The Perspective of ‘Interaction First’

Sometime I wonder at humans: We say we love nature, and yet we destroy our living, breathing, miraculous planet. What’s the basis of our estrangement from nature?

It wasn’t that it was a miracle turnaround for me, discovering that I could trust my body had some sense of how I, the whole individual, was situated. The gap between words and reality was so great for me, then, that it took several years of patient work – meditation, yoga, gardening, and artistic  activities (mainly, in those days, haiku and photography) – to ground myself, and to retrieve my social body. This body is organic, it is nature. Nature has its timely processes of unfolding, processes which this body knows because it is such processes. From that time, it took me twenty years, at least, to truly grasp how to be in the world – and they were all years of unlearning the false views, of learning that combodiment is our natural condition (Ikemi, 2014).

It does seem to me that, from the perspective of living as an individual, the body is primary. There’s been a great deal of confusion in English-speaking culture about this. The individual mind is regularly separated from a so-called physical body. The usual medical model body is definitely  not what gave me the support to emerge from my distress in that period. It was this sentient body – a sensitive, knowing body, living forward from its inherence (indwelling) in nature. And, by ‘nature’ I mean Being, not just – though I bow to them – not just rocks and trees. Even to say ‘rock’ is to take on the scientist’s ‘over there’ third-person kind of orientation to knowing. That we do this in respect of our bodies is quite useful in certain contexts, such as when in medical situations. However, that it is our dominant mode of thinking about our bodies is tragic. We lose so much genius, which is right here; and, we separate from nature.

Indeed, Gendlin places this interaction with the universe, the big whatever-this-is,  first. He speaks of ‘interaction first’ as an important principle of his philosophy.

A Natural Process

Focusing, in a formal sense, has been in my life for nearly twenty years. On the other hand, informally, trusting my felt sense has been with me since a crisis in 1975. Recently, I heard a Buddhist teacher describing a kind of human process, one that you could trust in meditation and mindfulness. It sounded so like Focusing that I asked him: “What do you call that, in Buddhist terms?” His answer was: “Wisdom.”

What I experienced in 1975 was a hiatus in my usual language-use. Until then, I had somehow had the conviction that there was some kind of dependable correspondence between words and experience. It was an unexamined assumption. Now, I could use words in the ordinary way, the way in which normally people used them (that is, with unexamined philosophical beliefs); but, internally I was in a state of utter perplexity (to put it mildly) about this – to what exactly did words refer? This was just at the beginning of the post-modern boom; and, partly, at least, my crisis was a symptom of my era. It seemed to me that words only got their meaning from other words, but that didn’t make any sense. It still doesn’t, but now I have a good grasp on how meaning happens.

What I did, at that time, was to say, “Well, this body is an integral part of the universe – of the “here, there, and everywhere,” as the Beatles said it. So, I thought, “If I have to make any life-decision of any import, I will check in with the universe, sensing into my bodily feel of how to proceed.” (Apart from having been meditating for eight years, and training myself in mindfulness, so too my intuition had probably had some training by intuitively reading the I Ching, using the sticks method. I had a kind of faith in nature. Indeed I grew up in the bush, and this might have helped, too.)

Twenty years later, I discovered Gendlin’s great method. It was a mind-blower, because here someone had actually articulated how the process (which I had stumbled upon, in ’75) works, and he had worked out six clear steps for people to become familiar with their “felt sense.” He called it Focusing. I began a new phase, by getting more precise about the felt-sensing process through Gene’s book Focusing.  Later, I read his Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, and the amazing A Process Model.  – two books that provide a language for intricately understanding this natural process. Thank you, Gene Gendlin, and all the Focusing community.