Focusing, Enlightenment, and the Presence of God Within

Crossing traditions with each other

a workshop facilitated by Greg Walkerden
August 11, 2002

We can look at this work as showing how the focusing tradition can be elaborated to explicitly include experiences of "enlightenment" and "the Presence of God within". But another way to look at it - and this would be more precise - is to say that in this workshop we will be exploring another schema and practice tradition for holding, for making accessible, kinds of experiencing that have excited Christians and Buddhists (and of course many others) down the ages.

This new approach, coming from Gendlin's work, can be understood as complimenting and supporting Buddhist and Christian practice - rather than as being in competition with them. In Western cultures we often assume, unselfconsciously, that there is one 'sayable truth' that corresponds with the way the world is - and thence that our journey of understanding is one of refining our theories and beliefs so that they get closer and closer to this exactly true description of reality.  When we assume that, alternative models must be understood as conflicting with each other. But familiar experiences suggest that we should understand 'truth' in a different way.

If we (1) think of a person we love, then (2) imagine what we would say to describe them to someone else, then (3) ask how faithful what we would say is to our sense of the whole of our experience of them, the whole of who they are, then (4) typically we feel that there is much more to be said than we have managed to say, and, centrally, that some version of our sense of the whole of who they are has been present all along as we have tried to describe them. We have two kinds of 'rendering' in play here: a description in words and a radically different kind of 'description' in 'feeling' - in felt sense, in a Direct Referent - we have a 'description' in another kind of medium that is very familiar but has rarely been theorised about.

Now, what happens if we take this second kind of rendering as more fundamental than the words that come from it? We can find - as we sometimes do in focusing practice - that we have many things that we want to say from it that are not logically consistent but which are 'true' because they are faithful explications from the 'felt' knowing. So if I make the felt 'meaning' primary, then I can speak of an experience of surprising delight, compassion, wisdom, peace as an experience of the Presence of God, and as an Enlightenment experience, and as a IX Space (or Great Space) experience, and each, because it is speaking from my felt experience, my felt knowing, will be 'true', and each phrase will be bringing out fresh intricacy from my implicit knowing, ... This is a central movement in Gendlin's 'Thinking at the edge' work ... it illustrates the power of using multiple conceptual models. And from here we are not forced to move into one model: we can enrich each model separately in, from, such crossings, carrying forward Gendlin's work, carrying forward Buddhist thought and practice, and carrying forward Christian thought and practice, ... 

First person science

This workshop is based on three key discoveries:

  1. New procedures (practices, micropractices) that are derived from and leverage focusing practice and Gendlin's philosophical work, that support shifting into a deeper, stiller mode of experiencing that is characterised by intense Delight.
  2. That although these kinds of experience may arise in focusing, they can't be adequately described using the conceptual models that Gendlin has used to describe classical focusing experiences (notably chapter VIII of A Process Model and Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning).
  3. That these kinds of experience can be described via a major extension of A Process Model (a notional chapter IX). A Process Model is a model of how simple experiencing can be elaborated into more complex experiencing - roughly: how human experience is an elaboration of animal experience which in turn is an elaboration of plant experience. This extension shows how Wisdom-Compassion-Delight-... can arise as an elaboration of Direct Referencing.

These are discoveries of a 'first person science': a scientific study of first person experiencing as such - a study of how living in the world feels to us, how we can 'navigate', 'create', in complex situations, how we experience "presence".

I find this work exciting for many reasons. Two key ones are:

  1. That by developing an explicit route from Gendlin's research into an explication of these kinds of experiences, we claim them for Western scientific and philosophical research in a new way - as expressions of Western science and philosophy. The edge here is that 'enlightenment experiences' are not simply acknowledged: they are shown as a natural extension of simpler and more familiar kinds of processing. I think deriving these experiences from Gendlin's philosophy and practice provides us with a beachhead from which a further major carrying forward of mainstream Western culture is possible.
  2. That by developing this route as a science, we make it possible for the development of insight in this area to be a collective process - not something dependent on the emergence of virtuoso practitioners.  This, it seems to me, offers great hope to the rest of us.

This work involves three different expressions of 'first person science' - three facets of 'first person psychology':

  1. the evolution of a practice tradition to support us living our lives with greater wisdom and love; the practice tradition provides the methods through which experiencing is investigated and findings generated;
  2. development of theories, models, which 'hold' the findings from practice, and which in turn generate new questions for experiential research, which in turn support evolution of the practice tradition; and
  3. the evolution of research into the nature of practice traditions ... in which questions like 'how do different kinds of practice instruction work?' and 'what kinds of experiencing are foregrounded in different practice traditions?' have a central place.

One movement that I have given a central place in my 'first person science' research is illustrated in a story that Gendlin tells in Focusing Oriented Psychotherapy (p271-2):

"When I understood her I responded [...]:

T: Don't decide. Just ask for what would be right, and leave it open what that would be.

C: I don't want to integrate; I just want whatever is right.

It brought relief. At certain times now, when she feels inwardly caught, she says, 'I just want whatever is right', and it frees her. [...]

Affirming an unknown but physically felt rightness is a usefulprocedure." What the client does here is take a way of moving that has worked once for her as an instance, as an instance of a helpful way of moving.  What worked once becomes a micropractice that she uses freshly in new situations where she feels "inwardly caught".

Now, focusing is a particularly rich medium from which to derive micropractices because it is what a Buddhist would describe as a "without form" practice - a practice in which a great deal of openness to and trust in the practitioner's own process carrying forward is assumed. Gendlin describes the focusing steps as like a "rope through the jungle" that we let go of, as we become familiar with the fundamental kind of processing that the explicit steps support, point to. Now, my experience, like that of many others, is that some of the experiences that occur have a different character from focusing as usual - they have these surprising depths of delight, compassion, wisdom, peace, and so on. So what I have done with these is developed out of these instances a repertoire of micropractices that support
shifting into this deeper mode of processing. In my own practice I am at a point where, when I think of doing so, I can make shifts of this kind quite reliably. From a first person science point of view I am very curious about how well the instructions I use myself support others as they experiment with making this kind of shift themselves.   So from this perspective, this workshop is itself a chunk of first person science research.

In this workshop we will experiment with some of these practices, using key concepts from A Process Model to help orient us. An example which may convey some of the potential of this approach is the following.

In A Process Model Gendlin's central metaphor for how new kinds of experiencing emerge is "pausing and doubling". Stopped process - a process that is iterating, paused, unable to carry forward - is the platform for major movements forward in consciousness, awakening; when a process stops, we reiterate, we pulse - this is an active carrying of the stopped process which Gendlin calls "pausing" - and this pulsation, because it is so repetitious, can function as a registry - fine differentiations in the pulsing convey new 'information' about the 'place' where experiencing as usual has paused: an experience of a new kind of 'space' can emerge. For example Direct Referencing (feeling 'felt senses') comes from finding that we don't have a word that fits what we want to say ... our speaking pauses ... Up till now our feeling of the 'meaning' of what we have been saying has not been foregrounded - our words have been in the limelight. But now we may begin to feel the 'meaning' that, so far, no words fit as such ... If we feel the meaning as such, then there has been a "jelling": a Direct Referent (felt sense) has "fallen out" in a new kind of "space". The emerging of the new kind of 'meaning' in a new kind of 'space' Gendlin calls a "doubling": the earlier process continues on, iterating - we are actively "pausing" - I am feeling the social situation in which I am poised to speak - but a new kind of "space" emerges also, so I am experiencing two kinds of "space", the social space, and the new kind of space we experience in focusing which is about what it is like to be "in" this social situation. My process has "doubled" - I am experiencing both the 'social space' I am in, and the new space in which the 'objects' ('felt senses') which fall out are "about" my being in the social space - a new kind of experience of 'meaning' has emerged.

Gendlin uses television as an analogy. The underlying process in a television display is projecting a series of straight lines on a screen. We see images of people etc because, in the television, a process that is receiving the television station's transmissions and a process that is projecting lines cross. We can look at the display on the television screen as either lines being projected, just in a somewhat different way, or as the image of people in conversation.  There is one process occurring - the television displaying - but its meaning is "doubled": it is both 'displaying lines', and 'representing people'.

Now, if "pausing and doubling" is the fundamental shift through which new kinds of processing emerge, we can ask, how might focusing come to be experienced as "pausing" so that a new kind of registry might emerge, in which we might have new kinds of experience about how being a person focusing 'feels' ('feels' in a new sense, in a new way)?  When it first occurred to me to ask this kind of question while I was focusing, my experience was as follows:

Now, Wouldn't it be a blessing if in some special way our focusing process was a stopped process? What might form in this space? I ask: how is Direct Referencing a stopped process?

Stopped as: it is reiterating this loving of: moving forward, carrying forward in VIII space stopped in: reiterating: unfolding carrying forward Reiterating in our sense of: loving carrying forward, loving carrying forward, loving (this VIII) carrying forward

So what registers in this loving carrying forward?
And what new kind of 'awareness' opens up here?
What new kind of 'environment', and occurring, and ...?

Sense (comes for me):
deep stillness,
deep gladness,
trust, ...

When we take this experience as an instance, it gives us the bones of a schema for a fundamental way in which one can drop into a kind of processing that is 'deeper' than classical focusing. The main steps are:

  1. Noticing a way in which, as we are focusing, we are "pausing", iterating; that is, noticing a (possible) 'registry' in our processing. Examples from my experience include loving the feeling of carrying forward by Direct Referencing, feelings of greater spaciousness, and resting in 'comingness' - how everything we experience is coming to us, coming, coming, coming, ... These ways of noticing how our experience of focusing is an experience of pausing involve a kind of figure / ground shift within our Direct Referencing process: we heed iterating aspects of our Direct Referencing, rather than heeding changing aspects, such as a series of felt shifts.
  2. We "hold" this (possible) registry constant - feeling the iterating, heeding the iterating - waiting to see if a new experience of 'meaning', a new kind of 'space', will fall out. At first this is not easy to do, because we are accustomed to continually moving forward in focusing - allowing Direct Referents to shift, carry forward, bring fresh insight in familiar ways.
  3. As we grasp how to experience focusing as "pausing", we can relax into "letting", allowing a new kind of experience of 'meaning', a new kind of 'space', to fall out. We cannot "make" a new space emerge, a new experience of meaning fall out, we can only allow it to fall out ... but as we grow more skilled at living Direct Referencing as pausing, we may find that a new experience of how it feels to be a Direct Referencing being falls out, we experience ourselves as Direct Referencing beings as such.

In the workshop we will work through some practices like this slowly, exploring experientially how Gendlin's terms are a good fit for how feeling felt senses arises in, and through, social life, and then experimenting with how a new kind of experiencing may, in an analogous fashion, arise in, and through, focusing practice.

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