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Focusing and the Spiritual Life

by John Amodeo, Ph.D.

This article was first published in the Focusing Connection (http://www.focusingresources.com/tfc.html)

Many people involved in Focusing are keenly interested in Buddhism and other spiritual paths. And it's no wonder. Both Focusing and Buddhism address the issue of being present to our life as it is felt right now. Both are interested in bringing caring and compassion to our moment to moment experience. Both are geared toward reducing human anguish - not by bypassing feelings, but by attending to them just as they are. Both encourage us to trust the wisdom of our own experience, rather than rely upon external authority to tell us what is true or right.

Buddhism and other spiritual paths are often misunderstood as paths of transcendence leaving the personal behind and merging into some nirvanic state that delivers us beyond the ordinary and everyday state of affairs. But as meditation teacher Jack Kornfield put it, after the ecstasy there's the laundry. There's the day to day living and relating to others, as well as relating to our own life of feelings, needs, and wants.

If spirituality is about transcending, it's about transcending our narcissism. Going beyond self-absorption means participating more intimately with the life that flourishes all around us. It means being available for life and seeing others as they are, rather than how we'd like them to be to satisfy our needs.

A genuine spiritual life helps us move beyond ourselves. We become curious about others' experience and want them to be happy, just as we seek happiness for ourselves. We become available to connect with others - relishing whatever intimacy is safely available with those we encounter and with those whose lives we touch. We become kinder to others, recognizing that we are all part of the human condition.

We cannot be as present and available for others if we are distracted by unresolved emotional states, or if we try to push them away. If lingering wounds lead us to be emotionally reactivated when we witness people's pain, fear, or other feelings, we may be consumed by our own emotional turmoil, rather than be present with them. If a partner or friend has an issue with us, we can hear them without getting so reactived or defensive if we're able to rest in our bodies and be confident that we can embrace whatever felt-senses might arise through the interaction. If we're troubled by personal hurts or anxieties, we cannot see other's needs very clearly; nor can we extend ourselves with ease into their world.

Many meditators have been taught to deal with feelings by letting them go, or not getting attached to them. This may lead to the unfortunate outcome of having aversion toward our life of feelings - seeing them as something to overcome, not embrace. Focusing can help meditators sharpen their understanding that feelings are an essential part of any mindfulness practice. We need to let them be, not let them go. We need to cultivate an attitude of allowing, not alleviating or fixing. Rather than see feelings as an enemy, they are a doorway into something deeper. We touch a richer texture of ourselves or life itself. Wisdom can flow from staying with our felt sense of life concerns.

By learning how to hold our feelings in a gentle, kind way, these feelings have a chance to shift, open up, or transform. We develop more empathy and compassion for others as we gently attend to our ever-changing emotional states.

As we find some space between ourselves and our usual self-preoccupations, we are freer to hold the sorrows of others. We can more readily be there for people as we learn how to hold our own feelings and issues with kindness, ease, and grace. In this way, Focusing helps us love more fully and deeply, and moves us toward a richer and more grounded spiritual way of living.

Focusing helps us become more present for others by providing a practice through which we become more available to ourselves. This crucial capacity of self-holding is an essential skill for loving relationships and an authentic spiritual life. By holding our own feelings in a gentle, caring way, we stay close to ourselves. We develop equanimity. We are emotionally and spiritually available to respond compassionately and connect with others as we develop this safe refuge within ourselves.


John Amodeo, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author of The Authentic Heart, as well as Love & Betrayal; and coauthor of Being Intimate. He is a Focusing Trainer and Coordinator of the Focusing and Buddhism project for The International Focusing Institute. E-mail: johnamodeo@aol.com

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