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Depth

Going deeper

Go deeper.  Pay attention to what is beneath the threshold of awareness.  Dive below surface appearances and respond to what is really going on.” 

Kathy Tyler and Joy Drake

I cannot pretend that Focusing is the only way to go deeper and pay attention to the threshold of awareness. No, there are other ways. Some I have tried, and they haven’t always worked for me.

I can say that Focusing worked for me and I was amazed and delighted. And it works for a great many other people too.

One of the delights of Focusing is that it is a safe and gentle process, and can be learned by anyone. And most people learn it quite quickly – usually withing a session or two.

And it doesn’t end there, because, like many practices (cooking, running, carving, writing, Yoga, …), something can happen the very first try. And maybe it doesn’t. In either case, practising helps us to go deeper, to improve that way we do things, discard whatever doesn’t work, and be spurred on to practise more as we gain new insight. It doesn’t take long for most people to sense into Focusing and find it a helpful practice.

When I first learned I embarked on the Focusing Skills course, and after a few sessions, I thought I ‘knew’ Focusing, and couldn’t see why the course was 60 hours long.  You might be interested to know that before I trained as a Focusing Practitioner, I actually repeated the Focusing Skills course (not because I ‘failed’ – there is no failure!), but because I wanted to deepen my experience with a group of committed Focusers.

 

Sometimes as we explore more deeply in our Focusing practice difficult feelings might arise; and Focusing helps us understand more about them, and help us find ways to work with and through them.

Sometimes Focusing is joyful, as we uncover new understandings.

And sometimes there is neither joy nor difficulty.  Sometimes there is a feeling of roundedness, wholeness.

Whatever the feelings, we hold the space for them all.  As Rumi said in the poem I quoted in this blog, “Welcome and entertain them all.”

If you would like to read about Focusing from other people’s perspectives, go to the websites of the British Focusing Association, the International Focusing Institute and the European Focusing Association.

And if you would like to learn how to use Focusing in your life, please contact me here. This can be a one-to-one session, a one-day workshop, or a Focusing Skills course – or just a chat.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival,

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out 

for some new delight.

from “The Guest House” by Rumi

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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.

 

 

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!)

Are you in the Driving Seat of Your Life?

Are you in the driving seat? Carolann Samuels

Are you in the driving seat? Carolann Samuels

Mmm. Sometimes I feel I am and sometimes not.

I can say with certainty that the balance is now tipped more on to the ‘Yes I am’ side than the ‘out of control’ side. Of course there are still times when I feel all at sea: life continues to test all of us. But I have learned that I am more easily able to ride the storms now. And yes, it’s Focusing that has helped me so much.  And how has that come about?

 

When I first learned about Focusing, it was more about curiosity.

 

What is it about this method of paying attention to what’s going on inside us, that people say is so helpful?

It took me a little while to understand what Eugene Gendlin was saying in his book ‘Focusing’. His method of ‘clearing a space’ at the beginning of a Focusing session didn’t work very well for me at that time. And even though I wrote down the sequence of instructions so that I didn’t have to keep flicking the pages of the book, I just didn’t ‘get it’.

So I sought a teacher, and came across the very talented Kay Hoffmann. With her I found myself in a Focusing experience that very first time.

Later I did find Gendlin’s method useful for me some of the time – depending on how I was feeling at that moment. Of course the rest of his book is wonderful, instructive and inspiring.

 

Having experienced Focusing, I couldn’t get enough of it.

 

I embarked on training with Kay and finding out all the ways in which Focusing can benefit people – all people.

In those early days of learning Focusing, I found that it helped me to get more in touch with my own creativity. I found myself, almost accidentally, writing more. I embarked on a course in ceramics.  

I even picked up a paintbrush, which I hadn’t for decades. I had no confidence in any of these, and in a way, I felt shy about trying them. I was even slightly furtive when buying the equipment, in case I met someone I knew in the shop and they might question me.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this in such a public place, but I would like you, my reader, to get a glimpse of just what a change was happening, oh so subtly, in my life.

 

The results of Focusing can sometimes happen immediately, and sometimes they trickle quietly into our lives, almost unnoticeably, until one day we realise the subtlety, or even the enormity, of what’s occurred.

 

So the creativity side was definitely one of these trickles. And there are others too.

Later, I made a big lifestyle decision which I found very difficult to justify to anyone else. Something in me knew that it was the right thing to do. I spent quite a few Focusing sessions testing it out with the part of me that confirmed this ‘rightness’, and the parts that were worried for me. Each time my body affirmed very definitely that yes, this was the right path.

And so that’s what I did then. And now there’s another change as I let go of something that has been very rich in my life for a number of years. There’s fear; there’s apprehension; there’s sadness there too. I can acknowledge and respect all of these, and I can feel very open to the new doors that are just beginning to show themselves.

I cannot be certain whether without the reassurance of Focusing I would have made these decisions or not. What I can be sure about is that Focusing enables me to feel much more confident about changes, and being open to the new that will come – whatever it is.

How to Focus on Your To-do List

list-372766_640Life can sometimes feel overwhelming with so many things to do.  Do you feel you can never keep up? 

Every time you manage to cross off one thing on your to-do list, something comes along to replace it, and it’s often two or three.

I know what it’s like.  I’ve had to juggle lots of things in my life: children, pets, jobs, garden, oh and some life for myself too.

Would you like to learn the simple trick that has worked for me, and still does?

I wish I’d worked it out sooner, because my life would have run much more smoothly, and I wouldn’t have forgotten those urgent things that just have to be done, and had to somehow squeeze them in when I felt exhausted at the end of the day.  But never mind, it works really well for me now. 

Its simplicity almost embarrasses me now, but I tried a lot of different variations before I found this way.

And how did it come to me?  It has been a mixture of finding out what others do, and then Focusing on my problem, and making it my own system, one which works well for me.

At one time I had different notebooks for the different aspects of my life, but that got messy, and now I only have to carry one tiny book with me (or you can use your phone).  It wasn’t a bad system, but with all the different things in my life I was juggling, it was just too complicated.

And I’ve tried several electronic methods, on-line diaries with integrated to-do lists, apps that help you prioritise, and lists that will sort things in any order you want.  They’ve all worked after a fashion, but were never quite good enough.  I still saw that ever-lengthening list, and it would take precious time just to keep it under control.

I also find that writing things down, with a pen, onto paper, not only helps me to remember it, but helps me think around any problems associated with it, sometimes getting a new perspective.  

This system has helped me feel much more in control of all the things that have to be done, and as a result, I am much more relaxed.

Would you like to feel more relaxed and in control?  Here it is:

  • Take one journal book – like this one:

  • Many designs will work.  You need one that’s going to last, and not fall apart before it’s full.  I like this style because the pages are stitched in, are already numbered, there are Contents pages at the front, and an expandable pocket in the back cover where you can keep loose pieces of paper.
  • And you need a smaller notebook that will fit in a pocket (and the smaller notebook might be the notes page on your phone.)

I start at the beginning of the book and write my first to-do list on page 1 (after the Contents page).  I add a note in the contents page of the heading and page number. 

This list might be quite long, and I keep adding to it until the page is full.  It might include things like: collect dry cleaning before Wednesday, get quotes for painting the house, write a novel, where shall I go on holiday next year, etc.  Some are immediate tasks, some more long-term and some are wishful thinking.

I use this book for all my notes and lists, always adding the page number in the contents page.  For example, I have a page for admin/business; one for books that friends have recommended to me.  Another page lists possible gifts, so that when it comes to birthdays I am not struggling to remember what I discovered three months before would be the perfect gift for my daughter.  I have a list of things I need to do in the house; one of blog ideas (!); one of thoughts about future yoga lessons and equipment to buy; questions to ask my mentor, etc.

  • Everything that is urgent has a star next to it, or is highlighted. 
  • Everything that has an important timescale has the date next to it.
  • Each new page/list starts on the next available fresh page.  There are no blank pages in between the pages that are already used.
  • Each page heading has a number in the contents page, and if the content goes on to a further page, I just add this to the contents page, so it might look like this:
    • To-do list – pages 1, 5, 9, 27.
    • Recommended books – page 2
    • Admin/business – page 3
    • Birthdays – page 4
    • Yoga notes – page 6        etc.

Doing it this way means that:

  • everything is in one place
  • you never run out of room until the book is full
  • you can find everything in the book because it is (very easily) indexed

So far, so good, but it can still seem overwhelming with all these different pages.  So what I do next is the simple thing that has made all the difference.

I have a separate small notebook that fits easily in a pocket, and each day I transfer from the bigger lists those things that absolutely must be done, and those that I feel I can achieve today.  In the main book, I cross off what I’ve managed to do, or that may seem irrelevant now (and that does happen!).  I prefer to do this in the morning, but you can do it at any regular time. 

This smaller list has to be achievable in one day.  It takes less than five minutes to flick through the main journal and write out.  And it means that I don’t feel overwhelmed with the multitude of things, some of which are urgent, and some wishful thinking.

Changing the way you currently organise your list of jobs to do may seem an impossible task, but it’s not as difficult as it seems. 

The secret to organising it is this:

  • Buy yourself two notebooks – one larger, one smaller (or create a page on your phone for the smaller one)
  • Set aside an 30 minutes to an hour (and it make take less) to get down in the larger book all those tasks that have to be done.  Set up and index other pages you might need.  This is a one-off task.
  • You don’t need to get everything down at this stage, just the really important stuff that’s nagging at you. You can keep adding to it whenever you want to.
  • Transfer to the smaller book (or your phone) what you can achieve today – nothing more.
  • Tomorrow, in the larger book
    • Cross out what’s been done
    • Add anything new. 
    • And on a new page in the smaller book or phone, add today’s tasks.

And that’s it.

Would this simple system work for you?  Would it help you manage your to-do lists?

If it would, just use it.  Get started.  It’s easy, takes very little time, and you can adapt it to work for you.  But do get started.

I’ve included this article in a Focusing blog, because I found Focusing on the issue helped me to work out how to achieve something that was bugging me.  

And I thought you’d be interested to know another way that Focusing can be really helpful in everyday life.

Don’t add this advice to your To-Do list.  Do it!

Photo credit: Flickr

What’s your favourite chocolate?

Photo credit: Flickr

Photo credit: Flickr

Imagine someone has just opened a box of chocolates in front of you.  Is your mouth starting to water at just the thought of choosing? Are you tempted by the truffles, or a perfect praline?  Can you imagine biting into the chocolate ginger?

Are you the sort of person who loves to choose from a full box, or is that a teeny bit overwhelming?  Maybe you like it when there’s not so much choice – a whole box of chocolate ginger, maybe, or Maltesers?  Or you may prefer the surprise of not knowing what’s hiding under the perfect pale spiral on the top.

Notice how, when you were thinking about your favourite chocolate, your body responded.  Maybe your mouth started to water?  Maybe you could already begin to taste it?  Maybe a little smile came at the delightful anticipation?

Your body knows all about your choice in chocolate!

Change is about choices.  When we are contemplating change, there are at least two options – the possibility of change, and that of doing nothing.  One part of us wants to do something differently, and another says no, stay with what we know.  And sometimes, like the chocolates, there are lots to choose from.

And now and again it’s a choice to make a change, and at others the need to change is out of our control.

When change is a choice, there is a wanting and a not-wanting inside us.  Something in our life is not quite the way we want it to be – the not-wanting – and the wanting to alter it.

It’s helpful here to sit with the wanting and the not-wanting, and to sense the whole of the issue.  At first we may just go over what we’ve already been thinking about, and it might seem futile to go over it all again.  But there is value in waiting a while, and noticing what might come that is new and fresh. 

Credit: Andy Arthur - Flickr.com

Credit: Andy Arthur – Flickr.com

As an example let’s imagine that you are contemplating moving to a different town, and the options are to stay in the town you are living in, or move to the other one.

 

Credit: Sebastian Werner - Flickr.com

Credit: Sebastian Werner – Flickr.com

 

So first, let’s connect with the place you are living now.  Just for a little while, find yourself somewhere quiet to be, where you’ll not be interrupted for twenty minutes or so.  Turn off your phone, and shut the door.

As you sit or stand quietly, feel the support of what’s below you – the chair, the ground, the bed.  Connect with your breath, without altering it in any way – just notice it.  Take a couple of minutes to bring yourself into the present moment, just as you are. 

Then bring your attention to the town in which you currently live.  What is the feeling you get when you’re in the town (even if you’re not there now)?  Can you describe this feeling?  You might say something like, “It’s comfortable”, “I feel distant”, “It feels like a warm blanket”, “I feel cold”, or something completely different.

You might not know if this description is exactly right, but be patient.  Be curious.  Ask yourself what is it about this town in which I live that makes me feel … ?  It might feel like the right description, even if you don’t understand it.

Then wait again for a little while, wait for something new that is different from what you said about the town in the first place. 

Maybe this new thing comes as a surprise.  Maybe something came to you that you wouldn’t have thought to say before. 

Then have a little break – have a stretch, get a cup of tea – just a few minutes, and then try all of this with the place you’re considering moving to.  You may not know it very well, but that doesn’t matter.  You at least know it well enough to consider moving there. 

Don’t rush this exercise, but it neither need it take too long.  You can then take some time with the two new feelings about the places, which in my experience, can be a powerful tool in helping make the decision.

With many thanks to Bebe Simon for teaching me this exercise.

Click here to join me on the Introduction to Focusing in Canterbury on 4th February.  Or contact me for a 1:1 in person, by phone, or on Skype – or for more information.

 

Oak tree - Carolann Samuels

Resisting change

Oak tree - Carolann Samuels

Oak tree – Carolann Samuels

Many of us are good at resisting change.  Security is, well, secure – and it’s difficult for us leave security behind.  Sometimes I tell myself that I’m good at change – I have embraced many changes in my life.  But then I look at myself honestly, and I can see more times when security has served me well.

I like the way that Sally Lever has written about this in her newsletter earlier this month – you can read the full article here; and here is an excerpt:

“Change involves letting go of the past and letting be of the present.  An acorn grows into a sapling and then a huge oak tree. If the consciousness of the tree remains with the acorn (its seed) then there will be no further manifestation. As each day of this new year dawns, we can choose to see each one as something absolutely new that we’re going to co-create in our lives. This becomes difficult if we assume from the outset that this ‘today’ is ‘simply another Monday’”.

So how do we let go of the past, and let be of the present?  Meditation is an ideal method, letting us ‘be’ simply in this moment.  One of the great benefits of meditation is that it requires nothing – no special equipment, we don’t have to go anywhere or be with another person or group of people, there are no resources.  We just have to be quiet, in the present moment, letting go of anything that comes into our minds.  It is easy to explain, and it is always challenging to practice.

Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gung, gardening, walking mindfully – all are excellent ways of letting go of the past, and being totally in the present.  You may have another practice that does this for you, and I would be interested to read what works well for you.  Drop me a line.