Presence

When we settle down to Focus, we are far more likely to have a rich experience, and one that we can fully trust, if we allow ourselves a little time to settle into presence.  I have talked about this in earlier posts.  Here is a description of settling into presence; and at the foot of this page  is a pdf sheet which you can print to help you settle into presence when you are Focusing alone.  And on the same page is an mp3 audio recording, so you don’t have to keep squinting at the page.

As someone recently told me, just settling into presence brought into sharp focus the reason why she was feeling agitated and angry with a particular situation.  This completely changed her view of the situation, and enabled her to deal with a problem without all that previously unrecognised anxiety getting in the way.  Everything progressed more smoothly after that.

And sometimes we need time to explore this space, and to find out what is keeping us away from the peace which we all seek.

Being in presence gives us a clear space in which to explore our feelings, and we don’t usually have to try to hard to find them; they come up in this peaceful, nourishing space.

I particularly like the way Rupert Spira talks about presence: 

Presence is peace itself. Like the space of the room in which you are sitting (relatively speaking), it cannot be agitated. All agitated activities take place within it but it is itself without agitation. Presence is like that. It allows everything to appear within it, choicelessly, without preference, including sometimes very agitated appearances of the mind, body or world, but it is itself the inherently and eternally peaceful ‘space’ in which all these appear.

So there is no need to look for a peaceful appearance of the mind or body in order to be knowingly this peaceful Presence. Nor do you need to have any special knowledge. Knowing that you are this Presence is all the special knowledge you need. And the more we abide knowingly as this Presence, the more its inherently free, unlimited, peaceful and happy qualities are revealed in our experiential understanding.

Rupert Spira

And as well as Focusing happening more easily in a space of presence, as we Focus the space of presence expands.  And as Rupert says, knowing we are this presence is such a freeing feeling, that understanding comes to us more easily.  We, like my friend above, begin to understand why we sometimes act the way we do. 

 

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There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

I used to think that this was a quotation by Leonard Cohen, and now I’m not so sure – he may have borrowed it.  And I don’t mind whether Cohen wrote it or someone else.  I think it’s a great concept, which reminds us to avoid clinging on to perfection.

And I learned about Kintsugi, which is an Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver or platinum.  It shows the repaired pot as a part of the history of the pot, rather than something to disguise.  The beauty of the pot combines the skill of the original maker with that of the repairer, making something new; embracing and celebrating the imperfect; and showing us even a broken pot can be something beautiful, useful and something to treasure.

So what have these to do with Focusing or Yoga?

I have heard so many people say, ‘I can’t do Yoga because I’m not flexible enough‘, or ‘I can’t even touch my toes, so why should I try Yoga?’, and many other reasons for not trying Yoga, Meditation (‘I can’t sit still‘, or ‘My mind is too cluttered‘ are the the reasons here), or any other activity or pursuit that is unfamiliar to them.

I’ve used similar reasons myself. ‘I can’t paint because I’m not artistic‘, has been one of my excuses.

I would never want to persuade someone to do something that they have an aversion to, but it’s good to recognise that none of us is perfect.  We all have shortcomings, some of which are visible to others and some are not.

And it is in our differences that we shine.

Like the golden cracks in Kintsugi pots.

And Nature celebrates the individuality of each plant.

So please don’t ignore fulfilling practices such as Yoga, Pilates, walking, art, Focusing, sailing, trampolining, writing, embroidery, acting or any of those other activities that may have tempted you – even just a tiny bit – because you think you’re not good enough, or because someone will see the cracks in your facade.

These are all part of our histories – what makes us how we are today.

Honour and celebrate your differences.  Please.

And let the light get in to you, and shine out of you.

 

 

The Art of Listening by Alain de Botton

This is a brief post, with a suggestion that you read Alain de Botton’s view on The Art of Listening, at The School of Life.

He starts by saying:

“Many of us probably have a nagging feeling that we don’t listen enough to other people. Here we’re not going to make the guilt worse by telling you that listening is a good thing, worthy but in fact rather dull.

“We’re going to show you that listening to others is first and foremost an interesting thing to do, something that could be as pleasurable for you as it is for your speaking companion.

One of the great things about Listening is that as we listen to others, we help to clarify our own thoughts.

In Focusing, we are not trying to remember the thoughts of our Focusing partner as we listen to them; actually we try to let them go.  

However, as we listen deeply to another, something profound can happen within us.  Many Focusers I know say that as something arises in our Focusing partner, we touch on things in ourselves, and sometimes the meaning of  thoughts or events in our own lives, that might have been eluding us, become clear.

I have written before about Listening in the Focusing context here, and here, and I think Alain de Botton’s view adds another dimension.

Learn Focusing in a small supportive group

bay of firesI am delighted to tell you that I have four Focusing workshops coming up in Canterbury, Kent.

Focusing Skills for Life will be at Canterbury Christchurch University on the following Saturdays:

Day 1 – 16th September 2017 and 6th January 2018

Day 2 – 21st October 2017 and 17th February 2017

Day 1 is suitable for anyone interested in Focusing, and

Day 2 is suitable for anyone who has had an introduction to Focusing.

Reserve your places here and here.

And for more information please contact me here.

Focusing Newsletter – July 2017

The latest Focusing Newsletter is now available to read on the British Focusing Association website and here.

Most people will find something of interest to read, so have a look.  The contents include:

  • In Remembrance of Gene Gendlin
  • If I Keep Nothing Between—a Tribute to Gene Gendlin
  • Untangling Parts of Ourselves
  • Children Focusing in the UK
  • Biospirituality: a Brief Overview
  • Your Body is Your Home: Poems on a Biospiritual Theme
  • Embodied Presence
  • My Biotope: Finding Your Optimal Inner Environmen
  • Focusing with Pain
  • BFA Summer Focusing Community Camp
  • UEA Counselling Course Closure
  • The Wisdom of Groundhog Day—a Book Review
  • Practitioner Profile—Carolann Samuels
  • Workshops, Events, & Groups Listing
  • Focusing Resources Information
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Is your body feeling stiff?

Is your body stiff?

I am interested in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, and in his book Embodied Wisdom, he writes:

A general improvement in the way we use our skeleton allows us to enjoy the full range of movements of the joints and intervertebral discs.  All too often, the bodily limitations that we believe are due to not being limber are, instead, caused by a habitual contraction and shortening of our muscles of which we are not conscious.  Unwittingly, our postures become distorted, and the joints of our bodies suffer unequal pressures.

“Degeneration of the joint surfaces imposes, in its turn, a further restriction of muscular activity so as to avoid pain and discomfort in movement.  Thus a vicious cycle is established, which gradually distorts the skeleton, the spine, and the intervertebral discs, resulting in an elderly body whose range of movements is reduced long before we have become old.  Actually, age has little to do with this sad event.  On the contrary, it is quite possible to restore the body’s ability to perform every movement of which the skeleton is capable.

“Up until sixty years of age, anyone of good health who is not suffering serious illness can attain this optimal ability with little more than an hour of retraining for each year of one’s life.  It is possible to attain this condition even beyond sixty years – depending on the person’s intelligence and will to live.”

Elsewhere in the same book he says:

Old age, for instance, begins with the self-imposed restriction on forming new body patterns.  First one selects attitudes and postures to fit an assumed dignity and so rejects certain actions, such as sitting on the floor or jumping, which then soon become impossible to perform.  The resumption and reintegration of even these simple actions has a marked rejuvenating effect not only on the mechanics of the body but also on the personality as a whole.”

Yoga is very good at achieving all that Feldenkrais advocates.

Well, that’s good news isn’t it!  

And I agree.  I have seen people in my Yoga classes who have denied that they would ever stand on one leg, said it would be impossible for them to touch the floor with straight legs in Uttanasana* (standing forward bend), would never be able to hold the Vasisthasana / Side Plank pose*.

And I have seen them come to accomplish these, as well as many other Yoga postures.

Students in their middle years have grown in height as their spinal columns realign, the intervertabral discs find more space to do what they’re supposed to do, and all the rest of the body takes its cue and breathes a sigh of relief as it begins to move more freely and with more ease.

I am amazed at how many Yoga students seem to avoid many of the age-related illnesses of middle and older life: for example, diabetes, heart problems, lung disease.  Or if they do get them they don’t seem to be so severe.

This isn’t to say that we practise Yoga or Feldenkrais technique for ‘accomplishments’ such as these, but it is rather wonderful when people find they can do things they thought they never would.  And I also believe that training our bodies in these ways makes us feel more alive, and as a good friend told me:

You are not stiff because you’re old.  You are old because you are stiff.

This good friend is nearer 80 than 70, and her Yoga practice and teaching ensure that she is energetic, strong, flexible and still able to practise the very strong postures such as “Wild thing”*, which many much younger people find difficult.

So my message to you is to commit to your practice – whether it’s Yoga, Feldenkrais technique, or another that ensures flexibility and strength.  Once a week is good, but as Feldenkrais says, you get better results if you can practise more frequently.

I can’t guarantee you a long life, but I think you’ll find that you’ll enjoy it a lot more without the stiffness, aches and pains that might otherwise hold you back.

(*I am sorry that my drawing skills are not up to posting pictures of these posture on-line – please look them up!)

Mind-Body Connection

I call my newsletter Mind-Body Connection, because I find that both Focusing and Yoga can be transformative in sensing into the connections that are there between mind and body, and we often don’t see or dismiss.

When we first learn Yoga, it can take a while to move from our need to ‘get it right’, and find out how to make our bodies form a triangle or an eagle, say.  Apart from not injuring yourself, it doesn’t matter too much – Yoga can be adapted so that it benefits all people, no matter their age, flexibility, strength, or any other restriction you might think of.  It’s for everyone

Our teachers help us find the best way to gain the most benefit from our Yoga postures.  And as we move through that, we begin to feel the benefits of our practice.  We discover how Hatha Yoga can energise us, calm us, relax us, soften tense areas, bring awareness to forgotten parts of our bodies, and sometimes can heal us – all of which work on the mind as well.

Focusing works in a different (and complementary) way.  You may be familiar with meditation (and Mindfulness is one form of meditation), where we pay close attention to what we are doing in this moment, or our thoughts as they come in and out of our minds.  Meditation is excellent at this, and helps many people (including me). 

Focusing goes further. 

Focusing is a very respectful Mind-Body awareness that helps us access the connections between mind and body.  And by doing this it helps us release old patterns which can keep us stuck and unable to move forwards in some areas of our lives.  Even very difficult emotions can be transformed and you can see them as opportunities for growth.

And Focusing can be a joyous and sometimes spiritual experience.

Focusing has been well studied, and if you’re looking for evidence of its benefits, there is much to read here.

And you don’t need to visit a therapist to learn Focusing.  Focusing is taught by therapists, and also by many Focusing Practitioners who are not therapists. 

Once you’ve learned Focusing, you can choose whether to continue Focusing with your practitioner, and you can also Focus with a Focusing partner in a peer relationship, or by yourself.  So it’s a skill that’s with you for the rest of your life, and doesn’t take long to learn. 

Contact me here to find out more, have some one-to-one Focusing, or join a workshop.

Click here to sign up for my occasional newsletters – The Mind-Body Connection (at the bottom of the page),

All procrastination is fear

This is a quotation from author Elizabeth Gilbert.  She goes on to say,

“Anything that you do that stops you from the work that is gnawing at you, the work that wants to be made through you, the creative project that is begging you to realise it, … anything you do that blocks that is fear.”

How do we move through this fear, this fear that affects us all at one time or another?  And how do we find out what is at the root of the fear?

It could be about showing the artwork that you’ve been working on in your back bedroom.  Or it may be speaking aloud the poem you’ve written, finishing you short story, or making a speech.  Or painting your front door the colour that you love.  Taking a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit.

Or any other creative endeavour that makes your heart sing, but for some reason that you can’t quite work out, you don’t go on with, or even start.

For me, I kept putting off learning how to make pots from clay.  I am always drawn to pottery – I love handling a handmade cup or bowl or vase.  And I wanted to learn, but I feared that I wouldn’t be good enough.  I would waste my money learning something that I would never be good at.

We can easily say to another – you won’t be good enough unless you learn.  But what if I learned and my work turns out to be terrible?

Focusing is such a helpful way to help us here.  Of course many people go on to fight their fears and get through the procrastination without Focusing.  But Focusing can help us work out why there is this problem, why we don’t do what a big part of us wants to do.  It may be fear of failure, and it may be something else entirely.  

And through Focusing we can get to the root of it, so that we can make a start, and it doesn’t sabotage us another time.

And yes, I worked out why I resisted learning pottery.  I may not be a Lucy Rie, but I do love the process of making a cup or a plate that I can use.  There is a lot to learn, and although I sometimes get frustrated at my slow progress, I am procrastinating no longer – I’ve lost that particular fear.

Do you find yourself wobbling in the balances?

That’s actually good.  Our bodies are not static.  All of the time we are moving – even in sleep our hearts continue to move blood around our bodies; our lungs continue to inhale the air from which we extract oxygen. 

Oak tree - Carolann Samuels

Oak tree – Carolann Samuels

When we balance on one leg as in, for example, Tree Pose (Vrksasana), Dancer King Pose (Natarajasana), Eagle Pose (Garudasana), we expect our bodies to hold us there.  For some of us that can pose problems – maybe every time, or maybe just sometimes.  I would urge you not to let that discourage you from practising balances. 

If you find you wobble, then practise close to a wall or something else that you can easily, and lightly touch.  You may find that just the proximity of the support is enough for you to feel more stable, and generates enough confidence in you to relax a little more into the balance.

If this doesn’t happen, then still practise and take the support that is there. 

Photo by Carolann Samuels

Rest your hand or your back lightly on the support, maintaining the alignment of the body.  And ask yourself,

  • What is it in me that doesn’t want to balance today? 
  • What is it in me that needs more support today?

Then listen for the responses.  Don’t be alarmed if the responses that come from within you make you wobble more, just try again, and keep listening to what’s going on inside for you, in this moment. 

And if there’s no wobble, you can ask yourself,

What is it in me that loves to balance today?

And using support or not:

  • Feel the floor underneath your foot. 
  • Allow your body to take that support, and feel it moving upwards throughout your body.
  • Notice the alignment of your body – are you leaning to one side, slightly forwards or back?
  • What about the hip girdle – is it aligned just as if both feet were on the floor? 
  • Check that there is no twist in the knee joint.
  • How does the spine feel?
  • How can I feel most alive in this posture, really present in this moment?

You may have heard the advice to focus your gaze on something that is not moving – other students wobbling in the class can be a distraction.  And it’s good advice.  However, bring your awareness to your gaze and check that your gaze is not fixed and hard.  Aim to keep a lightness there, as well as in the posture. 

 

Neither the tree, the dancer, nor the eagle maintain their balances by any hardness. Flexibility, awareness to what’s going on all around and responding to it, all improve the balance that they keep.

And the wobbling, whether or not you use support, is beneficial. 

It helps to bring awareness to the feet and legs, the alignment of the whole body and the breath.

All the movements strengthen the muscles holding you there. 

Bearing weight on one leg helps to strengthen bones and guard against osteoporosis.

 

What do you find works for you in your balance postures?  Tell me here.

 

 

News from the British Focusing Association

I am very happy to tell you that the latest edition of the British Focusing Association (BFA) newsletter is now available to read on its website here.

There is something for everyone, and this contents list may give you an inkling of just a few of the ways that Focusing is used.

  • Congratulations Gene Gendlin on Your 90th Birthday 
  • ‘The Shift’—a poem by Helen Evans 
  • Listening—a Precious Gift by Karen Liebenguth 
  • We Need to Listen Fully 
  • Becoming a Better Focusing Partner through Community by Marilyn Harding 
  • Focusing and Touch—an Experiential Review by Gordon Adam
  • To Touch or Not to Touch—Focusing, Healing and Touch by Pamela Carr 
  • Focusing and the Enneagram by Chris Wilson 
  • Focusing and Photography by Manjudeva 
  • Introducing Focusing to Women who have Experienced Prison or Immigration Detention by Suzi Mackenzie & Alex Brew
  • Practitioner Profile—Rob Matthews
  • Letters to the Editors 
  • Workshops, Events, Groups Listing 

Read the newsletter in full hereand sign up for future editions here.