Monday, January 19, 2015

Rabbit hole

"I call the process focusing.  It is a process in which you make contact with a special kind of internal bodily awareness.  I call this awareness a felt sense.
 “A felt sense is usually not just there, it must form.  You have to know how to let it form by attending inside your body.  When it comes, it is at first unclear, fuzzy.  By certain steps it can come into focus and also change.  A felt sense is the body’s sense of a particular problem or situation.
“A felt sense is not an emotion.  We recognize emotions.  We know when we are angry, or sad, or glad.  A felt sense is something you do not at first recognize – it is vague and murky.  It feels meaningful, but not known.  It is a body-sense of meaning.  When you learn how to focus, you will discover that the body finding its own way provides its own answers to many of your problems.
“The process brings change.”*
In Focusing, Eugene Gendlin describes and gives heuristic structure to the natural and omnipresent fact of bodily nuanced feeling.  One senses inner truths that the here-and-now head, with its brand-name labels for feelings and attitudes as platitudes, is not in touch with.  My client’s head says “I love my mom to death,” but inside are oceanic colors of moods contained in countless facts of history, that say otherwise.  In that ocean may be – probably are – “you were not there for me”; “I feel sick and hungry and dying at the sight of your face in my mind”; “Mommy!  Where are you?!”; “I cannot see you, as an adult, because I am not one thanks to you”; “you crazy evil shit”; “smile and give me life, please”; “you are not a grown-up”; “I feel pity, I feel hate, I feel love that has sharp teeth, I feel crushed, I feel hopeful and six years old”; and so much more that the years within the body know.  Gendlin found that when we get in touch with some point of this body knowledge (the “felt sense”), there is a micro or larger feeling epiphany: Some gut-to-mind neuro-physiological connection is made that is a resolution sensation.  I haven’t read his books in a while, but I remember a simple example given: Someone going on vacation, or riding in a taxi to the airport, gets the amorphous but certain inner feeling that “I know I forgot to pack something. . . .”  This slight knowledge and its bigger mystery are an uncomfortable weight, like a heavy or sharp-edged question mark.  With a somewhat quieted mind one may see the underwater iceberg: “Yes!  I forgot to pack the family photo albums!”  This discovery feels good – the question mark dissipates – like a tip-of-the-tongue word that finally comes to you.

One can learn much about oneself from the felt sense, and Gendlin has made an industry, a veritable psycho-culture, from the benefits of Focusing.**  It is, to him, the true lever that moves psychotherapy.  It gives hope.  It can interpret dreams.  It is a near-endless subterranean labyrinth that contains elusive gold at each step, each layer.

And it is, in part, true.  A client had always known he wanted to be a programmer like his father.  Yet when, in his early thirties, he could finally afford college, he found that he couldn’t open the books: They sat stacked on his desk as he indulged in many other activities.  What his head knew, congealed and sanctioned by his history, was the decayed particles of deeper feelings, deeper truths.  Focusing, he touched the molecules far, far below his surface.  He felt that his father had never talked to him about his job.  He felt that his father had never talked to him about computers or programming.  He felt – another tumbler falling – that his father had never talked to him at all.  That pulled down the final tumbler: “Wanting” to be a programmer was the little boy’s feeling: “Dad’ll be my pal if I like what he likes.”

Focusing, or simply reading oneself, proves to us that so often the feeling is the fact.  Why do I want to be a writer, but never get to it?  I feel in this inner cloud an urge to live, a spurious sense that writing is living life, but it isn’t.  Why do I lose job after job?  I feel an anger at authority, or a depressive dread of adult routine life, or the child’s anarchy.  Why does nothing motivate me, though I wish it dearly?  In my body is a feeling of early abort, of leaving myself and entering the nether zone of my mind.  What is this wishing composed of?  That, I realize, is a word: It’s really wanting to wish.  And what is my “wanting”?  The answer to these and most questions is a rich feeling vein because that is the energy we are born with, that pushes or pulls us or keeps us an empty cave.

My issue with Gendlin is that, probably in order to maintain the beautiful flower of his invention, he advertises only the ultimate positive.  But that is false.  Not all answers are, as he says, temporary stops in ongoing process: perpetual discovery rather than pathology.  There are not only underground rivers within us but also still lakes, that may be lonely and stagnant.

I described in an earlier post*** how focusing would have led me to an unsustainable place had I used it on the threshold of college.  Quietly felt-sensing “I will study philosophy” would have summoned body sensations of dreadful imprisonment, of life always and future lost.  But then, transfixed in that dark cavern I would have seen: “I have no business going to college.”  And deeper in the cavern’s pool, “I have no business being a grown-up.”  And then further down the rabbit hole to a child lost and not knowing what to do.  And feeling that, I would have become it, because focusing is – Gendlin failed to say – an earth magnet to the deepest meaning immanent in us.  This Self-continent is murky, a place of smoke, and mirrors, and many doors.  The danger is that when you clearly felt-sense a door, it opens.

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* Eugene T. Gendlin, PhD, Focusing, Bantam Books, beginning of chapter 2.

** The Focusing Institute,

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.