Focusing and Thinking at the Edge

I’ve recently come across a new kind of practice that seems to be a practical application of the embodied meaning thesis. This is the work of Eugene Gendlin and the Focusing institute, which you can find out more about at www.focusing.org. There at two kinds of practices: ‘focusing’, which involves awareness of embodied meaning, and ‘thinking at the edge’, which builds on focusing to provide a method to stimulate creative thinking. I need to investigate this more closely myself, but it seems potentially both useful and exciting, so I thought I would share it even at this stage. The following videos provide a very interesting introduction to the thinking at the edge practice. It’s worth persevering onto the third section, where Gendlin says some inspiring things about our capacity for creative thinking as well giving an outline of his method.



About Robert M Ellis

Robert M Ellis is the founder and chair of the Middle Way Society, and author of a number of books on Middle Way Philosophy, including the introductory 'Migglism' and the more in-depth 'Middle Way Philosophy' series. He has a Christian background, and about 20 years' past experience of practising Buddhism, but it was his Ph.D. studies in Philosophy that set him on the track of developing a systematic account of the Middle Way beyond any specific tradition. He has earned his living mainly by teaching, and more recently by online tutoring.

11 thoughts on “Focusing and Thinking at the Edge

  1. Thrilling, beautiful, rewarding, comforting……..

    it’s worth listening to Gendlin if only to catch his small gasp of delight as he unfolds his inner experience to us with such care, solicitude and respect for ours.

    I’ve encountered Focussing before (not in depth) and I have read his book and used his technique on myself. It’s somewhere in my jumbled bag of sentimental gee-gaws and trinkets. I occasionally put my hand in the bag, fumble round and pull out what my inquisitive fingers have closed around, then turn it over and over, to let it speak its wisdom to me……..at least for a while.

    Thank you, Gendlin.

    I also loved the woman’s introductory talk, especially her composure, tentative but secure, and the small restrained movements of her fingers as she spoke, as if handling a small, precious and fragile vessel.

    Last, I see the Middle Way philosophy as a profusion of logical articulations of Robert Ellis’s embodied experience, like the varying patterns of a kaleidoscope that all express the colour and shape of the tiny fragments that are shaken up, and reflected in its multi-mirrored chamber. Surely, Gendlin’s ‘technique’ has as much to offer us as formal meditation. It does to me. I have already abandoned sitting meditation as sterile, maybe because its provenance (and its practitioners) seem so far removed from my own experience as to be alien, and I feel better served by my own felt experience, and thrilling ways such as Gendlin’s (and Robert’s) to widen and deepen it.

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thanks for this. I’d be interested to hear more details about how far you got with focusing. Did you have formal instruction in it? What are its pros and cons in your experience?

  2. I undertook a one-year professional training course in body-oriented psychotherapy in 1990 (Regression and Integration). One of my co-participants had trained with Eugene G. On the course we explored focusing techniques with which regression and integration had a lot in common. I was formally accredited in regression and integration therapy and practised mainly with small professional groups such as mental health nurses, social workers, midwives and Health Visitors.

    Since that time I have used Gendler’s technique on myself, but opportunistically and infrequently, not systematically. However, I use various techniques involving embodied awareness on myself often, flexibly and intuitively. I’ve also applied Gendler’s and other principles of elaborated embodied awareness into my nursing work throughout the main body of my professional life, especially since I lived and worked in Africa,

    But it’s been untidy, unsystematic and weakly conceptualised. That’s me, but life is also untidy and defies shrink-wrapping, don’t you find?

    I feel on the same wobbly wave-length as you, Robert, with lots of cosmic hiss in the background, but definitely there’s some intergalactic resonance. Do you feel it, man? 😉

  3. I forgot to cover pros and cons

    Pros:

    the technique is very straightforward once you understand what ‘felt sense’ or ‘a body sense of meaning’ is. The steps are clear, unambiguous and sequential.

    the technique doesn’t involve religious mumbo-jumbo or ritual postures

    if you’re a person who is results-oriented, it offers results (but doesn’t promise or define what results you might expect)

    it doesn’t hold up examples of individuals who’ve attained bliss or mirvana

    Cons

    I can only speak for myself, but getting the hang of the ‘felt sense’ (and distinguishing it from more easily identifiable feelings or emotions) could – for some – be tricky without help

    It gets touted as a panacea for all ills, personal and societal. Could seem a bit “snake-oily” and glib at first reading. Calls for a reasonable patient and mature outlook on the scope for ‘personal healing’, building capacity and ‘reaching one’s potential’ across an extended time scale.

    1. Does Mr.Gendler mean that we can use words associated with a physical emotion, which allow the mind to spin off in a tangent, in order to reach the meaning one is trying to verbalise?
      Like :- Inner churning, froth, swirls of sea and sand at the water’s edge, grains of truth, nagging doubt, banging against a rock, pebbles in pools, clear water, reflection, understanding, aaah!

  4. Hello Norma, and on Robert’s recommendation I’ll try to answer your question as best I can.

    First I must apologise for leading you astray on Eugene Gendlin’s name (not Gendler as I put it earlier on in this thread).

    Second, I think the direct answer to your question has to be “No”.

    ‘Felt sense’ doesn’t mean emotion. Gendlin explains what ‘felt sense’ is in a number of helpful ways, but he does say clearly that a felt sense is not an emotion. He says, “We recognise emotions. We know when we are angry, or sad, or glad. A felt sense is something you do not first recognise – it is vague and murky. When it comes, it is at first unclear, fuzzy. It feels meaningful, but not known. It is a body-sense of meaning. A felt sense is usually not just there, it must form. You have to know how to let it form by attending inside your body.”

    He describes focusing as, “a process in which you make contact with (this) special kind of internal bodily awareness”.

    Norma, I don’t know if you’ve watched and listened to Gendlin speak about the ‘felt sense’ that is at the core of his technique. He describes it with great beauty, but the ‘felt sense’ is so remote from our everyday experience of ourselves that it takes time to make sense of what he is telling us. He does say, somewhere, that “our language contains no words to describe it”, and I think that’s so.

    Words are the way we define ourselves, and our experience of the world, and in one sense they limit our experience of ourselves, because our experience is wider than any or all the words we can use to account for it, however many we use, or however eloquently.

    I think those of who have experience of meditation or silent contemplation have an inkling of this. As may practitioners of tai chi, martial arts, or artists – especially visual artists of all sorts.

    I strongly recommend that you read Gendlin’s simple book “Focusing”, which is published by Bantam New Age Books (my copy was published in1981, but I’m sure there are reprints available on Amazon). His book is structured so as to enable anyone to learn his ‘focusing’ technique, and thus to experience what he describes ‘from the inside’, rather than in words. It is a rather beautiful technique.

    Technique is possibly a strange word to apply to what he would have us experience. The process “does itself”, once we have cleared an inner space for it to unfold. All we have to do then is to cooperate with it, witness to it to ourselves, and allow ourselves to heal.

    I do hope these words of mine will help you, and give you some encouragement to find out more for yourself. I’ll be very glad to have your comments or feedback. I’m very glad now to have had this chance to communicate with you directly, Norma. I’ve read your posts and blogs and admire your contribution very much.

    Best wishes, Peter

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thank you very much for your reply, I am encouraged to learn more about this way of focussing, I will listen again to the podcasts and look at Amazon for the book you recommend. I hope to be able to continue this conversation with you in due time, it may take some time! Thank you.
      Norma.

  5. Soon I got this link from my good friend’s facebook, I open it and I love it.

    Articulating of what we understood of something is not always easy. How often we heard people say:
    That is not what I meant
    You miss my point
    Sir, you were reordered my proposed letter causing it’s systematic gone
    Sir you were deleting some phrase causing it’s logic screwed
    We thought we have provided all information required during presentation but
    audience still asking what do you meant by that
    Pay attention to what I have said please
    … and on..

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