Returning to Square One

We live in a complex world, soaked in information and 24-7 hour news cycles that never sleep. Words cannot wait for thoughts. There is no time to reflect and patience has become a professional liability. We are increasingly disembodied and disconnected from ourselves and the natural world. So we're happy to offer as part of our Core Curriculum at the Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, the Gateway Series consisting of three mini-courses in Focusing, Compassionate Communication and Big Mind. I hope these classes will teach you new, important and pracitcal skills for navigating your way in a complex and often fragmented world.

In the 1950's Eugene Gendlin and Carl Rodgers did a study to determine why some people were successful in therapy and others were not. They found that people who were able to connect with their own embodied, non-conceptual experience about the issues that brought them to therapy had better outcomes. Often they did not speak in complete sentences, but in tentative, uncertain phrases such as "I'm not sure how to say this", or they might say one thing, stop and rephrase it another way. Gendlin demonstrated that these people were in touch with an unclear, not fully formed inner sense, a nonverbal inner sense meaning that he simply called a "felt sense".

Recently David Rome, one of the early pioneers of Focusing in the Western Buddhist community published a book called "Your Body Knows the Answer". Though other books have been written on the Focusing process, they have often been done in the context of therapy. David Rome's book brings a refreshing perspective to the process of Focusing in what he calls "Mindful Focusing".

David says "Felt senses are unclear somatic sensations that for the most part go unnoticed, yet they are not wholly unconscious. They can be "found" by bringing a special quality of gentle mindfulness to the zone of subtle bodily experiencing in which they form. When attended to with friendly but dispassionate attention, felt senses that start out vague and indescribable can show up with greater clarity and presence. A felt sense can come alive and offer what it already knows about life situations that you—the conscious, conceptualizing you—don't yet know. Entering into a process of inquiry with the felt sense invites spontaneous flashes of intuitive insight that generate novel perceptions and understandings, leading to fresh solutions to life's challenges."

Integrating mindfulness and Focusing is a powerful way to trust and acknowledge your embodied, non-verbal experience. Instead of being lost in the stories of your conceptual mind which seems to have a life of its own, you can return to square one, and listen to a larger wholeness in your embodied experience that can help move you forward in areas of your life that are often troubling and difficult.

Robert Althouse