Catherine with Yongwei Xu of the ILC
Note from Catherine
Connections

Dear Friends,

RESPONDING WITH CARE TO COVID-19
We live in a very connected world. While that is normally cause for joy, it has recently been the cause of distress as COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) has quickly spread to all corners of the earth. Countries everywhere are now recommending or requiring that businesses shut and residents stay home. A new phrase has entered our language: "social distancing."

We know how many of you are feeling the stress, and on Saturday March 21, we held two Zoom meetings in which over 100 of you participated. The simple act of connecting at a time of disconnection was powerful, especially because about half of the participants were Chinese. For those of us just entering the crisis fully, it was meaningful to be with those who faced it first. At the TIFI office in New York, we mostly interact with you "virtually," so we haven't had to make major changes to our working habits. Now, we are under state orders to work from home as much as possible.

We have also re-scheduled of our Advanced and Certification Weeklong. It will now take place August 16-21. I am cautiously hopeful that by that time, things will have stabilized enough to have a gathering safely.

My experience of Focusing tells me that being connected with our felt senses helps in every situation, but especially when anxiety is high. We have therefore scheduled some online conversations for members of the Focusing community to support one another. Our physical distancing need not be a distancing of hearts. I've noticed many of you creating online connections as well, in order to be together when circumstances are keeping us apart.

Like all of you, we are keeping a careful eye on what's happening. We want to make informed, reasonable choices about how to care for ourselves and one another, while avoiding panic. Many of us are feeling that we ourselves are safe, but we're concerned about the danger to others near and far. Our hearts are united with all those worldwide who are suffering directly or indirectly from this sudden new threat.

OTHER ITEMS TO SHARE WITH YOU:

ACCESSIBILITY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
We've made good use of technology at the Institute to maintain our international connections, and that is serving us well during these difficult times of social distancing. Our successful Stepping Up Phase 2 has been all about making Focusing more accessible, and technology is a main way we accomplish this. An incredible group of volunteers, donors and members make it all possible.

Building on the experience we've had of running online classes, and in order to increase accessibility for our Felt Sense Conference, we are re-shaping the 2020 Felt Sense Conference into an online conference, to take place this coming fall. We will schedule it to be convenient to all parts of the globe. Watch for details to come!

WEBSITE UPDATE
When we began the process of overhauling our old website, we used the phrase of one of our Coordinators who said that it should be "a home for us all." Traveling from our old website home to our new one has been quite a bumpy road, though we are making steady progress. I know that the progress won't be visible to you until it is complete, so I thought I should give another update. Our new webmaster, Joel Brodsky (who recently welcomed a new grandson into his life!), has brought much-needed expertise to the project. When he became our webmaster last fall, we made the decision to temporarily send visitors back to our previous site for most content. This allowed Joel to concentrate on improving functionality for you on the new site. Thank you for the patience you've shown. We are busily working behind the scenes to make sure that the new site will have information on Focusing-Oriented Therapy, Thinking at the Edge, Children's Focusing and all aspects and applications of Focusing. All this is in progress and you'll have a much fuller experience on the website by June. This site has been built uniquely for TIFI, bringing two platforms together that don't natively communicate. It's for that reason that we have encountered so many bumps in the road. These platforms, however, are the ones that will give us the breadth of capacity we need to serve our international community for many years into the future. Thank you for your continuing patience and support.

THANKS
This issue is about thanking our volunteers and donors from 2019. Thank you for the many ways you demonstrate care for yourselves, as well as the care you show toward the Institute and its mission to share Focusing with the world.

With warmest regards,
Catherine


Thank you, donors!

Thank you, volunteers!
Stepping Up Campaign

THANK YOU!

Phase Two of our Stepping Up campaign was a huge success! Your gifts help us make Focusing more accessible through technology, scholarships and more multilingual programming.

We received donations of all sizes, from $5 to $22,000. A generous donor offered a matching gift in December and you not only matched the whole $10,000, but exceeded it! All your gifts, big and small, added up to surpass our goal for the campaign. In the end, Phase Two brought in $84,000. We've listed all our donors from 2019 here, but we especially thank the Canaday Family Trust and the Sparks Fund for their leading gifts.

Of course, it's never too late for you to be part of this effort! If you are able to donate, please do.
DATE CHANGE: The Advanced and Certification Weeklong 2020

The Advanced and Certification Weeklong returns to the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York, in August 2020.

This is the 50th Weeklong that the Institute has offered over the last 40 years! Come be a part of this historic occasion.

The Weeklong is intended for advanced Focusers and those receiving certification.

More details and registration information can be found here.

Call for Papers &
Change of Date
"Saying What We Mean"
Academic Symposium
on the Work of Eugene T. Gendlin
OCTOBER 30 - NOVEMBER 1, 2020
Seattle University (Seattle, WA, USA)


The "Saying What We Mean" symposium will now take place October 30 - November 1. Please update your calendar with these new dates and watch for forthcoming registration details. Paper proposals due May 15.

CALL FOR PAPERS

The Departments of Psychology and Philosophy at Seattle University, in partnership with The Gendlin Center of The International Focusing Institute, are proud to announce a symposium advancing the work of Eugene Gendlin. We invite participants to explore the implications of Gendlin’s posthumous collection Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order (2018). This extraordinary collection, edited by Edward Casey and Donata Schoeller, brings together a series of essays demonstrating Gendlin’s creative and insightful ability to balance conversations across a wide range of voices in philosophy and psychology. We are delighted that Dr. Schoeller will be one of our featured speakers.

Gendlin had a unique capacity for thinking “at the edge” of conceptual formulations. He was able to discover, in words and concepts, an evasive connection between idea and experience. Gendlin sought to open up phenomena by exploring ideas that can only be thought in the mode of embodied practice. Gendlin’s hope was that he might awaken an appetite in his readers, a yearning to understand how “the experiential side always exceeds the concepts.” In this regard, Gendlin invites expansive efforts to explore embodied thinking and experiencing. 

In Saying What We Mean, Gendlin leaves for us a collection of intriguing enactments of this embodied thinking with essays ranging across the spectrum of his adventurous thinking. Though all paper proposals working with Gendlin’s thought are welcome, we particularly solicit investigations into the four main themes of Saying What We Mean:

  • Phenomenology of the Implicit
  • A Process Model
  • On the Edges of Plato, Heidegger, Kant and Wittgenstein
  • Thinking with the Implicit 

If interested in presenting a paper at the conference, please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words by May 15, 2020. Please include your name, institution, degree, specialization, and contact info on a separate document, as well as any audio-visual equipment you may require. Presentations should be approximately 40 minutes in length, and presenters should anticipate facilitating conversation after their paper is given. Registration will be through The International Focusing Institute. Information on registration and suggested hotels will also be available soon there, as well as on the Seattle University Psychology department homepage.

Please send submissions and any inquiries to Dr. Kevin Krycka at gendlinsymposium@seattleu.edu.

Remembering Marta Stapert

By René Veugelers and Harriët Teeuw 

Keep connecting and relating with yourself, each other and the world.
- Marta Stapert-Wezelenburg
(The words on her funeral card)

Marta Stapert-Wezelenburg passed away on December 18, 2019, lovingly supported by her children, grandchildren and extended family. She was our trainer, our mentor and our dear friend! Marta had a huge capacity to directly connect to the heart and essence of both children and adults, and especially to our hearts. The world will be emptier and quieter without her liveliness and positive energy. Last month, we visited her, and the three of us enjoyed it so much. It was truly inspiring and really deepened our process. She was so proud that we were carrying her legacy into the world, and she asked us to make her life summary short. We will try to do that…

Spreading Focusing and making it accessible to all children was Marta’s mission from the moment she learned Focusing until the end of her life. This goal was the same whether it was for the grandchild of a neighbor, or of the doctor who treated her for cancer. In her last wish, revealed in the announcement of her funeral, she invited people to donate money to the Dutch Children’s Focusing foundation, Stichting Kinderfocussen. This organization supports scholarships, develops new training methods and explores the integration of Children’s Focusing into schools and bigger organizations. If anyone reading this would like to donate, you can do so here.
A Look Back at Marta’s Life and Achievements

Even as a young child, Marta was well connected to other children, organizing meetings to explore creativity and expression. Together with her husband, Ynse Stapert, she had three children and adopted two more. Throughout her life, she maintained a clear destination forward with the belief that everyone needs Focusing, especially children.

As a child psychotherapist in the early 1980s, she first learned about Focusing and began integrating it into her work, both with individual children and in the classroom at a school for children with special needs. She developed unique approaches and offered training to teachers, day care workers, parents and therapists.

In the mid-‘80s, along with people like Lucy Bowers from Canada, Kazuko Amaha from Japan, and Zack Boukydis from the USA, she worked toward developing Children’s Focusing as a specific form of Focusing in its own right. At the 1996 conference in Gloucester, Massachusetts, she led a workshop called ‘Clearing a space in a group of children through drawing.’ During a lunch break, she had the “children Focusers” come together around a table in a corner of the room, and thus the Children’s Focusing Corner (CFC) was born.

From 1996 until October 2006, Marta was the Coordinator for the CFC, and developed Children’s Focusing methods and trainings alongside her husband. Over the years, they trained many people abroad, traveling to Suriname, Romania, Japan, the UK and the USA. In 2006, they were knighted and honoured by the president of Hungary for their contributions to the democratization of the people of Hungary. In 2003, she and Erik Verliefde co-authored the book Focusing with Children. The book has since been translated into English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew and Greek, with German and Romanian translations in the works.

After she retired in 2006, Marta and Ynse mentored us to carry on the International Children’s Focusing Training, and she continued to support the Dutch Children’s Focusing foundation. We will carry on her legacy by providing training in Children’s Focusing and inner child work to parents, teachers, therapists and Focusers around the world. To find out more about Children’s Focusing training, click here.

For additional questions about Children’s Focusing, you can email René Veugelers at rene@ftcz.nl or visit his website.
Harriët Teeuw and René Veugelers are both certified Children Focusing coordinators and Art therapists, and specialized in Emerging Body Language and inner child work.

Herinnering aan Marta Stapert

Door René Veugelers and Harriët Teeuw 

‘Blijf je met elkaar en de wereld verbinden‘ 
– Marta Stapert-Wezelenburg

Dit zijn de woorden die Marta ons mee wil geven. Op 18 december is zij heengegaan in het bijzijn van haar kinderen en kleinkinderen in haar eigen omgeving thuis in Hoorn, zoals zij het had gewild. Zij was onze Leraar, Mentor en Lieve Vriendin. Wij herinneren haar altijd warme, positieve vooruitstrevende energie.

Vorig jaar november ontmoetten we elkaar, zoals we de jaren na haar pensioen een paar keer per jaar gewoon waren te doen, met z’n drieën in haar appartement in Hoorn. Bij het afscheid pakte ze onze handen vast en vormde zo met ons drieën een éénheid en zei: “Dit kan onze laatste bijeenkomst zijn en wat ben ik blij dat ik jullie bij elkaar heb gebracht. Wat hebben we het toch weer goed gehad!” En zo was het. Marta leefde voor verbinding. Het wereldwijd toegankelijk maken van Focusing voor kinderen was haar grote passie. En dat deed ze tot in haar laatste levensfase. Of het nou het kleinkind van de buurvrouw was of de oncoloog die haar behandelde.
We willen graag haar werk voor wat betreft Focusing eren met een aantal hoogtepunten: Als jong meisje was ze al bevlogen in het organiseren van creatieve activiteiten voor en met kinderen uit haar buurt. Dat is en bleef haar grote droom: iets doen met en voor kinderen. In 1985 maakt ze als kinderpsychotherapeut kennis met Focusing. Ze is ervan overtuigd dat kinderen hier ook van kunnen profiteren, hoewel dit voor de Focuswereld nog een onbekende toepassing is. Ze gaat samen werken met Lucy Bowers uit Canada, Kazuko Amaha uit Japan en Zack Boukydis uit USA. En ze begint Focusing te integreren in haar werk met kinderen, ook op de Mytylschool, waar ze als psychotherapeut is aangesteld. Ze geeft Focuslessen aan de leerkrachten van deze school en ontwikkeld lesprogramma voor therapeuten, ouders en docenten. In 1996 is op de Internationale Focusconferentie in Gloucester de eerste workshop over “Ruimte maken” in de klas. In de lunchpauze daarna komt een groep KinderFocussers bij elkaar in een hoek van de eetzaal; de Children Focusing Corner is een feit. Marta is coördinator van de CFC van 1996 tot 2006.

Van 1995-2008 geeft ze samen met haar man Ynse Stapert training in Supervisie en Focusing in Hongarije aan de Universiteit van Boedapest. In 2008 worden Marta en Ynse geridderd door de President van Hongarije voor hun bijdrage aan de democratisering van het Hongaarse volk. In de jaren van 2000-2008 geeft ze Internationale KinderFocusing Training in verschillende landen waaronder: Suriname, Roemenie, Japan en Leeds.

In 2003 wordt haar boek uitgebracht, geschreven in samenwerking met Erik Verliefde. De kunst van het luisteren: Communiceren met kinderen op school en thuis. In 2008 wordt het vertaald in het Engels, waarna de Spaanse, Italiaanse, Japanse, Koreaanse, Hebreeuwse, en Griekse vertalingen volgen. De Duitse en Roemeense vertaling zijn in voorbereiding. Het boek is verkrijgbaar via de website van stichting KinderFocussen: www.kinderfocussen.nl

In 2006 brengt Marta René, Harriét en Jos van den Brand samen voor de oprichting van Stichting KinderFocussen. 2006: Marta en Ynse stoppen hun eigen Focustrainingen en geven hun kennis door aan René en Harriët, zodat zij de Internationale KinderFocus trainingen verder kunnen brengen. De kennis en wijsheid van wezenlijk luisteren en verbinden met de ander, zullen wij voor altijd in ons hart en lijf meenemen en verder uit dragen! Wil je meer weten over de internationale KinderFocus training, activiteiten en artikelen bezoek de site.

Voor vragen over het Focussen met Kinderen kun je René mailen: rene@ftcz.nl of kijk op de site; website.
Harriët Teeuw and René Veugelers are both certified Children Focusing Coordinators and Art therapists, and specialized in Emerging Body Language and inner child work.



2019 Volunteer List

These wonderful people volunteered time in 2019 in one or more of the following activities: Board, International Leadership Council, Membership Committee, Website Redesign Committee, Nominating Committee, serving on the Gendlin Center committee, teaching a class, leading a Roundtable or Cafecitos, helping with social media content, planning a conference, fundraising, writing a newsletter article, translating documents, and many other tasks large and small that make the Institute our place to connect. Thank you all!
Peter Afford
Rachel Alexander
Laura Bavalics
Lourdes Berríos
Beatrice Blake
Bruna Blandino
Friedgard Blob
Linda Bourassa
Tara Breitenbucher
Sue Burell
Samara Burnett
Joao Carlos Messias
Grace Chan
Cecelia Clegg
Cristina Collia
Caroline Copestake
Roberta D'Ottavi
Celia Dawson
Marine de Freminville
Aaffien de Vries
Bilian Dearly
Heinke Deloch
Ifat Eckstein
Leslie Ellis
Evelyn Fendler-Lee
Heidi Fischback
Glenn Fleisch
Dawn Flynn
Joao Fonseca
Dana Ganihar
Bruce Gibbs
Izzy Gifford
Peter Gill
Monica Gomez Galaz
Doralee Grindler-Katonah
Maria Hakasalo
Dana Hercbergs
Kara Hill
Ruth Hirsch
Mary Jennings
John Harvey
Jocelyn Kahn
Hideki Kamimura
Anna Karali
Kati Kimchi
Christal Kraft
Kevin Krycka
Bernadette Lamboy
Sergio Lara
Roberto Larios
Renee LaRoi
Mary Jeanne Larrabee
Gloria Lau Pui Wah
Susan Lennox
Monika Lindner
Nada Lou
Masumi Maeda
Beth Mahler
Annie Mahon
Patricia Manessy
Wendy Maurer
Mary McDonald
Claude Missiaen
Nelle Moffett
Salvador Moreno-Lopez
Jeffrey Morrison
Hanspeter Muehlethaler
Judith Naba
Nancy Falls
David Nishio
Suzanne Noel
Paula Nowick
Frank O'Neill
Rob Parker
Gillian Parrish
Sondra Perl
Mariana Pisula
Serge Prengel
Ghada Radwan
Anna Revekka
Kjell Ribert
Susan Rieger
Edgardo Riveros
Gabriela Riveros
Maria Luiza Rocha
Heather Rogers
Lyly Rojas
F.Javier Romeo-Biedma
Francois Roussell
Nancy Saklad
Taeko Sakurai
Florentina Sassoli
Dan Schachter
Viviane Silva
Maria Skoufas
Mary Slocum
Victoria Stanham
Solange St. Pierre
Tine Swyngedouw 
Addie van der Kooy
Joke van Hoeck
Rene Veugelers
Karen Whalen
Agnes Windram
Jan Winhall
Anthony Winiski
Jun Xu
Yongwei Xu
Arnold Zeman
2019 Donor List
We give special thanks to all those who have given donations in 2019 above and beyond membership dues, whether to Stepping Up or to our general fund or other funds. Your generosity makes a big difference!
Sparks Fund of RSF
Canaday Family Trust
Hemera Foundation
American Endowment Fdn
Network for Good
Anonymous
Teruyo Akamori
Nadia Alattar
John Amodeo
Judy Archer
Yael Bacharach
Janet Barton
Tony Baczewski
Andre Bélanger
Ayelet Ben-Zvi
Jill Benet
Beatrice Blake
Annie Bloch
Susan Bogas
Linda A. Bourassa
Tom Brouillette
Hansjörg Bühler
Marjorie Burnett
Gabrielle Byers
Beverly Calderon
Calliope Callias
Cynthia Callsen
Elizabeth J. Cantor
Sicong Cao
Kathleen Carver-Cheney
Chee Seung Chan
Peter Cheung
Gail Cinelli
Manon Circé
Jude Cobb
John Connolly
Catherine Cornell
Ann Weiser Cornell
Ronan Culhane
Constance Cushman
Andrew Cutright
Daniel Cutright
David Cutright
John Daly
Carole Davidson
Barbara Dickinson
Laura & Reed Dickinson
Claudia Conza Distel
Susan Eenigenburg
Glen Evanowich
Julia Falk
Nancy Falls
Alastair Farrugia
Evelyn Fendler-Lee
Anne Fenn
Hilary Foster
Catherine Fox
Ilke Franke
Ursina Fried-Turnes
Nahoko Furusawa
Paul Gabrielson
Heidi Gaissert
Jolene Gardner
Detlef Girke
Sophie Glikson-Cahen
Fiona Glover
Diane Goldwasser
Patricia Graves
Dionis & Gordon Griffin
Silke Grigo
Doralee Grindler Katonah
Jose Mario Gutierrez Clure
John Hain
Katarina Halm
Gerritt Harnischmacher
Nancy Hartog
Charles Herr
Barbara Hindenes
Tony Hofmann
Carrie Honigman
Naomi Horio
Jim Iberg
Italian Focusing Community
Judith Jacoby
Bala Jaison
Joke Janmaat
Jules Jarvis
Mary Jennings
Sharron Kaplan
Robin Kappy
Anna Karali
Sharon Kaylen
Sigal Ketsev Golan
Mary Elaine Kiener
Nita Kimiko
Amelia King
Steffani Knigge-Plica
Kristi Kirkham
Joan Klagsbrun
Marsha Kolman
Yoshiko Kosaka
Christel Kraft
Kevin Krycka
Carol LaDue
Mary Jeanne Larrabee
Joan Lavender
Nina Joy Lawrence
C.C. Leigh
Susan Lennox
Douglas Leonard
Kathy Lewis
Regina Loacker
Cassandra Loerke
Rainbow Lonestar
Vera Rolfine Fryd Lyngmo
Beth Mahler
Annie Mahon
Patricia Manessy
Denette Mann
Robert Marantz
Phillip Marshall
Eva Marton
Wendi Maurer
Mary Love May
Marlys Mayfield
Dorcas McDonald
Sydney McDowell
Kathy McGuire
Ruth McMurty-Williams
Goldie Milgram
Mitsiko Miller
Peter Min
Claude Missiaen
Trevor Moo
Betsy Morgan
Jeffrey Morrison
Steven Moscovitch
Maria Nagy
Adrianne Navon
David Nishio Yasuoka
Kimie Nomura
Naomi Ohsawa
Maxine Olson
Mieko Osawa
Mary Owen
Donald Padelford
Guido Pappalardo
Rob Parker
Gerd Parquin
Mary Ann Pelzer
Sally Pendreigh
Carole Pentony
Joseph Pentony
David Phillips
Judit Pólya
Victoria Prater
Serge Prengel
Lynn Preston
Kit Racette
Carol Ramsey
Julie Ramsey
Laury Rappaport
Ryan RC
Laura Read
Melissa Rebock
Eugenia Resmini
Altan Ridwan
Boukje-Barbara Rolsma
Susan Rudnick
Janet Sahin
Solange St. Pierre
Sylvia Salomon
Rosella Salari
Jose Salazar
Ruth Sar-shalom
Scott Scherer
Ellen Schermerhorn
Mary Anne Schleinich
Romana Seljak
Edit Selmeczi
David Shapiro del Sole
Lewis Shore
Diane Slaviero
Mary Slocum
Janet Smith
Elizabeth Speece
William Sterner
Laura Talamoni
Roberto Tecchio
Catherine Torpey
Julie A. Townsend
June Traibman
Terry Travers-Davin
Jacqui Toure
Masaru Ujihara
Aukje van der lest
Donna Varnau
Rene Veugelers
Tobias von Schulthess
Christine Vulopas
Karen Weiss
Karen Whalen
Rosemarie Whitacre
Roberta Whitney
Scott Will
Jan Winhall
Anthony Winiski
Melissa Wirsig
Jun Xu
Liu Yijiang (Riven)
Pavlos Zarogiannis
Marina Zhigulina
Jessica Zormann
Rosa Zubizarreta
A Conversation with Doralee Grindler Katonah, Psy.D., M.Div.

By Jocelyn Jacks Kahn

“It’s all in service of our liberation, our being freed up to have the fullness of our life.” – Doralee Grindler Katonah, Psy.D., M.Div. 

Doralee was recently ordained as a Soto Zen Buddhist priest. I spoke with her about her intertwined journeys in Focusing and Buddhism, which I find profoundly inspiring. 

I know you’ve been deeply involved in Focusing for over 35 years and were, in fact, the first Director of The International Focusing Institute. I would love to know what originally drew you to Focusing.

At 22 years old, I was very much involved in the anti-war movement and living in a commune in the urban center of Chicago. But at the same time, I was sort of lost – I was very young and didn’t have a real goal for my life, other than to be politically active.

Somehow, I learned about the Changes group at the University of Chicago that Gendlin was leading, and I started going there. To have this experience of somebody listening to me proved to be extremely powerful. When I got a little deeper and learned more about the felt sense, I realized, “This is how I’ve been seeing the world my whole life!”

So something clicked for me – like something you know and you don’t know at the same time – and it brought a lot together for me. I became an active member of Changes, began teaching Focusing, lived in a commune with other Focusing people, and helped to start a Women’s Group and a Dream Group. Mary Hendricks and I would get together and read the New York Times and then find a felt sense of what interested each of us in the news. We were living a counterculture that changed our lives.

That’s kind of how I came to Focusing. Then, Gene’s book Focusing was published. Because I was already connecting with him in many ways, including sitting in on some of his philosophy classes, he asked me to help start an institute in relation to his book.

But the book wasn’t selling at first!

So somehow I got online, and I figured out how the whole book distributing thing worked – that you have to have your books stocked with a book distributor before they can get to a bookstore. The problem was, the book was not with a distributor! So, Gene and I contacted Focusing people all over the country to go to book distributors and order books. This is how the book got on the market. Successfully disseminating the book led to starting the first Focusing Weeklong and Training programs.

In terms of my own personal direction, I went more into the mind-body-spirit aspects of Focusing. I did my dissertation in the field of mind-body medicine and investigated teaching people with cancer to practice Clearing a Space. I obtained statistically significant results from this small pilot study.

But to back up a little: Prior to my dissertation, there was a lot that Gene had not yet discovered about Focusing when we first began working together. At one point, he was beginning to notice that Clearing a Space was a different process than regular Focusing.

And so he would say, “Go inside and find a place where you’re all okay.” I was working in his office, and I’d walk home and ask myself, “Where inside am I all okay?” And it felt like, “There’s no place like that! I have all these problems!”

But one day I was walking home, and I looked up at the sky. The sun was setting, and the stars were coming out. Suddenly, I knew: “I’m not my problems.” And a space opened up inside me, and I discovered a deep sense of well-being, or “okay-ness,” as Gene would say.

By that time, I was at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and I’d been reading books on mysticism by contemplative Christians. Suddenly, I realized, “Oh! This is a contemplative place; our potential to find our essential nature, a space within all of us that connects us to God, or Love, or Yahweh, or Allah, or the Life Force – there are infinite names for this – and to find our capacity to always be more than whatever our situation is.”

Now it all made sense. That was the beginning of everything for me.

I learned that the issues could be placed at a distance and still be out there (not getting rid of them) – and there was an inner space of simply a capacity to be open. This shifts how you relate to your problems. You have a little different perspective on them because they’re in relation to all this space that just opened up. Now, something really new, outside one’s usual patterns, can emerge. There is a sense of being connected to a larger life force, and one’s sense of purpose now connects with being a part of something larger.

The Focusing process started to have a deeper quality to it for me.

Reva Bernstein and I started doing some training with counseling centers. When we went to Indiana and did a training session with a group of clinicians who worked in a crisis intervention program, they were all burned out from this difficult work. We spent two days teaching them Focusing on problems. On the third day, we taught Clearing a Space – and what opened up for them had nothing to do with all the problems they had been talking about!

For example, what opened up was: “Oh, it feels so good when I work in my garden!” Or, “I wish I could listen to music more often.” A whole dimension, which I would call the spiritual dimension, would naturally arise just through Clearing a Space.

And it had all these implications for my work in terms of working with people who suffer from physical illnesses. But it also had implications for my interest in bringing spirituality into the Focusing process and into my psychotherapy work.

The more I discovered about Focusing and Clearing a Space, the more it became clear that the body has a knowing, and from this bodily attention to the Cleared Space the spirit would arise and offer wisdom. There would be another dimension that would enter into people’s lives.

When I studied Kierkegaard in the Divinity School, there was this one point – I think I was reading Sickness Unto Death – where he said, “We swoon in the face of our own freedom.” Shortly after birth, on some level, we see our freedom. But it’s overwhelming, it’s scary, so we sort of faint! We zone out a little bit and our defenses build, but deep down there is a knowing that we are free. That insight touched something very deep in me – this yearning for freedom.

This was one of the threads that drew me to Buddhism: that it was a path towards freedom.

Back to Focusing: I was very drawn to the cross-cultural interest in Focusing because so many people from around the world traveled to Chicago to study with Gendlin (and, of course, Focusing is truly international now). I learned there is this capacity to get underneath culture through Focusing to experience this universal connection to the felt sense. So even with language barriers, people of different cultures could connect and resonate through the felt sense. I knew Akira Ikemi when he was in graduate school at The University of Chicago. I felt very connected to him and sensed something deep in his lived experience within the Japanese culture.

Then I met other Focusers from Japan, which continued to resonate with this growing “spiritual sense” within me. I used to say: “I have to go all the way over to Japan to find my spiritual home within me.” So the seed of learning about Buddhism was planted here too.

But also, traumatic events in my life turned me towards Buddhism.

In my 30s, I got married and 12 months later gave birth to my daughter. At the same time, within a two-year period, four people in my family died. Here I have this beautiful baby, and then my father was one of the people who died. After four deaths within my original family, my 16-year-old nephew died a year later.

So, my married life started out as this joyful, “I’m married and I have this daughter and two more beautiful daughters from my husband’s former marriage!” And then I was completely overwhelmed by so many deaths. I didn’t even know how overwhelmed I was – I was just sort of coping.

And I knew I wasn’t OK.

But nothing touched that level of suffering in me – therapists or Focusing partners – I just didn’t know what to do.

At that point, I discovered that there was a Zen Buddhist temple near where I lived.

I’d done some studying with John Kabat-Zinn, and that had opened me up to the Buddhist philosophy. However, it wasn’t until I started sitting zazen that something began to be able to touch that suffering.

It was imperceptible at first. But my teacher would say, “You’re sitting in the wellspring of life, just sitting on the cushion – and doing nothing.” There was no agenda, no “Here’s the perfect way to do it.” It was just the sitting. I started doing that. And I felt, very slowly, that my own life force just started to come back.

There was grief. But, deeper, I felt I had lost my own life because the deaths were so devastating, and so many, and so close together. I couldn’t really deal with any of them very well. As I sat zazen I began to understand that there’s a larger mind that we are not always aware of, but that is present.

That’s the message from Buddhism: that there’s a different mind that’s always there at work in service of our liberation, our freedom, or our healing.

I learned this in different ways. There is a book called the Secret of the Golden Flower, a Chinese meditation text that was written around 600 A.D. and eventually introduced into the West through Carl Jung. I started reading it. I could just feel something in me deeply drawn to what I was reading. It felt powerful.

But then the next day, I couldn’t remember anything I’d read! That really struck me. Here I am, an academic; I’m in graduate school, I read all the time, and I couldn’t remember anything from that book.

I finally began to realize that this text was speaking to a different mind in me – a mind that’s there, that’s listening – but that I wasn’t fully connected to. I began to understand that that’s what meditation practice gives you. It starts to show you the way of being more connected to that larger mind in a way that words are not capable of.

That got me on this Buddhist path. This was about 18 years ago, when I first met my teacher. 

Do you feel that there is a relationship between that “Mind” and the Clearing of Space?

Well, I think the Clearing of Space tapped into that – yes, Clearing a Space brings you into connection with that larger something that’s so big we can’t really name or comprehend it.

But through my study of Buddhism, I began to learn more about that larger mind. It took me a long time to realize that what Buddhism says is this: The larger mind that has this wisdom is not something that our individual minds construct.

Whatever we think it might be, that’s not it. Because we are always trying to put our experience into language, or into some kind of theory or form or construct; and this Mind is beyond all formulation. It’s actually the ground of infinite possibility that’s always there arising, if we pay attention.

So that’s been very freeing and very powerful because things start to happen as you’re meditating in this way. That larger mind starts to turn and show you things and move you in certain directions.

I began to trust that, and I would get these messages, and I didn’t really know what they meant. As an example:

I went to Japan to teach for the Focusing community, and I ended up going to Mt. Koya. On this mountain are 125 living temples (not museums)! Anyway, I went there and had some time to meditate. I got this strong message: Go back to the United States and go on a silent retreat.

That was all I got.

I had learned that I had to follow through with this, even though I didn’t know where it was taking me. So I went home. And I actually found this incredible silent retreat that filled up in days. There was a 50-person waiting list – so I had found it just in time to go.

This kind of synchronicity – the universe meeting me when I listen to this inner guidance – is part of this journey. I learned to trust that I couldn’t know ahead of time why or where I would be led, or what the next steps would be. I just kept going. It was actually a body experience – there would be a bodily sense of YES – so the knowing did resonate at a bodily level, similar to Focusing.

It sounds similar to the way Gendlin talks about the big change project as a series of small steps – one breath of fresh air at a time.

Yes, it is like that. In Focusing, if you stay with the specificity, or the exactness, even though you don’t know all that’s in there, something will happen. In fact, at one point, when I was working on this Clearing a Space stuff, Gendlin would say, “OK, go inside and find a sense of well-being.” And so, at one point I did go inside, and I found that sense of well-being. I inquired: “OK, so what wants to come from here?”

What came was: “Join the Y and swim!” And I was like, “What?! I can’t do that! I can’t afford a membership at a Y,” and blah, blah, blah. But then I said, OK, I’m going to go check back with this felt sense: “Is that really right? Join the Y and swim?” And I got that bodily sense of, “Yes!” So then I thought, “OK, well – I have to figure out how I can do this…”

So, I found a Y, and I figured out that I could just pay per swim; I didn’t have to buy a big membership, which I couldn’t afford at the time as a graduate student. So I started going to this Y to swim laps. And it turned out that John, the person who became my husband, also was swimming there at the same time. It became part of our dating. We would go swim and then go out to dinner.

And I’d had no idea of any of that. I just joined the Y because that’s what came out of that clear space.

Another instance of this in my Zen practice:

I once lived for a three-week period in a Zen monastery on a farm. And I didn’t know anybody. There were maybe 100 people there. And at one point, everyone was outside in this field. I was a very shy, introverted person, and I just shut down. I felt, “Where do I even begin to talk to anybody?”

But somehow my body noticed that there was this man sitting by himself over on this rock. I thought, “Why don’t you just go sit next to him?” And so I went over there and said, “I’m an introvert. Is it ok if I sit next to you?” And he said, “Sure.” And we didn’t talk, we just sat. And all of a sudden, my body just got up, and I walked back in the crowd, and I started talking to somebody. And I wasn’t even thinking about it.

So, it’s just like that sense of being guided and not knowing. And I’ve learned that it’s all in service of our liberation, our being freed up to have the fullness of our life.

I know you became a priest just recently. Can you say more about that?

Well, I’m two months old as a priest! I was ordained on October 19, 2019.

My ordination process actually began six years ago when my Zen teacher invited me to enter into priest training.

Part of the training involves sewing your own robe. That in itself is a meditation practice. The robe has seven panels with three sections per panel and maybe ten different subsections – it’s a very intricate process to sew this robe, and I had a sewing teacher who worked with me. I was working on that for the last 2-1/2 years.

The understanding is that the truth of the dharma lives in us. It’s very embodied. And so when you sew your robe, you’re sewing the dharma into your bones, so to speak. It included a whole chanting process. I would chant with each stitch.

Actually, up until around a year ago, I wasn’t sure that I could fully say yes to being a priest.

I’ve gone back and tried to remember what happened to change that, and I can’t. But something happened where I felt, “Yes. This is it.” And I could feel that everything in me wanted to go all the way.

That claiming has been very powerful for me because I feel whole in a new way, like I’m going to finally live from the center of my spiritual capacities and bring this to other people and their spiritual journeys. So it’s been really wonderful!

The ordination process itself is hard for me to describe. Shaving my head was part of it. So that was a ritual. I don’t know what to say yet about actually being a priest, though.

But something’s different.

I feel like some kind of energy has been freed up to live more fully from this open place. And I’m meeting each moment with a sort of anticipation of something wanting to happen without yet knowing what that is – and it seems like that’s been happening more. So then I just feel a lot of joy inside – and at the same time I have a lot to learn.

From training to become a priest and now living as a priest – that’s a journey itself. I can feel it. I feel very embraced by my community here in Sacramento. There was a big celebration for me. I think the women, especially, were very moved that now we have a woman priest in our sangha. There are many women Zen priests all over the country but in my sangha, I’m the first.

And once you take your vows to be a Bodhisattva, which means that you’ve committed yourself to live for the liberation of all beings, that frees up a powerful assertion of compassion and the awareness of the interconnectedness of us all.

There’s an image within Buddhism of the dragon, and it’s something that I keep thinking about. Because sometimes I’m much bolder than I ever thought I could be! Bolder with how I am or what I say… But this is still very new. It’s hard to have the words yet.

You mentioned that the original spark of intention to be a Zen priest was simply that your teacher asked you to do this. Was there anything in your earlier background that fueled this desire?

Yes. Way back in my 20s, I had started on a path to become ordained as a Christian minister. And some difficult events happened around that, so I didn’t go down that path.

But I felt like I had abandoned part of myself that really wanted to be more of a spiritual leader.

The practice of zazen has helped me reclaim that. So that was all going on while I was with my teacher. But she was the one that decided that maybe I’m ready now. Some people go to their teacher and say, “I want to be ordained.” But my teacher’s approach is more like, “When you’re ready, I’ll let you know.”

Knowing of your initial thwarted attraction toward Christian ordination gives me more of a sense of what you mean when you say it feels like there’s “some kind of energy that has been freed up to live more fully.” I can hear that it has really been a lifelong journey toward your ordination.

Yes. When I was 13, my best friend converted to Catholicism. I was raised in a Congregational (Protestant) church. My best friend had been raised in the same church as I was, and I had been taught to be prejudiced against Catholics. But now here’s my best friend becoming a Catholic.

So I thought, “Catholicism can’t be all that bad – she’s my best friend!” Because of that, I became really curious.

I started going to the Catholic church to understand their religion, and then I went back to my minister and tried to understand more of what my church believed. In that whole process, I decided that there isn’t one answer – that we’re all on a journey, and it’s about asking the questions and being open.

So I think it was that experience when I was 13 that sent me down this road.

I’m very moved to hear the depth of this, and how long it’s been simmering inside you.

That’s true – it’s been simmering there a long time. 

I often think of each of us as having a thread that we’re consciously or unconsciously following. I love to hear people telling the story of the path on which their particular thread has taken them.

So, have you found that Focusing and spirituality and Buddhism have just been really woven together all along? Or is it that sometimes one is more to the fore, sometimes the other is more to the fore?

I don’t think about that so much now.

Maybe because they are like one thing now?

Yes and no. Because one of the things I’ve come to understand is that we can live in what Buddhism would call a “nest of being.” There can be worlds of meaning that we create that are really profound. And we can live within that our whole life.

With Buddhism, though, I began to realize, “Oh – that’s just one context of being.” So what happens if you just step outside of that and wonder?

I began to realize that Focusing is one nest of being. It does create deep meaning, and it has a whole world that’s part of it. There is a whole subculture. But if I can just stay on that edge and step back, then that’s when something else opens up that has felt bigger to me, or like… It’s hard to find the words again. Buddhism would say, “The mind is ungraspable, illimitable, incalculable, incomprehensible…”

These are huge words with which to say something so big and so intricate that we can’t ever understand – to just contemplate that, to me, has been very important, or very humbling.

In Buddhism (in my tradition, at least) we do a lot of bowing down and letting go of all the ways in which we “know,” or want to control, or think we’ve got it. And that’s an ongoing thing because there’s always this tendency to create a self. I will discover something about myself and I will go, “Oh, yeah, that’s me!” It’s like I want to hold onto it as, “Now I’ve got it – this is me now.”

And Buddhism will always say, “No – let go, let go, let go – there’s always more – and don’t hold on.” That practice is not easy. It’s scary. And sometimes I still want to hold on.

So, as far as whether my paths of Buddhism and spirituality and Focusing have melded into one thing, it’s a yes and no.

Gendlin talks a lot about that. There is the “me” that is no content – I think that’s a Gendlin phrase. He says that the more you practice Focusing, the more you realize that it’s the “me” that isn’t this or that, that’s participating in the process. And that’s the kind of presence that we bring to whatever we’re living in a sort of content-oriented way. So I like the never-endingness of it.

I realize you’re at this very beginning point of being a priest and exactly what that will look like for you has not yet clarified. But I’m wondering, since there are other priests in your sangha – do the priests in your Zen community all express that role in very different ways?

Yes, how each of us manifests the teachings through living as a priest is uniquely developed from each person’s practice life. For me, this journey of openings, and not knowing where I am going, is what will lead me into the manifestations of my priest life. And it is already happening in each unfolding moment of unexpected surprises!
In addition, there are many different strands of Zen Buddhism, but Zen practice tends to be very formal. How we enter the temple, how we walk, how we sit on our cushion – there’s a lot of form.

And all this form is there for a certain reason. It helps you actually come to know form. As a Zen priest, you’re helping to conduct some of the forms. A priest, or someone in a similar role, will come to the altar and offer flower petals. We have an offering and lead the ceremonial parts after we sit. We have bowing and chanting and things like that.

So that’s a formal role for the priest, and I’m looking forward to doing more of that because it’s powerful.

There are different ceremonies, too – for example, there’s a full moon ceremony. We just went through Rohatsu, a three-day, silent retreat to celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment. So we have different forms in that respect. There’s a ritual meal we have. All of those things would not be particular to what I’m doing, but just what any priest does. And I like that!

In addition, what I’m personally interested in – and I’ve already done some of this – is giving talks about white privilege and the concept of “othering” because, especially in Buddhism, any way that we make the other an object is really not what the practice is about. And yet, because those issues are so unconsciously ingrained in those of us who are white, we have to work on it. And so I have some interest in making that a focus of my priesthood. And women’s issues as well.

And, oh!

There is something else for which I sought special training – Jizo ceremonies – that I would like to bring to my Zen community.

If you go to Japan you’ll see these statues – they look like children, and they have red hats and bibs on. They are in graveyards and in gardens and on street corners. They are Jizo statues.

Jizo is the Boddhisattva of fragile states – Jizo carries you across. Jizo is there for unborn babies, for mothers who are pregnant, for transitions we’re going through. The Jizo Boddisattva gives you the courage to go through something. Jizo is there at the point of death to carry you across the threshold of life and death.

And so there are some psychologists who have developed a ceremony. It’s like a grief ceremony for people who have lost a loved one or suffered some other kind of loss. The understanding is that when somebody dies or you lose that person somehow, the ways in which we express our love are body ways – we touch, or we cook, or we comfort, or we hold. All the ways that we love are really through our bodies.

The ceremony is all in silence; nobody talks.

We have a big cloth on the floor, and it’s full of all kinds of craft materials, like sticks and cloth and flowers and thread. People are invited to use these materials to create an offering for the person who has died. And people get really involved in making something really special while they’re feeling their grief.

This making, I think, comes from a felt sense. You do not decide what to create. You allow the silent pouring out of your grief through your hands, and something creative is made as an offering. And then we have a ceremony where you bring the offering to the Jizo altar and offer words to your loved one.

A sense develops of a transmutation of your relationship with the person who died from a physical relationship to a spiritual one.

I want to bring the Jizo ceremony to my Zen community once a year. 

Is there anything else that you’re particularly looking forward to as a Zen priest?

When you become a priest, you are able to offer what are called “practice interviews.” In Buddhism it is understood that the truth, or "the dharma," is transmitted through the student/teacher relationship – that the “truth” is living and arises within intimacy, especially the intimacy of the student/teacher relationship.

When people are called to go deeper into their practice, they often seek a relationship with a teacher as a guide to whom they can bring their experiences and questions. This is what is especially of interest to me – to be able to offer this kind of relationship to others who seek the “Way.”

And I feel that practicing Focusing-oriented therapy for over 35 years has given me the gift of developing a special way of being present and listening.
Jocelyn Jacks Kahn is a Certified Focusing Trainer in the traditions of Inner Relationship Focusing and Wholebody Focusing. She is also an instructor in the Realization Process, a spiritual practice of embodied non-duality.
Getting to Know New Board Member Peter Afford

by Mary Slocum

Peter Afford is a member of the Board of The International Focusing Institute.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?

In the south of England. I was born near Cambridge. When I was six, we moved to Oxford. I went away to school in my teens, and then to university in Bristol. Most of my adult life I’ve lived in London, apart from spells abroad including one in New York.

How did you get into Focusing? Do you remember that first encounter?

Very well, yes. I was in Sydney, Australia, in 1984 training to join the teaching staff of an organization called Self Transformations. I had gotten into personal development and pop psychology and went there for six months with my first wife. We did a “Being of Service” course that taught people to assist on the organization’s weekend workshops. We learned techniques for working with individuals, including gestalt techniques, past life regression, and Focusing.

We learned Focusing from Helena Cornelius, who had learned it from the little Focusing book. We were a group of fifty people and were taught it over two evenings which, as we know, is not the way to teach Focusing.

I was not a natural Focuser. I didn’t get it. But I was intrigued because Helena had said, “If you learn Focusing, then you can sort all your personal stuff out - do some meditation and do some Focusing and you will be fine.” So, it came with some mystique - a good sales line. However, I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t a natural Focuser and Helena didn’t know how to teach it effectively.

I suppose I learned Focusing in practice over the next two years back in England. It took me two years to get the hang of it. I learned it partly because my wife at the time, Sophia, had to teach it as part of that same course, “Being of Service.” She was a natural Focuser and we did it together.

Probably the thing that tipped the balance was that I did a year’s training in biodynamic therapy. The biodynamic attitude is very similar to that of Focusing. So, I got the hang of Focusing and found I could do it by myself.

How did you discover that you could do Focusing by yourself?

By sitting quietly when I was feeling unhappy. Instead of doing “processes” and the cognitive stuff I had learned in the Self Transformations program, I just sat with how I felt inside and discovered that I had feelings and that I was human. If I kept my attention with my feelings (I had been meditating for a long time, which helped), they shifted. I had a “eureka!” moment.

What makes someone a natural Focuser or not a natural Focuser?

I think it is less relevant these days than it was then because we teach Focusing differently now, so everyone can get it straight away. But, as somebody in Chicago once said, back in the 1980s they didn’t know how to teach it effectively. For some people, if you just gave them Focusing instructions, they would have a good experience. And, I suppose, they were people who naturally had a good relationship with their feelings, whereas somebody like myself, a non-natural Focuser, was puzzled about feelings and didn’t have an easy, natural relationship with them.

How did you come to incorporate Focusing into your professional practice? 

Well, with my first wife, we set ourselves up to teach personal development courses, and we included Focusing. We weren’t very successful with this. After living in France for a time, we went our separate ways, but when I went back to London, I was determined to teach Focusing. I can’t remember why, but I liked it and I was practicing Focusing. It seemed a natural and obvious thing to do. So, I’ve been teaching Focusing and weekend workshops for more than thirty years in London.

I started psychotherapy training in 1990 and have been a qualified psychotherapist since around 1994. Focusing was always a big part of that. I was probably a bit of a nuisance on my therapy training course, sitting there thinking and sometimes saying, “Focusing would be better than what we are doing here.” Sometimes I was probably right!

Knowing Focusing was great because it enabled me to work as a therapist. I don’t know what I would have done without it.

I’m curious how you explain the felt sense. You have written about it and I have read at least one of your papers. The term “felt sense” is becoming very popular, especially here in the US, in mindfulness meditation circles. Is this muddying the waters or is it an opportunity?

It’s an opportunity, I think. The same thing happens in Britain - that non-Focusing people talk about the felt sense. If I hear someone talk about it, I may think, “You haven’t got it, you haven’t read Gendlin, you ought to.”

When people talk about the felt sense, they are onto something, even if longtime Focusing people like you or I say, “Why are they talking about the felt sense? It’s a Focusing thing.” Maybe there is something about their understanding of the felt sense that we can help them with, and that we can clarify.

How, as a Focusing community, can we go about that? Typically, it is used in the context of simply being aware of your bodily sensations. I suppose that is a starting point. As you say, people aren’t especially wired to notice that. How can we go about educating and bringing in more understanding so people can really take full advantage?

Well, by teaching Focusing. By teaching the felt sense. By talking to people about it. By pointing things out. Because, as we’d all agree, the felt sense is tricky to pin down. You can’t really define it, and it’s probably not a good idea to try to.

My view is that we understand the felt sense through experiencing it and through talking about our experience of it with each other. If I think that somebody’s understanding of the term isn’t what it could be, we can have a conversation that I hope is helpful for them. I like this because coming back to the idea of the felt sense - talking about the felt sense - is always worthwhile. It is always rewarding.

Have you ever thought about teaching Focusing in schools? Here in the US, in many places, mindfulness is being taught from the first grade. Is there a place for Focusing in the school curriculum?

There probably is. I haven’t been involved in that because I don’t have ways into the world of schools. It needs the right person to do it. René [Veugelers] in the Netherlands stands out. You can’t just package Focusing up for lots of people to teach it in a particular way. It’s down to the individual who’s motivated to teach Focusing in a particular context.

I encourage people in the UK who do have the possibility of teaching in schools to do so. René can help them do that. Certainly, the potential is there in schools.

You said you meditated and I don’t know if you still have a meditation practice. I have both a meditation practice and a Focusing practice. Meditation is about direct experience. It’s not a bunch of concepts, you have to do it. I’m wondering, what is it about Focusing that you feel might not be accessible in the same way that mindfulness has been packaged and made available?

Well, somebody could try to package Focusing up in the way that has happened with mindfulness, but I don’t think it would work. Focusing is very personal. If you start packaging it up, you’ll lose the heart and soul of it, I think (somebody could prove me wrong!). I haven’t managed do it, and I haven’t seen anybody else do it. The person who has been most successful is Ann Weiser Cornell. I’m sure she’d agree that anyone else who wants to teach Focusing has to do it their way.

My approach, and what I recommend to others, is to do what you want to do. Teach Focusing, if you enjoy teaching it, in a context that works for you. Just as we have to make our Focusing practice our own, we have to teach it in our own way, and I encourage people to do that and see what happens. I’m disappointed that there aren’t more people teaching Focusing in Britain or in other countries. But it does get around in a grassroots, down to earth, rather informal way. 

I’m curious why we don’t have more Focusing practitioners who have followed in Ann Weiser Cornell’s footsteps, not copying exactly what she does. She has a very effective way of teaching. I’m curious what it is about Focusing that we don’t see more of that.

I am too. Maybe putting yourself out there to teach it is a big thing for people to do. Maybe a lot of people don’t want to go that far and are happy to offer one-on-one Focusing sessions. To organize courses and classes and put yourself out there takes some effort. You need a bit of a business mind to do it, to earn money to support yourself. In Britain, not many people who learn Focusing want to do that.

I came to all this in the ‘80s, when humanistic psychology and personal development were taking off. There were all kinds of crazy things happening, and I got involved with some of them. I was used to arranging weekend workshops to get into your feelings and all that. But for people these days, it probably seems rather different. If there was a way to teach Focusing in a more organized way, maybe halfway between people just doing their thing and the more structured way that has happened with mindfulness, it might be possible. 

You’ve written a book, Therapy in the Age of Neuroscience, so my next question is how has your interest in and study of neuroscience intertwined with or informed your Focusing practice, your Focusing experience, your working with individuals and groups, or has it?

If I’m teaching a group, I like to put a little bit of neuroscience in because I think it helps to make sense of what happens. I have to be careful because neuroscience gets technical and people in Focusing workshops don’t want a lot of technical stuff, but a little bit is OK. I see what I can get away with.

In terms of my own Focusing experience, learning about neuroscience hasn’t made any difference. I wouldn’t expect it to. But I certainly understand my Focusing experience, and other people’s Focusing experiences that I witness, in terms of the neuroscience models in my book. They make so much sense to me that I wanted to write the book. I felt confident enough to write it, though nervous too, of course. The other way around, I don’t think I would have understood neuroscience if I hadn’t been doing Focusing for a long time. 

That’s because you had the direct experience of what was happening?

Yes, it’s about being familiar with what happens in our inner experience when we take our attention inside, as we do in Focusing. I’ve been doing that for years. I have confidence about doing it. In contrast, when I started out guiding people in Focusing, I was anxious about what might happen. All kinds of unexpected things can happen. Now, I’m happy to jump in, confident that we can sort out whatever does happen and that something good will come from it.

When I’m reading neuroscience, all that personal experience of the inner world is in the back of my mind and sometimes in the front of my mind. I think there’s a lot about neuroscience I wouldn’t have understood if I hadn’t had my Focusing experience to draw on. On the other hand, it’s impossible to really know because, even if you don’t do Focusing, you have the inner experience of your mind and body and dealing with your feelings and everything else. Anyone has a lot to go on, but in the practice of Focusing and teaching Focusing, we do a lot of making explicit what happens implicitly. That definitely is a strength and an advantage.  

From reading some of your writings, an understanding of right brain, left brain and how they work together seems to be important. Do you agree with that?

Yes, absolutely. It’s the number one thing. The right brain/left brain is at the top of the pile of really useful neuroscience understandings for Focusers, for psychotherapists, and perhaps for everyone. That is because it brings the body in and we can understand what’s happening between brain and body. 

Do you want to go a little further and explain what that right brain/left brain is? I know it is a big topic.

The main point is that the right brain is dominant for keeping in touch with what’s happening inside the body from moment to moment. It does this more than the left does. What’s happening in the body colors what’s happening in the right brain in a way that it doesn’t in the left brain. From this point, many things flow.

To give you something concrete in terms of what different people are saying: the big book on left and right hemispheres is Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. There was a Focusing Institute Roundtable about it earlier this year, I think. Iain McGilchrist is the expert here, and he says the most important difference between the hemispheres is that the left does the focus of attention, and the right does peripheral, or open, attention to what’s at the edge of awareness. You need both kinds of attention for doing most things. So, you’ve got one hemisphere doing part of it and the other doing the other part. And, because we focus our attention on something, such as what we’re saying, or what we’re writing or reading, we can get very left-brain biased, particularly in the busy world we live in.

That’s his big point. I’m happy to go along with it. He says that’s the reason why evolution has gone the way it has with the two hemispheres. I’m not going to argue with him about that, but what I would emphasize is that a big difference is that the right brain is linked up with the body in an ongoing, implicit, working together as one kind of way, and the left brain isn’t. 

That’s why I use the term “right brain-body ensemble” in my book. This starts to explain a lot of things. It takes some time to get your head around it because we look at these scientific things and other things, such as the difference between mindfulness and Focusing, from a left-brain point of view. All the time, we are experiencing how things are and how we feel about them in our right brain. The perspective from the right brain is always different from the left’s, and it is good to have both.

Iain McGilchrist’s book is brilliant at drawing out the different perspective of the right brain. If you read it, and sit with it, and reflect on your own experience, then it makes a lot of sense of a lot of things. Some big names have said that this is a very significant book that explains things that nothing else ever has. I understand why they say that. 

Can I link up there, since we were talking about the felt sense earlier? The point I make in my book is that the right hemisphere is the natural home of the felt sense. It’s there all the time - except when it isn’t because we’re overwhelmed with emotion or depressed or dissociated. It’s the natural way for the right side of our brain to experience what’s happening in the here and now.

Then I can say controversial things, such as the felt sense is in your right hemisphere rather than your body - which is both true and not true since the right hemisphere forms an ensemble with the body. To be able to make use of that bit of neuroscience, you have to go a bit technical to match the science with your personal experience. You can then clear up the question of why the felt sense is sometimes experienced as a bodily sensation, and other times it isn’t (and it doesn’t matter). 

Let’s switch gears a bit and turn to your work with the Focusing Institute. You are now on the Board of Directors. I’m curious about your work on the Board, your vision, the critical things that you would like to be working on for the Institute.

For the moment, I’m just getting my head around what’s going on. I feel that I know the Institute very well from the outside. I’ve known it for over thirty years. Now, I’m trying to figure out what it’s like on the inside. There’s a lot to learn. I’m trying to get myself acquainted.

What do I want to do? I want to contribute something valuable, useful, and constructive while I am on the board. Of course, one thing I want to do is apply my own ideas about working with the felt sense in an organizational setting without necessarily having to do a lot of Focusing. That really interests me because I think the concept of the felt sense is so interesting, and there is so much you can do with it.

Do you have a vision of what that would be like? You mentioned in business settings - what would that be like?

I think it would be to have a well-run organization that does the business side of things okay. Interesting things happen, the organization evolves, people find it rewarding to work there, and creative ideas come through. My view of the felt sense is that, in a lot of situations, it’s already there but you don’t notice it. It’s like when someone does something well, you don’t see what it is that they are really doing. Like a top tennis player! But to do what they do that well, they have practiced and practiced, and if you try to do the same thing, you find that you can’t do it as well.

There is a lot of felt sense in the world. When things go well in human groups and organizations, there is a lot of felt sense around. 

You’re saying you would like to teach people how to use this felt sense that’s already happening, or perhaps develop it?  

Yes, that’s one of the lines I am pursuing - the felt sense in a broader context outside of sitting down to do a Focusing exchange with somebody. Using the felt sense in the widest context now would be to ask: how do we respond to climate change and all that is threatening our world? The felt sense will always take us somewhere. It is inherently creative. All of that interests me. Now, that’s aside from working with the board.

You asked me what my vision for the Institute would be. Well, I am a big fan of the Institute because it is the hub of the worldwide network of Focusing. We need the Institute to link together Focusers in different countries and everything they are doing, to know what each other is doing, to learn from one another and have cross-fertilization. I’ve always enjoyed the stimulation of international meetings and meeting Focusers from other countries. It’s a wonderful experience. There’s such a great atmosphere, very fertile. So, I want to help the Institute to do more of this. We need to get the new website working well so it can support this hub function with everything the internet can enable us to do.

As we close this morning/this evening. Do you have any message you’d like to share with the worldwide Focusing network?

[Laughing] Read my book! Hmm... I’m not into pronouncing messages worldwide. In terms of my involvement with the Board, I hope I can serve in a useful way. I can be pragmatic, I like things well organized and done well, and I have a bit of a business mind. But all of that is just a means to an end. The end is supporting Focusing around the world and Focusers around the world to interact together and enjoy what they are doing.

What we’re doing with Focusing is something unique because we have a psychological practice and the understanding that goes with it. That has branched out into other things like Thinking at the Edge and Whole Body Focusing. And we’re not packaging it up into a manual; we’re not going to run Focusing in a top down, controlling way. Focusers hate that. Gene hated that. We’re working in a different kind of way. It may require patience and may at times be frustrating, but it is honest, it’s creative, and it’s good. And good people get involved. So, let’s go with that sort of approach.

In terms of what we were talking about earlier regarding left/right hemispheres, it is quite balanced. If you over-organize, over-control, top down, you are clearly driven by your left hemisphere. The world is full of so much of that these days, and we’ve all had enough of it. With Focusing, we’ve got the opportunity to create something very different that’s a lot more rewarding.

That’s a great message, Peter. Thank you for your time. 
Mary Slocum is a Focusing professional, meditation teacher, and blogger. Visit her at www.centeredbodymind.com.
Q&A with ILC Member Ruth Hirsch

By Dawn Flynn

Ruth Hirsch is a member of the International Leadership Council of the International Focusing Institute 


I recently spoke with Focusing Oriented Therapist and Trainer, Ruth Hirsch, and found myself captivated, leaning in on the edge of my seat as I learned of her life in the Peace Corps in remote areas of Africa, as well as her travels teaching Focusing in Australia and Finland. She is currently living in Jerusalem, teaching classes online, and is a member of the International Leadership Council for The International Focusing Institute.

What was your first Focusing experience like?

In 1993, I attended a workshop titled “Marketing with Integrity” at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. I can still see what came for me. The exercise only lasted five minutes, but it was so powerful. Afterward, I asked the trainer about it. She said the process was called Focusing. She said that, similar to herself, she saw me as having a strong inner critic and shared that Focusing had helped her with this. She said I might want to learn more from a woman named Ann, who was a teacher of Focusing. I contacted Ann Weiser Cornell and had my first class in her home with two other women.
 
Within a few months, I began incorporating Focusing into my bodywork practice. I found it to be more effective than doing bodywork alone. I worked with one man for two years who, after one month, said that he found our work to be more powerful than seven years of therapy. I don’t mean to put down psychotherapy, only to point out the power of Focusing. 

I also went to Chicago to study with Gene, Janet Klein, and Mary McGuire. From them, I learned how important safety is. It was just how they were, how accepting and allowing and caring.

What are you currently teaching?

In addition to teaching Basic and Advanced Focusing courses and working with Trainers-in-Training, I’ve been teaching classes on the inner critic. I’ve found these classes to be extremely valuable for my students. The inner critic is so often unconscious and it sabotages them. They think they are the only ones that have it, not realizing that so many others have it as well. It’s powerful what can happen in a group with peer support for working with this issue.  

I find Focusing to be one of the most effective tools when working with the inner critic. Other methods involve giving ourselves instructions, but Focusing is listening to ourselves in a body-centered way, giving us a different perspective and allowing things to shift inside. 

These days, nearly all of my work is online except when I travel, so I love to travel. I love learning about people and how they live.

I am considering doing a Focusing class/support group on our relationship to aging, which is a topic I am currently very interested in.  

How has your teaching changed over the years?

I no longer follow a template. I have a rough outline, but the way I do it is different every time. I answer questions when they come up and feel that how I respond is as important as what I say. My teaching is guided by who is in the class, what questions are asked, and what topics are discussed. I like teaching this way a lot better; makes it more interesting for everyone. It’s like a dance we do together - as well as a way of modeling Focusing.

What is the International Leadership Council and how has your experience been as a member?

The original intention of the ILC was that it would be a leadership council that would work cooperatively with the Board of The International Focusing Institute. Members would work together to ensure the work and message of The International Focusing Institute was being spread across the world, and would continually look at how this process could be improved.

I’ve been on the ILC from the beginning in 2014. My term is up this summer. For the first few years I loved it and put tons of energy into it. I was excited about taking a look at the roles and responsibilities of Focusing Coordinators, and also how to better support Focusing Trainers. I felt so honored to be part of this group.  

How did you come to live in Jerusalem?

I had a synchronistic experience while I was living in Berkeley. One piece of that experience is that a friend told me on Christmas Eve of 1999 that she thought I should go to Israel. At the time, I had been living in Berkeley for over fifteen years and had been having some slow work years. I hadn’t ever considered visiting Israel. But there was a rightness to what she said. Nine weeks later, I was in Jerusalem to visit and shortly thereafter, I moved here.

Jerusalem is not an easy place to live, but it’s so full of meaning and possibility. So many people live here because it’s meaningful for them. How many places can you say that about - that people are there because it’s meaningful? I never planned on living here but I quickly fell in love with it and have never doubted my decision. 

How would you describe your spiritual life?

I grew up with parents that were anti-Semitic atheists, but I have always been a person interested in spirituality, healing, and growth. Helping people heal is important for people who are hurting emotionally to help them grow. I continue to be interested in spirituality, especially Jewish spirituality. I found out in 2000 that both my parents were Jewish. I love the Jewish religion. I’m not in love with Jewish law, but with the ethics of what the Jewish religion stands for. It’s amazing and I feel it’s a privilege to be a part of it.  

Here, on the Sabbath the streets are almost empty. I love it - a day not to do email, to be with friends; a time to revive and refresh, and be ready to start a new week.

How has Focusing influenced your life?

Focusing has changed my life profoundly. I wouldn’t have come for a visit to Israel or lived here if it wasn’t for Focusing. I needed to spend a lot of time Focusing on if I could be in a location where there was so much violence. I grew up in a violent home. I made a third visit here before finally deciding to move here. During that visit, it became clear through Focusing with my Focusing partner who was with me by phone everywhere I traveled, that I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  
Dawn Flynn is a naturopathic doctor, licensed acupuncturist, and certified Focusing practitioner in the Seattle area of Washington state.

By Serge Prengel

In this conversation, We start talking about language. As we speak from the felt sense, it becomes a conversation about incorporating the Focusing attitude into a conversation with a peer.


Browse through upcoming events submitted by the worldwide Focusing community.