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Gendlin, E.T. (2000). When you feel the body from inside, there is a door. In Jeffrey K. Zeig (Ed.), The evolution of psychotherapy: A meeting of the minds. Phoenix, AZ: The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Press. From

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When You Feel the Body From the Inside, There is a Door

Eugene T. Gendlin

Let me begin with philosophy, since that is the field in which I do my main work. It will lead me into my topic, which is the body. What we call science in our society is really not science but a particular kind of science It is the most successful kind in human history so far, but there are other kinds of science. By "kind" I mean the basic model, the approach that is used to explain anything, and also what is meant by "explaining." In philosophy we don't just explain things; we try to explain what "explain" can mean. If this makes you a little dizzy, it's because you're not used to philosophy. There are different kinds of "explaining." The way in which most of our science explains anything is to chop things up into little parts and to understand each part separately. Then you put the parts back together again. If you can construct the thing you're studying, if you can make it yourself out of little parts, then you can say that you have explained it. That's familiar and it's true. But every approach to explaining or knowing anything has its limitations. This one doesn't work well on living things. If you divide a human being into parts, when you put the parts back together again you don't get a human being. Despite this, the parts are being used in many powerful ways. There are parts of people which are cells, there are genes, there are all kinds of chemicals which are being used without an understanding of human beings. Scientists are taking out one gene and putting one chemical in, knowing only this small part and that one. Farmed in cages, the genetically modified fish grow faster. Some number of them have no eye on one side. No one knows why. But I am not denigrating this kind [Page 256] of science. We couldn't get through a day without this science. You wouldn't hear my voice right now. The lights wouldn't go on. Remember what happened when the Year 2000 began? We thought the computers might not work. Computers are now part of most of our machines. Without them the electric power grids wouldn't work, nor the traffic lights. The elevators would get stuck; the airplanes wouldn't fly. The whole world would have been stuck. So, certainly I'm not here to speak against this kind of science. I want to say that we need to add other kinds of science to this one.

There is a second kind which you all know, the holistic kind. It is the opposite of the first. Instead of chopping everything up into parts, you study the system as a whole. Working from the whole, you can discover many things that the chop-up science cannot find. So, for example, various human functions were long thought to depend on certain parts of the brain. If a lesion was cut so as to disconnect a given part, sure enough the function would be gone. But then it was found that if we wait a little, the function comes back even without the part that supposedly performs it. The whole system knows how to restore a function even without the part that usually does it. The whole system does many things. It can change and develop parts. It can do new things.

The holistic approach is familiar these days from our very successful alternative science called "ecology." The ecologists say, "The fish are becoming extinct. They are on their way out." The regular scientists say, "Everything is fine. Nothing is wrong. We made many tests and found no difference." Two years later the fish are gone. How could the holistic science predict it, whereas the part-science could not? Well, if you study fish by beginning with the whole, you come to know the ways in which they depend on the larger whole. For instance, you know what they eat, where they mate. If those things are close to disappearing, you can predict what isn't apparent if you study just the fish, or little parts of the fish.

I want to talk about a third kind of science. The third kind studies neither little units nor the whole. It studies processes. A process is something that starts under certain conditions, happens, and then has certain results. A great deal of what is presented at this conference is about processes. If you do certain things, then a certain chain of events happens, which leads to a certain outcome. This kind of science is not precise about units, nor about the whole. It is precise about recognizing whether the given process is occurring or not. It precisely defines the procedures for getting the process to happen. Thirdly, it defines the results, the differences the process makes.

We are working to bring together the many people and settings that have established knowledge of this kind about some human process. It turns out there's quite a bit. The reliable knowledge is pretty well buried and mixed with a lot of false or unproved claims. But there is certainly also a lot of well-established knowledge. The important thing today is to put things together.

For example, take therapeutic processes. The research shows that a number of them cause statistically significant improvement. But "statistically significant" means that this is not by chance. It does not mean that the improvement is enough to be humanly significant. Give starving people a little bread and they survive longer. This can be found also for water. It's time to test the effects of a meal. Let us put together as much [Page 257] as we can. I have shown how combining methods need not take more time than one method alone does (Gendlin 1996/1999, chapter 11).

The physical sciences are jumping wildly ahead, but there has been great progress in the human sciences as well. We are here . . . we represent a lot of progress on the human side. Human beings have developed greatly in my time. My shorthand for this is to say "When I was young I was weird. Now I'm much less weird." I happened to be an early version of what millions of people did just a little later. We've gotten so that it's not at all odd to be in touch with emotions, with feelings, with an interiority.

I want to talk about the next step, which is now slowly developing. The next step has to do with the body. We already have a great new respect for the body. We pay attention to it in dieting, jogging, with bottled water, and in other ways. These ways concern the body as we know it from the outside. And in sensing our feelings and emotions, we do also feel our bodies from the inside. But we can experience the body from the inside on a much deeper level.

How we live our situations is much more finely organized on the bodily level. The body carries much more detail than we can have in our minds or our feelings. Currently we are still telling each other how great it is to be in touch with emotions and feelings, but it is not really so great. If you are honest with yourself you can notice that you get stuck in emotions and feelings. Just now you are probably glad that you are not feeling certain feelings, because you don't want to be stuck in them.

All day every day your body provides 99% of what you say and do. Your thinking is needed only for special things. You don't have to think about how to say hello to a person you meet. It's your body that has said "hello" to all the people you met on the way here. As you walked into this room, you waved to some and smiled at others; you ignored someone, and gave someone else a big hug. Your body knew which fit whom. You did not have to say to yourself, "Let's see. Shall I smile warmly, or rather coolly?" We think in advance only in special situations, and then it doesn't work very well when the smile doesn't come directly from our bodies. Your body has the whole of your history with each person. Your body has all of what you said and did together. You cannot possibly remember all that (except perhaps under hypnosis) but it's all in there, and it works to produce just the right smile and the right things to say and do.

In the body all this history doesn't consist of separated pieces, not like separate parts, one after the other. All these factors are not next to each other. Each is altered and opened by every one of the others so that they work all together in one.

Some situations don't need anything. The ones of which we say "I have a situation," those need and imply something that has to be done or said. They want something. They bug us. That sense or feeling or knowing or bodily bugging is a focal crossing of everything, and it also implies a next step.

A great many factors cross to create a next step, a move, a smile, a turn, or something to say or do. The next step does not come just from those factors. It comes from the bodily life-process which takes them all in and then produces a step. The situation with all its novelty is embodied and taken account of.

[Page 258] "Crossing" also explains some puzzling phenomena. When you're in a troubled situation and you pull the Bible or Shakespeare off the shelf, open it up anywhere and what it says there will turn out to be about your problem. That is "crossing." The complexity on the page crosses with the complexity of your body in the situation, and something focal is produced.

The bodily knowing works implicitly. You don't encounter this whole complexity itself. But a certain kind of physical attention can let you encounter it.

The place in the body to which I point is quite different from emotions and feelings. The body has a much wider organization, and it also moves on into a step of further living. When you attend to this level in the body, what comes there will move you on through whatever is stuck just now. When you have inhaled, your body moves on into exhaling. In the same way it also moves on from any stuck moment, even in quite complex new problems. The body provides a small step, and then another and another. These small physically-felt steps have very specific recognizable characteristics.

Let me use another way to mark the entry to this bodily level. A French philosopher, Merleau-Ponty, has pointed out that we don't live just by our five senses. He says that we can sense the space behind us, although we don't see, hear, smell, taste, or touch it. Would you please verify this now, and feel the space behind you. There it is. The body brings this sense of the space behind you. So he is right, but I argue with him. I say, "That's not just space we feel behind us. It is our situation." Check this for me now. You are feeling the people sitting behind you. You can feel that if you whipped around and stared at them now, it would make you and them uncomfortable. Isn't that right? You're feeling the appropriate thing to do, which is to sit and look at me and not turn around. A situation consists of other people and what we can do or not do with them, or perhaps without them. The body feels every situation, and also what we might do in it and what would happen. The body employs this physical knowing all day quite automatically, but if you enter this bodily level directly, you can find many things and arrive at new steps that do not come automatically.

Here is another bit of philosophy: When we think freshly from experience, we have to let the words develop new meaning as we speak. If words could only have old meanings, we would get stuck and could not say anything new. So please notice: When I say "you physically feel your situation," this is not quite the usual meaning of the word "feel." Well should I say that you "sense" it? Or should I say you "perceive" it? Or know it? Or think it, have it, live it? Shall I say that you hint it, or perhaps jump it, or leap it? None of the words work in their usual way if I use them to say this. So let them all work. I can say any of them, or I can manage without any word at all. I can say that you "....." your situations with your body. After I have used all those wrong words to say it, I don't need any word, since you know (or feel or live) what I mean. And so, as I say these things, the meaning of the word "body" also changes. Of course a body that feels situations isn't just a machine. With genes and chemicals we cannot understand the body that senses a situation. We need to add a science that can study such a body.

Our institutions need to be based on a better science of people. Currently the institutions do not know about persons at all. For example, in our schools a child sits for [Page 259] twelve years, five days a week for all those hours and nobody ever asks: "Who are you?" Nor is this ever asked in most of our institutions. This is because the science on which society bases itself has no people in it.

In the current science the body is split off from the person. The doctor treats the leg and cannot deal well with the fact that you're attached to it. But even just the leg is not well understood. How we live suffuses every part of the body, every organ. Every bit of the body is part of our interactional living. If you are an unusual physician and pay attention to your patient's experiences, then if you have treated any organ of the body for many years, you can tell a great deal about the person from examining that organ. That is true of every organ.

We have to think differently about the body. It's not a machine. Well, it certainly is a machine in so far as one can deal with its cells, blood vessels, chemicals and genes, but it isn't only a machine. Even a tree is much more than a machine. A plant has no sight or hearing. It does not need to see the sun because it interacts with the sun. The plant is the interaction with the sun. It doesn't have the sense of touch with which to touch the ground; it eats the ground and grows from the ground. So now, if I say that a plant knows the ground, knows the light, knows the water, something odd has happened to the word "know." Words acquire new meaning as we use them. A living plant knows and is the interaction with the environment. And so is a person.

There is a lot of new thinking concerning animals. They, too, are interactions, and chiefly with each other. When they move it is not like the motion of a brick that is being moved from here to there. Animal bodies move in their interactions, much as ours do. An animal moves in situational feedback. It doesn't just move. It jerks and something happens. Its body takes that in and includes it in generating the next bit of motion. Behavior is generated by feedback from the environment.

By the way, we can use this feedback in the practice of therapy. We can say a little bit of something intuitive, and then see how the client lives in response to this. If the client's reaction carries our first bit forward, it generates a further move from us. This brings something further from the client's body which may carry us still further. But if there is a break in this feedback, we must stop. Then it's best just to listen and say back only what the client wants to convey.

The body is a situational system. It is an interactional system. We can do more with somebody than we can do alone. Being with a given person is an utterly different physical living process from being alone or with a different person. That's what therapy is based on. Living things are interactions. You might be sad alone, but if somebody is there who can hear you, then you cry. Your situation is carried by your body. When the situation changes, your body changes, and vice versa.

When you enter into the body-sense of the situation and respond to it directly, very finely-wrought new steps arise. You may have no idea what to do, but the bodily version of the situation will move through small steps which cannot happen otherwise.

Machines always do the same thing, never suddenly something creative. But on the bodily level to which I point, new steps arise. You may have gotten yourself into a problematic situation that has never happened to anyone before in the history of the world,

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and you cannot figure out what to do. Usually you do what you can, and then it's the next day. But if you know how to let your body give you the physical sense of the whole crossed history of that situation then it will soon also generate small steps of change in the whole thing. At first this may be only a bodily sense of what you want to do. It might not yet have a shape, or the right words, but now you know what you are looking for, what it feels like, actually, physically. Then that comes as well.

We need to think about living bodies in a different way, which means that we need to re-think biology. But biology is based on chemistry and physics. So we have to think also about physics in a new way. (I have found a way to change the basic terms. See A Process Model, We have to think about the whole shebang in a different way. We disappear in the science of little parts and points of space-time. Of course, we are the ones who construct the science. But getting credit for the science does not make up for being invisible within it. No, this science is wonderful but we need to add other kinds of science to it

My colleague Rossi uses hypnosis, to ask my body questions. Five years ago I was inclined to argue with him. He talks directly to my bodily unconscious and skips me. He goes around the person. I didn't like that. I work to let the person find the entry in the body. But it's time we put our different knowledge together. Today I say I'm in favor of doing what he does, provided we also do what I do. Then the person has the best of both, and we get it all.

Rossi asks a question and then says: "Your finger will move up if this is true, and not if it isn't." It works very well. We can explain why it works, if we think about the body in my way. The body knows (feels, is .....) all of the living we are doing, have been doing, as well as how to go on.

You can ask the body questions also from the inside. You bring your attention there, below your feelings and your emotions. At first there may be only a vague sentience there, nothing like a bodily sense of the situation or problem. By keeping your attention there for some seconds, you enable a bodily sense to come. My contribution has been to make small steps of instruction for this way. We call them "focusing instructions." It takes most people a few days to find exactly where in the body this process begins. So I cannot pretend to teach it actually just now. The most useful thing I will say is that you can find out all about it on the web under You know about .org? .Org indicates an organization that is not for profit. You might want to find out about how to learn focusing, see the literature on it, and my philosophy of the implicit (

Currently people vary greatly. Some are far from finding and entering their body-sense in this way, others quite close. There are probably 20 people here who found it just as I found it. Little children can be shown it very quickly. We have now had three yearly conferences in Europe on focusing for children. Some diagnostic groups find focusing very quickly. I don't believe that diagnostic distinctions tell us much about what to do, but it is true that so-called "borderline" people who are constantly in and out of hospitals take to focusing fairly rapidly. Another group who do are adolescents. This is worth reporting, since therapists usually find those two groups difficult to work with. [Page 261] But when they are invited to attend in the middle of their bodies, and to speak from there, they can often do it right away. On the other hand, many perfectly well-functioning people have difficulty attending inside their bodies. But once you have found it, it doesn't matter whether it took you three days or ten minutes to find this bodily entry. In fact, if it takes you long to find it, you may be able to teach it better because you know some of the difficulties.

Please understand that I cannot teach it here. If that is understood, I can introduce it a little bit. Everybody has, rarely, an experience that we call a hunch. That is somewhat like focusing. There is some proposal, a new job, perhaps an apartment, some person to get to know, something that looks very good to your logical understanding. And yet, something uncomfortable in your body says "eeee."

What do you call that sort of bodily discomfort? Is it an, emotion? Is it fear or anger or joy? Is it sad? No, it's this bodily discomfort, this ''eeee." It is very bodily and yet it has the situation in it. We call it a "hunch," and we accept the fact that we don't know what it "knows" about the situation. But we would not ignore it. Isn't that so? Well, focusing is a way to get this kind of bodily sense about any situation or any specific thing at any time you wish. You need only let your attention go to that bodily place where you would feel a hunch if there were one. Then you wait and after perhaps half a minute a distinct bodily sense comes.

Here is another example: Suppose you are on a guided mountain tour and some person who is not used to hiking says, "The way the trail looks up ahead makes me uneasy. I don't know why, but I wish we would stop for a while." You would probably just comfort the person and keep going. But what if your experienced guide stops and says, "1 don't know why, but the way the trail looks up ahead makes me uneasy. Let's stop here for a while." I bet you wouldn't say "That's OK., let's keep going.'' You would know that many thousands of experiences in the mountains are playing a role in generating what the guide's body senses.

Let me tell of a different kind of situation which everyone has experienced. When you tell someone about a problem you have, you say a lot that you know about it. Then you get to a certain point where you don't know what to say, and yet — and yet the problem is still very much there. Now the problem is not there in words, but only in that troubled bodily sense.

Some of us are so well trained socially that we can't stand to keep quiet. In that case we cannot meet such a troubled sense head-on and enter it. We might find something more to say, and then again something more. In that way we might never keep silent with the bodily sense of the unsolved problem. But we could. We could sense it directly as a bodily not-all-O.K., a bodily .....

When I teach listening in a class or a group, I talk about some problem of mine. Focusing enables one to touch very deeply into something without needing to say much of the content. I say something like "I have a situation that scares me." Then I sense it inside and I don't say more about the situation. I point this out to the group, so that they can use their turns in a real way without telling things that they don't wish to reveal. Instead, I speak from the intricate body-sense which lets me find how the situation gets [Page 262] to me. I help the student on my right to reflect back what I say. Then it's that student's turn to speak, and the next person listens. Each person speaks for a while and then does not know what to say next. There is a short silence, then the student looks up to me for help. Now I say, ''Well, when you are alone with your partner, I hope you will stay with this kind of spot, and pay attention to how it feels in your body. But of course, in class there isn't the peace to do it. So that's O.K., now we'll go on to the next person."

I always divide my students up into pairs for a partnership. These days we teach focusing in partnerships. Whatever time is available is divided in half. Partners take turns focusing, being listened to, or using the time in any way they want. The partners meet or talk on the phone once or twice a week. This is our answer to this atomized society of ours, where we are isolated and inwardly alone. Focusing partnerships greatly improve life. Focusing is easier to do with a partner, and tends to go deeper as well. You can develop a focusing partner for yourself. We have good instructions on our web page for how to arrange such a partnership. We can also help you to find a partner who already knows focusing. I should say more about it. I don't have time to do so now.

Imagine saying a few things about one of your problems. Then you might get to that characteristic silence where there is more, but you don't yet know what. But this isn't just more to say, which you can a1ways find. Rather, it is a spot where there is a bodily discomfort which "knows" more about the problem than you do. It can also generate small steps forward, quite different steps than you could ever invent.

The bodily entry to the discomfort is right there. It is a door. Most people do not yet know that door. What they know are feelings and emotions, often troubling ones. But we can turn our attention to a place that is deeper than the usual bad feelings. Oddly enough, this deeper place feels better even just from getting your attention, although only vagueness may be there at first.

To stop and enter your bodily sense sometimes requires a few minutes away from the situation, for example in the hall or on a quiet stairway. But once you have practiced focusing, you can often do it for a few seconds right in the situation, even while someone is talking. You can find the bodily discomfort, and it might open immediately: "Oh, yes, just this is where things are going wrong . . . " and you are ready to readjust the situation. This saves an enormous amount of time because once gone wrong, situations are hard to fix. Or, if you are writing something, stopping for a few minutes saves all the time of revising and rewriting 30 pages that didn't feel right all along.

When you find this bodily entry, sense its physical quality. There is a tendency to go right into the content. For example, someone might tell me, "Oh yes, there it is, in my stomach, my body-feeling about this. It's about my husband and he's like this and like that and it's been bothering me for years and I feel hopeless about it.'' Then I might say "What is the physical quality of this in your body? Is it like jumpy, or is it more heavy like a weight?'' I am asking about the sheer quality of that body-sense. Usually you find that it has no regular name. That is characteristic of this "door": It is a very distinct physical quality which may not be classifiable. Most words you try out are definitely not right. If it rejects all words, you can just call it "that, there."

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I must emphasize that it is very good when no words fit. It shows that you are in touch with something, more than just words. Someone learning focusing tries out a word. Does it fit? "No." "Oh, good!" I say. "Now we know you have ahold of something." How can one know that the word doesn't fit? Only because something concrete is here, something that we aren't making up.

When you do focusing you come to admire how finely and precisely the body knows the language. You find that the body rejects word after word that you try to say, how picky and demanding it is. It wants just the right word or a new phrase, and so it is also with action. You may find that the body-sense of a situation is not carried forward by any of the routines you know. You might propose perfectly good ways of acting and find that they utterly fail to budge it. With bodily attention something with a new twist must come — and does come!

You propose a course of action or a sentence, but then you check: ''Will that do?' Just as if the body-sense were another person, you can check with it. Sometimes a felt sense is carried forward not by words or actions, but by a certain image or a certain gesture.

Once in a while a usual word fits, for example, "Yes. Scared. That's right." But most of the time it's not exactly scared and it's not exactly apprehensive; it's not exactly worried; it's not exactly angry; it's eeeee, or uhhhhh.

When you first find this bodily sense, you might be inclined to say, "That's garbage. That's nothing. That's not very promising. That's just being uncomfortable or confused." It doesn't look promising. It's not nearly as exciting as all the things you can tell yourself about yourself. But try to be there for perhaps twenty or thirty seconds. Choose any part of your life, large or small. A bodily felt sense will come in regard to it, and then also little steps.

It may take you some time to get all of 20 or 30 seconds there, because usually there are distractions, old thoughts and old emotions. One loses touch and has to come around again to the bodily entry. One is distracted again and again, and has to start all over, entering into the body and finding that place. That is how this is for all of us. But with some little time actually there you will probably find a very characteristic kind of step coming. The steps are often so specific, they don't have the usual words, more like "Oh . . ." (with a sense that the problem is really just with this part, and tucked under this). Or, "oh, it isn't really hard, it's that I assume it will be hard because . . ."

A small step is something like a gift, a little physical change, not huge but slight, and yet it is a change in how the whole thing sits in you. Such a little step brings a small but distinct physical relief. In a stuck hard place there is a little loosening, a little give. It feels like when you dig a big rock out of the ground, there is the happy moment when at last it loosens a little. It feels like that. Then comes another little step, and another. After a while you also get a big step. Those are not hard to recognize. It is the small steps that you might not notice. A slight sense of physical relief marks them as different from all the old familiar stuff you think and feel.

Such a step might look like information, for example, "Oh, it's really like this, and I had thought that it was this other way." Or, "Oh, another thing about it is . . ." The [Page 264] information is important. But much more important is the fact that the problem is shifting in your body. No information is final here. There will be another step and another step.

Knowing that steps keep coming enables us to hang on to what comes even when it doesn't seem helpful or realistic. For example, "Oh, it seems as if what I really need is a plastic shield, so nothing could get to me." You might think that this isn't realistic or just escapism, but don't let the thinking wipe out the little step. Everyone has a negativistic super-ego circuit that could grab any shy little forward step. Don't throw that away just because it seems unreal. Let your body have the change it brings, and soon a further step will move all of it on from here.

The door into the bodily living of our situations is right in the center of our very ordinary body, for example the one that is filling up your chair right now. But once you come in there and enter through this door, the whole space changes. An altogether different kind of space comes there after a while. It is an imagery space that is physically felt, but much larger than your body. Time at that bodily level is very much slower than clock time. When you think you've been waiting for an eternity down there, it was only thirty seconds. Thirty seconds is a very long time there.

Staying with a bodily felt sense is not like pushing into emotions or feelings. In ordinary experience there are only two possibilities. Either you fall into your feeling or else you run away from it. Neither of those is very good. In focusing there is a third possibility. You stay next to whatever you find, or near it. Once you know how to stay next to something, you never again need to be afraid of anything inside you. If it is too much at the moment, you know how to step back and say: "Oh, that's too much for me right now.'' You don't run away, you're still in touch with it, but near it and not in it. You back up and take a little room to breathe. The steps come best when you are neither fallen in, nor running away. They come when you can say ''I am here, it is there.''

Focusing instructions came from my philosophical work about the relation between concepts and what people call "experience." You can never have just only experience without concepts having played some role in forming it. Our experience happens in a human world and it always has language, culture, and concepts implicit in it. With all this prejudice and old training in it, how can experience possibly give us any basis for what to say or think?

Experience does contain the old entities and packages. For example, many philosophers find that what's good or right is one concern, split off from the question of what's true, which is another concern. Of course you can also find that these are two things. Or, for example, in Western culture it is customary to split a person up into cognition, emotions, and acts of will. I can distinguish those three packages in my experience if I like. I can experience what various theories tell me about motives, desires, memories, expectations, and so on. It is all very boring.

But when I enter at the bodily level I actually find a spider web, a Persian rug, which is always implicit in, behind, or under these boring finished packages. There is a much finer organization there. It generates a different kind of epistemology.

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If I try to speak from there with the old words about the old packages, I can feel the intricacy shutting down. At best, they leave everything that is alive in me unchanged and untouched. Those old concepts cannot reach into there. They are helpless, like trying to fix a wristwatch with garden shears. Thinking has gotten a bad reputation among sensitive people, because this is the only kind of thinking they were taught. But a very different kind of thinking is possible. A recognizably different kind of thinking can flow out of experiential intricacy and carry it on further. Then the old packages break and open. There you find much that does not come from your culture, much that contradicts or differentiates the old training. It opens into many strands. When that happens, you don't find that truth is distinct from wondering what is good or bad. But this isn't because everything is one big wash, rather because at such a juncture you find that several much finer and more interesting kinds of truth-and-good are involved unavoidably. Then you can think and say what has never yet been thought and said.

When one is experienced in any science and in any field, one experientially "knows" more than one can say or think. Some of these knowings are important and keep trying to be said. If I explain what I mean, then I can touch a vital spot in anyone from any field if I say: "What important thing do you know, that wants to be said but cannot (yet) be said clearly?" It is a deeply expansive experience to speak from this, even just a little and in odd sentences.

As a philosopher I have been working on this kind of thinking from implicitly intricate experiencing. Coming from Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel, and especially Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein, I went on and found that one can speak from this very process of speaking from experience. There is never an equation between experience and words, but there are different kinds of speaking-from. One can specify certain marks that let people find and recognize this type of speaking-from, which I have been speaking from. This is how focusing instructions came about from the philosophy.

But it is a philosopher's task to formulate precise concepts, in my case precise concepts about the reciprocal roles of concepts and bodily experiencing. There is no final system. But one can distinguish a number of different roles which the implicit experiencing can play in one's speaking and thinking. There is a characteristic way in which words work in new phrasings. I have also been able to formulate several odd-looking concepts which are not just concepts but also connections with this Persian rug of experience which concepts can never contain but can carry forward. One of those concepts is "carrying forward." Let me bring home what this concept does.

For good reasons, most philosophers have given up on the kind of truth which represents or copies something out there, as if we photograph it and check our picture for accuracy. But now many of them say that if there is no copy kind of truth, there is no truth at all. This isn't so. We find much more interesting kinds of truth, if we give up on the project of copying. There can be other important relationships between what we are implicitly living through, and what we come to say and think. One such relationship occurs when people claim that what they are saying "matches" what they feel. The word "match" sounds as if words could copy what they feel, but that is impossible. [Page 266] Feeling and speaking are different things. However, what people misname "matching" does exist. It is a certain relationship between experience and speaking (or doing). This kind of saying touches what you experience; it moves you and doesn't leave you just as you were. But it is not really a change, either. Rather, it is continuous with what you experience, and lets that move forward. So we call this relation "carrying forward." The term is badly needed. Once people hear this term "carrying forward," they use it often because this relationship is so important to us and there has been no concept for it.

"Carrying forward" is one of two useful concepts I have tried to present here. The other is "crossing." A bodily felt sense is a crossing of the relevant facets. It doesn't give them one after the other, nor even just added up, but crossed so that the body-process shapes a single next step.

I am introducing a door, only introducing it. My definition of focusing: Focusing is spending time sensing something as yet undefined that comes in one's body in connection with some specific problem or aspect of one's life.

I want to conclude with what unites all these things. This is how we can make concepts from experiencing anything, and especially what human beings are. The one thing I am sure of is that it is worthwhile keeping a person company. The process of keeping a person company needs to be the model for the additional science we are building. You know you are not just atoms, genes, and cells, but I argue that you are also not your feelings and emotions, also not your habits, memories, images, and self-identifications. It cannot be that what you think a human being is has nothing to do with the one that's sitting in your chair, alive and certainly being you, although my words are filling up your mind just now. You are in there, I know, struggling to lead some sort of a life with others and with yourself. And, you are up against a whole lot of difficult stuff inside. How do I know that? I am saying something more personal about you than you usually tell people, and I don't even know most of you. This bodily aliveness is also where your unique contribution to your field can come up. But how are all these many things here now? All this is here implicitly, just now unspoken, unacted, in your body. I can only promise you that that's a little door through which you can find quite a lot.


Gendlin, E. T. (1981). Focusing. New York: Bantam;

Gendlin. E. T. (1991). Crossing and dipping: Some terms for approaching the interface between natural understanding and logical formation. In M. Galbraith & W. J. Rapaport (Eds.), Subjectivity and the debate over computational cognitive science (pp. 37-59). New York: Center for Cognitive Science. 1991. Also in Minds and Machines, V. 4. 1995.

Gendlin, E. T. (1992a). Thinking beyond patterns: Body, language and situations. In B. den Ouden & M. Moen (Eds.), The presence of feeling in thought (pp. 25-151). New York: Peter Language.

Gendlin. E. T. (l992b). The primacy of the body. not the primacy of perception. Man and World, 25(3-4), 34 1-353. [Page 267]

Gendlin, E. T. (1996/1999). Focusing-oriented psychotherapy, chapter 11. New York: Guilford; paperback, 1999.

Gendlin, E. T. (1997a). Experiencing and the creation of meaning. New York: Free Press, Macmillan. Paper Edition, Northwestern University Press.

Gendlin, E. T. (1997b). A Process Model,, and printed from Focusing Institute, in eight parts, 422 pages.

Gendlin, E. T. (1997c) The responsive order: A new empiricism. Man and World, 30, 383-411.

Gendlin, E. T. (1997d). What happens when Wittgenstein asks: "What happens when . . .?" Paper given at University of Potsdam seminar entitled Zur Sprache Kommen: Die Ordnungen und das Offene nach Wittgenstein, November 1996. The Philosophical Forum, 28(3), 268-281.

Gendlin, E. T., & Lemke, J. (1983). A critique of relativity and localization. Mathematical Modeling, 4, pp. 61-72.

A Response to Eugene Gendlin

Jeffrey K. Zeig

I devised the schedule for the Conference and chose to discuss Gene's work. It was something that I wanted to study. Gene has made an enduring contribution. I wanted to learn more about it so I immersed myself in the literature of Focusing. I have 43 points to make and I have divided my discussion of those points into six categories: I) about Gene; II) about our similarities; III) about our differences; IV) about what I could offer him; V) about what I can learn from him; and VI) what I like about Gene.

I. About Gene

1) Gene is for real. And, Gene is for real people. He won't have truck with collectively acceptable generalities. 2) Gene is not a "make up" person. There are no cover-ups. People are people, pimples and all. 3) Gene is for real relationships. He's for unadulterated, unimpeded relationships, relationships that are not impeded by notions or potions. He eschews principles or practices that interfere with real connection. 4) Gene is for real focus. The matter of sense for Gene is the sense of the matter. 5) Gene is a real romantic. He is an epicure of the moment of connection. 6) Gene is the real priest of the inner world. For him internal experiences are holy matters. 7) Gene is a real private investigator. I don't think of him as the Columbus of psychotherapy but perhaps he's the Colombo. 8) Gene is a real Beatle. "Let it Be" would be his motto. 9) Most of all Gene is a person who is for the body of real experiences. He will pull the words over our heads and into our homebodies. (I wish I could take credit for that line but its author is Stephen Gilligan.)

II. Our Similarities

10) Gene and I are similar in that neither of us needs an explicit theory of personality to conduct psychotherapy. Both of us see explicit theory as an impediment to [Page 268] practice. 11) Perhaps Gene and I have similar mothers, which is especially ironic because my mother is in the audience at this presentation. We both work on a principle of fusion rather than boundaries. Minuchin is a therapist who works on boundaries. If you see me do therapy with hypnosis or Gene do therapy with focusing, we work on fusion. 12) Both Gene and I view therapy as an evocative art. It's an art of eliciting previously dormant patient strengths. We deal with the structures of the present to elicit strengths rather than exhuming a long-dead past. 13) Both Gene and I are phenomenologists. We extol rather than dissect precious experience. However, where he's more of a seedbed, I fashion myself as more of a gardener. Both Gene and I believe in the central power of changing phenomenology. We have some different ways of going about it, but the phenomenology of the person is what is most important. 14) We both have faith. Faith in the innate potential of people. Gene writes that every bad feeling is a potential energy towards a more right way of being if you just give it space to move towards its rightness. I like that notion very much. It is hopeful and speaks to positives and potentialities. 15) Another similarity is that neither Gene nor I have a secret tribal language. We speak in the vernacular. 16) We both believe that therapy should be an experience. I think that his are sometimes weirder than mine; one would never do in real life what he does in therapy. 17) Both Gene and I tend to be vague in our approach. But a difference is that I'm certain about my vagueness and he's vague about his certainty. 18) Both Gene and I believe in the possibility of conducting content-free work. We don't need a lengthy social history. We don't need an extensive diagnosis to work with the problem. 19) Both of us are process-oriented, building on existent patient processes, a method Ericksonians call "utilization." 20) Both Gene and I work on a principle of improvisation. Rather than cultivating a proper rose garden, both of us are more like explorers hacking a path through a jungle.

III. The Differences

21) 1 consider myself a lumper, but compared to Gene I'm more of a shredder. He's more right hemisphere and I perceive myself as more left hemisphere. 22) He's more mosaic than linear in his thinking and I'm more linear than mosaic. 23) Another difference is that Gene is more of a midwife when it comes to conducting psychotherapy and I'm more of a tour guide. 24) Gene has a tendency to make unconscious processes conscious. He sees focusing as a conversation between the body sense and the conscious person. His position is in accord with the dictum that extensions of knowledge arise from making conscious the unconscious. But I follow Goethe who said that man cannot persist long in a conscious state. He must throw himself back to the unconscious for his roots lie there. 25) I rarely ask a patient. "How do you experience that?" I don't consider it to be a core condition of psychotherapy. 26) Another difference is that Gene paints with broad brush strokes and I tend to use very fine lines. I'm much more of a technician than he is. 27) To me, therapy takes place in life and not in the consulting room. I sincerely believe that the family is the primary context for change. 28) The last difference to mention is that I tend to make simple things very complex and he tends to make complex things very simple. [Page 269]

IV. What I Can Offer Gene

29) I could offer a systemic perspective. I tend to be more of a social psychologist looking at the system of interaction, making changes in a social system or familial system with the perspective that people can change by virtue of a change in their context, not necessarily a change in their inner world. 30) Another thing that I could offer Gene is the importance of orienting to outcome. As an Ericksonian therapist, I have an outcome in mind. When I'm working, I move toward that outcome. Gene is not outcome-oriented. He's more "organic" in allowing the process to develop itself, but I think it advantageous to have an outcome in mind and proceed toward the outcome. 31) Another thing that I can offer is the importance of "orienting towards," methods that Ericksonians tab indirection. 32) Gene tends to eschew technique, but I think technique can be valuable. 33) Another thing that I can offer is the idea of utilization. Ericksonian therapy pivots on utilization. Whatever exists in the therapy or the social situation, we strive to utilize it to develop the therapy. We utilize the patient's values, the patient's social situation, the patient's style, the patient's dress, etc. 34) I can offer Gene ways of making therapy more of a powerful drama of change. I think he is dramatic in his therapy and I value the drama that he adds to therapy. In the Ericksonian method, I see myself as even more dramatic in my approach. 35) Experience is reciprocal to certainty. But, when Gene talks about the "felt sense" he offers it as a pathway to truth. Perhaps it can be a pathway to truth. But it is not primary in my way of thinking. 36) Another thing that I could offer Gene is a method of being more specific about concepts. If I was doing therapy with Gene, I would model it after "lazy eye" therapy. If a child has amblyopia, the physician patches the good eye to force the child to develop the inferior function. In the course of Gene's address he must have used the word "it" 100 times because he discusses concepts for which we really don't have very good terms to explain. But using "it" makes it hard sometimes to grasp the specifics. As a therapy I would offer Gene the challenge of offering a speech without ever using the word "it" just to see what would happen, to see what he could evolve in its place.

V. What I Can Learn from Gene

37) One of the things that I could learn from Gene is how to focus. And I mean that in multiple senses. Gene has a marvelous focus. 38) Another thing I can learn from Gene is how to connect. His ability to contact human souls is exemplary. It is on par with Virginia Satir who was incredibly contactful. Gene can really connect, and I will work to emulate more of that. 39) I can learn from Gene how to extol the process of "being with" rather than the process of "being for." I could do a better job of letting things happen and be less of a tour guide. 40) I can learn from Gene how to be attentive to the body of experiences. It is his specialty. 41) I can learn from Gene how to live in accord with complexity. The simple labels we use for feelings are really shorthand notations; they're not the real thing. Gene reminds us that those labels are not real experiences.

[Page 270]

VI. What I Like About Gene

42) If I needed therapy, I would consult Gene. I know I would benefit from being in treatment with him. And, I don't say that cavalierly. 43) Another thing that I like about Gene is that he's a real person. He's not pretentious. In essence, Gene is for real.

I have an additional thought about Gene's contributions. To offer it I will describe a communication model of therapy. One of my models of understanding therapy is called "elements of communication." Every communication is composed of numerous elements: some I call primary elements, and others secondary elements. There are five primary elements, the first of which is affect. For example, if I say, "It's really a beautiful day," there's an underlying affect. "I'm feeling good today." There's a thought. I'm communicating something about the day. There's a behavior, my overt actions as I make the statement about the day. There is a sensory experience that is perceived and/or imagined, a representation that I have in my mind of how I perceive the day. There is a biological aspect because every communication is a biological event that accesses psychology. Secondary aspects further complicate the communication. Every communication has an attitude that is an almost instantaneous thought, feeling, behavior, sensory and biological perception about the communication, which can be positive, negative, or neutral. I can say, "It's a really beautiful day", and think, "Wow! That was great to say; that was terrible to say; or that was interesting to say." Every communication has a context because it only happens in one time and one space. Every communication has a qualitative aspect of intensity and duration. Every communication is ambiguous because it cannot be fully specified. Every communication is symbolic because language is a manipulation of symbols. Every communication is relational because it happens in a relational context and it communicates a message about the quality of the relationship. Every communication is idiosyncratic because it's an idiosyncratic representation of the history of the communication. Theorists in psychotherapy have taken one of those elements and made it a fulcrum of their approach. Cognitive experts may take attitudes or belief systems as a fulcrum. The Rogerians make affect a fulcrum. Behaviorists use behavior as a fulcrum. NLP experts use sensory experience as a fulcrum. Jungians work with symbolic processes. Family therapists stress the relational aspect of communication. In this scheme of analysis, what Gene has done that is unique is that he's devised another pivot point for psychotherapy. We can attend to the felt sense as another fulcrum for helping our patients.

In Answer to Jeffrey Zeig's Discussion

Eugene Gendlin

Thank you. I want to straighten out just a few things. It's very true that I'm vague after I'm specific. I know Freudian concepts. I wouldn't want to practice without them. I know Jungian theory. I wouldn't want to practice without that either. And, I want every other theory I can get. But once I have them, then it's time to recognize that none of them could possibly be right. After I know them precisely, then it's time to let the vague [Page 271] thing that is actually in front of me take precedence over all the clarities. The person before me isn't any theory, isn't any set of concepts, and moreover is not finished. Even the small feeling the person has just then isn't finished. If I try to ossify it, what good am I being? Without precise theories I wouldn't notice a lot that I need to notice. I can try out every theory I know, but the vague implicitly intricate living thing has to be asked, and has to take precedence.

Similarly, I have nothing against technique. To me the word only says that we are able to be precise about what we do, and when. The more such precision we can get, the better. I only say that the person must always be more important than any technique. As soon as the ongoing relating gets murky, let go of all technique and get the relating back on track.

Secondly, I don't believe in fusion. If I must choose between fusion and being a distant, frozen type of therapist, then yes, you are right about me. I'd rather have fusion. But fusion and distance are not the only choices. In fusion the other person is invisible to you. Fusion is projection, not meeting the real other person. I welcome being surprised that my projections were wrong again. It's much more exciting to recognize every few minutes what a different organism the other person is. I can never finish being corrected in what I thought I knew.

It is easy to form a real relationship with a client in therapy. Therapy is so easy compared to living with somebody. You can let yourself experience your client as a totally different person. The client comes once or twice a week. Whether there is improvement or not, your life goes on. The client even pays you. After an hour the client goes home. You can let the client be real, and permit your real self to care and relate to the client. The frame of the relation is narrow; that is why it can be deeper. It is likely to be much more real than our life relationships in which we are full of projections, pain and misunderstandings. When my needs are so intense it is hard to keep remembering that the other person isn't on earth to be what I need, nor can I sense her really if I think that she is the opposite of what I need. She is a whole other life being led over there. Relating to another life is hard, but much more exciting than the illusion of fusion.

It isn't quite accurate to say that I am not concerned about the outcome. Rather, I don't believe in any goal that Dr. Zeig and the client set in advance, while she's feeling terrible and he doesn't really know much about her. I think that the process of opening up from inside changes the goals and creates the possibility of goals that could not have been set. I think that goals which are set in advance tend to be blind to the human process of development, which brings new goals and new capacities for setting goals.

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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