Most of us, myself included, grew up with the notion of our bodies as bio-physical machines that no matter how astoundingly beautiful,intricate and complex, they are in the end merely physiological.Nothing more, nothing less.
I had this general assumption challenged when I read Eugene T. Gendlin’s book called ‘Focusing’ a couple of years ago.
Gendlin considers the body to be intrinsically linked to the person as a whole and not just a separate physical system that answers to the brain’s command.He however keeps his literature free from metaphysical notions such as mind, consciousness and spirit.
The idea behind Gendlin’s concept of focusing is not novel per se. It intersects with several other key ideas from ancient philosophies such as the practice of mindfulness meditation. The difference is that he offers a series of simple practical steps to develop awareness of our inner bodily sensations and use this ‘felt sense’ to listen to the wisdom of our bodies through what he calls the six focusing movements.
In essence, the focusing method is a way to use awareness of inner bodily sensations as an entry point to an inner mental space. So far this is perfectly the same methodology as mindfulness meditation – using inner awareness as a way to get into the ‘gap’ between our thoughts and, to use Eckhart Tolle’s words, access an undercurrent of stillness beneath our frenetic stream of conscious jitter. This is the first of the six focusing movements, Gendlin calls ‘clearing a space’.
The way that focusing parts away from meditation and mindfulness techniques is its application. Focusing uses the awareness of inner bodily feelings, usually in the stomach,chest or throat areas, in relation with a problem or an issue.
So for example, I might be having a creative block due to stress at work and I might use focusing techniques to ‘reach into’ the ‘felt sense’ (say a tight constriction in my stomach). The technique also involves staying with the felt sense for a while and using a ‘friendly nonjudgmental approach’ to get a deeper insight of my subconscious causes of the creative block.
This gets us to another two steps which are ‘asking’ and ‘receiving’. It may sound funny, weird or counter intuitive but the technique actually involves communicating with the felt sense as if you were talking to a friend. It is at this point that one may reach a state of ‘receptive awareness’. Images, words,voices or ideas might emerge that gives us intuitive solutions or answers to a problem and this may direct us into shifting our way of seeing a particular thing or problem.
My opinion about Gendlin’s concept of focusing is that it is a cross-breed between mindfulness meditation (since it involves developing our inner awareness) and creativity stimulation (problem-solving through accessing our intuitive domain). More than that it uses our own bodies as a medium.
If you want to have a go at it I am listing 12 easy steps for practicing focusing:
Find a comfortable position… Relax and close your eyes… Take a few deep breaths… and when you’re ready just ask, “How am I inside right now?” Don’t answer. Give an answer time to form in your body… Turn your attention like a searchlight into your inside feeling place and just greet whatever you find there. Practice taking a friendly attitude toward whatever is there. Just listen to your organism.
2.Begin to describe something
Now something is here. You can sense it somewhere. Take some time now to notice just where it is in your body. Notice if it would feel right to begin to describe it, as simply as you might tell another person what you are aware of. You can use words, images, gestures, metaphors, whatever fits, captures, expresses somehow the quality of this whole thing. And when you’ve described it a bit, take some time to notice how your body responds to that. It’s like you’re checking the description with the body feeling, saying “Does this fit you well?”
3.Pick a problem
Feel yourself magnetically pulled toward the one thing in your stack that most needs your attention right now. If you have any trouble letting it choose you, ask, “What is worst?” (or “What’s best?” ?– good feelings can be worked with too!). “What most needs some work right now? “What won’t let go of me?” Pick one thing.
4.Let the felt sense form
Ask “What does this whole thing feel like?”. “What is the whole feel of it?” Don’t answer with what you already know about it. Listen to your body. Sense the issue freshly. Give your body 30 seconds to a minute for the feel of “all of that” to form.
5.Find the handle
Find a word, phrase, image, sound or gesture that feels like it matches, comes from, or will act as a ‘handle’ on the felt sense, the whole feel of it. Keep your attention on the area in your body where you feel it, and just let a word, phrase, image, sound or gesture appear that feels like a good fit.
6.Resonating the handle
Say the word, phrase, image, sound or gesture back to yourself. Check it against your body. See if there is a sense of “rightness,” an inner “yes, that’s it”. If there isn’t, gently let go of that handle and let one that fits better appear.
7.Ask & Receive
Now we are going to ask the felt sense some questions. Some it will answer, some it won’t. Receive whatever answers it gives.
Ask the questions with an expectantly friendly attitude and be receptive to whatever it sends you.
Ask “What’s the crux of this feeling?” “What’s the main thing about it?” Don’t answer with your head; let the body feeling answer. Now, breathe that answer out.
And ask, “What’s wrong?” Imagine the felt sense as a shy child sitting on a stoop. It needs caring encouragement to speak. Go over to it, sit down, and gently ask, “What’s wrong?” Wait. Now, breathe that answer out.
And ask, “What’s the worst of this feeling?” “What makes it so bad?” Wait… Now, breathe that answer out of your system.
And ask, “What does this feeling need?” Wait… Now, breathe that answer out.
And now ask, “What is a good small step in the right direction for this thing?” “What is a step in the direction of fresh air?” Wait. Now, breathe that answer out.
Ask, “What needs to happen?” “What actions need to be taken?” Wait. Now, breathe that answer out.
And now ask, “What would my body feel like if this thing were all better, all resolved?” Move your body into the position or posture it would be in if this were all cleared up. This is called looking the answer up in the back of the book. Now, from this position, ask, “What’s between me and here?” “What’s in the way of it being all OK?” Wait. Now, breathe that answer out.
Finally, ask your felt sense space to send you the exactly right question you need at this moment. Now ask the felt sense that question. Don’t answer with your head. Just hang out with the felt sense, keep it company, let it respond. Wait. Now, breathe that answer out.
8.Sense for a stopping place
Take some time to sense inside if it is OK to end in a few minutes or if there something more that needs to be known first. If something more comes then take some time to acknowledge that.
9.Receive and experience what has changed
Take some time to sense any changes that have happened in your body, especially anything which feels more open or released. This is sometimes called a ‘shift’.
10.Let it know you’re willing to come back
You might want to say to It “I’m willing to come back if you need me.”
And you might want to thank what has come, and appreciate your body’s process.
12.Bring awareness out
Take some time to bring your awareness slowly outward again, feeling your hands and feet, being aware of the room and letting your eyes come naturally open.
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