Sometimes moving forward requires not getting too involved with thoughts and feelings, not trying to understand or express them, but just getting a vague yet complex sense of “all of that”.
Sometimes, in therapy and out of it, concentrating on our thoughts and feelings about a problem in our lives can seem to go round and round in circles, to quickly run out of steam, or to seem dead in the water from the very start. I know what I think about the situation, I know what I feel in this situation — so what? Nothing changes.
Here the therapist can sometimes intervene, and show another angle, or through their acceptance and non-judgmental attitude bring some new insight or acceptance that feels as if it moves you forward. But sometimes not. It is possible to examine, or be with all the difficult parts of your situation, and feel that sense of lightening or relief that somehow something is “moving forward” — and often the way is through not getting too involved with the thoughts and feelings, not trying to understand or express them, but by getting a vague, yet complex sense of “all of that”.
This vague yet complex sense resides somewhere in your body. In the place where you feel sometimes a gnawing sense that things are not right, or a sense about somebody you have just met that they seem familiar, or the place where you look when you know you have forgotten something on the shopping list but can’t for the life of you remember precisely what it was.
While dwelling in that place, usually somewhere in the middle of the body, definitely not in the head, the place of ‘gut feelings’, you can bring in a particular problem in your life and get a visceral sense of “all of that” — what it feels like to be precisely you, right now, with all that you remember, know, think, believe, feel and imagine. The sense of all of these ‘things’ together has a particular quality; it’s a very slight feeling, sitting underneath all that you know about your situation. To find it, you can tick off all the things you know — “yes, obviously I’m very anxious about my mother, I feel helpless that there’s nothing I can do… I think I should be easier on myself” etc. — and then ask “so what’s underneath all that?” or, to use one of Gene Gendlin’s questions, “yes, I know all that, but am I comfortable?”
The sense of “all of that” is called — by Gendlin, author of the steps of Focusing — the “felt sense”. The felt sense is always infinitely more complex than what we first call the problem (e.g., “I’m nervous when I’m in a room with him”), because it contains all of our histories and experiences on all our different levels (physical, mental, emotional), and it’s also more vague — but also there is a way of checking with your body and being absolutely sure that it is right, it fits, it somehow, improbably “gets it all” for you. It just does.
Finding the felt sense is the second of six focusing steps which may be helpful in moving forward out of a stuck situation (see my post about the first step, “Clearing a Space”). I will go on to cover the remaining four steps, which offer guidance on how to relate to the felt sense and carry the process forward to get some relief from whatever the problem is.
However, personally speaking, just finding the place to look, within my sense of the body from the inside, for a complex yet direct felt sense of my problem is a major shift forwards. This sense undercuts so many overwhelming thoughts and feelings in which I could get stuck, and returns me to a living sense of knowing where I am right now. Sometimes just that is enough.