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24th May 2020

FOT and the Greasy Beast

Philosophy Spirituality Therapy

FOT and the Greasy Beast:

Welcoming the undomesticated nature of living process

Greg Madison

All forms of Focusing offer deep transformational experiences. So much so that I sometimes wonder if, as therapists, we add much extra value in FOT sessions. What can therapy, especially Focusing Oriented Therapy, offer that enhances the potential of an already powerful Focusing process? How can therapy, a modern western culture invention that emphasizes the individual, be appropriate for other cultures?

I think there is a role for FOT that could be deeply valuable in the world. In therapy we add in the therapist as a person for the client to meet. The therapist, like the Focusing Guide, sits in the chair as another person before s/he offers any knowledge, insight, technique or method, theory, assumptions, or interventions. In contrast to most Focusing sessions, in FOT there are two people sitting with their eyes open looking at each other expectantly. This is a culture. The expectation of interaction is different from a guided Focusing session. It is more like the difficult everyday world where we have problems with other people. The likelihood is that between therapist and client there are some shared values and beliefs and also some diversity. In FOT the interpersonal dynamic of this new ‘culture’ is explicitly attended to. Usually in Focusing sessions the quality of the being-together is fundamentally important but not explicitly talked about. Usually the Focuser is paying attention to the process that we call ‘inner’, already diving into the uniqueness that exceeds the culture of meeting.

FOT offers the unusual experience of attempting to remain connected with the ‘inner’ while simultaneously attending to the world of others, or the ‘interaction’ or ‘the meeting’. Even experienced Focusers can find it difficult to remain connected to themselves when in relationship with other people. Culture so easily takes over and replaces that connection. FOT works in this territory where we try to acknowledge all that comes in-between people as well as ‘the between’ itself. It works cross-culturally by connecting to what is more than culture.

When two people sit across from each other we are already in cultural assumptions. Why sitting across, why two individuals? Why not the whole village? Why not sleeping side-by-side and dreaming together? Why speaking? Cultures give us set principles and expectations for carrying on a daily life, for how to look at things and how to feel about what happens around us. The cultural influences in a FOT session include the therapeutic orientation of the therapist, as well as each person’s specific national, ethnic and socio-economic assumptions, religious traditions, philosophical beliefs, personal history and implicit values. FOT is always a cross-cultural experience, but in a unique way. Therapists seldom look closely at how they already impose a culture. We often don’t even realize our implicit assumptions let alone examine them closely. Focusing therapists also need to explore their assumptions – the context of therapy and the society within which it is practiced can be objects of inquiry in our felt sensing.

Focusing gives us an alleyway through the ready-made concepts, to a deeper level where we have a larger sense of living, beyond what society has fenced off as its perimeter. Focusing therapy invites another person close while we sense deeper. That person gets into our sensing so that they become the ‘toward’ that our senses can relate to. They witness, receive, and most importantly they give us a response towards which we can sense more. Between two in therapy, living can be released from received meanings, the exiled greasy beast of our animal nature can be welcomed back into its birthright. As children our wildness is constantly pressed into the uniform of our culture, how we should look, act, think… Each culture creates exiled greasy beasts. By working with, through, and beyond culture, FOT is culturally sensitive while subverting culture. Our cultures are manifest in the session, but as therapists we want to feel through the culture to the fundamental humanity in our client in order to reveal to them how their humanity affects us.

In FOT clients learn to bring their awareness to what didn’t fit the culture, what couldn’t be constrained by convention so it was labelled as too wild, uncivilised, ‘not-me’, and driven out into oblivion. It is deeply healing when another person celebrates the return of what culture said could only be repugnant to others. The focusing therapist, regardless of culture, offers the interaction where the person comes home to himself or herself. The culture can’t do that. Culture does many valuable things but it does not know how to encourage me to recognise that the home I carry with me will open its doors and windows, throw down its walls, when it meets the depth of another.

If therapy works, the client becomes more marginal to their culture, not more ‘adaptive’ in some simple form-fitting way. In FOT we make efforts to set aside what is ‘in-between’ in order to attend directly to ‘the between’, where relational felt sensing gives us a ‘home’ that is fluid and palpable but not fixed. New and precise meanings and insights arise, which do not exist in explicit culture. The client returns to their daily world where as mother or father they work tirelessly to fulfil what they know is expected of them. But the client has opened up to more than the cultural expectations and has a desire to take steps towards a deeper rightness than culture alone provides. The client becomes an agent of culture change.

Our common humanity is palpable. It is not based upon shared knowledge or collected information. Our commonality is the living process. We understand each other because we are the same sort of process. The unique differentiations and diverse cultures do not have to be a barrier if we are willing to relate from that formless commonality. Focusing and FOT have spread around the world into diverse cultures because these practices offer a way to connect to the eyes of the beast hiding behind the various veneers of culture.

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24th May 2020

Spirituality in Psychotherapy. Random Notes on the Living Source in FOT

Spirituality

Spirituality in Psychotherapy: Random notes on the living source in FOT

Greg Madison

When my client sits down there are many directions we might go: into stories of the week, stuck patterns, discrete problems that need practical action. Others come to therapy shattered by a specific traumatic event. Focusing-oriented therapists, of course, sit with people who are facing all these life issues and more.

My therapist ego is awake because someone has come to me for help. I worry; can I in fact be helpful? Psychotherapy is rife with techniques to reassure me. Unfortunately, Focusing can become just another one of those techniques. But whom am I trying to help with Focusing? The client as they currently conceive of themselves? Sometimes I think of FOT as being about change. But change from whose point of view? More radically, FOT invites us to let go of who we think we are, who we want to be, and the change we think we need.

We usually live wound tightly around words. Our clinging to structures, identities, concepts, names, reveals the limits of human faith. Working somatically already brings us to the edge of spirituality. We gain the opening that the ‘as ifquality of metaphor protects. The FOT process evokes answer after answer each one undercutting or refining the previous one until we find ourselves in an unknowing flow and realise, surprisingly, that is the answer.

So sometimes the attention shifts from the content, the ‘problem’ as currently conceived, to the process itself. Together we become curious about how the felt sense shifts situations and feelings. How does ‘it’ know better than ‘I’ do what is right for ‘me’? What is this ‘it’? Gendlin is fond of saying ‘life lives us’. Increasingly I have come to see how insistent life is, how it wants to have its vehicle back. It seems that life wants its own point of view to prevail and it is only because we are it that its point of view also resonates as our best interest.

We do not need to understand what ‘itis in order to put the ‘living sourceor ‘godat the centre rather than psychological theory. It turns many assumptions upside down: Does the unconscious create the body? Is the body a manifestation of awareness? Heidegger used to say we have eyes because we are ‘seeing beingsnot that we are seeing beings because we have eyes. Through the session something pre-historic and pre-biographic is circling. It needs our consent to allow the colonised self to dissolve into a processself.

Gendlin says that humans live in ‘situationsand that between two people in therapy there is ‘one situation. Perhaps the whole cosmos is our human situation? Maybe the whole of human existence is implied within every concrete situation? So where do we draw the situation? Is personal mortality, echoes of the big bang, implied within each situation? If not, then where are they?

So often we stay rooted at the ego end of the spectrum and forego the joy of the slippery slope. Through the practice of Focusing and FOT, I feel the universe inhabiting me with love, as if it is wholly focused on me alone, persistently wanting for me what I am not wise enough to want for myself. I look my client deep in the eyes, and there behind the appearances I sometimes see this same ageless source looking back, responding to the life it has just resurrected in me.

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24th May 2020

Focusing for the Therapist

Decisions Spirituality Therapy

Page intro block

Focusing for the Therapist

Greg Madison, PhD, Focusing Institute Country Coordinator

(Published in The Focusing Connection, 2003)
*Focusing is a natural way of being with our own experience, patiently, until it becomes more clear. Information on Focusing can be found at www.focusing.org

Unknown to most clients, psychotherapy remains governed by many theories and ‘rules’, the actual purpose of which may be to protect the therapist from his or her own anxiety . In this short piece, an existential therapist uses Focusing to attempt to remain open to the difficult experience of being with a dying client. Through this example of his work in an acute hospital setting, Greg suggests that Focusing can be a crucial aspect of redefining therapy as a human relationship rather than an expert one.

The medical and nursing team called me to meet Loyola, a patient who was refusing to accept her terminal diagnosis and return home. Walking onto the ward I became aware of a nervous feeling in my stomach. Although feeling nervous is not unusual for me, I decided to focus on this particular ‘nervousness’ and it soon became clear that it was about carrying the staff’s expectation that I would convince Loyola that she had to go home. The nervousness was that she might see my ulterior motive and realise that she could not trust me to listen to her openly. But finding the meaning of my nervousness at that moment felt exciting and it suddenly became easy to set aside the staff’s expectation. I approached Loyola feeling much freer to really meet this new person. When I entered her room, she was sitting up in bed and her short hair and slim figure gave her the appearance of a young boy rather than the 54-year-old grandmother that she was. She responded to my openness and with a broad smile indicated that she was happy to talk with me.

The senior ward nurse offered us his private office for our session. As I closed the door, Loyola asked simply and directly, ‘What can you do to help me?’ Somewhat taken aback, I took a seat and replied with the usual banality ‘Sometimes talking about your feelings can help’. This sounded trite in the circumstances and I was aware that I spoke from some sort of ‘therapist script’ rather than from a deeper sense of our situation – it alerted me again to the presence I needed to maintain in order not to retreat into a role. As Loyola began to speak of her current ‘trouble’ and her mastectomy three years ago, a look of pain crossed her face. She tapped her remaining breast saying ‘Now this one’s gone all hard. They are giving me medicine to fix it like they did the last time’.

Although she was insisting on more treatment, Loyola seemed somewhat unconvinced about the possibility of a cure. She concluded our session with the statement ‘I know this is not my time to die. Medicine and God will cure me’. I asked Loyola how she felt about talking to me and she paused to check her feeling (yes, a natural Focuser!), then announced ‘I like you, can we meet again?’ I left feeling excited and looking forward to our next meeting. I hoped that the next session might present the opportunity to naturally introduce Focusing to Loyola, but not as a technique that I could hide behind.

In traditional therapy, often the therapist remains more or less anonymous, a friendly face showing little sign of struggling to live a life of his or her own. Some theories of therapy insist that certain practices are crucial in order to elicit and interpret the client’s ‘unconscious’ defences and anxieties. If Loyola and I were to truly meet, it was evident from the outset that our therapy would be based upon a shared ‘unknowing’ rather than an ‘expert’ analysing a ‘client’. I was also aware that a large part of our therapy would depend on my ability to remain aware of my felt experience and ‘that part of me’ which was terrified of witnessing Loyola’s struggle to live. I also knew that I wanted more than anything to remain fully present to this person; an ethical call to acknowledge her as a legitimate person, not a problem to be solved. In doing so, it became increasingly clear that I was being challenged to open to my own mortality.

As I arrived on the ward the next week, the medical team stopped me and reiterated that they could do nothing for Loyola and they were anxious to discharge her to community care. She was resisting this as leaving the hospital would amount to accepting that she was dying. There was talk they would have to call security to escort her from the ward if she continued to refuse to cooperate. Could I ‘help’? I said I would check whether she fully understood the situation, that’s all I could do. This time as I approached Loyola, our relationship brought that old nervousness together with a tinge of responsibility. The necessity for some kind of action.

Loyola smiled from beneath her oxygen mask when she saw me. Her breathing now made even a short walk to the nurse’s office difficult, so I pulled a curtain around her bed and sat down next to her. I asked if the doctors had spoken to her about her condition. She confirmed that they had, but she didn’t understand why they wouldn’t help her like they did three years ago. ‘If it’s all they can do, then I want them to just chop it off’ she said, motioning to her remaining breast, ‘I don’t want to die, it’s not my time.’

I became aware of something in me that wanted to recoil from all this. I wondered if there was a part like that in Loyola and I felt a surge of gentleness towards her. The idea that Loyola, terrified and uncomprehending, could be wheeled from the ward against her will, pressed me to ask gently, ‘Loyola, how do you know it is not your time now?’ She replied immediately, ‘I’m certain of it, God would not want to take me now’. ‘So it’s up to God?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes, He made me and He’ll save me’. I heard a pregnant open place in me say, ‘Yes, I guess it’s only up to God now since the doctors can’t help any more’.

Loyola stopped pulling at her bedclothes and stared at me. Her eyes were fixed steadily on mine and after a long pause she asked ‘You mean they can’t stop me from dying?’ We were silent. Her expression drained from her face. My body felt totally alive, every detail of the moment, the moment many of us dread, was vibrant. I had a felt sense of life that encompassed not only Loyola and myself, but everything. After a long silence, she slowly looked up, right into my eyes, and said ‘Then it’s up to God. I will pray for a miracle. It’s not my time yet, I know that’. Her faith allowed us to retreat from that apparition of non-being and paradoxically I felt a little dulled, though relieved.

In our following sessions, as Loyola’s life began to shrink around us, we became increasingly connected to each other. On a Thursday afternoon, I arrived at her bedside as usual. She was now very weak and removed her oxygen mask to whisper something to the relatives gathered at the foot of her bed. They nodded, looked at me and left us alone. I pulled the curtain and sat down with Loyola. Again, the silence descended around us and I felt a deep love for this woman I had known less than three weeks. I know it was my Focusing awareness that enabled me to feel this, rather than the usual ‘professional relationship’ of therapist and client. After a few minutes, I said ‘You’ve not been well the past few days so I haven’t been staying very long’. She nodded. There was nothing more to say. She struggled to remain conscious and every few moments managed to stare hard into my eyes, as if to say, ‘please look at me’, which was the hardest thing for me to do. But I did not look away, or analyse, or diminish her with platitudes. I had spent time after each of our sessions Focusing on my response to her situation, learning and preparing myself to be as open as I could to any eventuality. Now this was her dying, unexpected and unwanted. During those silent minutes I imagined my head on that pillow, struggling to breathe. It felt like we were children who had accidentally strayed too far into the woods, and only one of us would make it back. Perhaps we are all children in the face of death.

The following morning a doctor called to say that Loyola had died shortly after I left.

How should I refer to that time Loyola and I spent together? Was it therapy? I did not diagnose her with a mental illness, pathologise her ‘denial’, give her advice or homework, or interpret her behaviour. I did not fight with her defence mechanisms, encourage her to think positively, or to realise her full potential. Instead I used a Focusing awareness to try to remain open in myself to the mystery of what was happening to her and between us. Perhaps it was only when Loyola saw my readiness to grapple with my own death that she felt our therapy, and her life, could come to an end. Perhaps it was really my therapy after all?

Greg Madison, PhD

London, UK

 

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23rd May 2020

Explorations in Focusing and Buddhism: 1. How Focusing can help Buddhist practice

Spirituality

Gendlin says, ‘There’s always more.’ And I imagine for many Focusing Buddhists, his recent interview on Focusing and Buddhism taps into a well-oiled curiosity. I’ve been a Buddhist for almost thirty years, and in that time, I’ve explored a range of Buddhist practices. I’ve attended retreats in wild and lovely places, practised meditations of different kinds, chanted mantras within strange and beautiful rituals, studied exotic Sanskrit texts, followed ethical precepts and found friendship within the Buddhist community or sangha. These experiences have certainly informed and enriched the person I’ve become. Even so, in my onward journey of becoming (it’s a process that never stops, after all), Focusing has become an invaluable aide. Over this past half decade, Focusing over has opened up whole new seams of inspiration, and furnished fresh approaches to familiar practices.

But when two profound practices meet – such as Buddhism and Focusing – it’s probably best to pause before leaping to compare how they differ or overlap. Any distinct system will hold its own particular insights and jewels. Often, it’s good to experience those first on their own terms, and within their own frame of reference. And yet, we cannot separate what we are now from the threads which have informed and influenced us in the past. Our exploration of different practices, and how they relate to each other, is inevitable and ongoing. So it is with some caution, as well as excitement, that I add my own voice to the others which have gone before, and to share some ways in which, for me at least, Focusing and Buddhism interact and intertwine.

In this article, I look at how Focusing enriches the way I understand, experience, and so practice Buddhism. This may amount to a little more than glimpses into something larger. Still, I hope it might be the basis for further, ongoing explorations (by others, as well as myself) into the insights that come when Buddhism and Focusing meet.

Ways into direct experience

Buddhism and Focusing both tackle the issue of life and how we live it. And both begin by looking within at our own, direct experience. In Focusing, Gendlin’s extraordinary contribution is to point our our implicit knowing, a ‘preconceptual feeling’ he calls the felt-sense. As Focusers, we know that the felt-sense encompasses the whole of an experience; the ‘all-that’ of a situation which is here, but which as yet has little form or no words. It’s the first inkling of a response as it stirs into awareness; a creative opening, as when a new poem comes, complete and whole. As a seasoned meditator, learning about the felt-sense, made immediate sense to me. It addressed a whole aspect of my experience, one which came to me often, but confusingly, because I had no words or concepts to describe it (a lovely example of what Gendlin calls, ‘an instance of itself’). In discovering the felt-sense, I find a new dimension opens up. I discover afresh the tremendous subtlety, accuracy, beauty, depth and infinite possibilities of my inner world. I gain a far fuller appreciation for our human potential; a new sense of what it might mean to become someone ‘fully awake’ – a ‘buddha’.

So Focusing supports my Buddhist practice in two ways. On one hand, it brings a freshly felt understanding of where Buddhism is heading – of what it might mean to be awakened. On the other, it gives new impetus to the practices which lead there. The classic metaphor here is that of a journey, of inner growth as an active exploration. It is one embedded deep within Buddhism, as dharma (the Buddhist word for ‘Buddhism’) is often translated as Path. Yet dharma also means the Teaching or Truth. This implies a different kind of process; transformation which grows organically from the gradual unfolding of what is real and true, from within. For me, it is this second perspective which chimes most closely with Focusing.

These two ways of describing inner change are reflected in one of Buddhism’s central approaches to realising our human potential: the practice of meditation. Some meditation is about actively generating buddha-like qualities. Other meditations seek to create conditions in which our inherent qualities can shine forth. This latter is about being where we are now more and more fully, and the alchemy that follows when we are. And it’s here that Focusing practice has become such a vital support for me. The Focusing attitudes and approaches, which I learn and re-learn in every Focusing session I do, have become the bedrock for my meditation. For example, one of Focusing’s great gifts is the way it allows us to accompany and welcome our experience, even when that experience feels difficult, confusing or contradictory. Even experienced meditators may be surprised at the subtle wisdom that Focusing brings to the inner world, particularly the way a Focuser can nurture a clear awareness of what is unclear; the process of watching and waiting as a felt-sense gathers, grows and shifts.

In Buddhism, this sort of awareness is sometimes described as a deep recognition of the way in which our experience ‘self-liberates’; that is, how our feelings, impulses, thoughts and sensations naturally arise, continue and pass. Experiencing felt-shifts within Focusing has helped me to understand this. Whether Focusing or meditating, I can watch with fascinated attention as some unknown energy or impulse emerges (often fuzzy and vague), then forms and shifts. For me, this happens mostly through images, metaphors and association, mixed with symbolised body-sense and feeling. So it’s with relief I’ve discovered that body-sensation does not have to be the sole or primary means of grounding my experience, as some meditation practices advise. Again, in some types of meditation we are offered the choice to let our thoughts and feelings pass ‘like clouds in a blue sky’. Focusing has taught me the value of watching and befriending the clouds as they gather, storm and swirl. So I rest with those clouds (not inside them, but with them, in a way I sense that they might like) until, through the power of empathy and presence, they are ready to dissolve into space. As both Focusers and meditators know, when the ‘clouds’ are strong emotions or old patterns, the way they shift and release is some sort of miracle.

Ways to Awareness and Presence

As a result of all this, I often feel more empathy. I find I can better embrace other people’s experience as it forms and moves for them, even when that might be challenging. The more I hold my own experience within this kind, spacious awareness, the more natural it is to do that for them. In the gentle words of Kevin McEvenue: the more space there is for me, the more there is for you. I now know more deeply that, ‘as within, so without’. Many Buddhist practices focus on ways to develop kindness and compassion for oneself and others. Through Focusing, a natural kindness has come into my life, unbidden. It has opened up new vistas for me onto the ideal, so beautifully expressed in Buddhism, of limitless compassion and understanding.

The down-to-earth reason for this is because Focusing is so good at helping us spot when we are embedded in a tangle of thoughts and feelings (I’m hurt/angry/upset/good/bad). Buddhism talks about feeling the pain of two arrows. Initially, there is the ‘first arrow’ – the fear, pain or hurt triggered by something which happens. Then there is the extra dart we introduce when we try to do that impossible thing of pushing away our experience, or of grasping after it. So the ‘second arrow’ refers to the added wrangles and tangles which happen inside us when we don’t like feeling things like worry or pain. Focusing practice has helped me understand the two arrows in a very practical way. In Inner Relationship Focusing, we come into relationship with the parts of us that are wanting or not-wanting our experience, and learn how to move forward by holding them both in presence. This is a precious insight for any Buddhist whose classic dharma teachings revolve around the human impulses of craving and aversion. In this way, my Focusing practice has brought me a new sense of freedom and hope; a welcome lightness around what is difficult or painful.

Buddhism has a lot to say about the way we merge and identify with our experience (‘this is me!’). It talks about this as the creation of self or selfhood, as if we have a special faculty for creating ideas of who we are: the ego, or ‘I-maker’ (ahamkara). Focusing practice gives me a wonderful opportunity to see how I forge and coagulate around my experience from moment-to-moment, creating ongoing ideas of a me or self. In the course of a Focusing session, I begin to disentangle and unmerge from the me’s and somethings that make up my usual sense of myself. Whether I feel overwhelm, uncertainty, pain, or inspiration, uplift and wonder, I’m more able to welcome these simply as aspects of what is happening right now, watching them shift and change organically. So I feel safer around experience, my own and other people’s.

This means that, at root, my understanding of my self is changing. I’m learning more about the flow and process of life – how utterly fluid experience is. I gradually find a space where I know that I am not really made up of any one fixed thing; I come into a new relationship with my ideas and deep-rooted sense of self. In fact, I find that there isn’t really a me here, in the way I usually feel it. I begin to experience a quality of being which Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin call Self-in-Presence.

Self-in-Presence means we can simply be present with whatever happens, whether that’s something inside us, or in the world outside. Remarkably, this is even enjoyable – however difficult or painful the experience is. That’s because once we are present with something, the qualities of understanding and kindness flow naturally towards it. However shakily or momentarily we are present, the more painful that thing is, the more compassion and empathy arise in response.

Ways to freedom

At root, both Focusing and Buddhism are practices based on presence and awareness (I see the terms as interchangeable). These open up new perspectives, where we experience ourselves and the world in a radically different way. Buddhism describes this radical difference in terms of freedom. In one sense, this freedom is freedom from. It’s when we overcome habitual obstacles and limitations, and outgrow our inner aches and pains, our wanting or not-wanting, and the whole gamut of difficult emotions based on old ways of seeing ourselves and our lives. It’s a radical way of clearing the space (Gendlin, Focusing, Chapter 7).

In another sense, freedom is more than this: it has a unique quality of its own. We may feel freedom as a rare and precious joy. This comes having from a different kind of response to the world. Many of our entrenched responses are reactive; that is, they are created and conditioned by our current attitudes, feelings, thoughts; our past experiences and future expectations; everything that makes up my current sense of me. As that sense of self changes, and as Self-in-Presence grows, we no longer merge with our reactive responses. Open to our felt-sensing, and alive to the ever-changing flow of things, we are free to feel whatever comes into our lives in a fresh, creative way. As Buddhism puts it, we can move beyond conditions altogether, towards complete and radical freedom. The Buddha conjures up the image of the ocean. ‘Just as the ocean has one taste, the taste of salt, so this dharma of mine has one taste: the taste of freedom.’ (Udana, 5.5) For me, this is where the practice of Focusing and Buddhism meet.

Dr. Elizabeth English is also known in the Focusing community by her Buddhist name, Locana. She is an ordained member of the Triratna Buddhist Community, and author of a book on Tantric Buddhism, ‘Vajrayogini’ ( 2002, Wisdom Publications). She is a certified trainer in Focusing, Nonviolent Communication™ and a teacher of Mindfulness. To discover more about her work, or sign up for her Communication Tips, visit: www.lifeatwork.co.uk, or Elizabeth English – Mindfulness for Life.

Elizabeth now teaches Mindfulness at Cambridge University. She offers courses online mindfulness and meditation courses, and is author of a book on mediation, infused with focusing: Journeys to the Deep: A Gentle Guide to Mindfulness Meditation.

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8th Feb 2016

How Strong is your Sense of Presence?

Introductory Spirituality

Are you truly coming from a place with no agenda?

When you Focus, can you really find that source of compassion?

It is not just about not being judgemental. It is about being compassionate and able to hold anything!

I suspect that , if we could really grasp Presence and never again let it go, the rest of the techniques used in Focusing would become unnecessary. “Grasp Presence”? The choice of words reduces Presence to a concept. My sense is that it is more than that – it is in the realms of experiencing the indefinable, on a different level from ideas or science. This makes it impossible to fully explain or impose. It cannot be taught (in the sense that is usually understood in our 21st century education system).

As a Focusing Teacher, I can only point the way and allow people to discover it within themselves. This may take far longer than one weekend or even five. This is about your process carrying you deep into the Presence place, which will take as long as it takes.

You may not find it and may live your life with Focusing, benefiting enormously from it. And you may find it easily with minimal help from me. But, maybe, like me, you will search and not be satisfied with the level of your experiencing, understanding just a little but never quite managing to disidentify with that part that tries to be in Presence!

What is the Presence place? By definition, it is Here and Now and so you are, in fact, in it already! What takes time is for the light to dawn so that you can see that!

I have been teaching Presence qualities and Presence language, hoping that people will grasp the concept. I trust that their awareness of Presence will develop when the time is right. The crux of the matter is that, if we are really seeing and listening to our inside places from Presence, experiencing being Presence, Focusing becomes much easier. Every time we need a guiding move, a suggestion, it is because we are not truly in Presence. The more we are, the more we can just Be Here, allowing what is here to unfold.

My experience is that the part of me that attempts to position itself in Presence, gets as close to Presence as it can and then gets drawn back, because I haven’t quite settled myself (come to reside) in this Presence place.

It is taking a long time. I have done my thinking about it; I have done my Focusing on it. Now I am practicing it. In everyday life this is not always easy, sometimes still not possible. I have a friend who finds herself walking her path alongside me – we are doing this work together. We spend time together just Being in Presence, being aware of what is here now. We have been doing this regularly for nearly two years.

This has developed into our offering residential retreat weekends. So far we have run four. We call them “Silent Presence”. These weekends are a chance to move more deeply into Presence. Relieved of everyday routines and challenges and with no expectation of “sitting down and doing” a Focusing session, this is an opportunity to get used to Being in the Moment. When we facilitate a Silent Presence Retreat, we go into Silence before bedtime on the Friday night. Before that, we spend time introducing the participants to Focusing and Breathwork. We make suggestions that may help them to be more present in the moment. And we honour the principle of not imposing a way of doing on the participants. They are free to use whatever practice or technique they bring with them. They are encouraged to sense for what is appropriate for them in each moment. We have a pattern of sitting and walking in silence and even this is not compulsory. If a participant senses that the pattern is not appropriate right now, she/he is encouraged to go with that sense. We advocate being aware of this moment, dwelling in the Present, even when the mind is moving through the past and the future. This is about Being Here Now and noticing what the mind is doing.

If we are silently Present, what do we do with what is here? We may label things; we may think how pretty or ugly they are. This seems to me to be judgement, although I am not making that wrong. Certainly we are back in our heads with our minds running. As a Focuser, I find it is natural to Focus on what is here inside in response to this moment – that is, I notice and spend time with the body sense and anything that may require attention within or around that.

I also realise that, when something arises within, it is the result of a pull either into the past or into the future. I notice that from the Still Silence of Presence Right Now. So when something in me wants my attention, inevitably it is either hitched in to the past (perhaps it needs to let go of something) or it is dragging me into the future. When I attend to it, it rests Here Now, with the light of Presence upon it. I wonder at the qualities of Presence and I look at the qualities that are uncomfortable, seeing that I can list them under Past or Future. For example:

Past

Grief, regret, loss, sadness, judgement based on past experience, anger (we are angry with something that has already happened), bitterness, victimisation, inferiority, superiority (all are based on previous experience).

Future

Frustration, fear, impatience, wanting, greed, anticipating, wanting time to pass (i.e. not valuing this moment), anxiety, worry, nervousness, dread, excitement (even this can be uncomfortable).

The preoccupation of all of these hides the Present Moment and leads to confusion and lack of clarity.

And then there is Presence! What a wonderful place in which to reside! And of course there is no other place where we can be. We just need to awaken to the truth of that.

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8th Feb 2016

Focusing as a Doorway for Spiritual Growth

Spirituality

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Lesley Wilson and Addie van der Kooy

Having been regular Focusers for over 10 years, we are still amazed at how
powerful a tool Focusing truly is. It has helped us with making important
decisions in our lives, it has been pivotal in managing physical pain and it has
become instrumental as a tool for healing, for example in facing deeply held
traumas from the past. But above all, Focusing is for us a very simple and
practical process for healthy spiritual growth which is firmly grounded in our
physical bodies.

Focusing has enabled us to touch a directly felt experience of who we truly are
and a directly felt connectedness and sense of belonging to some larger Life
Process or Presence. Whether this is given a name – like Higher Power, God, Tao
or the Great Universe – is not important. What matters is that we can actually
feel and experience it directly in our bodies. For us, this has become the core
of our journey and in this article we will explore the elements of Focusing that
have opened the door for us into this experience.

But first, we want to acknowledge the pioneering work of two psychologists of
religion, Dr Edwin McMahon and Dr Peter Campbell. Their work and teaching has
been inspirational to us, providing profound guidance for our journey with
Focusing. They recognised the significance of Focusing as a bodily grounded,
practical pathway for healthy, spiritual growth. They trained and worked with
Dr Eugene Gendlin and have, for many decades, been researching, developing,
teaching and writing about the spiritual dimension of Focusing. They use the
term “Bio-Spirituality” to describe this body-based spirituality which goes
beyond doctrine, religion, language and culture.

As they say in their book “Bio-Spirituality – Focusing As A Way To Grow

“There are two critical issues in spiritual development..The first is
to discover a holistic approach for letting go of the mind’s omnipotent
control as a prelude to allowing some broader wisdom within the entire
human organism to speak. The second is to allow the unique next step that
is “me” to emerge as an integral, harmonious expression of some Larger
Process”.

Letting Be – “Letting go of the mind’s omnipotent control”

Two words lie at the spiritual heart of Focusing: “Letting Be”. They point to a
bodily felt unconditional acceptance of what is there. When we listen to
a place inside that hurts, for instance, the quality of our presence is not the
usual one of fixing or trying to make it feel better. Rather, we are willing to
let it be exactly as it is. Sometimes you can almost hear the place give a sigh
of relief when it feels this non-judgemental attention. It may soften or
intensify and as you continue to be with it in a way that says, “It’s ok for
you to be there, exactly the way you are now”
, it often opens up and starts
to tell its story. As this unfolds, you can begin to understand the pain and
listen in a more compassionate way.

This total acceptance does not always bring immediate change to the place
inside, but it does change you, because you are holding this part of
yourself differently. Instead of feeling uptight about these horrible feelings
inside – “I shouldn’t feel like this!” – you relax and begin to feel
okay about yourself for feeling all this. There is a deepening of kindness
towards yourself, a healthy “self-love”. This is a major step to becoming a
whole person, welcoming home those parts of you that were split off or that you
had been holding out on, judging and suppressing. And there’s more – in doing
this you begin to have a sense of who you truly are – that you are much larger
than the wounded parts and can actually accept and embrace them. To have a real
body feel of this is extremely freeing.

Letting go of our mind-sets of how we, others and the world should be and
instead letting go into the reality of the present moment, is extremely
powerful. It is also very much misunderstood. Accepting what is present and
real now – inside and
outside – is not the same as acquiescence. True acceptance does not turn you
into a passive doormat for others. On the contrary, because of its non-reactive
nature, it gives you the space inside to trust and allow intelligent and
graceful resolution or action to arise that is fitting for the situation.

Presence and Identity

To be consistently present in this accepting way to what goes on inside creates
a safe, inner climate in which deep change can happen. In Bio-Spiritual
Focusing this bodily felt presence is called “caring feeling presence” and is
specifically evoked and nourished as a way to develop inner kinship with what
goes on inside. This is especially important when we are with painful feelings.
As Gendlin said, “Every ‘bad’ feeling is potential energy toward a more
right way of being, if you give it the space to move toward its rightness”
.
A gentle, caring presence creates a nurturing climate – Gendlin’s space – so the
feelings can move and change in the way only they know is right for them.

It is not always easy to maintain this sense of caring presence, especially when
Focusing with intensely felt traumatised places, which may be overwhelming. But
in the very struggle to find your own unique way to be present and caring, you
are growing into your own sense of presence. For instance, you may need to find
a place somewhere in the body that feels safe and unaffected, e.g. the sensation
of your feet touching the ground can give a sense of safety and strength, a
sense of your own presence that says “I am here and all is well!”

This is emphasised by Kevin McEvenue, an Alexander practitioner and Focusing
trainer, in his teaching of “Wholebody Focusing”. He places great importance on
awareness of the body as a whole to provide a resource for being with
difficult
places. As Kevin says, “When a part of me feels loved it awakens to its own
healing”
.

As you continue to Focus you begin to increasingly experience that this sense of
presence is who you truly are. A process is unfolding whereby you are gradually
dis-identifying yourself from parts and places inside you with which you were
previously identified. Your sense of identity is peeling away from entanglement
with
these parts. You begin to know yourself as that sense of presence: a simple
sense of I Am-ness’ that cannot be affected by anything that happens internally
or externally. Nothing can be added and nothing can be taken away – I am simply
present and aware.

Trusting A Larger Process

To practice letting go of the “mind’s omnipotent control” of how Life,
the Universe and Everything should be, encourages a humility to emerge in
oneself. A deepening sense that “I don’t know and that’s ok” . A sense
of being content with not knowing. Having Focused for quite a few years it has
become clear to us that this humility brings a sensitivity and openness to a
larger intelligence that is present within the physical body. An intelligence
that can set in motion powerful healing processes. The body carries a wisdom, a
knowing how to move things forward inside so that stuck or hurt places can be
healed.

Focusing is all about allowing this “broader wisdom within the entire human
organism to speak”
. It is about getting sufficiently out of the way, by
letting go of the mind’s control, so that this body wisdom can express itself in
its own unique way. So when we take our attention inside, it is clearly
important that we have no investment in a specific result, but rather an
openness and curious interest in where the body wisdom wants to take us.

But, our openness to the body’s wisdom must be genuine. The body can’t be
fooled. It will know when there’s still some kind of agenda, a wanting to fix
and change things in a certain way. Our conditioning to assert our judgements
as to what is good and bad and what should be and shouldn’t be is deeply
ingrained, so to let go to and trust this larger intelligence or process is a
huge step along our spiritual path.

As we begin to allow the body wisdom to speak in and through ourselves, there’s
an undeniable sense that this wisdom or intelligence is much larger than we are.
It’s moving in us but is also carrying us in it’s unfolding.

Paradoxically, the body gives us the experience of being both whole in ourselves
and yet, at the same time, part of something much larger. This may be
experienced in different ways. For instance, it may feel like my feet are
plugged into some large batteries hidden inside the ground and there’s a strong
sense of being connected with a flow of energy that is much larger than I am.
Often in that flow there is a sense of compassion for hurt places welling up
which I could not feel on my own. I have a sense of being surrounded and
supported by the whole earth, nature, the stars, the universe – a larger
Presence or Process. As Gendlin says:

“Your physically felt body is ..part of a gigantic system of here and
other places, now and other times, you and other people – in fact, the
whole universe. This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is the
body as it is felt from inside”
.

Feeling part of a Larger Process is a natural spiritual need that is deeply
etched in the psyche of human beings. It is often inadequately substituted by a
sense of belonging to certain cults, groups or even religions. To have lost the
experience of this “sense of being bodily alive in a vast system” has
been the primary cause of much human misery.

Felt Shifts – “Grace Unfolding”

Once you have a felt sense of a place inside and it begins to open up, it will
tell its story through a variety of symbols, such as images, words, insights or
physical movement. As the story unfolds, something may begin to shift. Either
the place itself or the way you are holding it may change.

Felt Shifts can sometimes happen in ways that could be described as “internal
alchemy”: the freeing up and transmutation of stagnant energy from stuck places
inside us. This freed energy strengthens our sense of Presence. There’s a
sense of being more present, more vibrantly alive. In his book “The Power Of
Now
“, Eckhart Tolle calls this “internal alchemy or the transmutation of
the base metal of suffering into the gold of consciousness”
.

These Felt Shifts are not of our own making. All we can do is to provide the
right climate for these places to feel heard and to step back and wait to see
what wants to happen. The body in all its wisdom inherently knows the direction
in which these places need to move in order to be resolved, so that, ultimately,
we can become whole.

When these shifts happen there is a sense of being gifted or graced’ by the
movement of a larger process at work through you. Like being in a river that
powerfully flows towards it’s destination.

“Following the directions of Focusing is much like paddling a canoe
from some protected inlet out into the middle of a river. Once there…you
soon discover that the stream has a life and movement on its own. It does
not bend to your paddling any more than your canoe can change the course
of the river’s flow. All you can do is go with it in case it should catch
you and carry you along.”
Peter Campbell and Ed McMahon.

Felt Shifts may be minute steps or they may be dramatic and instantly life
changing. They may change the way you hold a certain issue or a certain
situation in your life. They may open the door to creative solutions which your
mind couldn’t have thought of in its wildest dreams. Or they may unlock painful
places. Whatever it brings, a Felt Shift always feels good inside. First,
because we are at last beginning to know and accept ourselves; and second,
because we are reconnecting with the movement of some Larger Process which
deeply satisfies our spiritual need.

So Focusing facilitates this experience of the movement of the Larger Process
through one’s body and mind. To experience the immovability of one’s own unique
spirit, whilst also experiencing oneself being changed by the movement of a much
Larger Process inside may seem paradoxical. But the world inside one’s body is
a different world, with paradox and contrasts happily living together.

Living In The Now

As Peter Campbell and Ed McMahon have said, there is a critical issue in our
spiritual growth as human beings: the mind’s “omnipotent control” . The
thinking
mind generates an incessant stream of thoughts. When we observe this seemingly
unstoppable stream, it becomes obvious how much these thoughts take us out of
the present moment, because most are related to either the past or the future.

The only access point to our own unique spirit and connection with a larger
Process is the Here (our body) and Now (the present moment).

When Focusing becomes a way of living, you have a simple discipline that
provides an excellent way of disengaging from the control of the thought stream
and coming back home to the present moment. When you notice that you have
jumped on a train of thought that has left the Here and Now, you can simply ask:
“How does it feel in my body to think these thoughts?” This takes your
attention inside your body and back to the present moment. This simple
discipline, which can be done anytime, anywhere, offers us a way of living that
keeps us connected to the dimension where we can be gifted by the intelligent
energy of the larger Process.

Peacemaking From The Inside

As we begin to live this way, deep changes begin to happen in the way we relate
to ourselves and others. Whenever something happens that triggers strong
violent
emotion, we are less likely to get swept away in the usual reactive cycle of
violence-begetting-violence. Violent thoughts may be stirred up but by noticing
them in a Focusing way you can unhook yourself from the violent thought stream
and give yourself a choice in how to respond. This may not be easy in the heat
of the moment and will take some practice, but even a few seconds of such bodily
awareness can already be powerful. Even in such a short time there can be an
experience of “grace”, of something shifting in the way you are holding the
situation.

When these feelings are graced’ inside, it may also become clear whether there
is some action to be taken with regard to the situation. You have broken the
usual chain of reactive violence and any action you take now will come from a
more peaceful way of being inside.

As Campbell and McMahon put it,

“Through developing a relationship with the inner realm of “Grace” or
“Gift” we give ourselves the chance to live in inner harmony instead of
inner conflict. Then we are much more likely to be a catalyst for peace
rather than conflict in the outer world”

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