Healing - Let it be
by Luis S. R. Vas
Years ago at the University of Chicago, Dr Eugene Gendlin, along with other colleagues, began a study on the hard questions most psychotherapists are reluctant to ask. Why doesn’t therapy succeed more often? Why does it so often fail to make a real difference in people’s lives? In the rarer cases when it does succeed, what is it that those patients and therapists do? They taped and analysed thousands of therapist-patient sessions, and discovered that it was not the therapists’ technique, or what the patients talked about, but what the successful patients do inside themselves.
Somehow they intuitively connected within themselves, and were able to describe how it really felt inside. They got a ‘handle’ on their problem, a ‘felt sense’ of what it was all about.
Dr. Gendlin eventually devised a technique to teach this powerful and effective skill of emotional healing to others. He called it Focussing.
Focussing is a natural skill that anyone can learn to access. It’s a way of being in touch with how we carry important issues inside ourselves, of listening to our body with compassion, of noticing how we feel, and then conversing with those feelings, listening to what they have to say to us, accepting their account, and befriending what’s going on inside. Instead of trying to analyse and control what’s happening, we listen to what’s happening within.
Focussing teaches us step by step how to be in touch with our ‘felt sense’. The ‘felt sense’ is an inner bodily knowing for the precise next step to take, a clear creative answer to the problems and issues in life where we can become stuck – unable to move forward. If our intellect could solve all our problems, we would not experience feeling intense frustration and/or helplessness, or be exhausted from daily problems at work and in relationships. Through the process called focussing, we can learn to become fully conscious – combining our memories, unconscious mind, feelings, ‘felt senses’ and dreams with our intellect, resulting in what we may call a gut reaction, intuition, or a sense of what is right – continually.
Six steps in focussing
(Use these steps for yourself, if you feel the process will help you move forward from a stuck, confused or scattered place. Select questions that best fit what is said.)
- Clearing a space: Become quiet and relaxed. Come into your body by noticing your breathing – in and out, sounds and sighs. Become aware of your physical body sitting on the chair, your feet, chest, neck, head. Imagine a ladder going from your head down into your chest/stomach area and let yourself climb down. Notice what it feels like. What comes there, when you ask a question like – “How is my life going? Is there anything that feels like it especially needs my attention right now?” Or a statement like “I am really feeling alive right now” – can trigger off reactions or feelings within. When something comes, stand back from it, acknowledge it with a “hello” , then allow some space between you and it, and ask if there is anything else needing attention right now. Usually there are several things.
- Felt sense: From among what came in step 1, select one personal problem or issue to focus on. Ask if it is okay to be with this for a moment, then stand back and take a moment to get a sense of how all of the problem/issue feels inside. (If the answer is “no” as in too painful or scary perhaps, stay with the “no” and hold that.) Let yourself feel the unclear/fuzzy sense of “all of that”. It’s partly a matter of shutting up for a change, to listen and feel.
- Handle: What is the quality of this unclear felt sense or a word that might describe it? A word like tight, heavy, scary, helpless, stuck, may come, or an image or phrase from the felt sense itself, like “have to perform”, “trapped with no way out”.
- Resonating: Go back and forth between the felt sense and the word, phrase, or image, checking to see that they resonate together or ‘fit/match/connect just right’. Does ........ (what you said) fit/connect right with how you are feeling?
- Asking: Use the question that best fits what is said. “What makes the whole problem so ____________?” or “what is it about that whole thing, that touches or moves me?” Or ask the feeling, “How do you need me to be with you? Is there anything you need me to know? What would it take for this to feel okay? Be with the felt sense until a ‘shift’ takes place, a slight ‘give’ or release. (Perhaps a headache or tension you were aware of fades, breathing becomes easier or a winding down of the watch spring releases pressure, as in my case.) If the mind rushes in with mental answers, go back to the ‘handle’ to ‘feel’ the problem again.
- Receiving / nurturing period: Receive whatever comes in a friendly way. Be gentle with it, and stay with it as long as you need to. If you need to stop due to time, promise to return to it at a later time if it needs more of your attention. Thank it for being there with you. A sure sign of focussing is that it will feel good – even if a felt shift did not take place. It’s being friendly and kind to yourself, accepting both negative and positive as valued learning experiences.
Two words lie at the spiritual heart of focussing: “Letting be”.
They point to a bodily felt unconditional acceptance of what is there. When we listen to a place inside that hurts, for instance, the quality of our presence is not the usual one of fixing, or trying to make it feel better. Rather, we are willing to let it be exactly as it is. Sometimes you can almost hear the place give a sigh of relief when it feels this non-judgemental attention. It may soften or intensify, and as you continue to be with it in a way that says, “It’s ok for you to be there, exactly the way you are now” , it often opens up and starts to tell its story. As this unfolds, you can begin to understand the pain, and listen in a more compassionate way.
This total acceptance does not always bring immediate change to the place inside, but it does change you, because you are holding this part of yourself differently. Instead of feeling uptight about these horrible feelings inside – “I shouldn’t feel like this!” – you relax, and begin to feel okay about yourself for feeling all this. There is a deepening of kindness towards yourself, a healthy “self-love”. This is a major step to becoming a whole person, welcoming home those parts of you that were split off, or that you had been holding out on, judging and suppressing. And there’s more – in doing this you begin to have a sense of who you truly are – that you are much larger than the wounded parts, and can actually accept and embrace them. To have a real body feel of this is extremely freeing.
Letting go of our mindsets of how we, others, and the world, should be, and instead letting go into the reality of the present moment, is extremely powerful. It is also very much misunderstood. Accepting what is present and real now – inside and outside – is not the same as acquiescence.
True acceptance does not turn you into a passive doormat for others. On the contrary, because of its non-reactive nature, it gives you the space inside to trust and allow intelligent and graceful resolution or action to arise that is fitting for the situation.
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