Clearing a Space

It’s as if you live in an extremely cluttered room or in your own handbag. You can look at each object and work out where it comes from, who is associated with it, what it means to you and if it is of any use to you now — as in therapy. You can just throw it all away, but you are going to regret that! Or — you can make some kind of temporary space in there in which to work.

A few days ago, in the blog entry “Dead End Therapy”, I mentioned focusing, described by Gendlin, a method of directly accessing in our bodies a forward moving process in our lives. Feeling a bit vague and uninspired, not to mention exhausted, I was using it just now, trying to find out what it is that I am interested in saying today. I stopped at the first step, because it suddenly seemed so interesting in itself.

Step One of focusing is called ‘Clearing a Space’ and it is a really useful thing to do even if you have no interest in focusing or no clue what it is. It is fairly self explanatory. Inside, we have all kinds of thoughts and feelings, worries and images of the past and the future, and often, a kind of sludge as well, made up of tiredness, frustration, boredom or discontent. We can’t get rid of this — this is what we are at the moment. But rarely do we get much peace, creativity, freedom or insight if we remain actively involved with all these contents all the time.

It’s as if you live in an extremely cluttered room or in your own handbag. You can look at each object and work out where it comes from, who is associated with it, what it means to you and if it is of any use to you now — as in therapy. You can just throw it all away, but you are going to regret that! Or — you can make some kind of temporary space in there in which to work. This gives you the same feeling you might get when you clear a space on the desk and feel that there is just enough order to be able to concentrate, or when you make a nice satisfying to-do list.

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So how do you do it? Relax, come into your body, feel your feet on the floor, feel each part of your body, from toes to head, your breath. Do a quick scan and see what’s inside there. There could be literally a jumble of things to do and a lot of free floating stress, there could be a big predatory emotion like jealousy. Whatever it is, acknowledge it briefly, name it if necessary, say hello maybe, and then put it to one side. Gendlin stresses here that there must be an actual physical sense of doing this, and then of having done it. Some people put their thoughts into boxes and place them down on the floor, feeling their weight, others put them up onto a shelf, some people ask them to stand over there by the wall for a while. It might sound crazy, but done lightly, gently, putting down your anxiety as to whether you’re doing it right as well, it works. Do it with the spirit that you will open those boxes again, ask the thoughts to come back to their places in a little while, being as concrete as possible. “You can come back in fifteen minutes, OK?”

And then, you have a space. You can then wait for something new to arise. It could be an unclear sense of something, leading you on to do the focusing steps. It might be a creative idea. Or you can relax for a while, or maybe even fall asleep. There are no rules, but whatever happens, you learn that the space, in itself, is a safe place, nothing to be afraid of, you gain a gentle kind of control over yourself, and last but not least you get a break!

Let me know how you get on…

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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