Caring Feeling Presence

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.