“Focusing is a way to access your bodily knowing. Your body picks up more of the other person than you consciously can. Your body also puts out more of yourself than you intend or than you know is visible. Others often react to that rather than to your conscious message. With a little training you can get a feel for your bodily knowing of what is going on.” – Eugene Gendlin, Sitting with Gene at his Leading Edge, March/April 2011 telephone course, Focusing Resources: Berkeley, CA
Welcome. This site is under construction, April 2020. It will be dedicated to exploring Eugene T. Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit and his Focusing practice, especially as they relate to spiritual practice, and Buddhist mindfulness and meditation.
As a meditator, my interest for at least fifty years, has been: “What is this knowing?” and, “Can it be undivided?” So, by the time I formally learned Focusing, I already had a lot of experience in grounding my knowing in the most reliable, undivided, natural and personal activity available – my body. Mindfulness of the body is central in Early Buddhist practice, and in Zen; so the leap was not great. (Through the years, these were my two primary Buddhist paths, and I’ve had some basic Dzogchen training.)
However, what did change, when I was formally taught Focusing was not the interest in those particular questions – it was the language used to open them up and the kind of attention which developed. In the late nineties I entered the realm of Western phenomenology, via the path of Gendlin’s work, and that gave me a whole new language for the territory I had been exploring via Buddhism for the thirty years before, along with some radical subtle inner processes to become intimate with.
Hence, somewhere in the period 1997 to 2000, this question emerged, “What is this space, the focusing space?” I’ll postpone a description of Focusing for another time and page, but if you’re new to the way I’m using that word, you can think of it (for now) as a reliable way of accessing a bodily knowing of situations or problems in your life; a kind of intuitive knowing, or ‘gut’ feeling, which involves a sensing into felt meaning. So, again: a felt-sensing which unfolds subtle aspects of situations which would otherwise remain unclear. In these pages, I’ll spell out lot about the felt sense, and how to bring it into a central place in our lives. (Gendlin, by the way, coined this now common term ‘felt sense’ in the early sixties.)
The question “What is this space where the focusing process occurs?”, then, was, for me, a fresh invitation to sense differently into the ground of knowing. It penetrated into the ground of meaning-making. In fact, Gendlin’s first book announcing the phenomenon of Focusing was Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (1962).
Even though I had innately depended on this kind of consciousness for a very long time, from the period in which I formally acquired the Focusing method, my process of attuning to bodily-felt ‘meaningfulness’ acquired a greater precision.
I’m immeasurably grateful to Eugene Gendlin for the way in which his Focusing and his Philosophy of the Implicit, not ony deepened my awareness of the nature of ‘mind’ (that is, of ‘knowing’) – bringing it greater precision – but also broadened it, making so much more intricacy of experience available in daily interactions. Deep bows to Gene. His work also resolved for me the unclear and widely contentious area in Buddhadharma (and other Indian-based paths) of the ‘personal/impersonal’ distinction. It showed me the way to a Buddhism where being a ‘person’ makes sense.
For a while, after about 2000, I conceived that I had two paths – Focusing and Buddhadharma; however, I avoided then, and still avoid, thinking of my way of living as a synthesis of these two paths. I think that each ‘way’ retains its integrity, while it naturally illuminates the other.
Let me explain that. The ongoing process which allows them to ‘cross’ implicitly with each other is ongoing process which is my ‘body.’ It was therefore inevitable that I would see each one through the eyes of the other, because each changes this body. That process may well look like a synthesis, but such a conclusion will depend on what you want the verb ‘synthesize’ to mean. The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that it means “to put together or combine into a complex whole.” Let’s unpack this a little.
The OED’s kind of ‘putting together’ – the public meaning of ‘synthesis’ – bothers me. The understanding which emerges (never completely) in these pages hasn’t arisen by a ‘putting together’ logical units from each domain – Gendlin’s and the Buddha’s. There’s no ‘combining’ in the building blocks sense of ‘putting together.’ That’s good for Lego, but not for a way of living. Where there has been a process of ‘crossing’ between the two areas, it has been more a cooking in the unconscious (that is, in the body’s ongoing cellular process); and such ‘crossing’ comes from a interaction of thinking and saying with the ‘more’ which the body knows.
This is not simply a conscious thinking process. It’s more like the kind of process that Einstein spoke about, where, it is said, he was guided to the resolution of various contradictions in physics by a “feeling” that there was a resolution. The Theory of Relativity wasn’t ‘put together’ in a simply logical manner. A ‘something’ (…..) in him drew him on and set his course for fifteen years before it crystallized into a theory. Not only did his logical thinking work on the ‘problem area’, but his imagination – his ‘thought experiments’ – played a part, too. It was an interaction of his conscious knowing with his inchoate sense of the direction of the resolution. Yes, he kept coming back to the ‘problems’ – for instance. of acceleration – but he knew that you can’t solve a problem like that at the level that logic works: that is, by rearranging the building-blocks of the ‘already-known.’
If there is a radically new approach to Buddhist practice to emerge from the meeting of East and West, it won’t be due merely to a logical kind of synthesis, a ‘Lego’-style ‘putting together.’ It will cook in the Buddha-womb, the crucible of our daily interactions- that is, in the human body – and it will birth itself organically. It’s more of the nature of a ‘coming together’ than a ‘putting together.’ This is facilitated by our skilful working with what I am calling ‘the focusing space.’
The blog pieces and essays I will write here are the result of more than fifty years of Buddhist practice, and twenty-plus years of Gendlin’s Focusing. These pieces can only be tiny contributions to the ongoing human project of combodying ways to say what ‘This‘ is, and what This ‘has‘ – this, the great Activity we call life. (‘Combodiment’ is Akira Ikemi’s term for the ‘body with.’ I think of it as the body’s inter-being with all and everything.)
This means a fresh way to think and say. As Gendlin has pointed out with his principle of ‘occurring into implying’: our ways of saying are changed even in the activity of saying. We think and speak into the flow of life, we might say. (One reason why we can’t know what we’re saying – because life will say something back!) This particular aspect I had begun to explore in my own life from when I did a meditation retreat with Thich Nhat Hahn in the early 1980s. At that time, I realized that ‘mindfulness’ had to be present even as I spoke. It would not longer to to speak from the usual way of experiencing speaking; from the usual structure of speaking! I can’t say that I progressed in this realization very speedily. However, the insight seeded a sensitivity to the problem; and Gendlin, fifteen years after that retreat, gave me a way into language-use – a way of being with the living acts of thinking and speaking – which further integrated mindfulness.
Our concepts, if resonated with our being, can carry us forward in an organically ordered way. Saying and thinking can be of enormous value; but, paradoxically, we need to loosen up on our theories, our opinions, our saying. We needn’t stop thinking, but we need to think with a sense that there is always more where that thinking comes from, always a ‘next’ movement. That ‘more’ Gendlin indicated with what is known as the Gendlian ellipsis. I call it the matrix of Being, from which we speak, and which always exceeds the speaking. Our saying and thinking can increase its experiential intricacy in us, but it never exhaust it. (Can you see that this flexibility can’t give birth to fundamentalism – whether it be Buddhist, Christian, Judaic, Muslim, or Scientific (also called ‘scientism’).
So the rule of thumb applied in these pages is: However you say something is, it’s otherwise; and yet, where saying and thinking are needed for the life-forward process, say something we must. So return to the inward inexhaustible source of words. The power of our words can come from keeping skilfully in touch, while speaking and thinking, with the felt matrix of our combodiment – a ‘keeping in touch’ which Gendlin calls the ‘zig-zag.’
In the weeks after the Buddha’s ‘enlightenment,’ he sat by the river and reviewed his new understanding of human anguish and the ending of that anguish. He found the words for what was a non-conceptual comprehension. This carried his process forward, and that further process led him to going into the world to teach – both with his new-found presence, and with words which point to the experience in us of freedom from words.
To that end, I offer my thinking and saying to the world, knowing that they will be changed by what they cross with in you. May we carry forward the awakening process together.