The MWS Podcast 49: Elizabeth English on Focusing

Elizabeth English (Locana) is the founder Life at Work, a professional and personal development organisation. She has a  Masters and Doctorate from Oxford University in Buddhology. She’s a certified Nonviolent Communication trainer and, a teacher in Focusing with the British Focusing Teachers’ Association and the Focusing Institute. She’s going to talk to us today about Focusing, what it is, how you practice it, what are its benefits and how it might relate to the Middle Way.


MWS Podcast 49: Elizabeth English as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_49_Elizabeth English

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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

6 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast 49: Elizabeth English on Focusing

  1. I’m really glad to see a podcast exploring focusing in some depth, as I’ve been convinced of its value for some time in supporting the integration of meaning. Locana is also a highly engaging and articulate advocate of it. I’ve previously encountered Locana as a scholar of the Buddhist tantra and as a jazz singer (she’s a woman of many talents!), so it’s also good to meet another side of her too.

    One area where I’d be interested to know Locana’s thoughts is whether her experience of focusing has also changed her attitude to meaning, whether she’s encountered the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and what implications she sees embodied meaning as having. Embodied meaning implies not just a therapeutic and developmental practice (immensely valuable though that is) but also has profound and challenging implications for our whole way of thinking. I’m approaching focusing more from the standpoint of someone who already appreciates the value of embodied meaning from a theoretical point of view and needs to engage more with its practical side, but it would be very interesting to hear how the theory looks to someone so well based in the practice.

    1. I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Robert, when you ask about the theoretical point of view of embodied meaning, or how the theory looks to someone so well based in the practice.

      I’m by no means as well versed in focusing practice as Elizabeth, but every word she spoke about the experience of focusing brings my own experience alive, and revives my practice. I learned, through my own experiences of regression and integration, a very similar process (also best learned with a partner), that theories about the psychology of the process or its physiological correlates are – if not redundant – of little value in enhancing it, and may distort and collapse it.

      On the other hand, giving a contemporaneous verbal account of the lived experience of focusing, or regression, to a witnessing partner, can make the experience more vivid, or progress and expand or deepen it; and recounting the experience afterwards can and often does enable layers of meaning to be elaborated (or discarded). In this way meaning can be integrated, although this integration is not so much a intellectual exercise as an unmistakeable shift, or a sense of something falling into place, or fitting like a key in a lock.

      I would strongly recommend you to undergo a supported focusing experience with an accredited teacher. I would expect you to find out for yourself that explanatory theories aren’t as important as they may seem, and the experience can only be described through a simple narrative.

      For me, it was so refreshing to be reminded by Elizabeth’s talk of the powerful simplicity of ‘making space for’ and ‘welcoming’ whatever embodied feelings, sensations, movements, sounds or images may enter awareness, so that they can unfold their meaning without interrogation or analysis, speak their long-encrypted truth, and take their rightful healing place in our lives.

      Peter

  2. Hi Peter,
    I entirely agree with you that the process of focusing itself, and that direct experience of the integration of meaning with elements beyond one’s current awareness, is not much a matter of theory. My comments were working back to a prior point which I thought might still be indirectly illuminated by substantial experience of focusing. I first encountered Gendlin and focusing in the context of embodied meaning theory, which is supportive of focusing but also supportive of other developments. In particular I think it makes us aware of the limitations of representation, and thus of metaphysical beliefs that assume that representation. The meaning of what we encounter in experience depends on embodiment rather than truth-conditions. That recognition can be also be helpful to us in other ways, in understanding the limitations of our beliefs. Please think of that as an alternative branch of reflection going back to some of the same inspirations as focusing, rather than an attempt to muddy the clear waters of the process of focusing itself.

    1. Thanks, Robert. I’ve been looking forward to your response, with a little trepidation, but not enough to cloud my anticipation of it. I know you better than that!

      Your answer sent me to your book “The Integration of Meaning”, and the first couple of pages on meaning and representation helped me to gradually unpick my jumbled thoughts, and reflect on what I encountered today from meditation, which I structured on Gendlin’s ‘technique’, refreshed by hearing Elizabeth and Barry’s conversation, and by re-reading some of Gendlin’s own words in “Focusing”.

      At the outset of the session my felt sense was “stuck”, and giving this sense welcoming space I became aware of a vague inverted trumpet-shaped discomfort in my throat and chest, seeing its colour and texture briefly as that of animal tendon, a sort of waxy white. This description elaborates on the experience after the event, but is as true to the actual experience as I can make it.

      Without going into too much detail, several minutes into meditation my throat tickled, then constricted and I began to cough a little, and to move in my seat. Later still, I had a brief mental image of a white bird stuck in a chimney, fluttering to get out. There was other content, some of it thought about ‘making a link’ between the three experiences. I gave a little attention to this ‘making a link’ conglomerate and gave it welcoming space, but re-directed my attention away from ideas of linking or interpretation to breathing and belly movements.

      Later in the day, maybe five hours after meditating and after walking to the shops, reading the paper and drinking tea, I stood up to do something and, walking across the kitchen, had an eery detached feeling rather like walking in deep water. Feeling slightly concerned, I went to bed and lay down to relax and watch the feeling. I didn’t feel anxious, but it did occur to me that I might be having another stroke. After five minutes I got up, feeling refreshed, ‘normal’, and cheerful.

      Now I haven’t subjected the meditative experience to much analysis or interpretation, except in constructing a narrative out of what I found ‘significant’, and in expressing that narrative in my customary idiom. I wonder if the structuring and the idiom is representational, and I guess it is. My reading of Metaphors We Live By is illuminating my understanding of the deep unconscious assumptions that structure and colour my experience. I’m still only half way though!

      Anyway, I’d be interested to have you comment on this extract and in so doing help me develop a better handle on the propositions you made above, and clarify anything I’ve mystified.

      Thanks again for your attention and courteous guidance.

  3. Hi Peter,
    If the structuring and the idiom is representational? Representationalism is a way of interpreting language in general. It’s not that some language is representational and other language isn’t. Even someone talking obvious metaphysics is saying things whose meaning should not, in my view, be understood representationally: the problem is just that they think the meaning of what they say is representational (and that is, indeed, what makes their claims metaphysical). The structuring and the idiom don’t make it so, only the assumptions. So I’m afraid only you can say whether, in its sense to you, your account is representational.

    I do think focusing practice might possibly help to contribute to the kind of state where we might be less likely to interpret the meaning of our own language as purely representational. That’s because it encourages us to recognise that there are a variety of voices within us – as Locana said, it challenges the belief in a single self. When we use language about ourselves it might then be with a greater sense of the provisionality and complexity of what we’re talking about. Similarly with the objects of our attention that interact with our idea of ourselves. But I guess that such effects must be gradual and depend on a build-up of focusing practice.

    1. A very helpful reply. Although my sense of the ‘linking of the three experiences’ had a tentative quality to it (I think) it was a representation of an enduring self and that self’s consecutive experiences.

      Something to reflect on in practice.

      Peter

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