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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

Compassion

So often we talk about the body as though it’s a machine, a highly complicated machine, but still a machine. We compare our bodies to intricate man-made things with pumps and pistons, filters and gears, hinges and joints.

And even though we liken our bodies to machines or engines, we sometimes feel as though our bodies have their own agenda, feeling separate from the rest of us. 

When we decide we want to go for a run, we grumble at our bodies if the legs feel too tired.  We are annoyed when we get a cold which spoils a holiday, or a stiff shoulder stops us from playing sport.  My body’s let me down, we might say.

And sometimes it shouts more loudly, and we become ill, and we rail against the illness for how it makes us feel, and what it means we can no longer do.

And yet, this is what we expect of our bodies.  We refuel, do some maintenance, some quick fixes, often according to what someone else, an expert maybe, has told us.

And then we might exercise, eat healthily, take sufficient rest, and look after it just as we would look after a machine or an engine. And sometimes we don’t even do that, and expect it to keep going, and going, until it doesn’t go any more.

That would be asking a lot of even a very good friend.

But maybe there is another way – a way of listening  closely to the body.

And that doesn’t only mean eating the right foods, taking enough exercise, having regular dental checks.

It’s about taking some time to really listen to what the body is trying to convey.  Diane Morrow in her book “One Year of Writing and Healing“, says it this way:

The body protests.  It defies us.  At other times the body simply seems to be in trouble.  It has needs, even urgent needs, though it may be having trouble articulating them.  Sometimes a leap occurs when we recognise this.  “Oh.  The body needs something …”

I’ve noticed that those who begin to speak of the body in this way … often become more in tune with the body rather than less. 

To find language for this separation is simply, I suspect, to be honest about the divide, and then, in turn, make the effort to call out across it.

It’s as if [a person] stands at the edge of  a chasm.  They call across.  Or, sometimes, they beckon toward the body.  Or, perhaps, they’re beckoning toward the part of the mind more closely associated with the body.  An unconscious part?  A subconscious part?  In any case, they lean forward a little.  They whisper, ‘What is it?  What do you need?’ 

It’s as if offering compassion towards the body were a beginning.  And then, not infrequently, the body, or some part of the mind associated with the body, finds language to respond – and the person is able to hear it.

Diane is talking about the body-mind intelligence that Eugene Gendlin called Focusing, and is practised by many people around the world.  You can read about some of the benefits of Focusing here and here.

Diane Morrow goes on to say:

It’s like meeting someone who speaks a different language, and then, rather than just continuing to speak one’s own language, ever louder and more insistently, it’s being willing at some point to make the effort to learn the other’s language.  It’s being willing, for some measure of time, to turn away from the cacophony of the external world and give the body and the inner world one’s undivided attention.

I can’t tell you if there’s a good time to learn Focusing, other than any time is good.  And I wished I’d learned it sooner.

When we are under stress or unwell, or when we are feeling great and the world is a wonderful place and it feels as though nothing can go wrong – at these times we might find it difficult to get into contact with what the body has to say about what is going on. So we might choose to learn Focusing then, and that’s great.  And it also a good time to learn when we are feeling just okay. Because we can use Focusing at any time.

I have a Focusing partner and we meet once a week on Skype.  Sometimes there are big issues that want to be addressed; sometimes surprises emerge, that might have been below our conscious radar; sometimes it’s about something that might seem quite trivial, and we learn more about why it has been niggling us; and sometimes we just spend time enjoying the feeling of being connected with our own selves in this way.

It is always nourishing, always worth doing, and I always feel enriched for having spent an hour or so in this way.

Please let me know below if you are a Focuser, and what it means for you.

And if you are not, and would like to learn, contact me here, and we can arrange a session or a course – face-to-face or on Skype or Facetime.” 

How Emotions are Made

surface of water with lightWhether you’re a generally calm person, floating unperturbed in a stream of tranquillity, unaffected by the vicissitudes of life; a more reactive person awash in a river of agony and ecstasy, easily moved by every little change in your surroundings; or somewhere in between, the science behind interoception*, grounded in the wiring of your brain, will help you see yourself in a new light.  It also demonstrates that you’re not at the mercy of emotions that arise unbidden to control your behaviour.  You are an architect of these experiences.  Your river of feelings might feel like it’s flowing over you, but actually you’re the river’s source.

Lisa Feldman Barrett: How Emotions are Made

Psychologist and neuroscientist, Feldman Barrett, recognises the value of Focusing, updating long-held views that emotions are not universally pre-programmed in our brains and bodies.  She says they are psychological experiences that each of us constructs, based on our unique personal history, physiology and environment.

Feldman Barrett suggests that we pay attention to combinations of emotions, feelings in the body, and memories that arise in the context of these.  She calls this ’emotional granularity’, and recommends that this is helpful in order to make sense of what’s going on for a person in the moment, and being aware of choices, rather than being ‘stuck’ in feelings of frustrating ‘blahness’.  I call this Focusing.

I will revisit this as my copy of the book is is like a prayer flag, with many sticky notes sticking out of the edge waiting for me to return to read again.  In the meantime, you might wish to buy a copy, or borrow one from your library.

 

* interoception: an on-going process which is your brain’s representation of all sensations from your internal organs and tissues, the hormones in your blood, and your immune system.  For more on interoception, see Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book, “How Emotions are Made”.

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

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.

How do you feel when you are standing?

Blue Mountains – Carolann Samuels

Tadasana

Tadasana is the Sanskrit word for Mountain Pose. It is one of the most important poses we practise in Yoga, for it is one which we use most often in our everyday lives. And all we have to do is stand.

When you are ‘just standing’, how do you feel?

Do you tend to lean on one side? Maybe you slouch a little, or stand up tall and quite stiff? Does your back ache? How are your shoulders?
In which direction are your feet pointing?  is your face relaxed?  And how are your hands?

When we stand with awareness, we can notice all of this, and more.

We keep balanced with ease.
Movement is minimal – just enough to keep us standing here without effort, remembering that even mountains move a little.
Standing up tall in a conscious way may be new for us. It may feel awkward, as though we’re not straight. It might be helpful to ask someone if we lean to one side, or stick out our abdomens.
Then when we know how to be tall and straight, we can practise at any time: in a queue, when brushing teeth, speaking with a friend; looking at a picture. And someone looking at you wouldn’t say, she’s making an effort to stand tall, they would say, that person is standing comfortably, at ease with herself.

As we become aware, we begin to make more connections – between the authentic self and the physical self.

Where do I stand on important issues?

Do I stand up for myself, or for someone else?

We look ahead – facing what is ahead of us.

We are not running somewhere.

We look without and within.

We take stock; observe; feel; see.

Where am I?

Where do I want to be?

Where do I want to go?

What do I want to do about myself?

Are there obstacles?

What about the strength of a mountain?

Avalanches and rockslides sometimes happen on mountains.

If we spend all our time in our heads, not only do we have to deal with all the messy thoughts spinning around, but we also find ways of seeking solutions to all our problems and navigating our lives through only one vehicle: the mind.

The mind is not meant for all that work.

The mind can only work with what is in the mind, so creative solutions must come from outside the mind.

We experience shifts in perception through our skin, inside us – in our throat, our stomach, solar plexus, maybe. We feel a new awareness, and then we can store it in our minds for future reference. It doesn’t work the other way round – we can’t think before we feel it.

Standing in our own body helps open the throat for the opportunity to speak with our own voice. It also helps to move us out of our thinking centre and into a place of feeling and sensation. It’s the place of feeling that we are present. Thoughts keep us in the past or future.

Only when we are truly present can we know who we are.

And as we pay attention to our bodily experience, we find we can tap into the wisdom of the body, and the whole complexity of how we are, in this moment.

Yoga and Focusing each work very well to help us in gaining this awareness.  Put them together and the whole effect is so much more powerful.  If you would like to know more, contact me here.

(With acknowledgements and thanks to Swami Sivananda Radha and Laraine Herring for their writings on Tadasana)

Most people don’t know this.

Ancient rocks – Carolann Samuels

What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes.

Most people don’t know this.

They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways, they make themselves good.

On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year.

A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change.

If there is in you something bad or sick or unsound, let it inwardly be, and breathe.

That’s the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs. (Eugene Gendlin)

 

Find out more about how Focusing can help this change – at the bottom of this page.

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.

Ways in which Focusing can be helpful

Do you believe in magic?

Do you believe in magic?

Do you believe in magic?

Do you have a problem that you can see no way to resolve?  And you hope a little magic will fix it?

You’ve thought and thought about it.

You’ve asked colleagues, friends, family.

They all offer advice, but nothing seems quite right.  It doesn’t quite match with how you feel you could fix it.

It might be work-related?

To do with relationships?

How to deal with a child’s difficult behaviour

Or even what colour will you paint the kitchen?

It happens to us all.  Some of the problems are big, life-changing issues.  Some are seemingly trivial, but still take up quite a bit of energy.

When I sat down to write this post, I knew the theme I wanted to write about.

But I couldn’t see a way in, without long, dusty sentences that you probably wouldn’t read.

So back to the magic.

This is some magic that you can make for yourself.  The magical process that takes place as we connect to our inner feelings.

We become aware of our surroundings.

We notice how it feels to rest our feet on the floor.  The touch of clothes against our skin.  The breath coming in and out of your body.

This helps to bring us into the present moment.

We wait. 

We are patient.

As we rest in this space, we can pay attention to our physical sensations.  The situation that has been occupying us brings a bodily awareness.

Can we trust this?

Let me give you an example.

Someone I know has a work-related issue in his life right now.  He called me and asked if he could talk it over with me.

I wanted to help, but I have no knowledge of the work that he does.  I listened to the problem, then I encouraged him to turn to his present-moment experience. 

How he was feeling in that moment.  The room around him.  Where he was sitting. 

And what the whole of the problem felt like to him.  I suggested that a word might explain it.  Or picture.  A colour.  Or a description.

He then talked, and I said very little, just enough response to let him know I was still listening.  I didn’t even need to understand the whole of the situation. 

After about twenty minutes, he thanked me for helping him.  I hadn’t helped him fix the problem.  He’d worked out a next step for himself.  I’d been an attentive Listener, guiding him to do his own Focusing. 

I could see he was Focusing (although we didn’t call it that just then).  I could see him wanting to get just the right word to explain how he felt about it all.  He wanted to say exactly how it was. 

If I said how I understood it, he sometimes corrected me.  And that was okay.  It was important for him to be able to phrase it exactly right.  Exactly how it was feeling for him in that moment – rather than any interpretation I might give it. 

I didn’t feel affronted.  I felt pleased that he was able to stay with the process, and work though what was right for him to do next.

This is the magic.

When we become aware of what is going on – physically – for us right now.  When we stay with it.  When we are willing to wait and see what unfolds.  This is when change comes.  Or a next step.  We may not solve everything all in one go, but something changes.  We feel more confident about going forward.

What do you think?