ended up having a fascinating discussion for 2 hours.
The calls that Jonathan and Jesse have been in on had to do mainly with problems within the movement, like friction between protesters and homeless people who have been living in places that are now Occupy sites, or who have joined Occupy sites. Jesse pointed out that often this is the first contact protesters have had with the realities of poverty in the US. Also mentioned were dealing with the reality of winter coming and of inner resources wearing thin.
While admiration was expressed for the way the movement is self-organized and not willing to define itself yet in one way or another, there was also concern that there needs to be inquiry into what we DO want. Visioning needs to be done about the society we want to create.
Jesse observed that in the day to day necessities of survival in the camps, not enough time and attention go into connection to self, in ways that can renew inner resources AND lead to the visioning and thinking process. Those actively involved in the protests often have had no experience with the value of empathic listening or thinking from the felt sense.
If deep listening and thinking in new ways are not incorporated into the movement, there is the danger of easy enemies being targeted: there might be no real recognition of the part we all play in having created this societal and economic structure that doesn’t work anymore. We run the risk giving all our energy to “removing Mubarak” (in the US, the “one percent”) but having no real and lasting change.
We agreed that the kind of empathic listening that we offer can do a lot to facilitate the change that needs to take place.
We somehow need to build trust in our services and get people to experience the value of touching into what is emerging from inside, both to prevent burnout, ease pain and aid the new thinking process.
Jesse’s observation from listening to the protesters was that “a lot of the pain is from raw confusion of what to do next.”
From my perspective, it would be great if all the people familiar with Focusing and Thinking at the Edge could inundate the Occupy Wall Street groups, pencils in hand. It could go a long way to allowing fresh thinking and action to emerge.
It felt to all four of us that human interaction is uniquely central to these protests, and therefore those of us familiar with Focusing, NVC and other tools for peace really need to take our place as part of it. We need to let the protesters know that we are there for them not just when conflicts erupt, but also to listen deeply to their ideas, discomforts, and soul urgings, so that the movement can really express the richness it wants to bring to the world.