Focusing with one ‘S’
This article appeared in Positive Health magazine, May 2005.
When we bring our awareness into the Present Moment and begin to notice what is happening in our own inner space, we are amazed at how much is there. We begin to notice subtly different qualities of how we are within ourselves.
There is this thing called Focusing which has only one ‘s’. It has nothing to do with spectacles or photography, nor with a retail outlet for DIY. The spelling came with it across the Atlantic, where its origins lie, and serve to distinguish it from focusing with a small ‘f’. What it is is hard to describe!
Certainly it deserves more than a five-minute attempt across a dinner table in response to a polite inquiry as to what I ‘do’. On such occasions, conversation is generally fairly superficial, often consisting of feigned interest for the sake of good manners and a not-listening to the reply as something else diverts the attention — the food and wine, or some other interaction between the guests.
The average member of our society lacks listening skills. Too often (almost always), we do not give our attention to the person who is speaking or the words that they are saying. We tend to hear some words and latch on to them, judging them, comparing them to something in our own experience, trying to work the content out for ourselves at the same time as the speaker is continuing what she/he is saying. We structure our reply and wait with impatience for the end, so that we may bring it forth. In the meanwhile we have missed most of what the person is saying and words taken out of context often fail to mean what they were intended to convey. On the whole, we do not listen well.
Listening with a capital ‘L’ is giving our whole attention to the speaker moment by moment — what is he/she telling me Right Now? That way we can see the whole meaning of what is being said, sense how it is for the speaker, as if we are viewing a whole painting rather than one little detail within it.
Can you recall a time when you really felt Listened to, really felt heard? Truly being heard brings a sense of empathy, of the Listener Being With you, keeping you company. Not necessarily understanding — that can divert the attention into trying — but holding that space in which what the speaker wants to convey can come.
The Present Moment
We have to be Here to Listen, Present in this moment rather than thinking of our Past experience or planning what is yet to come. The Past no longer exists and the Future is only a dream. The truth is we are very seldom aware of the Present Moment, despite it being the only reality that we ever have. This is what makes us such poor listeners.
Moreover, we not only do not hear what other people are attempting to communicate to us, we also fail to be aware of what is Here Right Now. We miss the details of our own present experience, our eyes and ears as good as closed to the beauty around us and the intricate patterns of interaction that make up our life. Communication is not just words; it is the interaction that comes in this moment between us and other forms, be they people, things or situations. We can sense in our bodies our response to other forms and we can be with that.
We do not notice what is happening in our bodies — the physical and emotional reactions that are continually creating our experience. If we do notice, we tend to ignore or suppress them, dictating from our minds according to our past programming, criticizing and judging many of our own reactions and successfully ignoring the rest.
Being stuck in our inner process does not benefit our health or our sense of well-being. The physical qualities that accompany both the frustration of the unheard aspects of ourselves and the resistance against them do not tend to be conducive to good health. When these aspects are heard, there is often release and expansion, a letting go of the stress and tension that was there.
When we bring our awareness into the Present Moment and begin to notice what is happening in our own inner space, we are amazed at how much is there. We begin to notice subtly different qualities of how we are within ourselves. In the Present Moment (with Past and Future no longer involved) we find ourselves able to accept without judgement and we find that those parts of us that were ignored or suppressed before come forward to be known. This is Focusing!
I practise and teach Inner-Relationship Focusing, which is the skill of keeping company with whatever aspect of the inner self wants to be known. It is about befriending whatever is here in a Present Moment way, supporting it with love, honour, respect and gentleness.
Sometimes what comes may be scary, threatening, or in some other way not easy to like. There may well be another part of me that wants to get rid of it. I can Be With that too. Focusing brings a realization that everything that comes has our best interests at heart. We realize that the scary, threatening behaviour is the result of frustration at not having been heard, of having been suppressed or exiled by our minds. With respectful attention and in its own time, whatever it is will transform of its own accord and move our inner process on.
This is a macrocosm/microcosm thing. In the Outside World where dictators rule, the people are suppressed. Nobody will listen to them or allow them freedom to live as they want to live. What occurs then is a building of frustration into a desperate bid for freedom that may go to any lengths in an attempt to obtain it. Freedom fighters can get very scary and threatening! In a democracy the people have a voice and, through being heard, contribute to the building and development of their society. Integrated community becomes more possible. So it is in our Inner Worlds and we can find this through Focusing.
Having this skill does not enable our minds to fix things. It does allow us to accept what is Here for us Now, recognizing the whole of our experience without becoming identified with those parts of ourselves that struggle so, as, from their narrowed perspective, they judge, criticize, condemn and try to control both in our Inside and our Outside Worlds.
Focusing is a natural skill which most of us have had programmed out of us. It was rediscovered in the United States of America in the 1960s. Carl Rogers had introduced Client-centred Psychotherapy to the world and was working from Chicago University. In spite of his revolutionary techniques, the number of clients really benefiting from therapy was still unsatisfactory. He instigated research which he put in the hands of Eugene Gendlin. Many therapy sessions were recorded, both those that appeared to be successful and those that didn’t. On play-back, there seemed to be no noticeable problem with the way the therapists were working. However, when they listened to the clients, they discovered that there was a common factor amongst those who benefited from therapy. They would at some point in the session hesitate, become less articulate, bringing their attention down into their bodies, saying something like “What is this? I can feel it right here! How can I describe it? It’s almost like –” These people were naturally Focusing. From this Gendlin developed a means of teaching Focusing to those clients who didn’t know how to do it. This was so successful that people wanted to learn it for use in their everyday lives. The practice of Focusing has evolved from there, with Focusers being encouraged to support and Listen for each other. The means of teaching it has also developed gradually to a point where it is more of a supporting and facilitating the new Focuser to discover the skill naturally within.
I teach Focusing one-to-one or in a group. Groups may be in the form of a weekend, one day each month, or one evening each week. The big advantage of a group is that you get to experience Focusing, companioning and being companioned by your peers. A Focusing session is more powerful when you are supported by another human being and Listening to another human being. Focusing can be a privilege and a joy. Groups lead to Focusing partnerships which can be a very valuable part of your inner journey.
We live in a time when the development of the intellect is considered all-important. We are educated to think rather than to feel, to observe and analyse rather than to experience. We are encouraged to control and are afraid of our inability to do so. Focusing is a natural process. As the brain has become all-powerful, we have allowed our Focusing ability to be suppressed. It is a skill that can be relearned.
Gendlin ET. Focusing. Rider. Ebury Press. London. 2003.
Cornell AW. The Power of Focusing. New Harbinger Publications. Oakland. CA. 1996.
Cornell AW and McGavin B. The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual. 2 Vols. Calluna Press. Berkeley. CA. 2002.