Focusing is a way to connect to your bodily wisdom to allow you to better understand what’s going on in your life. Eugene Gendlin, a professor at the University of Chicago, was frustrated because therapy seemed to help some people but not others. So, he decided to figure out what caused this difference. To his amazement, he learned by listening to tons of audiotaped counseling sessions that the difference wasn’t the therapist but the patient. Patients who improved through therapy would pause sometimes to “look inward.” Gendlin called this Focusing and developed a process to teach this looking inward to everybody.
Basically, you start out by honing into your body and feeling if there’s anything that is trying to get your attention – often it’s a sense of tightness somewhere. Then you say “hello” to that tightness, acknowledging that it’s there and that you have noticed it (instead of trying to ignore it, which is what I usually do). Then you sit with that tightness (or whatever other feeling you have noticed) and see if it has anything to tell you. Just like in meditation, our minds are very busy trying to tell us stuff but if we can quiet it down long enough, we can find out what our bodies have to say. It is usually not as clear as the mind likes it. But if we stay with it, we can figure things out.
I tried learning focusing through Gendlin’s book and the book of one of his students – Ann Weiser Cornell. But it’s difficult, at least for me, since my head keeps coming in the way. So, I hooked up with a Focusing trainer. Then through a newsletter I found out about a Focusing group in the area. It is just amazing how much easier Focusing with a group is. In a group, two people support each other: first one person focuses and the other is mirroring back what the focuser says and sometimes pushing deeper by asking questions. Then the pair switches. I found it tremendously helpful to have someone say the things back that I felt. When you have a “felt sense” (this is what Gendlin calls the tightness or other sensation that I’ve found in my body), you try to name it. Once a name comes up, you check it against the felt sense to see if it fits. I felt hunched shoulders – the feeling as if I was trying to protect my chest, myself – and the word “weak” came up. When my partner said the word back to me, I realized that it didn’t fit – something I didn’t realize when I said the word. Someone else needed to say it. Then another word came up – defenselessness – which “felt right.” (You can now find a focusing partner through the Focusing Partnership program.)
The other thing I noticed, is that a focusing group is a group of acceptance. We were three people last Sunday (one person would focus, the other would mirror back and the third was the time keeper), and we listened to the person who was focusing without any judgment, totally supporting what they were experiencing. There was nothing right or wrong about what they felt. It just was (or is). [As an aside, Cornell uses an interesting re-wording technique that I’ve found tremendously helpful to create some space to deal with a feeling in a more healthy way. Instead of saying “I am angry” (or whatever feeling seems to permeate your body), Cornell suggests to say “Part of me is angry.” In my experience, this signals to another part – the observer – in me that I can look at my anger, or whatever emotion, from a distance and don’t have to get all caught up in it until I am anger…]
If you want to learn more about Focusing, check out www.focusing.org and www.focusingresources.com. I recommend Cornell’s book (The Power of Focusing) over Gendlin’s (Focusing), though Gendlin’s book is, of course, a classic. But Ann Weiser Cornell expands on what Gendlin talks about and she makes it more accessible, at least for me.