Posted on June 6, 2018

Focusing is a psychotherapeutic technique developed by psychologist and philosopher Eugene Gendlin. Focusing is a way of concentrating on a feeling in the body, on a bodily felt sense, making the body reveal things about what we feel or want. Our body has things to say to us that are beyond words, or better, that we are not able yet to express in words. Here we view the body as a storehouse of experiences.

In the 1950’s Gendlin was exploring what made psychotherapy successful with some patients, or rather, in what way successful patients behaved differently from non-successful patients. He found that the successful patients focused inside themselves on a bodily awareness that held the key to a shift in how they experienced their problems. This is hard to describe. Maybe a sense of “what one is working on”, vague and mysterious, but located somewhere in the body, a kind of intuitive and not yet articulated knowing.

I own a copy of Eugene Gendlin’s book Focusing that I bought long ago, in 1992. Together with my life partner I experimented with the focusing exercises from the book. This opened up a new way for us of exploring uncomfortable feelings and psychological blocks. We found the approach very valuable, we integrated the technique into our repertoire of dealing with difficult emotions. And then I lost the book.

I got reminded of the focusing technique by my (fb) friend Andrew Venezia, who promotes the use of focusing in group meditation sessions. And yesterday I explored behind the first layer in one of my bookshelves, and I found the book again. And I started rereading it, and I marveled again at the subtlety of the approach. Focusing makes you sensitive to vague feelings of discomfort that reside somewhere in the body and that send you subtle signals of distress that can be gently explored, until a shift occurs and healing takes place.

Nowadays there is a worldwide organisation that offers training and certification in focusing. Nothing against that, of course, except that it is one more example of how psychological techniques that deserve to be in the public domain get trade-marked. A psychologist proposes a technique - quite often something that is already well known among practitioners of yoga or meditation - that people can easily experiment with on their own, and before you know it schools mushroom, start to hand out certificates, and issue warnings against non-certified practitioners.

This happened with focussing. It also happened with EMDR, a technique for emotional desensitisation that lets you relive past trauma while staying firmly rooted in the here and now. The EMDR technique is based on a chance observation of Francine Shapiro that moving her eyes from side to side while reprocessing a stressful memory seemed to reduce her negative emotions. EMDR was proposed as a treatment of post traumatic stress syndrome, but for treatment of mild trauma you can easily be your own EMDR therapist: just use this youtube video to get started, and look for further instruction on internet.

You may also wish to join a (kundalini) yoga class, and experience for yourself how yoga - a practice for aligning body and mind - will work miracles for your psychic and physical well-being. Pick out a few of the exercises that seem to work particularly well for you, and make them part of your personal routine. Believe me, if you are basically sane and balanced, experimenting a bit with bodywork exercises or trauma release techniques on your own poses absolutely no danger. Just try out a few things that appeal to you and observe what happens. It is also completely safe to start a meditation practice on your own. The instruction is simple. Set aside a quarter of an hour every day - preferably in the morning - for sitting quietly and doing nothing. Watch your breath and when you get distracted return again to watching your breath. End of instruction.

Sometimes, with all the coaches, teachers, gurus and certified masters around, it looks like we can do nothing on our own. And then it may seem to us that expensive trainings and workshops are absolutely indispensible for our self-development. We should not believe these stories, and we should start doing things for ourselves instead. It is like in the early days of the bicycle, when smart guys opened cycling schools offering expert riding lessons. You don’t need an expert to teach you how to ride a bike. You just have to do it. You don’t need a guru to teach you how to meditate. You just have to make it part of your routine, and stick to it. After doing it for a while, you will start seeing the benefits, or you simply drop the practice if you experience that it does not bring you anything. You will have the added benefit that you realize you can be self reliant. If you need support with your inner development or if you experience a desire to support others, join a group or set up a group yourself. This is all about experience, and about opening up to experience.