After you learn Focusing anything you do, you can do better
Focusing allows us to reach beyond familiar thoughts and feelings to a deeper way of knowing and understanding with empathy, acceptance, trust and respect.
This is the foundation of the Focusing approach. It suggests that there is a level of knowledge and insight which is often locked in the way we physically experience our feelings and thoughts about the whole of an issue. If we can unlock it by listening to our bodies, we can make a considerable difference to the way we engage the issues we’re trying to work through and resolve.
It takes a little time to learn how to do it and it can feel different at first. However, it is a powerful and very successful method to tap into our intuitive wisdom (as Gendlin calls it our “implicit knowing”).
Focusing is the most powerful way I have learned and used over the years for a person to soothe themselves and help themselves to a better life, a life with forward steps, a life with hope and possibility. I wish I had learnt it earlier. I want others to have the opportunity to learn it, especially young people and students. I also use it with my lifeline and private clients. The earlier that people learn these skills, the stronger and more resilient they can become as they encounter the inevitable stresses and strains of life.
Gene Gendlin is regarded as the “father” of focusing. A renowned philosopher and psychotherapist he defines focusing as “a process in which you make contact with yourself with a special kind of internal bodily awareness in which your body lets you know what the crux of the issue is and the next right step to resolve it”. Gendlin says; “your body knows the direction of healing and life” (1981, p.78). If you take the time to listen to it through focusing, it will give you the steps in the right direction. (1978, p. 89)
As Gendlin goes on to say, in a Focusing session, the “it” (something) which is the issue or cluster of issues that people are trying to deal with can come alive – be named, felt and properly encountered (Gendlin, 1978 pp 2-12). Gendlin coined the phrase the “felt sense”.
Focusing is the “process of listening to your body in a gentle accepting way and hearing the messages that your inner self is sending you. It’s a process of honoring the wisdom that you have inside you, becoming aware of the subtle level of knowing that speaks to your through your body” (Ann Weiser Cornell).
Focusing gives you “The power to access our own feelings and make sense of them with both mind and body. Focusing is a powerful process that taps the power we all have to live life in a manner that is more congruent with who we really are; to find what it is we really need; to tap into how we really want to be. Once tapped the power to be becomes possible” (Hernandez 2009 p. 42 in Gray and Marder eds).
A felt sense is not a mental experience but a physical one…Physical. A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about the given subject at a given time – encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail. Think of it as a taste, if you like, or a great musical chord that makes you feel a powerful impact, a big round unclear feeling… A felt sense doesn’t come to you in the form of thoughts or words or other separate units, but as a single (though often puzzling and very complex) bodily feeling. (Gendlin G.1979, p.37).
Who came up with Focusing?
Philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin noticed that people who do well in counselling/therapy could tell you more about how they feel. Not just “I feel sad”, but “I feel sad and it is like a lump in my throat” or “it weighs me down” or “it feels like a black cloud above me”. They could “internally refer” and get in touch with more than was just in their heads or their known story about the issue. Gendlin developed a 6-step process that helps anyone get in touch with their inner wisdom. This enables people to find a way forward. This is extremely empowering and helpful.
What does Focusing do?
- Focusing takes mindfulness a step further by letting our body speak to us. (“Mindfulness is awareness of present experience with acceptance and without judgment” (Germer et al 2005, p.7)
- When we are for example nervous we often hold that feeling in our body somewhere, perhaps manifested as a physical sensation such as; tension across our shoulders or butterflies in our stomach
- When we focus on an issue or problem (eg anxiety or concern about a relationship or an exam or performing at a concert or in a sporting grand final or issues with friends or perhaps we are harsh to ourselves) we are in effect allowing our body to speak to us.
- When we Focus, we get a mind/body connection. We are effectively setting up a relationship between us and the feeling/sense or anxiety we want to take care of. This is extremely useful because it creates insights that take us beyond what we think we know.
There are three aspects of Focusing:
- A felt sense “is a body sensation that has meaning”. It is “often subtle and as you pay attention to it you discover that is intricate”.
- It requires “a special quality of engaged inner attention”; “you sit down and get to know it better with interested curiosity”. You wait and then you allow and acknowledge it. It can be just as it is and then it can change/unfold in its own way. Gendlin calls it “making steps”. This will often bring “insight and relief and new behaviour”.
- It is a “radical philosophy of what facilitates change”. Focusing is not a “doing/fixing way” which assumes there is something to change or which you have to do something with or to. Focusing is much more of a “being/allowing way”. It starts from the assumption that “when something seems not to change, what it needs is attention and awareness and an attitude of allowing it to be as it is, yet open to its next steps” (Cornell A W. 2005, pp13-16)
Focusing allows the person to have the “ability to be with emotional experience without being overwhelmed by it” (Weiser-Cornell, 2005, p.49) or indeed avoid our emotions. This is a great way to help ourselves to know more and move forward in our lives.
By learning to listen to the way your body feels or the sense you get of how it is for you right now, you can start to be in a relationship with those issues or the sense of something you have, separate from you, rather than seeing them as defining you. The focusing process puts the concerns outside of you so you can work on your relationship to and with them.
Although problems aren’t necessarily solved, coming into a relationship with the “somethings” you find can enable the bigger part of you (your caring self) to get to know another part. Focusing is a process and if we pause and listen and let our bodies unfold our inner wisdom (implicit knowing) this can allow the focuser to know more. Once we hear ourselves, “the process that has been waiting to happen, can happen” (Weiser-Cornell, 2005 p 54).
This can lead to an easing and a knowing of new forward steps. We can sense more than we already knew. We can often sense that change is possible, which is often such a critical breakthrough in its own right.
A felt sense is not the same as an emotion or a feeling. It is the body’s sense of a particular problem or situation. It is often vague and murky to start with. It feels meaningful but not easily or directly known. It is a distinctively physical manifestation of the feelings, the body’s way of making sense of what is happening and discovering meaning. If you just sit with it and let it form and acknowledge and allow ‘it” in a friendly way, you will discover that the body finds its own way to provides some answers.
This process brings change (Gendlin, 1978, pp 1-14) and often relief with a settling and softening because you are always more than this one issue and your body knows the way forward. This is particularly true if you learn how to come into relationship with the “something” in you that is sad or depressed or concerned. That, in turn, allows you to get a sense of the whole of it. When we show a “friendly inward attitude”, what appeared as negative unfolds to show it contains “positive life energy”. Once that has happened, we can begin to sense how “it” can change its form “and be carried forward in further steps” (Gendlin 1996, p. 56)
To Focus, we need to be with what’s there. It may be a little awkward or unclear at first and it’s sometimes hard to put into words. The key is not to be concerned and not to give up if that happens. It’s like any new skill you learn. At first, it can feel unusual and bit uncomfortable but with good teaching and practice, it can become much easier and more familiar and therefore more useful.
What’s important right from the start of a focusing session is to welcome whatever wants to come.
As a listener, we enable the focuser to be with what comes, “a relationship of listening and allowing or; if that isn’t possible, a relationship of being with the part that finds it hard to accept what is there (Weiser Cornell (2005), p. 33 – 40).
Focusing allows us to get in touch with the wisdom of our bodies – to get in touch with a “felt sense” and then to simply acknowledge it and allow it and wait to let it unfold so we can be shown the next step that is right for us. When this happens we get a “felt shift” which can be large or small, it can be a big sigh or tears or a warming or softening inside but is always leaves us feeling better in some way. As Gendlin says “our body knows how to fill itself in”.