Focusing: Find out what is bothering you

Video demo: Gendlin's Focusing Process

Focusing On the Creative Edge

Intuitive Focusing is one-half of the two Core Skills you are learning here. Focusing can be used any time to find out what is bothering you. Focusing specializes in sitting with the vague, wordless intuitive sense that there is something….something you can’t quite put your finger on or put into words, but something definitely determining your behavior or how you feel or the inkling of an idea or solution……

Focusing can be used not just for personal problem-solving but for sitting with The Creative Edge of anything: a piece of creative art or writing, an exciting professional problem to solve, a good feeling that has a spiritual edge…

The Crux of Change

In the 1960’s research showed that the single most important variable in predicting success in psychotherapy was, not what the therapist was doing, but the client’s own ability to speak from present, felt experiencing rather than intellectualization. Eugene Gendlin decided we’d better learn how to teach that skill to people. He called it Focusing and broke it down into six steps for teaching it in a self-help way. His book, Focusing (Bantam, 1981), has been translated into over 15 languages and is used throughout the world. Focusing-Oriented Therapy incorporates Focusing into the psychotherapy process.

Description of Gendlin’s Six Step Focusing Process

First, I will describe Gendlin’s  process, then I will walk you through some actual instructions below. Here are Gendlin’s six steps for use of this inner, meditation-like problem-solving process in a self-help way:

  1. Clearing a Space: setting aside the jumble of thoughts, opinions, and analysis we all carry in our minds, and making a clear, quiet space inside where something new can come.
  2. Getting a Felt Sense: asking an open-ended question like “What is the feel of this whole thing (issue, situation, problem)?” and, instead of answering with one’s already-known analysis, waiting silently as long as a minute for the subtle, intuitive, “bodily feel” of “the whole thing” to form.
  3. Finding a Handle: carefully looking for some words or an image that begin to capture the “feel of the whole thing,” the Felt Sense, The Creative Edge: “It’s ‘jumpy;’” “It’s scared;” “It’s like the dew of a Spring morning;” “It’s like macaroni and cheese – comforting,” “It’s like jet propulsion! Something new that needs to spring forth!”
  4. Resonating and Checking: taking the Handle words or image and holding them against the Felt Sense, asking “Is this right? Is it ‘jumpy’?”, etc. Finding new words or images if needed until there is a sense of “fit” – “Yes, that’s it. Jumpy.”
  5. Asking: asking open-ended questions (questions that don’t have a “Yes” or “No” or otherwise fixed  or “closed” answer) like “And what is so hard about that?” or “And why does that have me stuck?” or “What was so beautiful about that moment?” or “And how does this apply to everything else?” and, again, instead of answering with already-known analysis, waiting silently for the whole-body-sense, the Felt Sense, to arise.

At each Asking, the Focuser also goes back to steps (2), (3) and (4) as necessary, waiting for the Felt Sense to form,  finding Handle words, Resonating and Checking until there is a sense of “fit”: “Yes, that’s it.” This often physically-felt experience of tension release and easing in the body, this sense of having found the right words, is called a Felt Shift by Gendlin.

Dr. McGuire, calls it a Paradigm Shift. It can be a small step of “Yes, that’s it” or a larger unfolding, a huge insight, with many pieces of the puzzle suddenly falling into place, with a flow of new words and images and possible action steps. Sometimes there is also a flood of tears of acknowledgment and relief or the release of other pent-up emotions.

  • Receiving: at each new step, each Felt Shift,  taking a moment to sit with the new “intuitive feel,” simply acknowledging and appreciating your own inner knowing for this new insight. Then, you can start again at step (5), Asking another open-ended question, (“And what is so important about this?”; “And why did that have me stuck?”; “And where does my mother come into all of this?”, etc.). And, again, step (2), waiting for the Felt Sense to form, step (3) finding a Handle, step (4) Resonating and Checking until there is a Felt Shift, a sense of “That’s it.”

You can always use “Clearing a Space” from the FREE Instant “Ahah!”s Mini-Manual as a first step of Focusing, especially if you have a difficult time relaxing, being able to feel your body from the inside. Clearing a Space is particularly handy if you walk around with your body like cement a lot of the time!! However, a formal Clearing a Space takes a good twenty minutes, just in itself.

However, there are less time-consuming ways to get ready to start Focusing, “clearing a space” through relaxation or imagery work. We’ll give one of those a try below. The CD in our Self-Help Package, Complete Focusing Instructions (or the free download, Complete Focusing Instructions), includes many exercises for relaxation and imagery work as a first step of Intuitive Focusing.

A First Attempt: Find Out What Is Bothering You

Set aside at least 30 minutes for this first attempt. Remember, Focusing is a skill usually taught in 10 two-hour classes or two weekend workshops ---so, if it doesn’t work for you immediately, don’t give up! Find a nearby teacher from the Focusing Institute Listings or arrange for phone sessions with Dr. McGuire or another Creative Edge Consultant.

But, some people are natural Focusers and just say, “Oh, yes. I’ve been doing this all my life. Now, I can just do it better, more predictably, whenever I want. Give it a try:

(You can read the instructions below to yourself now or into a tape recorder for playback -- or purchase the Self-Help Package with Focusing Instruction CD. Leave at least one minute of silence between each instruction)

Step One: Clearing A Space (Relaxation exercise in this case)

Okay…first, just get yourself comfortable…feel the weight of your body on the chair…loosen any clothing that is too tight….
(one minute…)

Spend a moment just noticing your breathing….don’t try to change it….just notice the breath going in….and out…..
(one minute…)

Now, notice where you have tension in your body (pause)…..
(one minute…)

Now, imagine the tension as a stream of water, draining out of your body through your fingertips and feet (Pause)….
(one minute…)

Let yourself travel inside of your body to a place of peace…..
(one minute…)

Step Two: Getting A Felt Sense

Now, bring to mind an incident or a situation that was troublesome for you this week (pause as long as necessary)…Think about it or get a mental image of it……
(one minute…)

Now, try to set aside all of your thoughts about the situation, and just try to bring back the feeling you had in that situation (pause)….not words, but the “intuitive feel” of yourself in that situation……
(one minute)

Step Three: Finding A Handle

Now, carefully try to find words or an image for that feeling……

Step Four: Resonating and Checking

Go carefully back and forth between any words and the “intuitive feel of the whole thing” until you find words or an image that are just right for it……..
(one minute…)

Step Five: Asking

Now, gently ask yourself, “What is so hard about this situation for me?”, and wait, at least a minute, to see what comes in your wordless intuition, your whole-body sense….

Again, carefully find words or an image that exactly fit that whole feeling…..going back and forth until the symbols are “just right.”
(one minute…)

Now, imagine what the situation would be like if it were perfectly all right……
(one minute…)

Now, ask yourself, “What’s in the way of that?” and, again, don’t answer from your head, what you already know, but wait, as long as a minute, for something new to come in the center of your body, more like a wordless intuition or whole-body sense………
(one minute…)

Again, carefully find words or an image for that, “whatever is in the way”…..go back and forth until the symbols are “just right.”
(one minute…)

Now, see if you can find some small step you might be able to take to move yourself in a positive direction….again, don’t answer from your head, the already known, but wait as much as a minute for the wordless, intuitive “feel,” the bodily felt sense of an answer to arise……..
(one minute…)

Take a moment, again, to carefully find words or an image for this possible next step…..go back and forth until the symbols are “just right.”
(one minute…)

Check with your “intuitive feel,” “Is this right? Is this really something I could try doing?”…If your “intuitive feel” says, “Yes (some sense of release, relaxation), I could try that,” then you can stop here. If your “felt sense”  says “No, I can’t do that” or “That won’t work,” then ask yourself again, “What small step in the positive direction would work?”, again, waiting quietly, as much as a minute for an intuitive answer to arise, then making words or an image for it…….going back and forth until the symbols are “just right.”
(one minute…)

Step Six: Receiving

Keep at this as long as you are comfortable, but, if no clear next step arises, just remind yourself that, at least you have gotten a clearer sense of the problem, and, because you have spent Focusing time with “the whole thing,” maybe later something new will pop up….
(one minute or more…)

Appreciate yourself and your body for taking time with this, trusting that taking time is the important thing -- solutions can then arise later.
(one minute…)

Remember, Intuitive Focusing is often taught as a twenty-hour course, so don’t be discouraged if you didn’t experience a dramatic Paradigm Shift this first time. Work through the Mini-Manual and Complete Focusing Instructions downloads, with support and help from our e-newsletter and e-discussion list, order the Self-Help Package with manual, CD, and DVD, or purchase Focusing Coaching by phone.

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.