Steve Silverton

This article has been published in Self and Society.

Thought, I love thought.
But not the jiggling and twisting of already existent ideas
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of the conscience,
Thought is gazing on to the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to a conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending

Focusing teaches us to think like a poet. We learn to dip below the surface of the explicit and already formed and to find new symbols for what is implicit, symbols which, in the poet Don Paterson’s words, make us ‘open to suggestion, vulnerable to reprogramming, complicit in the creative business of […] self-transformation’.

DH Lawrence’s poem ‘Thought’, which I quote above, evokes something of Focusing’s power to help us reflect with the whole of ourselves, and come to new conclusions. But we do not need to be poets to focus. Unlike the poet, the Focuser does not need to find an artful form of words. And whereas the poet must make symbols speak about more than their private experience, striving for some kind of collective relevance, the Focuser does not need to make their symbols relevant for anything other than their own life. But there is, I think, something similar in the process of making a poem and the process of Focusing: this process of waiting for a symbol to form itself from the subtle and implicate layers of experience. Once experience is made explicit in the form of a symbol, it can be re-cognised – known again.

The gift of Focusing is to make the process of ‘man in his wholeness wholly attending’ explicit and teachable. By learning to attend wholly in this way, we can open up fresh perspectives, new insights, new ways of looking and feeling at and about things. Focusing takes us forward, so that whatever was occupying our attention sits a little, or a lot, differently with us. It takes us to a place, simply, where we are more in touch with our truth.

Once learned and honed with continual practice, this process can be a wonderful friend, offering a path to self-knowledge, deepening and enriching creative work and relationships, and acting as a guide when there are difficult choices to make.

It is in this last respect, as a tool for decision making in both personal and professional life, that I have found Focusing to be a particularly potent ally.

Not Knowing

Now, let go of what you think you know about thinking! To get to somewhere new inside ourselves, we have to let go of what we already know about the problem or situation we are focusing on. As long as we are in what we already know, we are stuck in the ‘jiggling and twisting of already existent ideas’, in Lawrence’s l phrase. So we have to allow not knowing. Here I want to call on another poetic voice, for this capacity seems very close to what Keats called ‘negative capability’:

‘That is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason.’

Our technological culture does not allow much room for not knowing. There is huge pressure to know, to be decisive, to get it all sorted. This can prematurely close down what can be an extraordinarily potent and creative space: the womb, if you like, of not knowing, with all its receptivity to something new and surprising. Keats believed that negative capability marked out the truly creative artist. It is certainly a feature of the creative focusing process.

It is worth noting here that the word ‘focusing’ is itself a metaphor, a visual metaphor. It describes one aspect of this ‘attending wholly’, that aspect of looking closely, bringing something at first indistinct, blurry, vague into focus, so that it can be named. When we look at something, we seek it out with our eyes. We go out to it. Looking is an active process. But what we call ‘focusing’ could equally well be described with an auditory metaphor: as a kind of inner listening. We listen closely, as if with a stethoscope, to the body-mind’s experience of a situation, so that ‘it’ can tell ‘us’ what it knows. The listening metaphor captures more of the receptive aspect of focusing than the visual word ‘focusing’.

The Inner Relationship

Negative capability is one element of what Focusers call ‘the inner relationship’ or ‘the focusing attitude’. The key to successful focusing is the quality of our our relationship with experience. When approaching our experience in Focusing, we need to be friendly, curious, interested, non-judgemental, and we need to let go of what we know. We bring an attitude of open, friendly, non-judgemental curiosity to our experience. We attend to or with the body; to and with the body’s direct and immediate experience of the situation we are focusing with; to and with the felt sense of it.

Once we have cultivated this attitude or quality of realtionship, the next step, or aspect (it is, of course, not a linear sequence) is symbolisation. We try to represent the felt sense with a word, an image, a sound, a gesture… . The word ‘re-present’ is apt here. We are trying to make implicit experience present, present to ourselves in an alive, vital and fresh way.

Then comes dialogue. This not necessarily a literal dialogue, although it can be. It is, however, always some kind of relationship – relationship with the felt sense. We are present with the felt sense and with the symbol, resonating with each, feeling for a fit, or for where the symbol does not quite fit. When it does, we get a sense of relief, release, insight, opening, forward movement.

All this takes place in presence. Presence can be distinguished from partiality, to use Anne Weiser Cornell’s helpful terms. In presence we are able to attend to the whole of our experience without, as it were, taking sides, or excluding any part. As soon as we do either of those things we are in partiality: we have identified with, or dissociated from, some aspect of our experience.

Focusing With A Decision

To make things clearer, I would like at this stage to give an example of using focusing with a decision. The example is drawn from my own experience. I usually focus alone and use either a piece of paper or a small notebook computer, to write or draw as I focus. This helps me to stay in touch with the process and I find that seeing the symbols in front of me works well as a reflection which allows me to resonate with the symbol, or in Lawrence’s words, to test it ‘on the touchstone of conscience’. If I use the computer, the process of typing -and mis-typing, then correcting- and then going back over what I have written, works in the same way.

The decision was around moving house. This was and is a major life issue for me, and I have worked with it for a long period, using focusing. Below I present one focusing session on this topic, which was a key session in moving that decision process forward, but which was also the outcome of several sessions of working on it. I choose it because it seems to exemplify the kind of many-stranded, complex choices that face us in life, and which focusing can help with. I will then draw out what I have found to be three very helpful things to try when focusing on a decision.

To start the session I set up a focusing space. I have my own way of altering the physical space to mark out and ‘ritualise’ the activity, which I find helps me to cultivate presence – that attitude of friendly, interested, non-judgemental, not knowing in relation to experience. I ensure that I will not be disturbed, set up the space and have my computer at the ready.

To begin, I feel into the whole thing, asking something like how does this whole thing around moving sit with me just now?

I notice a warm contented feeling in my belly, like something really appreciates the attention. There is a sense of something about really loving and needing the safety and security of this physical place, and the words come: ‘I really don’t want all that upheaval right now’. And that sentence feels really right. Then an image comes of a plaster being ripped off a wound which has not yet healed. The words ‘Not ready’. A realisation that I have been through a challenging and difficult time this past three or four years, that only recently have I started to feel more healed and resourced, and that this process needs some time to complete itself before taking on something as big as moving, with all the stress, instability and upheaval this entails.

That feels really right. That feels like just where I am right now with it. But I want to feel into the other side of it. I have sat with this problem for long enough to know that this is not the whole story. The part that needs security and safety is very strong right now. But I’d like to feel into the other side of it. So I ask, ‘how would it feel to move somewhere new?’

What comes now is a kind of heavy, leaden feeling in my stomach and chest and the words ‘more of the same’. What brings this is the sense that even though the physical surroundings might change, even though there would be practical advantages, there would be a sense of oppression, struggle. This is about the pressure of a bigger mortgage, having to pay a bigger mortgage on my own. It is something about being on my own with it. It is this being on my own with it that brings the sense of ‘more of the same’ and the heavy, oppressed feeling that comes with that.

I am already feeling much clearer about where I stand just now on this. What is new for me here is the allowing of this strong impulse to safety, to ‘hold fire’ for the time being, and this sense that I do not want to do it alone any longer. I had not realised how identified I was, before, with the part that wants to move. And I had not realised that I was not allowing other possibilities into the picture. The possibility that I could move on in a different way than I had been imagining.

What is fresh and surprising here – and needs some more processing – is a part that simply does not want to do it alone any more. A part that needs and wants a sharing of life and possibility – a partnership.

Now I try something that has really worked well before. I try turning these thoughts and issues into simple statements that I can then ‘test on the touchstone of conscience’. This is like doing one of those questionnaires where you have to choose between, usually, five boxes, which range from ‘agree strongly’, through ‘neither agree nor disagree’ to ‘disagree strongly’.

The first statement I try is ‘I don’t feel ready to move just now’. I get a strong felt sense of agreement with that.

Then I try ‘I am happy to stay here for several more years’. I get a strong felt sense of disagreement with that. Like something would have to go very wrong for that to happen.

So I try ‘I am happy to stay where I am for now and explore possibilities for co-operation and partnership with others’. That feels just right. That feels like where I am right now. And that feels like a good place to stop for now.

In the above description I have telescoped around 45 minutes of time into a few sentences, to convey the essence of what was a key session. I got a breakthrough in what had been something very stuck, where neither staying nor going felt good. What gave this was really allowing the part that needs stability right now to have its voice heard. This led to realising that the way I had framed the problem was too limited: there were other possibilities for moving on besides buying another place on my own.

Now I want to draw out those three ‘top tips’ for working with decisions, whether alone or with a focusing partner:

  1. Ask ‘What is the felt sense of the whole thing? How does it all sit with you right now?’
  2. Feel into each side of the decision. How would it be to say ‘yes’/ to say ‘no’?
  3. Turn the questions into statements and then feel for the felt sense of agreement or disagreement

A Concluding Story

Focusing can open a door to the mystery of who we are, to the subtle currents of being which poets and artists give form to on a collective level, but which on an individual level can guide us towards what is right, true and real for us in our own lives. This combination of depth, wonder and mystery with the pragmatic and the everyday reminds me of the Zen tradition, and I want to end by quoting Neil Friedman’s adaptation of a Zen story, which for me captures the marvellous way Focusing can bridge the subtle and the ordinary levels of reality:

Once upon a time there was a convocation of healers, wizards, sorcerers, therapists, channels, mystics and disembodied spirits. Each had a time to get up and do his or her particular miracle.

Quite the pyrotechnics! One walked on fore. One hypnotised the entire audience without their knowing it. One foretold the future. One read past lives. One stood on one leg in a bizarre position until his whole body shook. One did medical diagnoses based only on each audience member’s name and age.

Then a short, plain-looking man got up. It was his turn. He said ‘My miracle is that when I am hungry, I eat; and when I am thirsty, I drink; and I know when I am hungry and when I am thirsty and what I am hungry for and what I am thirsty for’.

Then he sat down.

He was the focuser.

Further Reading

Cornell, Anne Weiser, ‘The Power of Focusing’, New Harbinger Publications, 1996

Friedman, N, ‘On Focusing’, published privately

Lawrence, DH, ‘Complete Poems’, Wordsworth Editions, 1994

Paterson, D, ‘Rhyme and Reason’, in The Guardian, 6.11.04.

Steve Silverton is a Core Process Psychotherapist and business coach
with a private practice in London. For more details see www.stevesilverton.net.

He can be contacted via the Bloomsbury Therapy
Centre on 020 7404 5348 or at s.silverton@virgin.net.

Campbell Purton

I have taught two focusing courses in India this year (2005). One – in January – was
a weekend introducing Focusing to people associated with the Chellamuthu Trust
(www.msctrust.org), which is a non-governmental organisation providing mental
health care and rehabilitation in and around Madurai in southern India. There were
about 40 participants, including social workers, community care workers,
psychologists, and teachers. They had some knowledge of counselling, but person-
centred counselling and Focusing were new to them. They were very used to
structured, medical-model approaches to therapy, and seemed fascinated by the
Focusing-oriented alternative. One of the participants was a counsellor at the
American College in Madurai, and I was invited to give a talk there. I also gave a talk
to students at the Madurai Kamaraj University (and had my picture in the local
newspaper!) Altogether, a wonderful few days.

At the end of August I went back to southern India, this time to Bangalore, to give a
week�s workshop at Montfort College, which is an associated institution of Bangalore
University. This is the only college in India which runs counselling certificate and
diploma courses as we know them in the West. The Montfort directors had their own
counselling training in the Philippines which (apart from Thailand) seems to be the
only other place in Asia where such training is available. They have difficulties
fitting humanistic counselling training into the prevailing ethos of cognitive-
behavioural and clinical-psychology approaches, but are determined to bring ‘our’
sort of counselling to India. They have many more applicants for their courses than
they can accept, and are just completing a huge new building which will
accommodate the counselling, psychology and teacher-training courses that they run.
As in Madurai they were fascinated by the focusing-oriented approach. I had a group
of 15, and was lucky to have the assistance of Kabir Ganjee, one of my students from
UEA, who has family connections in Bangalore. (Kabir is back with us this year as a
trainee trainer on our counselling diploma, and is working for his MA). The College
library is very short of books, especially on Focusing. If anyone has any such books
that they no longer want, could you let me know? I could take a few over when I
next go (probably in July 2006) – or even better, you could pop one in an envelope
and send it surface mail to :
Mathew Panathanath,
Montfort College,
184 Old Madras Road,
Indiranagar,
Bangalore 560038,
India.

Many thanks!

Campbell Purton

Introduction

These were written for the second, third and fourth years of the course ‘Focusing and
the Power of Philosophy’ which I taught with Rob Foxcroft and Barbara McGavin on
the Isle of Cumbrae in 2002-2004. The ‘Ladybird’ title is taken from a series of short
books that was popular in the 1970’s – each gave a brief, but accurate and informed
summary of knowledge in a particular field.

I have left them as they were for the Cumbrae course; a modified version of the
material on A Process Model can be found in ‘A brief guide to A Process Model‘ in
The Folio: A Journal for Focusing and Experiential Therapy. Vol 19, No. 12 (2000-
2004), pp. 112-120. Gene read this through and suggested some changes, which I
incorporated.

 

The Ladybird Guide to A Process Model – Part 1

In a note to Rob Foxcroft Gene says “I do know that the Process Model is difficult to
read partly because I don’t explain what I am doing until the last section of III and the
section IVAd. These might be put first. I also think that some part of VIII is
understandable near the beginning because that’s where the concepts come from.”

The last section of III is the one titled ‘Some motivations and powers of that model so
far’. In this section Gene says that his project is ‘to create an alternative model in
which we define living bodies in such a way that one of them can be ours’. And –
‘We can speak from living, and we can make rudimentary concepts from speaking-
from, and especially from focusing and from the process of explication. Since these
are possible in reality, they can lead us to an alternative set of “basic” concepts of a
“reality” in which we would not seem impossible.’

Gene believes that our current ways of thinking don’t really allow for the existence of
human beings in the world. Our current ways of thinking separate ‘the world’ from
‘what the world means to us’; once that is done ‘what the world means to us’ is
outside the world. Gene wants to bring meaning back into the world. But there is no
place for meaning if we think of human beings as physical (physiological) systems.
So to make room for meaning in the world, the world has to be re-thought. Gene’s
concepts constitute a framework for this re-thinking.

The central concepts which he develops are drawn from focusing and the process of
explication. It might seem strange to base a whole way of looking at the world on
these things, but it is not really so. Focusing and explication are activities where there
is the creation of meaning, so that in them we have the crucial thing which is left out
of the current way of thinking. If we can develop a new way of thinking which
allows for focusing and explication, then we have a way of thinking which allows
there to be us.

In focusing a felt sense forms which carries us forward in a way that is different from
the way we are carried forward in logic or mathematics. In these disciplines what was
there, such as ‘7+5′ carries us forward to ’12’. Or, from ‘All men are mortal’ and
‘Socrates is a man’ we are carried forward to ‘Socrates is mortal’. The premises of a
valid argument imply its conclusion. But in focusing, in explication, in the
completing of a poem, the next step is ‘implied’ in a different sense of ‘implies’.
This new sense of ‘implies’ is one of Gendlin’s central concepts. Implying is the
converse of ‘carrying forward’: if one event implies another then the second event is
carried forward by the first.

Gendlin introduces this new sense of ‘implies’ in Ch 2, where he says that hunger
implies feeding. This is not a logical implication (it is not part of the meaning of
‘hunger’ that it is always followed by eating). Nor is it a causal implication (since
hunger can occur without eating following it). It is rather that eating is what will
satisfy hunger, that hunger will continue until eating – or something else (such as
intravenous feeding) – takes place. In the hunger there is the implying of feeding, but
what ‘feeding’ amounts to can’t be specified as any particular form of event. Feeding
has to be defined in terms of ‘that which removes the implying of feeding’.

Gene says (p. 9) ‘hunger is being about to search for food, find it and eat it’. Hunger
is both an occurrence and an implying. In Gendlin’s scheme nothing is just itself – it
always implies other things. In this way his scheme is different from the one that is
familiar in science. In science we usually start with separate things (e.g. atoms or
cells) which can in principle exist on their own. Then complex bodies are seen as
being built up from these elements. Of course there are connections between the
elements in the shape of the laws of physics or chemistry, but the laws could in
principle change without the elements changing. In the ‘atomistic’ view a thing
doesn’t imply anything beyond itself. Everything is, in Hume’s phrase, ‘loose and
separate’; the connections are supplied by us, by our theories.

In Gene’s scheme there are no loose and separate entities. Each entity implies others.
One ‘other implied entity’ is that which will carry forward the implying. For instance
eating is what carries forward hunger. But there are also other implied entities –
hunger implies a body, and a body implies an environment. There is a distinction
here which Gendlin suggests lies at the basis of our concepts of time and space. He
sees these concepts as being less fundamental than the concepts of implying and
occuring. Time is a more abstract notion which derives from the fact that there are
implyings which are carried forward by occurrings; space derives from the other
implyings. Rather than begin with space, time and matter, as in current ways of
thinking, Gene begins with implying and occurring. The detailed discussions of
space and time strike me as some of the most difficult parts of PM, but I think we
need to appreciate that what Gene is doing is quite radical, so that we can get some
feel for why PM starts in such a peculiar way with the b-en terminology.

In his introductory note Gene says that he will ‘lay down some terms as if they came
out of nowhere’. Of course, the terms do come from somewhere – they come from
what is needed if he is to be able to talk later (in chapters VII and VIII) about
meaning, focusing, and human things generally. But at the start he wants to construct
some concepts for talking about living things which will later allow there to be human
beings and meanings in the world. There is an important sense in which PM starts
with Chapter VIII, with the fully human world in which we discover/create meanings.
This world can’t be constructed out of the physical-biological world as it is presently
understood. So Gene reformulates the physical-biological world in a way which
inevitably seems very odd if we don’t know why he is doing it.

Section IVAd-2 is the next section in which Gene pauses to reflect on his strategy.
He says ‘Our model begins with concepts which begin with interaction’. This is the
principle which he calls ‘interaction first’. In the model there are no fully separable
things, events or processes. Everything is what it is through how it is affected by
other things, which themselves are what they are through how they are affected by the
first thing. Gene’s story of the IF cans (in IVAe) may help us to get a first feel for
this. It is the same point as is touched on by Paul Weiss on p. 26 of ECM. (But
remember that the IF cans are only a machine analogy. They differ from ‘interaction
first’ in that (1) the adjustments are made in sequence, whereas in ‘interaction first’ or
‘interaffecting’ everything is there in one time instant, and (2) the adjustments are
made from outside the system in accordance with a human goal, whereas in organic
interaffecting the ‘goal’ emerges as what Gene calls the ‘focaling’ of the
interaffecting. See IVAf for ‘focaling’.)

In this section (IVAd-2) Gene says that ‘interaction first’ applies as much to temporal
as to spatial relations. The present is a carrying-forward of the past, and the past
implies the present. What we experience in the present clearly depends on the past,
but what we experience as the past depends on what else is happening in the present.
The notion of a time sequence in which events occur in sequence without inherent
connections is a late development in human thinking, which belongs with the notion
of a physical world as made up of independent particles moving in empty space. The
real, lived world, however, is one in which nothing exists independently of its
relations with everything else.

In the sections following IVAd Gene continues to develop the concepts he requires.
Sections I-V of PM are his general model. The model applies equally to bodily
processes, behaviour, culture, language and focusing. In Chapter VI he uses the
model to rethink behaviour, in Chapter VIIA he uses it to rethink prelinguistic human
culture, and in VIIB does the same for language. Roughly speaking, Chapter VI is
concerned with the world of animals; in it Gene develops his ‘interaction first’ notions
of behaviour, consciousness, perception, and motivation. These form a cluster of
concepts which have application in the case of animals (sentient beings), but not in
the case of plants. Human beings come into the picture in Chapter VII. Here all the
concepts which applied in Ch VI still apply, but now there is another conceptual
‘layer’ which is associated with the symbolic ways in which human beings interact
with one another. Chapter VII is concerned with what one could call ‘traditional’
ways of being human; the kind of human life which is rooted in standard cultural and
linguistic forms. Gene sees the modern world as going beyond such forms (while
retaining them in the same way as the human level ‘retains’ the animal level). The
modern developments involve a growing awareness of alternative conceptual
schemes, with the result that there is no longer a single agreed tradition of what will
carry us forward. Focusing can be seen as a response to this situation, in which all the
available ways of seeing a situation are brought together in a felt sense. Then action
carries forward from the felt sense rather than in any of the traditional ways. This
way of being human (Chapter VIII) is different from the traditional way (Chapter
VII).

One way of thinking about the structure of the book is, then, that Chapers I-V lay out
the new conceptual scheme which centres around ‘interaction first’, and show how it
applies to organisms in general. Chapter VI applies the scheme to animals, Chapter
VII to ‘traditional’ human beings, and Ch VIII to ‘modern’ human beings. There is
an important sense in which the concepts developed for organisms in general are
retained, but elaborated on, in the case of animals. Then the concepts which apply to
animals are retained but elaborated on in the case of traditional human beings, and
similarly for the transition from traditional to modern human beings. This scheme, in
which the human world elaborates the animal world, and the animal world elaborates
the vegetative world is very similar to that of Aristotle (Gene is among other things an
Aristotelean scholar).

However the way in which each level is transformed into the next is unique to Gene’s
philosophy. Roughly speaking, the transitions occur where a process at one level is
not carried forward at that level. It is familiar in focusing that a process at the VII
level (traditional human) may not be carried forward by anything which is
traditionally (culturally) available. For instance, in a traditional society the response
to an insult might be to throw down a gauntlet, which would lead to a duel, and hence
to a resolution of the conflict But that is hardly an option in contemporary society.
One might, in more metaphorical ways, throw down a gauntlet, but the modern human
being will more likely reflect on what really would be the best thing to do here, on
what it would be authentic for me to do, being me. They would in short do something
like focusing. The environment no longer provides a traditional solution to the
problem, so rather than make a symbolic gesture (as one does at the VII level) one
does something quite new (focusing – level VIII) which nevertheless involves
symbolising. One symbolises to oneself all the possible ways forward, but does not
yet act on them. Action, when it comes, comes not from the traditional symbolic
context but from the individual’s felt sense.

But just as focusing (VIII) presupposes symbolising (VII), so symbolising
presupposes behaving (VI). In chapter VII Gene outlines the very complex way in
which symbolising can arise out of situations where behaving does not carry one
forward. The natural behavioural response to an insult would perhaps be anger and
attack, but in human cultures such ‘natural’ responses may not carry us forward
effectively. Instead of actual fighting, something is said, or gestures are made, and
the situation carries forward on that (VII) level. Gene shows how this transition is
prefigured in animal threat displays. Nevertheless, speaking or gesturing is still a
(specialised) form of behaviour.

Then again, behaviour presupposes biological tissue processes. Speech and gestures,
like any other behaviour require muscle movements and nerve firings. During some
portions of an organism’s life behaviour is not required. (Plants don’t have behaviour
at all – their needs are satisfied without any moving around). However, in the case of
animals, the environment does not provide for all physiological needs without the
necessity for behaviour. The physiological processes associated with hunger stir the
animal into action which continues until feeding has taken place. Then the animal
rests, becomes more like a plant for a while. The behaviour is the animal’s way of
carrying forward physiological processes which are carried forward in plants without
behaviour. With social animals the patterns of behaviour become increasingly
complex: the animal may not only have to hunt but also to threaten another animal
which is about to steal its food. If it is a traditional human being it may express this
threat verbally, and if it is a modern human being it may reflect on whether this is a
situation which, for them, is best met by assertiveness or patience, or … something
more subtle but more appropriate to this situation.

However, even the modern human being focusing on their dilemma has to say
something, saying something involves physical behaviour, and physical behaviour
involves tissue changes. Focusing in itself involves the manipulation of symbols,
symbolising involves a complex background of changing behavioural potentials, and
these involve physiological changes. It is for this reason that focusing can ultimately
be seen a a physical process which has physical effects. Of course it must have
physical effects if a person is to be different in their actual living. But what the
‘physical’ is, has to be re-thought in a way which allows us to understand how
focusing can do this.

I have said something about the structure of PM insofar as that structure relates to the
different ‘layers’ of bodily process, behaviour, culture, language and focusing. There
is much more to the details of each of these: in the chapter on behaviour (VI) Gene
shows how sentience and perception can be seen as arising out of behaviour that does
not involve consciousness, and how this involves a new kind of space (behaviour
space) in which the animal moves. In VII he discusses how symbolic and linguistic
forms of behaviour can develop and, with them, the forms of space and time with
which we are familiar. In VIII he elaborates the theory of focusing on the basis of
what has been developed previously, showing how in focusing we again enter a new
kind of space with its own characteristic objects. It becomes clear hear that focusing
as we know it is just one example of a way of experiencing associated with all
creative innovation. There is much more also in the section (I-V) on the general
model, some of which will be familiar to readers of ECM.

In addition to all this there is another theme running through PM. As we have seen
Gene pauses at times and reflects on what he is doing. What he is doing comes from
Chapter VIII, the chapter in which creative innovation is discussed. PM is itself a
creative innovation; Gene builds PM through developing concepts in a way that is
theoretically underpinned by the material in VIII. He himself sees the method of
concept formation (which is formalised in TAE) as more important than the theory
which he has developed to explain it. This is the same attitude as that which he takes
in Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams, where he says “If you don’t like this theory,
don’t let it get in the way of the experiential steps which the book describes. They are
not based on theory. You don’t need the theory for them…Theory does not represent
what “is”. Theory makes sense, but sense-making is itself a kind of step which
expands what “was”. That opens to further steps, and these need not stay consistent
with the theory.”

For more on Gene’s theory see Appendix B of Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams,
from which the above quotation is taken, and also the theory section of his paper ‘The
client’s client: the edge of awareness’
in RL Levant & JM Shlien (eds) Client-
centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach. New York: Praeger (1984).
These are much easier to read than PM itself, but of course they omit much important
detail. You might also look at Greg Walkerden’s useful summary of PM ‘How I read
the structure of the PM text: what is a “kind” of process?’ This is on the Focusing
Institute website.

The Ladybird Guide to A Process Model – Part 2

This part is in two sections. The first section is taken from my chapter on Focusing-
oriented psychotherapy in The Tribes of the Person-Centred Nation (edited by Pete
Sanders, PCCS Books, 2004). It is meant to give an overview of the main themes inA
Process Model
. The second section goes through some of the themes in more detail,
especially material in Chapters V – VIII.

Section One

Gendlin sees human nature as being essentially interactional. A child is born into a
relationship with the world and can survive neither physically nor psychologically
without interacting with the world. There is a level of interaction which we share with
inanimate things: as physical beings we are the way we are through the interplay of
physical forces which constitute and act upon us. Then there is the level we share with
plants: our bodies are complex organic systems in which each element is what it is
partly as a result of the impact of other elements, which are the way they are partly
because of the way the first element is. In Gendlin’s terminology a living organism is
an ‘interaffecting whole’ which cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts. The
interaffecting extends beyond the physical boundaries of the organism: organisms are
what they are partly because of the way the environment is, and the environment is
the way it is partly because of the way the organism is.

Then there is much that we share with sentient animals, in whom there is a new kind
of interaction: an interaction between the animal and how it registers or perceives its
environment. Unlike a plant, an animal reacts not exactly to its environment but to
how the environment is for it . If the animal’s temperature-regulation system is faulty,
for example, it will behave in terms of the temperature it registers rather than in terms
of the actual temperature. With sentience comes a whole new kind of interaction with
the world. Finally, human beings have a mode of interaction with the world which
involves our construing it in terms of concepts and general principles. This has both
advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that we can guide our lives by
general principles which we can learn from others, without the need always to start
from scratch by ourselves. For instance, we may know that it is not a good thing to
drink salt water in order to quench our thirst, and this may make a difference to
whether we survive when shipwrecked. All that which comes through language and
tradition comes to us in terms of general truths or helpful principles, that is, the truths
or principles of the culture which we are born into. But there is a catch, which is that
where there are truths and helpful principles there can also be falsehoods and
misleading principles. We can get caught in the general and fail to check whether the
general principle really applies in our particular situation.

Gendlin emphasises that our situations are always more subtle and intricate than can
be articulated in terms of general concepts. For example, suppose that a person is in a
state which may correctly be described as ‘angry’. That is an application of a general
concept. Yet there is more to that person’s experience: they are angry , but with an
undercurrent of hurt, and not even exactly angry, but more full of resentment in
connection with what was done to them, yet also angry with themself for letting it
happen, and upset because they have let this happen again when they had only
yesterday realised that this is what they always let happen… There is an intricacy in
the lived experience which is fully captured by the concept of anger.

For Gendlin, human life is an interplay between the rich, intricate sensed experience
of our situations and the concepts which we employ to articulate those situations. It is
an interaction between this – my immediate sensed experience now, and the forms or
concepts in terms of which I express it. However, it is not as if my experience is
sitting there, whole and complete, and just waiting to have the appropriate labels put
on it. Immediate experience is not like that. It is something which prior to
articulation has no fixed form; or we could say that the forms which are to come are
there only implicitly. If we give our attention to our experiencing we can often sense
something there which cannot yet be articulated adequately. (It can be articulated a bit
just by saying ‘I feel something there’, and that is already to draw it a little into the
realm of the explicit). But what it is cannot yet be said. Gendlin often uses the
example of a poet who is trying to get the final line for a poem. The poet tries out
various possibilities, but as they do so they feel – physically feel – the not-rightness of
these proposed endings. There is a physically felt sense that these endings are not
right. They don’t connect with that other felt sense of what the poem needs. In order
to get a satisfactory ending (and it may never come) the poet has to stay with the felt
sense of what is needed, and wait for what may come. When the right line does come
there is a sense of release, perhaps a deeper breath – ‘Ah! – That’s it’. Now that the
last line is there the poet may sense the need to change some of the earlier lines before
the work is done. This last point shows vividly that one could not possibly get from
the earlier lines to the last one by any process of logic.

In Gendlin’s terminology the earlier lines imply the last line in a novel sense of
‘imply’. It is not that the last line is determined by the earlier lines, but nor is it that
any old last line would have done. There is an implication, but it is one that arises out
of the felt sense of what has come before and of what is now needed. The example of
the poet is just an illustration of what is involved in any aspect of our life which is
not entirely governed by explicit principles. Much of our life is governed by such
principles, and it would be foolish not to employ them when appropriate, but general
principles, by their nature, are inadequate when we are faced with novel situations, or
situations where we can all too clearly sense that none of the standard options are
going to be satisfactory. In these situations we are stuck, and we have to let go of the
general principles and familiar concepts for a while and dip down into the felt
intricacy of the situation.

In that felt intricacy there is much that is implicit, and which may be of help to us.
After all, we have built into our natures millions of years of evolution, and many
years of experience with complex situations; also many imagined situations, situations
about which we have read in novels or myths or biographies and so on. All this could
not possibly be set out in an explicit way, but it is there in us, in an implicit
interaffecting way which, if we will give it a chance, may give rise to a creative
possibility. What emerges may not be right; we will have to see…how would it feel if
I tried that?…Liberating? Constricting? What is the felt sense of this new possibility
that has come? What, actually, does this new thing amount to? Even if it would be
absurd to do exactly that, I might be able to find some non-absurd thing which still
preserves the spirit of what has come.

In brief summary, Gendlin’s view of human beings is that we are beings who are
always moving between our own immediate individual experiencing and the
expression of that experience in words, images, dance, music and so on, which allows
our experiencing to be in communication with others’ experiencing through its
formulation in some way which is not just ours, but sharable. What we are able to
share makes a difference to the cultural forms in which we live, just as much as the
cultural forms make a difference to how we construe our experiencing. Human life is
an experiential interaction process between what is private and individual and what is
public and communal.

Section Two

Chapters I-V

I will try now to summarise the essential points in the first part of PM (chapters I –
V), focusing especially on points which there was not time to elaborate on last year.

Gendlin’s model is a process model. The more familiar model starts with individual
things (such as atoms) and then develops the notions of change, and connections with
other things. The things in that model are essentially separate, and are only linked
externally through being existing in the same space-time framework, and being
subject to the laws of motion. In this model the problem is how to explain change and
interdependence within a basic framework in which the things (the atoms) stay the
same, and are separate from each other.

In Gendlin’s model the problem is the opposite: we need to be able to account for
stability (lack of change) and for individual entities, within a basic framework in
which everything is in flux, and everything depends on everything else.

The Process Model begins with change, process, interaction.

It starts with ‘implying’, which is already a concept involving connection and change.
Into the implying something occurs, which may or may not carry the implying
forward.
If the implying is not carried forward, the process is stopped, and the implying
remains the same. This is the first point at which, in starting from change, we get to
something which does not change.

When something occurs which resumes the process it is as if that something is
‘recognised’. There is again something that is ‘the same’.

We don’t yet have the concept of a body, but there is already a distinction between the
stopped process and the other processes which continue. Here is a first separation
within the interaffecting whole.
We can say that the body is what continues when a process is stopped.
The body carries the stopped process.

Processes interaffect. They are what they are through being affected by other
processes which have already been affected by them.
An occurrence is a focaling of all the involved processes.

pp. 75-7 Intervening events develop in a stoppage – Gendlin calls them ‘stop/on’s’.
Some of these involve repetition or reiteration (leafing) – the first bit of the stopped
process repeats with minor differences.
We will see this pattern itself being repeated at different ‘levels’ later – what is
stopped at one level carries forward on another level.
The reiterations are versions of the stopped process. (They version that process).
(Consistently with the model, Gendlin tends to turn noun forms into verbs, so that we
get terms like ‘versioning’ and ‘sequencing’).

80-82 There are two distinct kinds of change, that of interaffecting, and that of
occurring. This is important, but needs some explanation:

Consider two processes, such as those of walking and breathing in some organism
such as a bug.

Interaffecting:
Walking and breathing interaffect since the bug is an interaffecting system
The walking would be different if the breathing were different and vice versa.
Any change in the walking is also a change in the breathing, and vice versa.
Any change in walking happens at the same time as a change in behaviour, and that is
the end of the matter. The walking and the breathing are two aspects of what is
occurring. In interaffecting it doesn’t take time for one aspect to affect the other.
‘This is basic to what an implicit order is’ (p.82). But if this were the whole story,
there would be no sequence of changes.

Occurring:
Now suppose some dust falls onto the surface on which the bug is walking. This is an
en-change which is not an interaffecting change (the falling of the dust is not caused
by the bug). The bug’s walk now stirs up the dust, and its walk changes because
walking in the dust affects how its legs can move.
This change happens immediately the dust falls, but nothing more happens as a result.
In the new en the bug has a different walk. Again, there is no ongoing sequence of
changes.

However, in reality there are both interaffecting changes and en changes, and it is this
which generates the sequence of changes:

The bug’s walk changes because of the en change. The changed walk stirs up the
dust. The dust affects the bug’s breathing. The changed breathing by interaffecting is
also a change in the walk. This changed walk makes a difference to how the dust is
stirred up, and that again affects the breathing etc.

The changed walk/breathing is an actual occurrence, caused by the en change.
The change in the walk due to the change in the breathing is an interaffecting change.

Chapter VI

One kind of intervening event (occurring within a behaviour stoppage) is reiteration,
where the first bit of the stopped process repeats. These repetitions version the
stoppage. If there are many such reiterative processes we can think of these as a
special sector of the organism. This sector is ‘pulsing’ (as if sending out radar
signals) and changes in the en or in the rest of the organisms body are registered by
the changes they make in the pulsing.

The reiterative sector (‘the registry’) of the organism is thus especially sensitive to
changes. It registers changes, both in the en and in the rest of the organism.

It is not only that changes in the en and in the rest of the body produce changes in the
registry. Also, the changes in the registry produce changes in the organism – the
organism changes; it moves as a result of what it is registering. These movements are
not simply effects of en changes (like a hole being worn in a shell by the sea), they are
movements the organism itself makes because of what it is registering. The organism
is now behaving, not just moving.
Its movements are themselves registered along with the changes in the en.

93-4 A new kind of carrying-forward develops here. The behaviour is a version of the
stoppage of a process. That process is still implied in the behaviour. If the
appropriate en-aspect occurs the process will resume (in a sense the process ‘is still
there’, it is there implicitly). It is as if the organism ‘recognises’ the en-aspect. (That
is the old kind of carrying-forward). But while the stoppage is there, and the
behaviour is occurring, there is a new carrying-forward: the organism’s movements
result in changes in the registry, which in turn affect the organism’s movements. The
organism’s movements come to imply changes in the registry, and if these registry
changes actually occur they carry forward the implying. If what is actually registered
is different from what was implied then that behaviour sequence stops (the lamb stops
at the cliff edge).

95 The organism now is registering the changes as it moves – it is feeling them. It is
conscious. The registerings themselves can be thought of as perception. So far,
feeling and perception occur only as aspects of behaving. (Feelings and perceptions
separate from overt behaviour only come later, in Chapter VII). The behaviour
continues until the stopped process resumes: this resumption could be thought of as
the ‘goal’ of the behaviour (though this would be a ‘too-early’ use of ‘goal’). We can
also say that the behaviour is motivated by what would resume the stopped process.

102 Many behaviour sequences develop. They form a ‘space’ in which each has
implications for the possibilities of the others. As we shall see, with the development
of a new ‘level’ there comes a corresponding kind of space.

109 Behaviour sequences can generate stable objects, such as the registry of the bird
when the cat chases it. Objects ‘fall out from’ the animal’s behaviour. What these
objects are for a particular animal depends on that animal’s life and behaviour.
Objects are not just there, the same things for all animals.

Chapter VII

122 Much behaviour occurs in relation to other members of that species. When a
behavioural interaction with another species member is stopped, the first bit may still
occur, and repeat. This is gesturing, ‘the dance’. This is the beginning of the next
level.

The first animal gestures and the second responds to that gesture. The first animal’s
gesture is a rendering, a versioning, of its current behavioural context. In responding
to the gesture the second animal reflects back to the first this versioning of its
behavioural context. The first animal which already has feelings and an awareness of
its environment, now has some awareness of its own feelings.
This self-awareness happens initially only in the presence of another animal, but later
such awareness can be triggered by objects which are relevant to the behaviour
context.
At the same time a new kind of space is forming, a space in which there is the
possibility of standing back from behaviour, symbolising it without actually
performing the behaviour. This kind of space is very different from behaviour space,
which is constituted by all the possible implications of one behaviour sequence for the
others.

The new kind of sequence involves both self-awareness and awareness of the looks
(sounds, images) of things. This is the beginning of the form of awareness in which
there are kinds of things – a look is the look of that kind of thing, although ‘kinds’
have not yet fully appeared.
Sounds are similarly the sounds of kinds of things. Moaning is the sound of that kind
of behaviour context – it is how the wounded animal is expressing its situation. It is
inherently connected with how the body of the animal is a that point. But then other
things can begin to have looks or sounds. There can now be the moaning of the wind
as well as the wind itself.
Sounds, especially, come to express behaviour contexts, and this is the beginning of
language. At the start the sounds are ikonic (onomatopaeic) symbols – they are the
sounds of that behaviour context. But as the sounds of various behaviour contexts
develop and interact in new contexts, the direct link between sound and context
becomes attenuated. The sound patterns begin to form a system of their own.
Nevertheless language is not a matter of mere convention; it is rooted in the body and
behaviour processes out of which it emerged. (This is why rituals can have deep
effects).
At the same time the interactions between the animals become more prominent and
significant. Instead of gesturing (communicating) being an occasional pause in
action, action now becomes oriented towards communication. The world is now
transformed into one in which there are kinds of things which are determined by
human interaction-contexts. This is the FLIP (165), after which we are in a fully
human world.

Summarising up to the end of Chapter VII:

Body-process can be stopped, and behaviour then emerges as a detour in the process.
The behaviour is still body-process, but has in addition a new form which is ‘layered
over’ the original kind of body process. The behaviour is a version of (it versions) the
stopped body-process. It is a sequence of changes in the stopped process (it
sequences the process).

Similarly behaviour can be stopped, and gesturing, symboling, language then emerge
as a detour in behaviour. Symboling is still behaviour, but has in addition a new form
which is ‘layered over’ the original kind of behaviour. The symboling (gesturing,
speaking, dancing) is a version of (it versions) the stopped behaviour. It is a sequence
of changes in the stopped behaviour (it sequences the behaviour).

Chapter VIII

Now in the same way symboling can be stopped, and as before something new
emerges. Symboling is stopped when we can’t find the word (image, gesture, etc)
which will carry us forward. This is the situation we are often in when focusing. As
in the other cases of stoppage, the first part of the usual process occurs – we try out
first one word (image etc) then another. But we are beginning to do something new
here: we are sensing into ‘all that which we can’t yet express’, and awaiting what
comes. There is still symboling going on, but it is going on in a new way, just as in
gesturing behaviour is still going on, but in a new way. And just as gesturing brings
with it a new kind of space (symbolic space, image space), so focusing brings with it a
new kind of space. It is a space in which we can stand back from our experiencing as
a whole
. This space is different from image-space, which belongs in VII. We know
for example that if we imagine (visualise) putting a problem down while focusing,
there still remains the question of whether it has really been put down. It can be put
down in VII space without being put down in VIII space.

It is only with the concepts of VIII that Focusing can be described adequately. But
because each level is built on previous levels, changes which occur through Focusing
are at the same time changes in symbolisation, in behaviour and in bodily process.
That is why Focusing can change us.

Campbell Purton

Introduction

These were written for the second, third and fourth years of the course ‘Focusing and
the Power of Philosophy’ which I taught with Rob Foxcroft and Barbara McGavin on
the Isle of Cumbrae in 2002-2004. The ‘Ladybird’ title is taken from a series of short
books that was popular in the 1970’s – each gave a brief, but accurate and informed
summary of knowledge in a particular field.

I have left them as they were for the Cumbrae course; a modified version of the
material on A Process Model can be found in ‘A brief guide to A Process Model‘ in
The Folio: A Journal for Focusing and Experiential Therapy. Vol 19, No. 12 (2000-
2004), pp. 112-120. Gene read this through and suggested some changes, which I
incorporated.

At the heart of Gene Gendlin’s philosophy is the notion of ‘interaction first’. Earlier
he used the term ‘encounter’: the idea is that encounter is more basic than what does
the encountering, that the interaction is more fundamental than the things which
interact. Another way of putting it would be to say that things cannot exist as entirely
separate things, and people exist only in relation to a world which includes other
people. A poem by Rilke catches something of this (even in translation):

    Alone I can never be.
    Others before me going
    and away from me flowing
    were weaving, weaving
    at the I that is me.

Human experiencing is through and through relational. We are born into, initiated
into a network of human relationships. Yet we have our own identity. Indeed this
identity is fixed by our place in the network – only you were born at just that time, in
that place, from those parents. In principle someone else could have all your
characteristics, but they wouldn’t be you. You have a unique place in the world.

The individual human being has their own special experience – the experience from
just there, where they are. But their experience connects with, and wouldn’t exist
without, the human network into which they were born. How does that unique
experiencing
connect with the network of human society, with the ways of thinking
which characterise society, with the rules, conventions and forms of society, with
language? It sometimes seems that language and the rules of society can entrap our
experiencing, but this doesn’t have to be so. Language can express our experiencing,
rather than imprison it. (Rilke’s poem expresses an experience). On the other hand it
can sometimes seem that the uniqueness of our experiencing isolates us – ‘no one can
really know what anyone else feels’. But again, it need not be so, and again it is
through language (including music, dance and other symbolic forms) that we are not
alone. The relation between experiencing and language in this broad sense is central
to the human form of being; it is also the central theme of ECM.

These general and rather abstract themes lie in the background of ECM; they are
what, for me at least, give book its philosophical interest. But ECM doesn’t just
discuss the theme of the relationship between symbols and experiencing in a general
way; it shows in some detail how the relating of experiencing and symbols works in
practice. In Chapter 3 we can see this happening. The first two chapters are more
concerned to demonstrate that there is such a thing as ‘experiencing’, something
which people interested in Focusing are unlikely to doubt! So one approach to ECM
would be to start with Chapter 3.

Gendlin gives not one, but seven different ways in which symbols relate to
experiencing:

(1) Direct reference. There is the sort of case where we refer to an experience which
we have, without describing it. For example, ‘that feeling I had when I met Cedric – I
can’t put it into words’ But you have already put it into words! You have just said
‘that feeling….’ You haven’t used words to describe the feeling, but you have used
them to refer to it. Notice how in a way ‘that feeling’ wasn’t exactly there until you
got hold of it with the words – that specific feeling comes with the words. It is an odd
half-way case between creating something and simply noticing what was there all
along. Language is like that; it is odd, it is creative. This theme runs through ECM.

(2) Recognition. Next there is the kind of case where there already is a symbol
available to us, for example a word such as ‘ashamed’. When we encounter the word
it calls forth in us a particular kind of experience. The relation here between
experience and symbol is that the symbol pulls out the experience. Rilke’s poem
pulls out a particular experience. But also, when we encounter familiar situations the
situation pulls out a particular kind of experience and that is what makes it a familiar
situation, a situation which we recognise. We look at the chess board, and say ‘That’s
checkmate’. The familiar situation which we are in elicits the same experience which
the word ‘checkmate’ elicits. Situations can in this way function like symbols. There
is a relation between the symbol (or situation) and our experience through which we
experience a sense of recognition when we encounter the symbol (or situation).

(3) Explication. This case is the converse of (2). When we read Rilke’s poem it
elicits a particular kind of experience which we can recognise once we have
experienced it. But when Rilke wrote the poem, the relation between experience and
symbol worked the other way round. He started with the experience and then found
words that would express, render, or in Gendlin’s term ‘explicate’ the experience, that
is, render it explicit.

(4) Metaphor and (5) Circumlocution. Often when we have an experience we can
explicate it (make it explicit in words or other symbols). If we are to do this the
words must already be there for us to use. For instance, we stay for a moment with
that feeling we got when we met Cedric, and then realise that it was a feeling of being
ashamed. ‘Ashamed’ calls out just that experience which we got from meeting
Cedric; there is a fit – that’s what I felt. But sometimes there is no word available
which quite fits the experience. Then we have to bring into play words which have
their own meanings (the experiences which they usually call up), but which can be
used in a new way to call up this meaning. That is what happens when we make use
of a metaphor. There are two aspects to the use of metaphor, which are related to
each other in the way in which recognition and explication are related to each other.
First there is the kind of case where we read a poem which contains a metaphor, such
as ‘weaving’ in Rilke’s poem. ‘Weaving’ has its own meaning in connection with
cloth manufacture, but there are aspects of this meaning which can be applied in quite
new situations. In particular there is the aspect of different strands of material being
brought together to form a whole. When Rilke thinks of himself in all his aspects the
image of weaving draws out a particular way in which he can see himself – as having
been woven by those who came before him, by all those who have contributed to him
being as he is. When we read the poem the relation between the words and the
experience works the other way round: we read the word ‘weaving’ and this draws
out in us that felt sense of having been woven which Rilke started from. Gendlin use
the term ‘metaphor’ for the relationship in which we start from the word which then
creates the experience. The other relationship, in which we start with the experience
and create the metaphor, Gendlin calls ‘comprehension’: the metaphor pulls together
or comprehends the whole intricate thing which we were feeling.

(6) Relevance. Understanding the meaning of a symbol always involves
understanding other meanings; symbols come in connected webs of meaning. For
instance the understanding of ‘weaving’ in Rilke’s poem involves the understanding
of cloth-making, which involves the understanding of people as needing clothes, and
so on. For any particular felt meaning, such as the meaning of ‘weaving’, there are
other meanings which are relevant to the understanding of that meaning. These other
meanings come into the having of that meaning.

(7) Circumlocution. We saw that (5) (comprehension) relates to (4) (metaphor) in the
same way as (3) (explication) relates to (2) (recognition). The last category (7)
(circumlocution) relates to (6) (relevance) in a similar sort of way again. In relevance
(6) we start with the felt meaning (of, say ‘weaving’) and enquire into what other
meanings are relevant to understanding it. In circumlocution (7) we create the
possibility of someone else understanding the felt meaning by talking around it, by
referring to this and that, to people wearing clothes and clothes needing to be made
from strands of material put together in a criss-cross sort of way, until the person we
are talking to gets a feel for what ‘weaving’ is. Then if the person understands what
weaving is, but doesn’t yet understand how a person can be woven by others, we need
to talk about the different aspects or strands of a person and how these connect and
sort of … interweave…you see…? Here we are creating a new meaning for ‘weaving’
out of old meanings.

Gendlin is concerned throughout with this theme of the creation of meaning.
Meaning is not just invented, but it is not just there waiting to be discovered. One
aspect of this is that we can’t just choose (invent) what the meaning of our lives will
be in the way some existentialist philosophers seem to think is possible. But nor are
we just as we are with no hand in being what we are. We create our lives, much in the
way that a poet creates a poem. This, I think, is one of the central themes of
Gendlin’s work.

Chapter 4 elaborates on the creation of new meanings, and Chapters 5 and 6 go more
deeply into the philosophical implications of it all. The Introduction, and Chapter 7,
explore the relevance of the discussion for psychology and psychotherapy – these are
less philosophical chapters and can be read separately, which would be an alternative
approach to the book.

Steve Silverton

This article has been published in Self and Society.

Thought, I love thought.
But not the jiggling and twisting of already existent ideas
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of the conscience,
Thought is gazing on to the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to a conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending

Focusing teaches us to think like a poet. We learn to dip below the surface of the explicit and already formed and to find new symbols for what is implicit, symbols which, in the poet Don Paterson’s words, make us ‘open to suggestion, vulnerable to reprogramming, complicit in the creative business of […] self-transformation’.

DH Lawrence’s poem ‘Thought’, which I quote above, evokes something of Focusing’s power to help us reflect with the whole of ourselves, and come to new conclusions. But we do not need to be poets to focus. Unlike the poet, the Focuser does not need to find an artful form of words. And whereas the poet must make symbols speak about more than their private experience, striving for some kind of collective relevance, the Focuser does not need to make their symbols relevant for anything other than their own life. But there is, I think, something similar in the process of making a poem and the process of Focusing: this process of waiting for a symbol to form itself from the subtle and implicate layers of experience. Once experience is made explicit in the form of a symbol, it can be re-cognised – known again.

The gift of Focusing is to make the process of ‘man in his wholeness wholly attending’ explicit and teachable. By learning to attend wholly in this way, we can open up fresh perspectives, new insights, new ways of looking and feeling at and about things. Focusing takes us forward, so that whatever was occupying our attention sits a little, or a lot, differently with us. It takes us to a place, simply, where we are more in touch with our truth.

Once learned and honed with continual practice, this process can be a wonderful friend, offering a path to self-knowledge, deepening and enriching creative work and relationships, and acting as a guide when there are difficult choices to make.

It is in this last respect, as a tool for decision making in both personal and professional life, that I have found Focusing to be a particularly potent ally.

Not Knowing

Now, let go of what you think you know about thinking! To get to somewhere new inside ourselves, we have to let go of what we already know about the problem or situation we are focusing on. As long as we are in what we already know, we are stuck in the ‘jiggling and twisting of already existent ideas’, in Lawrence’s l phrase. So we have to allow not knowing. Here I want to call on another poetic voice, for this capacity seems very close to what Keats called ‘negative capability’:

‘That is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason.’

Our technological culture does not allow much room for not knowing. There is huge pressure to know, to be decisive, to get it all sorted. This can prematurely close down what can be an extraordinarily potent and creative space: the womb, if you like, of not knowing, with all its receptivity to something new and surprising. Keats believed that negative capability marked out the truly creative artist. It is certainly a feature of the creative focusing process.

It is worth noting here that the word ‘focusing’ is itself a metaphor, a visual metaphor. It describes one aspect of this ‘attending wholly’, that aspect of looking closely, bringing something at first indistinct, blurry, vague into focus, so that it can be named. When we look at something, we seek it out with our eyes. We go out to it. Looking is an active process. But what we call ‘focusing’ could equally well be described with an auditory metaphor: as a kind of inner listening. We listen closely, as if with a stethoscope, to the body-mind’s experience of a situation, so that ‘it’ can tell ‘us’ what it knows. The listening metaphor captures more of the receptive aspect of focusing than the visual word ‘focusing’.

The Inner Relationship

Negative capability is one element of what Focusers call ‘the inner relationship’ or ‘the focusing attitude’. The key to successful focusing is the quality of our our relationship with experience. When approaching our experience in Focusing, we need to be friendly, curious, interested, non-judgemental, and we need to let go of what we know. We bring an attitude of open, friendly, non-judgemental curiosity to our experience. We attend to or with the body; to and with the body’s direct and immediate experience of the situation we are focusing with; to and with the felt sense of it.

Once we have cultivated this attitude or quality of realtionship, the next step, or aspect (it is, of course, not a linear sequence) is symbolisation. We try to represent the felt sense with a word, an image, a sound, a gesture… . The word ‘re-present’ is apt here. We are trying to make implicit experience present, present to ourselves in an alive, vital and fresh way.

Then comes dialogue. This not necessarily a literal dialogue, although it can be. It is, however, always some kind of relationship – relationship with the felt sense. We are present with the felt sense and with the symbol, resonating with each, feeling for a fit, or for where the symbol does not quite fit. When it does, we get a sense of relief, release, insight, opening, forward movement.

All this takes place in presence. Presence can be distinguished from partiality, to use Anne Weiser Cornell’s helpful terms. In presence we are able to attend to the whole of our experience without, as it were, taking sides, or excluding any part. As soon as we do either of those things we are in partiality: we have identified with, or dissociated from, some aspect of our experience.

Focusing With A Decision

To make things clearer, I would like at this stage to give an example of using focusing with a decision. The example is drawn from my own experience. I usually focus alone and use either a piece of paper or a small notebook computer, to write or draw as I focus. This helps me to stay in touch with the process and I find that seeing the symbols in front of me works well as a reflection which allows me to resonate with the symbol, or in Lawrence’s words, to test it ‘on the touchstone of conscience’. If I use the computer, the process of typing -and mis-typing, then correcting- and then going back over what I have written, works in the same way.

The decision was around moving house. This was and is a major life issue for me, and I have worked with it for a long period, using focusing. Below I present one focusing session on this topic, which was a key session in moving that decision process forward, but which was also the outcome of several sessions of working on it. I choose it because it seems to exemplify the kind of many-stranded, complex choices that face us in life, and which focusing can help with. I will then draw out what I have found to be three very helpful things to try when focusing on a decision.

To start the session I set up a focusing space. I have my own way of altering the physical space to mark out and ‘ritualise’ the activity, which I find helps me to cultivate presence – that attitude of friendly, interested, non-judgemental, not knowing in relation to experience. I ensure that I will not be disturbed, set up the space and have my computer at the ready.

To begin, I feel into the whole thing, asking something like how does this whole thing around moving sit with me just now?

I notice a warm contented feeling in my belly, like something really appreciates the attention. There is a sense of something about really loving and needing the safety and security of this physical place, and the words come: ‘I really don’t want all that upheaval right now’. And that sentence feels really right. Then an image comes of a plaster being ripped off a wound which has not yet healed. The words ‘Not ready’. A realisation that I have been through a challenging and difficult time this past three or four years, that only recently have I started to feel more healed and resourced, and that this process needs some time to complete itself before taking on something as big as moving, with all the stress, instability and upheaval this entails.

That feels really right. That feels like just where I am right now with it. But I want to feel into the other side of it. I have sat with this problem for long enough to know that this is not the whole story. The part that needs security and safety is very strong right now. But I’d like to feel into the other side of it. So I ask, ‘how would it feel to move somewhere new?’

What comes now is a kind of heavy, leaden feeling in my stomach and chest and the words ‘more of the same’. What brings this is the sense that even though the physical surroundings might change, even though there would be practical advantages, there would be a sense of oppression, struggle. This is about the pressure of a bigger mortgage, having to pay a bigger mortgage on my own. It is something about being on my own with it. It is this being on my own with it that brings the sense of ‘more of the same’ and the heavy, oppressed feeling that comes with that.

I am already feeling much clearer about where I stand just now on this. What is new for me here is the allowing of this strong impulse to safety, to ‘hold fire’ for the time being, and this sense that I do not want to do it alone any longer. I had not realised how identified I was, before, with the part that wants to move. And I had not realised that I was not allowing other possibilities into the picture. The possibility that I could move on in a different way than I had been imagining.

What is fresh and surprising here – and needs some more processing – is a part that simply does not want to do it alone any more. A part that needs and wants a sharing of life and possibility – a partnership.

Now I try something that has really worked well before. I try turning these thoughts and issues into simple statements that I can then ‘test on the touchstone of conscience’. This is like doing one of those questionnaires where you have to choose between, usually, five boxes, which range from ‘agree strongly’, through ‘neither agree nor disagree’ to ‘disagree strongly’.

The first statement I try is ‘I don’t feel ready to move just now’. I get a strong felt sense of agreement with that.

Then I try ‘I am happy to stay here for several more years’. I get a strong felt sense of disagreement with that. Like something would have to go very wrong for that to happen.

So I try ‘I am happy to stay where I am for now and explore possibilities for co-operation and partnership with others’. That feels just right. That feels like where I am right now. And that feels like a good place to stop for now.

In the above description I have telescoped around 45 minutes of time into a few sentences, to convey the essence of what was a key session. I got a breakthrough in what had been something very stuck, where neither staying nor going felt good. What gave this was really allowing the part that needs stability right now to have its voice heard. This led to realising that the way I had framed the problem was too limited: there were other possibilities for moving on besides buying another place on my own.

Now I want to draw out those three ‘top tips’ for working with decisions, whether alone or with a focusing partner:

  1. Ask ‘What is the felt sense of the whole thing? How does it all sit with you right now?’
  2. Feel into each side of the decision. How would it be to say ‘yes’/ to say ‘no’?
  3. Turn the questions into statements and then feel for the felt sense of agreement or disagreement

A Concluding Story

Focusing can open a door to the mystery of who we are, to the subtle currents of being which poets and artists give form to on a collective level, but which on an individual level can guide us towards what is right, true and real for us in our own lives. This combination of depth, wonder and mystery with the pragmatic and the everyday reminds me of the Zen tradition, and I want to end by quoting Neil Friedman’s adaptation of a Zen story, which for me captures the marvellous way Focusing can bridge the subtle and the ordinary levels of reality:

Once upon a time there was a convocation of healers, wizards, sorcerers, therapists, channels, mystics and disembodied spirits. Each had a time to get up and do his or her particular miracle.

Quite the pyrotechnics! One walked on fore. One hypnotised the entire audience without their knowing it. One foretold the future. One read past lives. One stood on one leg in a bizarre position until his whole body shook. One did medical diagnoses based only on each audience member’s name and age.

Then a short, plain-looking man got up. It was his turn. He said ‘My miracle is that when I am hungry, I eat; and when I am thirsty, I drink; and I know when I am hungry and when I am thirsty and what I am hungry for and what I am thirsty for’.

Then he sat down.

He was the focuser.

Further Reading

Cornell, Anne Weiser, ‘The Power of Focusing’, New Harbinger Publications, 1996

Friedman, N, ‘On Focusing’, published privately

Lawrence, DH, ‘Complete Poems’, Wordsworth Editions, 1994

Paterson, D, ‘Rhyme and Reason’, in The Guardian, 6.11.04.

Steve Silverton is a Core Process Psychotherapist and business coach
with a private practice in London. For more details see www.stevesilverton.net.

He can be contacted via the Bloomsbury Therapy
Centre on 020 7404 5348 or at s.silverton@virgin.net.

Kate Brightwell

The words at the end of this article are the final outcome of a
joint process I facilitated with six other people who regularly Focus
following an adaptation of Eugene Gendlin’s (1996) Focusing called
Bio-Spiritual Focusing. With them, for the final dissertation of a
Masters degree in Facilitating Change, I explored what it feels like
inside to turn all one’s attention to the inner sense of love.

Bio-Spiritual Focusing was developed by Frs. Edwin McMahon and Peter
Campbell (1997), psychotherapist-priests, whose particular interest was
healthy spirituality. It is based on an explicit understanding of
spirituality as the connection between an individual and the universal
life-force. It’s ethos is that a person’s Focusing process through
their physical body is the gateway to their spiritual awareness. It
enhances certain of the Focusing steps and adds a particular subtle
emphasis.

Caring Feeling Presence (CFP) is a term used within Bio-Spiritual
Focusing to mean a particular type of inner attitude – that of open
loving acceptance of oneself during the process of Focusing. People
experience it as a gift, that can’t be willed or controlled and is
associated with healing, mystery and paradox. I recorded several
people’s focusing as they turned their attention within the session to
their own CFP and described it. From these several descriptions I
derived the essence of each person’s experience, and synthesised a
collective description in their own words.

Caring-feeling-presence is a key concept of Bio-Spiritual Focusing,
closely allied to the term Unconditional Positive Regard coined by Carl
Rogers (1961). Whereas unconditional positive regard was regarded by
Carl Rogers as a necessary and desirable quality of the listener,
caring-feeling-presence is an inner quality of the Focuser them-self,
which they explicitly learn to develop as they practise BioSpiritual
Focusing (BsF).

In BsF, when the process seems to have become stuck, or a sensation
in the body seems too painful or uncomfortable to stay with, the
Focuser, invites CFP to be with the felt sense. The attitude with the
help of CFP, is simply to be there as an internally felt support to the
process, rather than trying to change, fix or distract from it. “Caring
feeling presence is not pushing to fix a feeling. It is sitting down
beside that feeling with a genuine desire to listen, to accompany, to
journey the extra mile, with whatever needs to be heard inside
yourself. The inside texture of such body-presence is not one of
‘setting things straight.’ It is an open presence, one where your body
carries neither felt expectations nor agenda.” (Campbell &
McMahon,1991, p4).

Whilst this is easy to write, it is often very difficult, to
cultivate such an inner attitude. When this alongside state is
achieved, the discomfort often seems to melt into the process, which is
then able again to move forward again. Such a moving forward is usually
accompanied by a perceptible and sudden physical sense of relaxation,
sometimes called the “felt shift” and frequently leads to a new sense
of knowing about the content of the inner process just completed. In
1999 Peter Campbell wrote to me

“Both Ed and I feel that one of the major contributions which
BioSpiritual Focusing has made to Focusing, is the introduction of
Caring-Feeling-Presence (CFP)..….CFP opens the possibility of “a
new kind of relationship” to those places, memories, and feelings
inside ourselves which we usually hold at arms length, run away from,
or otherwise seek to “numb” their power over us.…CFP is a way of
befriending an alienated part of myself–because that’s what these
places/feelings are.”

Finding an initial concept from which to start sensing internally
for a feel of CFP, is sometimes very difficult. Whether people are
deeply religious, with a concept of CFP that is synonymous with God, or
atheists, they seem to have just as variable an experience, initially,
getting an inner feel of CFP.

Each person has to find it for themselves, and their starting points
vary a lot:- a favourite place they went to when they wanted to be
alone; how they felt in a particular loved one’s presence; their own
sense of love towards a child, or a pet; some memory of a moment when
they’d felt awe or wonder; a sense of their absolute uniqueness; a time
when they’d felt particularly well or a time when they’d felt
absolutely overwhelmed by the grandeur of nature and the smallness of
their place in it; for some it had a particular symbol, for others an
associated memory.

Paradoxically, despite all these differences in starting point and
belief, as people develop their Focusing practise, and recognise their
inner CFP, they seem to become quite comfortable using the term, and
appearing to understand and accept a common meaning. Often, favouring
neither believer nor atheist it gives every appearance of ‘working’ in
the sense of their being enabled to stay Focusing with inner feelings
and parts of themselves, which were previously difficult or too painful
to bear.

Each of those who participated was an experienced Focuser who had
already formulated their own understanding of and connection with CFP.
Between them, they’d had six different teachers introducing them to BsF
and CFP. Four had their spiritual roots in religion – Bhuddism and
Christianity, and two regarded themselves as spiritual but not
religious. They varied between those who knew their inner CFP before
learning Focusing, and those who had built it up gradually as their
Focusing process developed. This breadth of ‘origin’ of CFP amongst the
participants is important when considering the meaning of the outcomes.

In the normal style of a BsF session, the Focuser turns their
attention to whatever emerges, oscillating their attention between the
symbolic representations and physical sensations arising in their
awareness from the felt sense. If something comes that is difficult to
stay with, they invite CFP, or possibly their companion, suggests it.
The companion’s task is to follow the Focuser’s process never asking
direct questions of the content nor leading the Focuser during the
session.

For this purpose though, as companion, I wanted to ask all the
Focusers the same set of direct questions about CFP itself, rather than
the Focusing process it was usually invited to be alongside.

After each session, we had a conversation about the experience of
CFP they had just had and any further thoughts or descriptions they
wished to add.
There was no common pattern to how CFP appeared in the individual
sessions, or at what point in the session the co-researcher was invited
to turn their attention to it. One example was a man named Lynn.

Common Themes

I gathered the raw data by taping descriptions of their inner
experience of CFP. Using a step by step process, I explored a number of
different ways of looking at the data to extract the essential
constituents of CFP common to all. I reduced these to a common
descriptive sense of CFP in their (synthesised) own words and proceeded
to a paragraph setting out the pure essence of caring feeling presence.

For all participants, there is a qualitative difference in listening
to the two types of recording, that is difficult to express on paper.
In the Focusing sessions, speech slows down and becomes quieter, with
long pauses. After the Focusing session, in conversation, the same
person is more energetic and expressive. As one said “It’s not just my
energy. It feels like there’s a spring in me and the source is coming
from beyond me.”

All six co-researchers had experiences of CFP that were intense, and
some expressed a feeling that the session had developed their
connection to it:

Angela: “..it was more of an expansive sense, but yes I do feel there’s been development.”

Edward: “I’ve only had a slight sense of that once or twice before but this was overwhelming.”

Several people referred to CFP’s healing qualities. For example,

“the thing that’s making itself known is its really powerful sense of presence, the healing power of just simple presence”

“there’s no angst at all, it’s all gone”

“I feel as if I’ve been lying in the sun for hours.”

Five people talked about a sense of being connected beyond
themselves to “the universe”, “the cosmos”, “all that is” and all six
expressed how CFP helps them connect internally.

eg “I’m aware of the heart area. It’s my connection” ; “My voice and
me, we’re connected, we’re coming out of the same place rather than
being entwined with each other. It’s a very peculiar feeling” ; “making
connection with everything that’s there” ; “This was about the
Universe, the Cosmos, God.”

Physically, there are several factors. Some co-researchers had a
sense of CFP being in the central part of their body, and
simultaneously loosing their sense of the body’s limits, a feeling of
expanding or melting. Others experienced physical changes eg. Andy
flushed, and some felt weight on their chest, tingly sensations,
melting changes in temperature.

Images associated with CFP vary from a cave to indescribable golden
shapes and a pair of hands. Some had visual representations of the
universe.

In different ways, all the co-researchers express the feeling and frustration that CFP is more than could be fully conveyed.

“Where do you find words for this?” ; “this was beyond symbols and words.”

There is a sense that CFP is constant, always there, and what varies is the ability to connect with it.

eg ” It’s always there. I can’t always connect with it” and “In order to be open to CFP I first have to connect with myself.”

The intensity of the words used to describe the experience of CFP
stood out – Blissful, Sublime, Awe, were emotional descriptions, Deep,
Profound, Knowing were statements of meaning and the experience itself
was described as Huge, Vast, Wonder, Vivid.

Since the original concept of CFP is caring and feeling and
presence, It’s no surprise to discover that many of the descriptions
are words like loving, benign, accepting and healing. More interesting
are some of the other categories – for example many of the physical
sensations, touching on losing the normal sense of the physical body,
opening up and expanding, without dimensions of form, limit or time.
These are not intrinsic to the sense of having a caring feeling
presence or attitude to the felt sense, and were beyond what I was
expecting. The beliefs about CFP included notions of some sort of
Divinity, an intrinsic part of the Focuser and a non-being type of
concept that related to the universe – life, energy.

Caring feeling presence as described by the participants in this
exercise, is an intense experience, which touches a sense of the
sacred. The power of this is expressed beautifully by the following
direct quote from within the Focusing session,

“It’s divine agony – it’s wonderful. Things I haven’t seen for
years, shimmering, geometric patterns, turquoise colours – greens,
blues – lights! I used to see them all the time when I was younger,
they change shape, go red, fractal drawings, something like that. It
feels great.”

By extracting all the significant statements from all the sessions,
combining them and reducing them to eliminate repetition I arrived at
the description in the box below which, whilst being synthesised from a
collection of their individual descriptions, was meaningful to each
person as a universal description of their experience.

Focusing enables the practitioner to connect with their pre-symbolic
experience, and the felt shift comes when appropriate symbols interact
accurately with the meaning held in the body. These symbols can be
words, but don’t necessarily need to be. At key points in their
Focusing process, the participants, lapsed into silence, and found no
words adequately to express what they were experiencing internally.

Because the unique inner details are purely internal, there is as
yet only minimal shared vocabulary for the experience that arises, and
because it isn’t logical or rational the vocabulary of the outer world
cannot easily be adapted.

Because of this, the article I’ve here written about the experience
seems very clunky in comparison with the fun connection and fluidity we
experienced in coming up with our collective description. I hope,
despite these limitations of the written word this article has managed
to convey something of its sense.

Kate Brightwell, BioSpiritual Focusing Teacher(1996), M.Sc. (2001),
Diploma Biodynamic Psychotherapy (2008), MLSBP(2009), UKCP registered
(2009)

Article written in July 2005 based upon research and dissertation for M.Sc. (2000-2001).

This article may be copied in whole with appropriate credit. To use any
part of the document please refer to the author for permission.

Email: Katebright@aol.com

Bibliography

Campbell, P & McMahon, E, 1985, 1997, BioSpirituality: Focusing as a way to grow, Chicago, Ill, USA: Loyola Press

Gendlin, E T 1978, 1981, Focusing, N.Y. USA :Bantam New Age Books

Rogers, C. 1961, On Becoming a Person, Boston, USA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Welwood, 2000, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, Boston, MA USA: Shambhala Publications.

Synthesized Final Description of Caring Feeling Presence

When I direct my attention fully to the Caring Feeling Presence(CFP)
and concentrate my mind as far as I can on CFP, rather than my ongoing
Focusing process, time seems to stand still and I become lost for words
with which to describe the overwhelming delight of the experience. My
physical body feels light, or weightless, with the CFP expanding
limitlessly out from somewhere central to my body cavity around the
diaphragm or heart region. It is a very intense experience, sometimes
accompanied by heightened emotions and/or perceptions, and I feel
totally connected and at-one within myself, and with the universe. I
have a sense of being beyond the normal dimensions of life, of being
relaxed and at peace with cares and anxieties lifted and of being so
loved that the feeling spills over and beyond me to everyone and
everything else in the universe. Whatever is needed for my body,
emotions, mind and spirit to flow together in harmony and expand
outward seems to happen effortlessly. Accompanying these feelings and
sensations are rich images, links to very pleasant, and/or forgotten
memories and a positive sense of active silence independent of any
outer world sounds. It seems to give texture, depth and meaning to my
life beyond that of my normal conscious awareness and simultaneously
seems to provide the greatest imaginable sensation of containing,
holding and supporting me. It is both intensely personal and intimate
and overwhelming, awe-inspiring and humbling. Beliefs about CFP are
difficult to separate from personal experience, and include the feeling
that it’s a part of me, it’s the whole essence of me and it’s sacred or
divine coming from beyond me. It has a powerful healing quality, and
also seems to act as a bridge into the mystery of life and the
universe. When I feel connected to CFP I have a sense of reluctance
about returning to ‘normal’ consciousness.

Margaret Hannah

The following is an extract from a dissertation which I completed
early in 2004 in order to gain an MA in Psychotherapy, and which is
entitled “Focusing: its Use and Context within Core Process
Psychotherapy”.

For those unfamiliar with Core Process, it is a psychotherapeutic
approach which embraces Buddhist teachings. It is taught at the
Karuna Institute, near Widecombe in the Moor, Devon, England —
“Karuna” means compassion in Sanskrit. Core Process also adopts some
modern western psychological theories, mainly of the client-centred
type, which in my view sit comfortably within the Buddhist philosophy.

Focusing is the only “technique” or skill which is taught formally in
the Core Process training, and I use it frequently in my work with
clients. I hope this section may be of interest to those wanting to
investigate Buddhism and/or meditation.

Margaret Hannah, MA
Core Process Psychotherapist
(Accredited UKCP)
2004

CONNECTION WITH BUDDHISM

Core Process is a psychotherapeutic approach which embraces Buddhist
philosophy, and as such accepts the central tenet of the Buddha’s
teaching, the Four Noble Truths. As Chogyam Trungpa states, these are
“the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the
truth of the goal, and the truth of the path”. He was acknowledging
that the human condition inherently involves suffering, that it is
possible to understand how the suffering has evolved, to carry an
intention to end the suffering, and through contemplative spiritual
practice attain the blissful state where suffering no longer
exists. Indeed, Core Process is regarded as a contemplative model of
psychotherapy. This is because it can be likened to the spiritual
practice of vipassana meditation. In this, the intention is to be
physically still, to slow the mind and place the attention inward,
observing what arises within and letting this pass away. In a therapy
session the therapist’s role can be seen to replicate the observing
part of the meditator, and the material presented by the client as
that which arises in the meditator. The
non-judgmental contemplation of the therapist of the material allows
it to transform and thus pass away. In the
vipassana method, the relationship with the body is central.

The Contemplation of the Body — The Satipatthana Sutta

In Buddhism, the term “Dharma” or “Dhamma” is translated as “spiritual
path”, or more loosely as “spirituality” or
“righteousness”. Nyanaponika Thera writes in his “Vision of Dhamma”,

“The most concise expression of the Dhamma, its unifying framework, is
the teaching of the Four Noble Truths: suffering, its origin, its
cessation and the way leading to its cessation” (29, Intro p. xix).

He goes on to emphasise the importance of the teaching of the
Satipatthana Sutta in relation to spiritual practice. He writes:

“The teachings of the Buddha offer a great variety of methods of
mental training and subjects of meditation, suited to the various
individual needs, temperaments and capacities. Yet all these methods
ultimately converge in the “Way of Mindfulness” called by the Master
himself “The Only Way” … the systematic cultivation of Right
Mindfulness, as taught by the Buddha in his Discourse on Satipatthana,
still provides the simple and direct, the most thorough and effective,
method for training and developing the mind for its daily tasks and
problems as well as for its highest aim” (28, p.7).

The
Satipatthana Sutta occurs twice in the Buddhist scriptures, once in
the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle Collection of Discourses) and again in an
extended version in the Digha Nikaya (Long Collection), where it is
referred to as the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta (The Great Discourse).
This teaching was given by the Buddha both at the beginning and the
end of his career, latterly when he was ill and his disciples were
anxious that he would soon die, at which time his faithful attendant
Ananda asked him for a teaching. He is said to have replied:

“Be
your own island, Ananda, be your own refuge! Do not take any other
refuge! Let the Teaching be your island, let the Teaching be your
refuge; do not take any other refuge! And how, Ananda, does a monk
take himself as an island, himself as refuge, is without any other
refuge? How is the Teaching his island and refuge, and nothing else?
Herein a monk dwells practising body-contemplation on the body …
feeling-contemplation on feelings … mind-contemplation on the mind
… mind-object contemplation on mind-objects, ardent, clearly
comprehending and mindful, having overcome covetousness and grief
concerning the world. In that way, Ananda, will a monk be his own
island and refuge, without any other, in that way will he have the
Teaching as his island and refuge, and nothing else.” (Nyaponika
Thera quoting from the Pali Canon, 28, p.140)

The Buddha’s teaching emphasises therefore, that for liberation from
suffering, all one needs is one’s own body and experience. He is, in
my view, implying in the final sentence of the above quotation that in
his physical being he embodies the teaching; all he needs is within
himself, “nothing else” is required from outside of himself. This
message is wonderful news for the monks; what more empowering a
concept than to know that the key to your liberation from suffering
lies within what you already have. Self-enquiry, including enquiry
into the body can provide all; and a parallel with focusing is
evident.

The Satipatthana Sutta describes in detail the various elements of
human experience which the monk should contemplate. These include
bodily functions such as breathing, postures, physical movement,
bodily feelings such as pain, pleasure or neutrality, sense
perceptions like sound, sight, smell, touch, taste, “mental objects”
such as emotions like anger, desire, sloth, agitation, doubt, and
factors of enlightenment such as mindfulness, energy, joy,
tranquillity, and equanimity. Consciousness is also listed as an
element to contemplate. Included in the list is the contemplation of
the body as the four elements of earth, fire, water and air; as well
as all unseen elements of the body, some of which may provoke
revulsion such as bile and faeces. In addition, and surprising to the
modern mind, are the “nine cemetery contemplations” — which the
monk is encouraged to undertake at charnel grounds in order to realise
the impermanence of the body.

Each element described in the list falls within one of four
categories: body, feeling, mental object or consciousness. And at the
end of each section describing the object or objects of contemplation,
there is a reiterated passage, as follows:

“Thus he lives
contemplating the body (or other category) in the body internally, or
he lives contemplating the body in the body, internally and
externally. He lives contemplating origination-factors in the body,
or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the
body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: “The
body exists,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and
mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to naught in the world.
Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”
(15, p.113)

This teaching comes from around two and a half thousand years ago (the
Buddha’s exact dates are unknown), from a distant culture, and has
been translated. It is therefore always open to interpretation.
However, what may be revealed by self-enquiry of ourselves as humans,
it seems to me, is not dependent upon time and culture, but will
contain basically similar elements. Nyanaponika Thera writes “True
wisdom is always young” (28, p.21). The contemplation of “the body
in the body” in my view means that it is necessary in this practice to
delve into the bodily-held experience to taste and appreciate its
qualities. Thich Nat Hanh writes: “To comprehend something means
to pick it up and be one with it. There is no other way to understand
something” (14, p.11). This is echoed by Tarab Tulku:

“It is
important to note that in accordance with Tibetan psychology, the
conceptualisation of emotionality represses it. This psychological
view suggests that instead of letting the conceptualising mind
dominate and repress the emotions, we should stay with and live
through the emotional experience” (27, p.33).

Chogyam Trungpa, in
answer to the question “How do you transmute emotions?”, replied

“Instead of experiencing emotions as being separate from you, your
rather unruly employees so to speak, you must actually feel the
texture and real living quality of the emotions … We have to be
brave enough to actually encounter our emotions” (30, p.235).

There is no intellectualisation of the experience, no dwelling on the
relationship with the experience which is created by the ego; it is
“going into” in order more fully to understand it. This is directly
comparable with what happens in focusing. Campbell and McMahon write:

“Most of us only feel our uncomfortableness with a problem or our
need to control it. Rarely, however, do we experience what it is like
deliberately and consciously to be in the body’s sense of negative
issue. … This openness to bodily knowing within the Focusing
process sets the stage for real and sometimes dramatic change as
hurting places are allowed to unfold.” (2, p.17)

There is also possibly a connection between the focusing process and
the concept of “origination” and “dissolution” factors in the body.
When a felt sense rises into consciousness, or when one realises more
about that felt sense, could this not be an origination factor? And
when a felt shift occurs, this is surely energy transforming, or in
other words, dissolving. It may be that this instruction in the Sutta
is describing factors of personality arising from the ground of
emergence, the not-self, and dissolving back into it, and so presumes
a state of relative enlightenment which is not the case with focusing
instruction. Certainly for the contemplation of consciousness,
considerable enlightenment would seem to be necessary; although the
other three categories of contemplation, i.e. body, feeling and mental
objects do arguably encompass the material which is worked with in the
focusing process.

Contemplating the body “externally” would not seem to find a direct
parallel with the focusing process. As explained in Nyanaponika
Thera’s “Heart of Buddhist Meditation”:

“And how does a monk dwell
practising body-contemplation on the body externally? Herein a monk
reflects upon a body external to himself.” (28, p.155)

However, certain of the instructions concerned with contemplation on
the body which are explained by Thera in the same work can be seen as
having some parallels with focusing. In answer to the question
“How does one dwell practising body-contemplation on the body?”
The Buddha’s answer is seven-fold:

“Contemplating it as
impermanent, he abandons the notion of permanency, contemplating it as
painful, he abandons the notion of pleasure, contemplating it as
not-self, he abandons the notion of a self; by turning away he
abandons delight; by being dispassionate he abandons greed; by causing
cessation he abandons origination; by relinquishing he abandons
grasping” (28, p.156).

Certainly focusing can be linked to the
first element of the above teaching in that it embraces the notion of
impermanency — an acceptance that change is not only possible but
natural and healthy; and to the second element in that, in focusing
there has to be a willingness to be with painful aspects of the self,
temporarily abandoning defences against pain. In addition, the sixth
and seventh elements “by causing cessation he abandons
origination” and “by relinquishing he abandons grasping” can
be related to the process of bringing unconscious aspects into
consciousness — the realisations and felt shifts which are
indications of real psychological change.

The fifth, fourth and third elements, which are about abandoning
greed, physical pleasure and the notion of self are more difficult to
relate to focusing, as these teachings assumes the highest spiritual
aim of enlightenment, which in Buddhism carries an intention to
realise the “not-self”, that which is not conditioned, being beyond
individual personality in order to “overcome grief and covetousness
concerning the world” (28, p.154). In focusing, the self and its
development is emphasised — the aim is to become happier with
ourselves, more fulfilled as individuals within the world.

The development of mindfulness can be seen as involving two different
types of practice, one formal and time limited, the other an
application of awareness within everyday living. Chogyam Trungpa
writes:

“In addition to the sitting form of meditation there is the
meditation practice in everyday life of panoramic awareness. This
particular kind of practice is connected with identifying with the
activities one is involved in. The awareness practice could apply to
artwork or any other activity” (31, p.80).

He also writes
“Sitting meditation needs to be combined with an awareness practice
in everyday life” (32, p.47). Nyanaponika Thera similarly states:

“to trap the actual and potential power of mindfulness it is
necessary to understand and deliberately cultivate it in its basic,
unalloyed form, which we shall call bare attention. … Bare
attention is developed in two ways: (1) as a methodical meditative
practice with selected objects; (2) as applied, as far as practicable,
to the normal events of the day, together with a general attitude of
mindfulness and clear comprehension.” (29, p.50-51)

There is certainly a parallel here to the use of focusing in Core
Process Psychotherapy. The devotion of a part of a therapy session to
a time-limited section, proceeding formally through focusing steps,
can be likened to the first “sitting form of meditation”,
whereas the practice of inviting the client momentarily to become
aware of their felt sense, bringing their awareness to the inside of
their bodies, is like the second. Neil Friedman described these two
types of focusing in his psychotherapy practice, calling them
“focusing rounds” and “mini-focusings” (7, p.129). The
more practice undertaken in focusing, the easier this “touching
momentarily into the felt sense” becomes. Moreover, I have found that
my own practice of focusing has increased my ability to find a state
of “panoramic awareness” in everyday living. Paradoxically, to become
more aware of oneself at an inner level, is actually to become more
aware of everything around one as well. Campbell and McMahon write in
“Bio-Spirituality”: “We also find that Focusing can support
spiritual growth by inviting a person to step beyond the mind’s
perennial quest for control” (2, p.52), and McMahon in “Beyond the
Myth of Dominance” urges:

“Look not with your mind, but with your
body. If you can find a way to live in your body and not reject any
of it, then you will be guided into discovering the wisdom you sense
in nature all around you. Your own body is the key that will tune you
into this vast and awesome Presence, the source of all wisdom” (24,
p.199).

Are there then similarities between developing the skill of
focusing and developing the “bare attention”; that is the key to the
“potential power of mindfulness”? There are in my view significant
parallels.

In developing bare attention, and in developing Focusing, there is a
common objective: that of examining the self in order to transform the
self. Similar advice is given about physical posture to be adopted.
For sitting meditation and for Focusing, a relaxed posture with a
straight spine is usually recommended. As well as a similar physical
attitude, there is the adoption of similar mind-sets in approaching
meditation or focusing. These mind-sets are typified by qualities
which are positive and expansive, involving trust and open-mindedness.
In Buddhist meditation, confidence and curiosity are emphasised.
Chogyam Trungpa writes: “This awareness practice … requires
confidence. Any kind of activity that requires discipline requires
confidence”(31, p.80), and in “Cutting through Spiritual
Materialism” he states

“in order to be a completely inspired person
like Gautama Buddha, you have to be very open-minded and intelligent,
an inquisitive person. You have to want to explore everything”
(30, p.162).

even though what is found may seem ugly, painful or
repulsive. Nyanaponika Thera also writes: “The aim of the
meditative practice to be described here, is the highest which the
teaching of the Buddha offers. Therefore the practice should be taken
up in a mental attitude befitting such a high purpose”. He goes on
to suggest that the meditator recite the Threefold Refuge because
“this will instil confidence in him, which is so important for
meditative progress.” (28, p. 91)

Focusing writers Amodeo and Wentworth emphasise faith (confidence
actually means “with faith”) and courage: “Allowing ourselves
to vulnerably open to a full range of felt experience requires the
courage to take intelligent risks.” And “Facing unknown outcomes
requires living with a realistic degree of faith” (1, pp 83-84).
Other writers describe the cultivation of a respectful attitude and
friendliness to the self, as well as curiosity: “The point of
creating a caring-feeling-presence is … to create an open enough
body climate within which negative feelings can be owned” (24,
p.118). “A Focusing attitude is a respect for a reverence towards
concrete bodily felt experiencing” (7, p.130). “Focusing is
like being a friend to your own inner experience. The qualities of
true friendship include acknowledging, allowing patience, curiosity,
respect, warmth, welcome, empathy, compassion, and love.” (34,
p.18).

This encouragement by writers on focusing to be warm and friendly
towards oneself may be in light of the prevalence of low self-esteem
in our culture today; it may be that greater natural self esteem was a
given for the Buddha. When I consider my own experience when
approaching a Focusing session or a meditation session, I note that in
both cases I enter a mind-state of slowing or dropping thought
processes, where my attention is inwards rather than outwards; and
there is an aspect of giving time to myself, of self-nourishment, and
inner expansion. For both activities, I drop as much as possible my
tendency to self-judgment, and carry an intention to notice this at a
subtle level when it arises; this is different from my everyday
consciousness mode. There is also common to both a sense of a
balancing act going on; not getting drawn into self-criticism, not
getting drawn into thoughts, a sort of “hovering at the edge”. Ajahn
Chah writes, when giving advice about meditation technique “To
practise in a way that’s peaceful means to place mind neither too high
or too low, but at the point of balance” (3, p.47). Chogyam
Trungpa echoes this, when relating a story about a sitar player who
asked the Buddha how to meditate: “The musician asked, “Should I
control my mind or should I completely let go?” The Buddha
answered, “Since you are great musician, tell me how you would tune
the strings of your instrument.” The musician said, “I would
make them not too tight and not too loose.” “Likewise”, said
the Buddha, “in your meditation practice you should not impose
anything too forceful on your mind, nor should you let it wander.”
That is the teaching of letting the mind be in a very open way, of
feeling the flow of energy without trying to subdue it and without
letting it get out of control.” (30, p.10)

There can definitely be shifts in my experience of time in practising
focusing and in meditation. In both, I am less aware of time as a
linear process. I have focused for forty-five minute periods when I
seem to have visited many deep places in myself and been aware of
significant shifts, and yet have been astonished when given the “five
minutes to go” signal from my listener — much more time has elapsed
than I would have guessed. This can also happen in those meditation
sessions when I experience less busy-ness of mind, a deeper
relaxation. In both meditation and focusing also, thoughts can arise,
acting as distractions from the intended process. When this happens
in a focusing session with a client, I encourage them to return their
attention to the body. When engaged in focusing myself, I bring my
attention back to my felt sense after realising my mind has wandered.
However in meditation something subtler, less action-oriented is
encouraged:

“In true meditation there is no ambition to stir up
thoughts, nor is there an ambition to suppress them. They are just
allowed to occur spontaneously and become an expression of basic
sanity. They become the expression of the precision and the clarity
of the awakened state of mind.” (Chogyam Trungpa, 30, p.10)

The Skandhas Trungpa also writes about thoughts in relation to
meditation:

“One comes to an understanding and transcendence of ego
by using meditation to work backwards through the Five Skandhas. And
the last development of the Fifth Skandha is the neurotic and
irregular thought patterns which constantly flit across the mind”
(31, p.151).

“Skandha” is the term use in Buddhism for elements of
the ego as it develops, the creation of ourselves as individuals. The
word is translated as “heaps” or “aggregates”, as it carries the
quality of “growing collections”. There are five of these. The first
involves the development of “form”, which arises from a fear of space.
The space is the universal energy, which holds all form in potential.
Trungpa writes:

“the fear of the absence of self, of the egoless
state, is a constant threat to us … We want to maintain some
solidity … so we try to solidify or freeze that experience of
space” (32, p.21).

The second skandha involves feeling, a seeking
to feel in order to confirm that we are distinct and separate from
that which is outside ourselves. The third skandha involves impulses
which are guided by perceptions. According to Trungpa this
encompasses

“indifference, passion and aggression. … Perception,
in this case, is the self-conscious feeling that you must officially
report back to central headquarters what is happening in any given
moment. Then you can manipulate each situation by organizing another
strategy” (32, p.21).

This is linked to the impulse to control our
experience. The fourth skandha involves the development of intellect
and concepts. Trungpa again:

“We cannot establish ego properly
without intellect, with the ability to conceptualize and name. By now
we have an enormously rich collection of things going on inside us.
Since we have so many things happening, we begin to categorize them
putting them into certain pigeon-holes, naming them” (32, p.22).

The last skandha is the development of consciousness. Thich Nat Hanh
states: “The fifth category, consciousness, however contains all
the other categories and is the basis of their existence” (15,
p.46). Although these are described in order, they arise together and
continuously, and are involved in the creation of karma. Trungpa
states that all five have one purpose:

“The whole development of
the five skandhas — ignorance/form, feeling, impulse/perception,
concept and consciousness — is an attempt on our part to shield
ourselves from the truth of our insubstantiality. The practice of
meditation is to see the transparency of this shield. … If we want
to take this wall down, we must take it down brick by brick; … So
the practice of meditation starts with the emotions and thought,
particularly with the thought process” (32, p.23).

Meditation can
be seen as an “unpacking” of the skandhas, so as to become eventually
free of karma, the cycle of birth and death.

In focusing there is an intention to move away from the emotions to
find the more subtle felt sense.

“A felt sense is the broader, at
first unclear, unrecognizable discomfort, … to let it form, you
have to stand back a little from the familiar emotion. The felt sense
is wider, less intense, easier to have, and much more broadly
inclusive” (Gendlin, 9, p.69).

So, any issue which may exist
around the relationship with our arising emotions is not entered into
immediately in the focusing process. However, during focusing, a
question about the emotional tone of a felt sense or image can
usefully be asked, and acknowledging such a tone can bring a process
step to reveal the nature of an underlying fear or belief. For
instance, in a recent focusing session I saw an image of a garage door
open inside my heart area. My listener asked if there was an emotional
tone, and I realised that there was anger involved with the
image. Underneath the anger was a fear of being energetically “too
open” and that to receive was also to be invaded. What was happening
here was, I would argue, an engagement with the anger and fear
unearthed in this process. It was necessary fully to taste the nature
of that particular anger and fear in order to move my process on. And
in order fully to taste them, it was also necessary to apply something
other than the “dualistic thought process” referred to by Trungpa.
The dualistic thought process involves judging whilst perceiving:
whatever is perceived is judged as right or wrong, good or bad; the
mind takes a fixed stance as to the desirability or repulsiveness of
that which is perceived. (Often the terms “clinging” and “aversion”
have been used to describe this in a Buddhist context). Focusing, as
described above, involves non-judgmental acceptance of that which
arises in the inner space. This seems to me to be closely related to
the space being described by Trungpa in “The Myth of Freedom”, when he
states that the Buddha’s teaching “was inspired by his discovery
that there is a tremendous space in which the universality of
inspiration is happening. There is pain, but there is also the
environment around the origin of pain. The whole thing becomes more
expansive, more open.” He goes on “the vipashyana practice that
we are attempting … is realizing that space contains matter, that
matter makes no demands on space and that space makes no demands on
matter. It is a reciprocal and open situation” (32, pp 58-59). In
focusing, it is tremendously helpful to be able to be with and to
explore the felt sense from such an open, spacious and non-judgmental
place, which allows for fluidity and change.

Focusing engages us in the more subtle felt sense which can be related
to the second skandha of feeling. In choosing to be with the bodily
felt sense we are helping to disengage from thought processes (peeling
away the fifth skandha), and similarly in realising emotional tones
held in the felt sense we are strengthening a non-attachment to
emotions associated with the fourth skandha. It is more difficult
directly to correlate the first skandha regarding form to the process
of focusing, and to the third one regarding perception/impulse. In
the Buddhist context, “impulse” is a phenomenon much more subtle that
a “wanting to”, which can be categorised as an emotion. I believe I
recently touched the edge of an impulse whilst focusing, when I
noticed quality of energy to the left of my heart which constantly
pulled away from settling into the moment, being fully present. It was
so subtle as to be difficult to describe in words, and my sense is
that it will take time and persistence to transform.

Of course, it would not be helpful to analyse in terms of skandhas or
another model the sensations which are noticed whilst in a focusing
session, as this would put one back into thought processes rather than
being with the felt sense. Finding a handle is about individual
experience, not about fitting an analytic construct. Nyanaponika
Thera describes something very similar when discussing meditation
technique:

“It is a fundamental principle of the Satipatthana
method that the disciple should take his very first steps on the firm
ground of his own experience. He should learn to see things as they
are, and he should see them for himself. He should not be influenced
by others” (28, p.87-88).

In Focusing, the listener is not
intending to influence or control the focuser, and most focusers find
the practice much enhanced by the presence of a listener (I would
suggest because of feeling reassured by being accompanied, and because
the spirit of non-judgment is reinforced by the listener’s quality of
presence and skilful reflection). The listener can be likened to a
“spiritual friend”. Trungpa describes this concept in relation to
unpeeling the layers of the ego:

“We must be willing to communicate
in a completely open and direct way with our spiritual friend and with
our life, without any hidden corners. …

Q: Must we have a spiritual
friend before we can expose ourselves, or can we just open ourselves
to the situations of life?
A: I think you need someone to watch you
do it, because then it will seem more real to you” (30, p.82-83).

The implication here is that the “spiritual friend” is a guru,
perhaps. However, as the role of the guru is to enable one to see
oneself more clearly, so the listener in focusing also fills this
role, albeit for a very limited time period. It is the finding of the
handle and expressing this to a listener which is perhaps the most
obvious difference between focusing and any form of meditation, the
latter being a practice where transmutation is usually an inner
process only.

CONCLUSION

The Buddha’s teaching on meditation practice was addressed to monks,
who were committed to a way of life which embraced non-harm to self or
others, the adoption of precepts such as poverty and chastity, in fact
surrendering all aspects of living to the goal of spiritual
enlightenment. At the present time those who embrace Buddhist beliefs
or practices are, of course, not necessarily monks. Still, vipassana
meditation is undertaken by the Buddhist practitioner with the
intention of becoming conscious that one’s basic true nature is
unalloyed joy and ecstasy; “as the Master says so emphatically in
the Discourse, the attainment of final deliverance from suffering
(Nibbana) is the ultimate aim and inherent power of Satipatthana”
(Nyanaponika Thera, 28, p.13). The practice is part of a spiritual
tradition which accepts the concepts of reincarnation, karmic effects,
and the paradoxical idea that liberation of an individual from
suffering is possible by releasing the concept of the self. Focusing
does not claim such connections of course, and is simply a skill
useful in the pursuit of self knowledge in the twentieth century
western cultural context of self-development. Gendlin writes “It
is a way of enhancing self-knowledge, rather than a complete
philosophy” and “focusing … should be combined with anything
else that can develop us as persons.” (9, p ix)

The foregoing has compared Focusing with Core Process Psychotherapy
and aspects of Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice. All these
teachings and practices are involved with the exploration and
strengthening of self-knowledge and the inner life, and as such, all
are methods of spiritual development, and can inform each other. The
key to success in all is the purity of intention of the practitioner.
As Ajahn Sucitto writes “We are our intention, that’s what forms
us” (26, p.109). Intention to change oneself involves courage,
honesty, commitment, perseverance and sensitivity. And all these
practices: Core Process Psychotherapy, Focusing, and Buddhist
meditation, combined with pure intention, are important, perhaps
vital, to the evolution of consciousness.

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