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Changing the Unchangeable: Special Project (CUSP)

By Jan Bronson and Anna Christensen, Focusing Trainers, USA

Jan Bronson is a Focusing Trainer and Psychotherapist, M.A., NRCPsyA, in private practice in New York City. Jan can be reached at jnbronson@aol.com.

Changing the Unchangeable may seem an oxymoron; however, Robert Lee , Focusing Coordinator from Costa Rica, offers that challenge. He proposes that by Focusing in a long-term partnership using a particular structure, one can achieve a fundamental change in resistant, troublesome patterns. Anna Christensen attended Robert’s workshop on St. Simon’s Island in October 1996 and when she returned, she invited Jan Bronson to be her partner in this daunting and exciting endeavor. The following is a summarized account of their experience. The full text is available at www.focusing.org/fot/cusp.html

Robert Lee conceived CUSP as a process for experienced focusers to address problematic behavior, attitudes and beliefs that seem intractable regardless of how much work we have done on ourselves. We are both therapists and members of the first therapist training group in New York City, so we had often experienced one another as Focusing partners. We were intrigued to challenge ourselves with Changing The Unchangeable and, with this long-term adventure, we developed a new dimension in our relationship and a radical shift in our personal growth.

For over three years, we met weekly mostly on the phone, occasionally face-to-face. Our sessions were one hour. Each person Focused for twenty minutes and then we each took ten minutes to discuss our process. The Listener/Guide took notes of the other’s Focusing session while listening so that we could maintain a written record over time. As recommended by Robert, our record of each session was divided into three columns: the Issue; the Felt Sense; and Self-Empathy/Guiding Suggestions. We added a summary at the bottom that indicated the Felt Shifts the Focuser had experienced, which were shared during the post-Focusing discussion. These records proved invaluable in the fourth year as we met to evaluate our progress. In reviewing them we understood the depth of our process. (See the an example of these notes at the end of the article.)

Robert suggests using four images: a gong, ropes, guard dogs and a bearing wall. The gong represents the focal issue. The ropes are the defending behaviors and attitudes that hold the gong in place. The bearing wall is the personality structure we have designed in order to function in the world and the guard dogs are the defenses that fiercely protect the integrity of the bearing wall. In our three-year experiment with CUSP, we never used the images of the bearing wall and the guard dogs, but we used the gong and rope imagery extensively. Fortunately Robert had offered his method freely and we adapted it to suit our needs.

At the beginning of our experiment with CUSP, we made another adaptation. Robert suggests naming a specific issue that we want to change. However, rather than name an issue, we trusted our intuition and let the issue find us. Letting the issue find us proved to be important far beyond our initial understanding. Each of us felt that our own personal development was intrinsically altered and a deep and trusting bond developed between us.


The gong image gave a new dimension to Focusing. Robert had presented the image as a gong suspended by ropes. We imagined it as a solid internal structure, a visual image of an entity residing in the middle area of the body. The gong incorporates the experience of a central internal issue, a resonating, an inner knowing that this is “it.” The power of the image is that it is experiential rather than cognitive. Once the gong is felt in the middle area of our bodies—the solar plexus—then when the “gong issue” is accessed, it resonates, reverberating through one’s entire body. Really hearing the “sound” of the gong is the direct expression of who we are, and that is one way that CUSP differs from regular Focusing.

The images of our gongs were somewhat different but we both shared the idea that the ropes holding the gongs had strands. As an issue was “shifted,” we imagined strands of the ropes loosening and dropping away. The rope imagery was powerfully symbolic. We felt the unraveling ropes releasing us individually while the same ropes seemed to bind us together as bonded Focusing partners.

The ropes were experienced as a Felt Sense composed of individual strands with each strand needing attention and release. A Felt Shift was synonymous with a strand coming undone and we expressed this with words like frayed, loosened, falling away, dropped. We celebrated each frayed strand. Imagine the Felt Shift experience when an entire rope fell away! When a rope fell away, the gong also shifted. Our belief structure was loosening up, as the gong was now less solidly held in place.

We processed the issues, defenses, and belief systems that were symbolized by the ropes and gong so that eventually there was no support to hold them in place. This shift took place for both of us at about the last quarter of the second year. During the third year, the whole metaphor of the gong as a separate entity supported by ropes wa deconstructed, giving way to a new paradigm—the Core Belief.

Anna Christensen is a Focusing Trainer and Psychotherapist, C.S.W., in private practice in New York City. Anna is a Dharma Heir to Charlotte Joko Beck.. Anna can be reached at aychristensen@aol.com.


The visual image of a metallic gong morphed into the concept of the Core Belief, which Anna, a Buddhist meditator, had borrowed from her Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck. The internalized image of the solid gong shifted, inviting a more visceral unseen Felt Sense that was at the very core of our being where our deepest conditioning lay. We vowed to bring this deep and unconscious Core Belief, from which we constructed our intricate defense patterns, into conscious awareness using Focusing. Our CUSP project took on yet a deeper dimension.

According to Joko’s view and our own experience, Core Beliefs tend to be attached to thoughts that we are never enough, to a felt sense of inadequacy or painful inferiority. The Core Belief is founded on a personal conviction of an intrinsic deficit in the very core of our being. Out of this come our basic belief systems and strategies which we think will allow us to function in the world. Though each Core Belief is unique to the individual, it is always in the realm of deficits, of not being enough.

The Buddhist and Focusing views share the understanding that Core Beliefs belie a basic truth: we are whole and complete as we are. When we uncover a Core Belief and its particular coping strategies, there is an opportunity to employ our natural compassion and wisdom, and our authentic abilities can manifest freely.


In the third year, a situation arose in which we unconsciously acted out our negative Core Beliefs on each other. We had to wend our way through hurt feelings, confusion and what felt like a rupture in our beautifully bonded relationship. We each experienced fear and anger that the rupture had damaged our bond and the continuity of our process felt lost.

Ultimately it was our years of shared history that enabled us to be with the fear and anger, the hurt and doubt and confusion. Our goal was not to move past all this but rather to be with it. We allowed our deepest most vulnerable feelings to be expressed and to be known to our self and to each other. This process deepened our trust and freed us to accept and know our Core Belief feelings without trying to cover them over with the usual unconscious strategies. We were able to reclaim our intimate bond.


The temporary rupture and the healing that followed have enabled us to recognize our Core Belief reactions more quickly. And in fact our relationships to our Core Beliefs have indeed changed. In Changing The Unchangeable, we found that deeply held belief systems do not completely vanish. But we each now know our Core Belief system in a whole new way, and have a fresh way of relating to it. Both of us have gained the capacity to recognize the old familiar “thought loops,” to turn away from them and to realize we have choice. The change shouldn’t be seen as a final state of mind, but rather a moment-to-moment process.  Some days we have more awareness; some days we are caught in the old Core Belief patterns, but for much shorter periods of time. So we feel that CUSP has been a very successful endeavor.


In the fourth year, we stopped formal CUSP Focusing sessions and met in person, on a regular basis, to go over all of our process recordings, which covered the period from 1997 to 2000. We compare on a scale of one to ten how we are presently integrating our change around the issues we Focused on over the course of the three-year project. The number we select arises out of our felt sense, with one being the least amount of change and ten being the most. This systematic evaluation of our on-going change has begun yet another phase of CUSP. It has provided an additional deepening of our respective Felt Senses and Felt Shifts, a disciplined and intellectually stimulating experience that led to the writing of this paper; and a continual revisiting and fine tuning of the process.


What distinguishes CUSP from long-term Focusing partnerships?

Issue Felt Sense Self-Empathy/Guiding Suggestions
I feel like I’m dong a dance with fear I hear it in my guy, saying, "You can't do it." Lots of pressure. Can you make room for this to be here right now?
I would like to adopt a cat. It feels jumpy, there's a kinf of thickness. Now it's a sort of excitement, sweetness. So there are two places in you, a worried place and an excited place.
I would really like an animal companion, but I'm not sure. There's a sort of guility/anxious feeling, like, would I be a bad person if I hhad to give the cat back? It feels really good to let both places be there. I feel some air coming in.


Brief Summary: I felt that I really wanted a cat, but I forgot about my eyes burning so much lately. I could be allergic to the dander. I feel a slowing down. The pressure is much less. I don’t have to make up my mind right now--experiencing one strand falling away from the rope.

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This page was last modified on 11 April 2008