FocusingThe felt sense of our present-moment experience
An Introduction to Focusing
Focusing is a body-oriented process of self-discovery, which begins with simply noticing how we feel in our body and getting a “felt sense” of our present-moment experience. Getting a “felt sense” is the key element of focusing, because gives rise to deeper insights, realisations and wisdom than thinking alone can provide.
Focusing can help us to become clearer about what we feel or what we want, to develop new insights and to facilitate change. But focusing is primarily used for personal growth, e.g. understanding ourself better, moving past old emotional pain, accessing inner wisdom and realising our full potential.
Focusing can often lead to significant personal shifts in relatively short periods of time!
Focusing is a body-oriented process of self-awareness and emotional healing. It is as simple as noticing how you feel, and then having a conversation with your feelings in which you do most of the listening. Focusing starts with a familiar experience of feeling something in your body that is about what is going on in your life. When you feel jittery in your stomach as you stand up to speak, or when you feel tightness in your chest as you anticipate making a crucial phone call, you are experiencing what we call a “felt sense” – a body sensation that is meaningful.
Most of us want to get rid of our unpleasant feelings or criticise ourself for having them. It doesn’t usually occur to us to simply feel the feeling, listen to the feeling and allow it to speak to us. But simply noticing a feeling and saying “hello” to it, allows it to begin to relax and calm down. The more we resist or suppress our feelings, the more they persist or intensify, because they just want to be seen, heard, understood and held – just like a scared little child would want. By allowing, acknowledging and feeling our feelings, without resistance or judgement, we are opening to the depth and richness of our entire being, where deep healing, integration and positive change can occur.
Focusing is a process of listening to our body in a gentle, caring and accepting way. It involves feeling and hearing the messages of these previously suppressed parts of our being, engaging in friendly and supportive dialogue with them, and honouring the wisdom within. This results in physical-energetic releases, emotional healing, new insights and freedom from old limiting beliefs. When we understand ourselves better, we feel better, and are more likely to create the fulfilling life that we all desperately want.
Focusing compared to Meditation and Mindfulness
- Meditation involves holding our awareness on a simple present-moment sense experience.
- Mindfulness involves focusing our awareness on our present-moment experience, whatever that may be.
- Focusing is a form of mindfulness that is inwardly oriented and pro-active. It involves focusing our awareness inwards on our present-moment experience and pro-actively following whatever unfolds.
The Origin and Effectiveness of Focusing
In the 1960s, Professor Eugene Gendlin was researching “Why is psychotherapy helpful for some, but not for others?” He listened to recordings of hundreds of therapy sessions from many different therapists and their many different clients. What he discovered was remarkably simple and had little to do with the therapist or type of therapy – it was all about the clients. He discovered that therapy was much more effective for clients who slowed down their talk, became less articulate, and began to grope for words to describe something they were feeling in their body in the present moment. So the successful clients had a vague body-awareness that they were sensing into during their sessions, whereas the less successful clients remained articulate throughout, because they stayed up in their head and talked about what they already know – hence they made little progress. They may have had some understanding of their issue from a mental perspective, but they had little understanding about the emotional and physiological aspects of their issue. So, no matter how much they thought about, analysed, explained, or cried about their problems, their therapy was far less effective.
After this profound yet simple discovery, Gendlin developed a way of teaching people this powerful approach to self discovery and emotional healing, which he called “focusing”. Focusing is a natural ability that was discovered, not invented, and it was discovered by simply noticing what people are doing when they are undergoing successful change. We all have the ability to sense down into our body and know what we are feeling from moment to moment, but for most of us that ability has long been forgotten. As we tried to avoid the hurt, disappointment and isolation we experienced at difficult times in our childhood, we suppressed those traumatised parts of us so they wouldn’t overwhelm our entire system. Back then we didn’t have the capacity to fully feel or process traumatic experiences, but now, as adults, we do. The only thing stopping us from reconnecting with our supressed ‘traumatised parts’ is other ‘parts’ that are trying to protect us from potential overwhelm. These ‘protective parts’, which also originated in childhood, usually have out-dated and blinkered views of us and our life. But with a little reassurance and re-education (e.g. informing them we are a capable adult now), they will normally allow us to go deeper inside.
Every bad feeling is potential energy toward a more right way of being, if you give it space to move towards its rightness.
Focusing – the six basic steps
Focusing is more of an art than a science, because it is a natural and dynamic process of deepening, unfoldment, insight and release. But for the purposes of learning, the basic steps are outlined below:
1: Body Awareness
- Get comfortable, take a few deep relaxing breaths and gently close your eyes.
- Bring your awareness to the surface of your body, and notice where your body makes contact with the chair or floor. Start with your hands and slowly move through your arms, back, bum, legs and feet.
- Now turn your awareness inwards, and gradually sense down into your body. Start with your throat and slowly move down through your chest, solar plexus, belly and pelvis.
2: Acknowledging All Parts
- Sense what part(s) of you want your awareness now.
- When you notice something, begin by simply saying “hello” to it. Acknowledging that it is there is important because it positively validates your inner experience (without evaluating it), and it brings you into relationship with it.
- Repeat this with every part of you that wants your awareness now.
3: Getting a Felt Sense
- Sense which part of you needs your awareness the most right now, and begin with that part, but be aware that you may need to switch your attention to another part(s) as the focusing session progresses.
- Sense into the part to get a “felt sense” and begin to describe what you are feeling.
- A “felt sense” often begins as an unclear sense of “something” that is just beginning to emerge into conscious awareness. As such it may initially be difficult to put into words, but staying with it in a kind, curious, compassionate and accepting way gently encourages it to open up and gradually reveal more of itself.
- Initially, try to get a sense of its shape/size/texture, its emotional tone and its age (does it feel young?).
- Note: If you become judgemental, dismissive or emotional, this indicates that another ‘part’ is active (i.e. you are identified with it). If this happens, gently move your awareness away from the ‘part’ (returning to compasionate presence), then reassure it that you are here to help, but you can’t do so while it is taking you over.
4: Develop the Inner Relationship
- Staying with your felt sense will deepen your presence and develop your relationship with the part.
- Ask the part about its fears, beliefs and concerns, what is it protecting you from, what it wants, or if there is anything it wants you to know?
- Listen compassionately and reassure the part by letting it know that you are a grown-up now, and that you are here to help.
- Staying with the part in a kind, curious, compassionate and accepting way gently encourages things to unfold, evolve or shift.
5: Insight and/or Release
- Focusing is about “being” present, compassionate and accepting – it is not about “doing” anything (e.g. trying to get rid of the part or change the felt sense). So drop any agendas, hopes or expectations, and allow what needs to happen to happen naturally, in its own time.
- There is no guarantee that anything will happen, but some kind of shift usually occurs. Receive whatever comes with openness and gratitude.
- After a part has been unburdened, it may simply dissolve or begin to merge into your being.
- New insights, perspectives and possibilities may arise as the old beliefs and programming of the part dissolves.
- A relaxed, joyful or spiritual state may arise, as the part dissolves to release its soul essence.
6: Closing the Session
- Thank all of your parts and let them know that you will be back soon (if necessary).
- Then thank your body, your soul and your inner guidance.
- Then slowly open your eyes and gently return to the room.
Body and Soul
In Focusing, the word “body” doesn’t just refer to the physical body. It refers to our entire ‘being’, which extends beyond our physical body and includes our energy body, emotional body, mental body and causal body (or soul). Our soul is our experiencing ‘body’ – it is where our consciousness resides – in fact, it is our consciousness. Our soul is that which experiences the five senses of our physical body, the subtle energies of our energy body, the feelings of our emotional body, and the thoughts of our mental body. The soul is the heart of our being and the essence of who we really are – it is our true Self.
When we are sensing our body in the present moment, we feel more grounded, calm, balanced and present. We may even notice a palpable sense of fullness within our body. This soft, warm, fullness is our soul’s ‘presence’ – we are literally feeling the presence of our soul. Our soul’s is is the one who experiences the felt sense of a fragmented part of our being, it is the one who develops a compassionate relationship with that part, and it is the one (the wholeness) who that part eventually dissolves or reintegrates into. Without the soul’s presence, focusing is shallow and ineffective, because the soul is every step of the process.
Even if you don’t feel the palpable presence of our soul, you can confirm its presence simply by noticing how you feel towards the ‘part’. If you feel calm, clear, curious, compassionate and/or connected, then your soul is in ‘presence’. If you feel any kind of judgment, coldness, indifference or negativity towards the part (e.g. wanting it gone), then your soul is merged with another ‘part’. To separate from that other ‘part’ you can remind yourself that you are here to help a young, scared, traumatised part of you (so wanting it gone isn’t an option).