Taking the time to receive what our ‘felt sense’ brings is an important part of focusing. We are moving forwards, in the direction of fresh air, but it is worth pausing a moment, to receive what has come to us, in a friendly way.
This is the sixth and final of a series of posts on the six-step process of Focusing, discovered by psychotherapist and philosopher Gene Gendlin. The steps are a guideline or ‘way in’ for those who are not familiar with the natural process of focusing. (And the steps were extrapolated from experience, and not the other way around.)
In the previous posts, I introduced the first five steps:
- “Clearing a Space”
- “The Felt Sense: A Sense of All of That…”
- “The Handle Word: Getting a Grip On What Your Body is Saying”
- “Resonating: Check It With Yourself”
- “Asking: The Fifth Step of Focusing”
I’ll run through these briefly again.
Firstly we put aside for awhile the pressing issues and thoughts inside us, leaving a space, like clearing the desk before settling to work. Secondly we choose one of those pressing issues and allow an indefinable, murky kind of “felt sense” of it to arise. Thirdly we find a word which captures the defining quality of that sense, a word that seems to fit just right. This word is like calling the felt sense by name — we have a way of bringing it back if it wanders off. Fourthly we go back and forth between the felt sense and the word, checking whether it really is, for example, ‘rough’ and not more ‘bristly’. Next, we come into direct engagement with the felt sense by asking it more about itself, to reveal just what it is really about at heart.
When the felt sense answers the question, there is a physically felt sense of relief, from a sigh, or a slight relaxing of muscle tension, to quite an overwhelming sense of a weight falling off your shoulders, an ‘aha’ moment. This is known as a ‘felt shift’. The word shift is what it feels like — usually you shift in your seat physically, always there is the sense of some delicate, small movement. Gendlin calls it “in the direction of fresh air”.
This felt shift, even when it feels quite dramatic (and it certainly doesn’t always) is not any kind of ‘final answer’. It does not wrap up the issue and hand it to you, solved, on a plate. It is not an explanation and it does not remove the problem.
Yet you, in relation to the problem, are different. And that changes everything along all the various threads that make up the problem, just slightly. You see the past and all the conditions around the problem and the people in it, a little differently. The relief in your body tells you that you have moved somehow forward. That the problem is no longer a static thing, blocking you; you are no longer a static structure built around this problem. Both you and the problem have shifted, movement is possible, and so too a certain degree of freedom and choice; you feel back within the life process again — ‘back in the land of the living’.
It is tempting to ‘go on’ — to immediately start another round of focusing, to get a sense of this new change, a word for it, see how it can move further ahead. And of course we can do this — infinitely! But the “receiving” step wisely asks us to pause a minute with whatever it is that has come, and receive it in a friendly way, whether that involves an explicit sense of gratefulness, welcoming or thanking what it is that came, or just sitting with it and saying “yes, that’s it…”.
Cultivating this kind of friendly attitude to what arises in you is also a habit which pays off — so many problems arise, or are made acute, because we are hostile to ourselves for being the way we are.
I hope this introduction to focusing has been helpful, and if you are interested, I urge you to check out the focusing website, or other websites by different focusing trainers, and contact other focusers. While focusing can be a valuable skill to use by yourself, it is usually very much enhanced by the presence (even if only on the phone!) of a listening partner.