Focusing = Reflecting Before Acting or Reacting

The radical contribution of Gendlin’s Focusing (Bantam, 1981) and McGuire’s Creative Edge Focusing ™ is that the problem solver makes the explicit choice to pause and take some moments for silent reflecting before acting or reacting.

Instead of simply repeating past reactions, the Focuser can create new, completely innovative solutions and behaviors from the “intuitive feel” of the whole situation.

A quiet pause is needed in order to sense into the “intuitive feel,” The Creative Edge, of problems. Whether in private or in group decision making settings, these opportunities for pauses to contact and articulate the Creative Edge are what allow the creation of totally new ideas and solutions. No pauses, no creation of the new!!!!!

Using the PRISMS/S Focusing Process is like passing light through a prism. A few moments of pondering, and The Creative Edge opens into a whole spectrum of new possibilities and action steps.

Focusing = Pausing To Ponder: From Problems To Possibilities

The PRISMS/S Focusing Process includes seven ingredients of predictable “Ahah!” experiences using Creative Edge Focusing ™. With its Core Skills of Intuitive Focusing and Focused Listening , PRISMS/S is based upon Eugene Gendlin A Theory of Personality Change” and his Focusing self-help book (Bantam, 1981), as well as Dr. McGuire’s thirty years of  experience integrating Listening/Focusing skills into task-oriented groups and supportive communities.

PRISMS/S can be used on one’s own or with the help of Focused Listening in a Creative Edge Focusing Partnership, Focusing Group or Team, or Focusing Community. In any case, problem solving goes through the following steps:

Pausing :  Clearing A Space for Problem Identification
Reflecting: Listening To Oneself or Focused Listening from Another 
Intuitive Focusing:  Back-and-Forth Between Symbols and Intuition
Shifting:  The Kaleidoscope Turns And A New Paradigm Arises
Movement:  Innovative Solutions and Action Steps Arise Spontaneously
Satisfaction:  Tension Releases in the Sureness of “Ahah! That’s It!”
Support: Listening/Focusing Partnerships Build Empathy and Community

Pausing:  Clearing A Space For Problem Identification  

As the first step of PRISMS/S, the Focuser sits down and takes a quiet moment to pay attention to the “intuitive feel,” the Creative Edge of consciousness.

Right-brain Problem Solving Is Non-Linear

Right-brain problem solving is non-linear. Wherever you start, you may find totally new directions, ideas, possibilities arising. This is exactly what you want!!!! But it means a relaxation around having to know exactly what the problem is and how it is going to come out before you begin!

  • Sometimes you think you know exactly what problem you want to work on.
  • Or, in a business setting, your boss may hand you a problem to solve out of the blue, and you have no idea where to begin, how to approach it.
  • Other times, you just know there is a problem, your whole body is tense, you can’t sleep, but you have no idea what it is about
  • Sometimes you have an“inkling,” an “intuition,” (see Gladwell, Blink, 2005 ) but you can’t put it into words.
  • Sometimes you have a “hunch” about what to do, an action you want to take, but you can’t find any words, any reasons to justify it.
  • You might have the “feel” of a forgotten night-time dream.
  • You might have an uncomfortable feeling left from an interaction with someone.
  • You might know exactly what you want to do but find yourself blocked, unable to move forward.
  • You might have a strong feeling of anger, anxiety, sadness, or even joy, and want to know what it’s about
  • Or you might have no feelings, no creative ideas, feel like a flat piece of concrete
  • Or you might feel totally stressed out, confused, overwhelmed….

Whether you have identified the problem intellectually, in a left-brain way, or, instead, identified an “intuitive feel” you want to explore, a right-brain process, the first step of PRISMSS is the same…….

Pausing To Ponder = Focusing

Stop, sit down in a comfortable place where you will have from ten to 30 minutes for quiet reflection, and take some time to “Clear A Space” inside, to leave the “already known” in your left-brain thinking and find the quiet way to right-brain problem solving, exploring the “intuitive feel,” The Creative Edge of any problem or situation.

Gendlin (Focusing, Bantam, 1981) and others have called this first step “Clearing A Space.”  “Clearing” can be through the formal Clearing A Space Inventory Procedure in our “Instant Ahah!”s Mini-Manual  or through the Meditation, Relaxation, or Imagery procedures found in our Free Focusing Instructions. All have the effect of quieting conscious, left-brain problem solving and “making a space inside” for right-brain intuition, for paying attention to, sitting with, pondering the “intuitive feel” of a problem or situation.

Reflecting: Listening to Oneself or Focused Listening From Another

A few moments of reflecting instead of re-acting can keep you from making the same old mistake, missing The Creative Edge, hurting another person.

Using PRISMS/S Focusing Alone or With A Focused Listening Helper

As you pause for problem identification using PRISMS/S, an early decision is whether you are going to use PRISMS/S alone, on your own, or whether you are going to arrange for Focused Listening help from another. This decision will depend upon your personal preference, how much time you have, and your resources in terms of trained Listening Partners.

Self-Reflecting: The Inner Focusing Relationship

Some people find it easy to close their eyes, drop down inside, and “focus upon” a problem or intuition silently, on their own. While “natural focusers” are not aware of it, what they actually do is “ponder” upon a problem, asking the “intuitive feel” of the problem questions (“Is it this?” “Would this work?” “Does this image capture the ‘feel’ of it all?”), waiting to see how the “intuitive feel” responds,  and going back and forth between the right-brain “intuitive feel” and the left-brain symbolizations attempting to capture it.

The natural focuser, the intuitive genius like Einstein, actually sets up a dialogue inside between an Inner Listener, asking questions,  and an Inner Focuser, responding to questions by pondering at the Creative Edge and looking for words and images or gestures to capture that “intuitive feel.” When a problem is placed on the “back burner” of the mind, this pondering goes on in the background, until an innovative solution “surprisingly bubbles up.”  In this case, the Focuser is actually reflecting him or herself, engaging in “Self-Reflecting.”

Some people can create this inner interaction completely internally, but others set up creative ways to “reflect themselves to themselves”  by

  • Journaling
  • Typing a memo to themselves and reading it back
  • Drawing pictures to symbolize aspects of the inner process
  • “Dancing” the process through creating body postures or gestures which symbolize it

 These “artistic creations,” as expressions of a person’s inner world, can serve to “reflect back” and help articulate the inner process.

Reflecting by Another: Focused Listening

However, some people either find it difficult or simply not nourishing and “fun” to use PRISMS/S on their own. They thrive on the company of another person as an outside Listener who can help with Self-Reflecting. Most people find it hard to learn “Focusing” from Gendlin’s Focusing book alone. Often, people say, “Gosh, I know this is important, but I haven’t the vaguest idea what he is talking about or how to do it.” Focusing Training or Focusing Coaching provide that initial training with an external Focused Listener which helps an individual to set up the self- reflecting relationship within his or her  inner world.

Especially important, the external Focused Listener can help the Focuser to recognize the inner Critics and habitual patterns of thinking which shut down access to The Creative Edge.  With increased time and practice, that friendly, non-judgmental Focused Listener gets taken inside, helping to establish the Inner Listener.

Having Focused Listening Help Available

So, a first decision, once you have decided to use PRISMSS to pause and ponder at The Creative Edge, is “Would I like an external Focused Listener to help with reflecting?” or “Would I like to sit down and spend Intuitive Focusing time on my own, with my Inner Listener?”

It helps to know that there are trained Focused Listeners available. In an organizational setting or Focusing Community, the Creative Edge Focusing ™ model includes training everyone and setting up weekly Focusing Partnerships and Focusing Group/Team meetings to support ongoing innovative problem solving from The Creative Edge.

Individuals can also establish an email or phone relationship with a Creative Edge Focusing coach, paying a fee in order to have an expert Focused Listener on hand for consultation and problem solving.

If Intuitive Focusing is being used for emotional support and personal growth, then training can take place in classes or weekend workshops or within existing support groups. Every participant learns Focused Listening  as well as Intuitive Focusing.  Participants can continue on to become a Focusing Group or Focusing Community and to set up weekly Focusing Partnerships and Focusing Group or Community meetings for the ongoing equal exchange of  Listening/ Focusing turns.

Individuals can also contract with a CE Focusing Consultant or Certified Focusing Professional for individual focusing training or with a Focusing-Oriented Therapist or Experiential Focusing Therapist for psychotherapy, which, in some cases, would be covered by health insurance. Links to trainers world-wide are in our Free Resources section.

Intuitive Focusing: Finding Words and Images for the “Intuitive Feel”

Core Skill: Intuitive Focusing

Now, we get to the Core of the PRISMS/S Focusing Process. Whether with the help of an external Focused Listener or working on your own, “listening” to yourself, Intuitive Focusing (drawn from Gendlin’s Six-Step Focusing Process)  is a specific, step-wise procedure for:

  • locating the “intuitive feel” of an issue, The Creative Edge
  • paying attention to that “intuitive feel”
  • carefully looking for words or images or gestures or other symbolizations that might exactly “capture” that “intuitive feel”
  • checking these symbolizations against the “intuitive feel”
  • asking open-ended questions that lead you deeper into problem solving
  • going back and forth in this way until you find symbols which exactly capture the Creative Edge.

Learning Intuitive Focusing

You can try Intuitive Focusing immediately under Instant “Ahah!”s in the sidebar, choosing “Focusing: Find Out What’s Bothering You”. You can click on the Free Instant “Ahah!s” Mini-Manual for exercises for using Intuitive Focusing on blocks to creativity and for experiencing the Sacred. And you can download our Free Complete Focusing Instructions.

Especially if you are a “natural focuser,” you may immediately have a positive experience. You might say “Gosh! I’ve been doing this all my life. I just never knew what it was. These instructions help me do it better.”

However, don’t be surprised if you read the instructions and try the exercise and feel confused, or no interesting “intuitive feel” or problem solving happens. Almost everyone learns Intuitive Focusing easier if they start out with an external Focused Listener. So, attend a class, hire a coach, or use our Self-Help Package to start a Focusing Partnership or a Focusing Group/Team. You can then practice Intuitive Focusing with the help of a Focused Listener and build a group of Focused Listeners you can draw on.

When you are ready, you can use PRISMS/S on your own at any time for problem solving at The Creative Edge.

Shifting: Experiential “Ahah!” as The Paradigm Shifts, The Gestalt Changes

Paradigms =Cognitive/Emotional/Behavioral Schemata

The “intuitive feel,” The Creative Edge, contains a huge wealth of right-brain Wisdom that cannot be put into words, all at once, but which is very real and an important part of the whole picture determining behavior and possibilities for change and creativity. It contains everything that you know on an “intuitive” level about any situation or issue : all your past experiences, everything you know about the present situation, everything you have imagined in terms of future problem solving and solutions…..

Until new symbolizations are found for the “intuitive feel,” The Creative Edge, the edge of a problem or situation which is pointing into future solutions, we may experience ourselves as “stuck” in an old Paradigm, an old way of seeing the situation. Often, we experience this “stuckness” as a physical tension, as “stress” or as repetitive behaviors which won’t change no matter how hard we consciously try.

A  paradigm is like a template developed from previous experiences that we subconsciously lay over a present, new experience. Such “templates” or “schemata” include thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, all pre-determined by past experiences (Greenberg and Safran, Emotion in Psychotherapy, Guilford, 1987). When a paradigm shifts, new, innovative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors all become possible.

The Focusing Kaleidoscope Turns

As well as using the image of a prism opening a problem into a spectrum of possibilities, Dr. McGuire also uses the image or symbolism of a kaleidoscope for the kind of change that occurs using PRISMS/S. We all know how a slight turn of a kaleidoscope presents an entirely new view of the pieces inside.

Similarly, when we find new symbolizations for The Creative Edge through the back-and-forth of Intuitive Focusing, the kaleidoscope turns, and all the pieces fall together in a completely new, completely unique pattern. The entire Gestalt changes, and, out of this new way of seeing the problem or situation, entirely new ideas, solutions, action steps, and emotions can arise.

When the kaleidoscope turns, there is a physical experience of tension release and easy forward movement toward solutions.  Gendlin calls this a “felt shift” and says that the “felt sense” has been “carried forward” to a new living. His Philosophy of the Implicit explains how this can happen. PRISMS/S will allow you to experience such Paradigm Shifts first hand.

Buy a kaleidoscope and keep it on your desk as a reminder!

Movement: Innovative Ideas, Action Steps, Win/Win Solutions Arise

New Possibilities Arise Naturally

When the kaleidoscope turns, suddenly you can perform behaviors that were impossible before. You can be in the same situations but not experience the same old anger or sadness or shyness. You can solve problems that seemed irresolvable before, and you wonder why you didn’t see the solution, it seems so obvious

You do not have to consciously figure out all the new possibilities. Because the
kaleidoscope has turned, the Paradigm has shifted, the Gestalt has changed, new options suddenly become visible and possible.  There they are, sometimes with a sense of, “Yes, on some level I knew this was the way through.”

“Global Application” Happens Over Days

This process of new options arising can sometimes last over several days. Gendlin calls it “global application.” More new ideas or connections or possibilities continue to bubble up. As you live out of the new Paradigm, new behaviors and feelings simply happen. Again, in some large or small way, your world has shifted on its axis, and everything is new.

Satisfaction: Sureness, Tension Release, Experiential Knowledge of “That’s It!”

Being sure: “Yes, that is exactly right!” 

When PRISMS/S is successful, symbols are found which exactly capture the “intuitive feel,” and conscious and subconscious, right- and left-brain come together in a physically-experienced “Yes, that is exactly it!!!”, an “Ahah!” experience.

Sometimes it takes many small “Ahah!”s, many small steps to solve a problem. Sometimes there is a big “Ahah!” and an immediate flood of new insights and solutions. In either case, there is an experiential, “felt” response of “Yes, that is exactly right!”

Physically-Experienced Stress Relief

Intuitive Focusing, with the accompanying “felt shifts” or Paradigm Shifts, is deeply relaxing and satisfying. Whether a complete solution is found or only some step along the way – even just the conscious recognition of the exact words for the “problem” – something shifts inside, and tension becomes peace and relaxation. Like a “power nap,” 20 minutes of PRISMS/S can have a powerful effect on future performance. And, unlike after a “nap,” you’ll have some steps of problem solving to show for your time!

Along with the physically-felt tension release and relaxation, the “sureness” of physically-experienced “Ahah!”s is deeply satisfying. You know, with confidence, that you are on a path toward the problem resolution inherent in the “whole thing,” the right-brain intuitive Wisdom that is more than can be consciously known all at once.

Actual Change In Problem Situations

While relaxation and other stress-reduction methods do not change actual situations, PRISMS/S results in Paradigm Shifts. Stressful situations are actually changed and resolved. Self-defeating behaviors are changed. Irresolvable conflicts are resolved. The stress reduction from PRISMS/S is real and it is lasting.

Of course, there are no guaranteed miracles. Sometimes it takes many PRISMS/S sessions to completely figure out some especially murky interaction or to solve a long-term problem or to change deeply engrained behaviors. But, with Intuitive Focusing, whether alone or with the company of a Focused Listener, with every step along the way, there is this “felt sense” of rightness, of being on the right track, of moving forward toward solution. You are not just “guessing.”

Support: Listening/Focusing Partnerships Build Empathy and Community

Respecting Diversity

PRISMS/S has a double “S”’ at the end. The extra “S,” the second byproduct of PRISMS/S, is support. When Intuitive Focusing is practiced in the presence of a Focused Listener, not only does problem solving, shifting, and  tension release happen, but, as the Listener shares step-by-step in the Focuser’s inner journey, deep feelings of empathy, respect for uniqueness, and the experience of  common humanity are experienced between the two people.

The exchange of Listening/Focusing turns in Focusing Partnerships or Focusing Groups/Teams builds feelings of “community,” of commitment and mutual care. Participants in a Focusing Partnership become allies in creativity, compatriots in personal growth, united in the common cause of advancing the community or organization they belong to.

Creating a Focusing Culture of Creativity

When the new President of Chile was asked just after the election “What are you going to do for Chile?,” she responded,  “I’m going to create love.”  While we don’t like to talk about creating love, building community within our businesses and organizations, in fact, this is exactly what we want. We want people to want to come to work, to care about their coworkers and the goals of the organization, to be hungry to create new ideas and solutions, to have satisfying home lives that support rather than drain their energy. We want to “create love,” and nothing does it better and more simply than the exchange of Listening/Focusing turns.

These feelings of community are part of The Culture of Creativity fostered within Creative Edge Organizations. This “creating love” might be an obvious outcome of emotional support groups, where people share from their deep feelings about their personal life. But, it happens the same way when people share their creative thinking and problem solving within a Creative Edge Organization.


Want to learn more about Focused Listening and Intuitive Focusing?

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These materials are offered purely as self-help skills. In providing them, Dr. McGuire is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.