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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.” 

Talking to yourself

So often when we talk to ourselves, we are berating ourselves, telling ourselves off.  We might regret having said or did something. We might have eaten too much, drunk too much, been too harsh with family members, angry with someone for something that wasn’t their fault, failed to reach a work target, or pass an exam.

We can be very inventive about the ways we criticise and shame ourselves.  

We can sometimes be much harsher with ourselves than we would be with others, and more critical of ourselves than we would dream of being with another person.

Sometimes this is a fleeting self-criticism, or it can go on – for a few days or weeks.  Sometimes we can spend years living with regrets and failures.

What if, instead of this one-way conversation with yourself, what would it feel like to listen to yourself?

You might begin by becoming aware of your body. 

You might notice your surroundings as if for the first time.

You might notice the floor beneath your feet, the chair on which you sit.

You might wish to close your eyes, or you might prefer not to.

You might become aware of the touch of your clothes against your skin.

You might notice the breath that flows in and out of your body – not trying to change it in any way, just being aware of it.  Some breaths might be deep, some shallow, some smooth, some a little ragged.

Then you might turn your attention to other parts of your body – your throat, perhaps.  Your chest.  Your abdomen and belly.  You might see how they are. 

Don’t rush any of this.

If this is something new for you, your body has to get used to being listened to in this way.

Like a shy child.  Or an untrusting animal.

You wouldn’t rush an encounter with these, would you?  You would take your time, being kind, letting the child or the animal come to you in their own time.

As you stay with this attention on your body, something might arise.  An image might come.  Or a feeling.  A colour maybe.  Or a memory.  Or something else. 

If something comes, however fleeting, however vague, however vivid, allow yourself to pause.

And in that pause, stay with whatever comes.

Be curious about it.  Invite it to be there, as fully as it wants to be.

Allow it to stay the same, or change, without any pressure from your thoughts or your mind.

Take as long as you like.

Try not to analyse what comes.

If it helps, you can say aloud things that arise or change. 

You might notice emotions arising – not always.

You might have an attentive listener, in which case, ask them if they might say back to you some of what you’ve said, but not everything.  And ask them not to add anything, or put their own interpretation on what you’ve said aloud.

And you don’t have to say everything – or anything.

Allow your body to speak to you in this way, without any judgement from you or your listener.

Allow your body to say as much or as little as it wants to.

Allow the feelings, or images, or memories, to change.  Allow this to come from within you, rather than instructing your body.

Resist any urge to tell yourself what you ‘think’ it should be feeling or doing.

Allow your body this time and space to let you know what its wants and needs are.

When you wish to complete this special time for yourself, take a moment to check if anything else wants to come.

Then thank your body for all that came.  Thank your body for this conversation.

Then gently, slowly, mindfully, come back to the present moment.  Open your eyes.

Rejoin your normal day after a pause – not too quickly.

And then what?  What happens next?

It might be that you realised something new about yourself.

It might be that the answer to a problem unfolds.

You might realise why you reacted the way you did in a particular situation – or every time you find yourself in a situation.

You might feel a little more peaceful.

You might find yourself being more kind and accepting of yourself.

You might find that you no longer carry things with you, such as grievances, hurts or betrayals.

You might find, in times of stress or panic, you can notice the feelings that arise, and acknowledge them, and manage them more easily.

I would be very interested in how you find this little exercise.  Please feel free to get in touch, and ask me questions.

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. 

 

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

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),

Where are you?

Volcano and a puff of cloud – Carolann Samuels

For many years my creativity remained hidden.  It peeped out now and again, but ever so shyly, and retreated if anyone even looked at it the wrong way (whatever the wrong way is – I didn’t know).  I hid myself behind computers, numbers, duties.  I could become creative within these confines I imposed upon myself, but I didn’t trust it, nor did I pursue it.

 

I admired the creativity of others, but didn’t think that could ever apply to me.  

 

Who was I to think I might ever draw, paint, make pots, write, …?

Then I found Focusing.  I didn’t realise it at the time, but a door was opened.  Something in me knew that I could find some room for these practices that previously felt so alien to me.  And I didn’t notice it happening – not until I found myself in art shops, signing up for courses, and actually practising at home.  

 

I love the subtle way this happened.

 

I have written about this is other blogs, so you can see what a big deal it has been (and is) for me.

 

I also have a sense that many creative people already are Focusing.  

 

This may be because they have learned Focusing one way or another or it might be instinctive. You only have to read some of our great poets to see how they pay attention to what is going on inside them.  One example is this poem of Robert Browning: “Truth is within Ourselves”.  

And I have recently come upon another example.  Orna Ross teaches the principles, practices and process of creativism, conscious creation and creative living through her Go Creative! books and blog and the weekly Go Creative Show.  Here is one of her poems, which I think describes her creative process, especially when she says, “just be quiet. Unmask, that is all, and she will offer herself, unasked and unasking. No demands from her, ever, to know: where are you?

 

Where are you?

Where are you? The splendour of creation awaits.
Beauty veiled, she dallies, playing with the wings
of birds passing, swaying her hips with the wind,
wanting to dance, to bring you music from planets
and clouds. Call her by right name, hear her answer.
Male or female, she is yours. She lingers, singing
and playing, holding out a braceletted hand, all tinkle
and glint. She wants to roll ecstasy over and under
your skin, swirl bubblings into your blood, breathe
you away through the waves of the ages. You can stay
where you are (where are you?) and just listen. No,
don’t even listen, just be quiet. Unmask, that is all,
and she will offer herself, unasked and unasking. No
demands from her, ever, to know: where are you?
Orna Ross

 

If you would like to find out how Focusing can help with your creativity, contact me.

yoga platform

How can I feel more calm and relaxed throughout the day?

yoga platform

  • Do you come back from your Yoga or Meditation class feeling calm and relaxed?
  • Do you wish you could feel more like that every day?

Well you can. For most of us it takes a little while to practise, but it’s so worthwhile, why wouldn’t you?

The stillness we find at the end of the class isn’t just for the Yoga class, when we’re sitting quietly, maybe with candles lighting the corners of the room, with the temperature just right.  I think we all want to take this stillness into the world when we leave the class. Soon after we’ve packed up our kit we might find ourselves negotiating weather and traffic, other people, even.

Can we take this energy of stillness with us?

Can we, in our daily lives, as we become involved with disagreements, arguments, joys and sorrows, can we come back to stillness then, without sitting on the floor with peaceful music playing in the background? Or do we need to go back to join the race of the rat?

Do we need to be right? Do we need to persuade ourselves to become better – better at our jobs, better at parenting, better at being a friend, a better person?

Toni Packer calls this the “smog of our daily lives” that we not only suffer from, but also become attached to – it’s our existence after all.

I suggest that the more often we come back to quietness, in the midst of whatever is our daily life, the more we can get a glimmer of how we are acting when we’re in the smog.

We can catch ourselves, observe ourselves, remind ourselves that there is another way. We can change how we think.

We might find that we begin to notice those times when we speak harshly to a colleague, or are angry with another road user, or find our child irritating. Maybe not soon enough to change anything just then, but the next time it happens a little voice might say to us:

Slow down, choose how to feel, choose how to respond.

As we sit quietly, we remind ourselves of what has happened, and think about our future responses.

Habits take time to acquire, and time to change.

We might think we can’t change the habits of a lifetime – whether our lifetime is twenty years or sixty years. I think we can. When you start a new job you have to get used to the way things happen in the new workplace. When you move to a new town, you get used to the layout of the town and that you might have to drive twenty miles to buy clothes, but food is now five minutes walk away. When you learn a new activity or hobby, you learn new ways of doing things.  

Kindness works best with all beings, especially with ourselves.

And the best person to start with is ourself. Being aware, that’s the answer; awareness is always available. As we watch ourselves how we act, how we respond; we can think of different ways of acting and responding.

When we go home from the class we quickly find ourselves caught up in our routines of yesterday. One way that works for me is to set myself a reminder.  You might too – something that will work for you. Think ahead to the next day and choose a time when you will have ten minutes to yourself, then set yourself a reminder in your diary, on your phone, maybe a sticky note on your desk or fridge.

For that ten minutes take yourself away from everything – you might find a park bench, or walk down the aisle of a shop, or sit in your car – somewhere you can bring yourself into the present moment. If it’s really difficult not to be interrupted, you might pretend to be reading a book, or on the phone to give yourself some privacy. Or you might choose your quiet time to be first thing in the morning before the rest of the family is awake.  

Then observe yourself and your thoughts. By the time you get to the place you’ve chosen you may have only five minutes, that’s enough. Be aware, if only for a moment. Then reset your reminder for the next day – maybe it will be the same time, or another.

And it you don’t have ten minutes, five will do.

Another little trick is to choose something that you do fairly often during the day. It could be waiting for the kettle to boil; or walking through a particular door; or waiting for traffic lights to change colour. It doesn’t matter, just choose something.  And if that doesn’t work choose something else. At first you might need tangible reminders, such as a note by the kettle. Then in those few moments while you are waiting, bring yourself to the present moment.

Ask yourself how you are feeling – here in your chest, or in your gut, or if your teeth are clenched. That’s all. Just notice and be aware.

And if you find that you haven’t done any of this for a whole day, or a week or more even, then don’t be cross with yourself, but be curious as to why you couldn’t find that space – and be kind.

Kindness is what matters.

There will be times when it doesn’t work – that’s the same for all of us.  But I have noticed that those people who practise more often, find more parts of each day where they feel calmer, and more able to cope with the turbulence of life.

And I have found that Focusing has enhanced my ability to observe how I respond to the difficulties of life.  It has brought me a new calmness and ability to cope when things get tough.

tangled tree roots

An Undervalued Human Gift

tangled tree roots

Helping someone to untangle their thoughts

The capacity to listen is the most persistently undervalued human gift.  Marcel Theroux.

When we have a conversation, one of us talks for a while, the other listens and then takes a turn at talking.  We don’t measure the length of time each of us has for talking. 

When we’re speaking we’re sometimes aware that our companion might not be fully listening.  We know this by their reactions, which might tell us either that they have not been fully listening, or that they haven’t understood. 

How do we respond to that? 

How does it make you feel when you’ve been talking and your companion hasn’t been listening? 

Or when they have interrupted you?

Or when they try to advise you, when you might not want advice. 

Or when they sneaked a look at their mobile.

 

Then when we are listening to someone else, how does it feel to really listen to them? 

  • Do we sometimes find out mind wandering? 
  • Wondering about something that might be happening later?
  • Something that our companion has said has reminded us of something that we want to say too.  And our minds switch off from them, and we’re thinking about how we’re going to say it.
  • How might we make our part of the conversation sound entertaining, emotive or sensational
  • When we’re listening to someone else do we try to analyse what they’re saying, interpret it, or judge it?

All this doesn’t mean that our everyday conversations are any the less valuable, enjoyable, fun, supportive or interesting.  It’s just that there is another way of Listening that we can use as well.  It looks similar, but it feels different.  And it’s something that anyone can learn. 

You may know people who are naturally good listeners, and you find that after a conversation with them that you come away feeling, perhaps, refreshed in some way.  You feel as though you have worked through a problem.  You see something in a different light.

 

In Focusing we learn to really Listen to our companion.  (I am using a capital letter to differentiate from everyday listening.)

  • We sometimes say back to them what they’ve said.
  • We don’t judge.
  • We don’t analyse.
  • We don’t say they’re doing well, or not doing it right.
  • We don’t even try to understand what they’re saying.
  • We Listen. 
  • We give the person this time entirely for them.
  • We stay with them while they pay attention to their inner world.
  • We give them our full attention for this time.
  • And that is all.

It is a great gift for someone to give us their time.  And as Marcel Theroux says, an underrated gift.

We can all improve our Listening skills – would you like to?

 

The next one-day Introduction to Focusing will be on 4th February 2017  in Canterbury.

Day 2 will be on 28th February.

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?