David Rome is coming to Chicago to do an Embodied Listening Workshop on March 4 - 6th at the Shambhala Center. He’ll co-lead the workshop with Hope Martin, an Alexander Technique trainer. Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago (ZLMC) is co-sponsoring this weekend and we had some questions for David in preparing for the workshop.
June Tanoue: I have a basic question - your website is called Mindful Focusing - would you tell me what you mean by that?
David Rome: I had been studying Buddhism and practicing meditation for 25 years when I came across Eugene Gendlin's little book Focusing. In it and in the training programs I did after reading it, I discovered what had been a missing link for me in my practice — a way of getting in touch with my feelings at a non-conceptual, bodily level.
It was a missing link for many of my Sangha friends, and after I gained confidence in my own practice of Focusing I began offering trainings at many Shambhala centers and elsewhere.
After doing this for many years, I felt ready to write a guidebook to introduce my way of transmitting the Focusing practice. Since it was inevitably influenced by my many years of mindfulness-awareness meditation, I called my approach Mindful Focusing. Embodied Listening is the name Hope and I use for our co-taught program combining Mindful Focusing, Alexander body awareness, and Buddhist mindfulness-awareness practice.
June: One of our new Zen Life teachers, Dan Giloth has this question for you: Is there a difference between the felt sense and your physical condition, for example if you are physically ill. How do you tell the difference?
David: A "felt sense"-- a concept originally introduced by University of Chicago philosopher and psychologist Eugene Gendlin-- is different from sensations that are purely physical like a sore throat or nausea or fever. Like those, felt senses are experienced in the body, but they are much more subtle and unclear (initially) than physical symptoms — mostly we don't notice them at all.
They also differ from ordinary physical sensations because they always refer to something beyond themselves, an issue or situation or experience present in your life. They are the pre-conceptual, holistic way in which our bodies hold our individual life experiences.
For example, if we notice a heaviness in our shoulders even though we are not carrying anything, it very likely reflects something burdensome or pressure-creating in our lives. By welcoming this sensation into our awareness, without trying to get rid of it, after a while we may get a fresh insight into where this heavy quality is coming from, and often that insight will reveal action steps to deal with the underlying life challenge, steps that we couldn't have found just by thinking about it.
June: My husband and co-founder of ZLMC, Robert Althouse, has this question for you: In Nonviolent Communication “needs awareness” is very important to skillful speech. But the need is always autonomous to the individual. It seems that Eugene Gendlin speaks of needs as well but in a more dynamic way suggesting that the need is in the relational environment. Can you say anything about this and his philosophy of the implicit and the notion of carrying forward?
David: Ah, Roshi, a question worthy of a Zen master! There is no simple answer, but yes for Gendlin anything we experience as living organisms is by definition interactive. Gendlin and Marshall Rosenberg (who created Nonviolent Communication) were both disciples of Carl Rogers and his "person-centered" psychotherapeutic methods. They knew one another and corresponded, and I suspect they would tell us that a person's needs are both autonomous and interactive at the same time.
So there's a koan for you, one we can explore further when I am with you in March. "Carrying forward" is another key concept in Gendlin's philosophy, also not simple to define. It refers, among other things, to the fact that when we have a seemingly insoluble problem or blockage, the body already knows implicitly, though not yet conceptually, what insights or actions or objects would dissolve the problem and allow the life process that has become blocked to resume its organic purpose, i.e., to carry forward.
A gross example is hunger, which can be understood as a blocked organismic need that orients us toward food which, once we obtain it, relieves or releases the hunger pangs. The beauty of the Focusing technique is that we can use it to find forward-moving steps for much less obvious kinds of problems, by inviting and giving friendly attention in our bodies to the subtle felt senses that are, in a way, symptoms of the problem and which, at the same time, implicitly know what steps will unravel it.