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FOCUS ON: Kathleen Kavanagh and Mairead O'Brien

by Ellen Kirschner, M.A., Focusing Institute Member, USA

At the opening ceremony of the Focusing International, when participants spoke by country in their native tongues, Kathleen Kavanagh, chanting in Gaelic, extemporized on The Lord's Prayer, asking that the "sentient, multicultural community" of Focusing "be realized on earth as it is in heaven." Such grounding of Catholic liturgy in present experiencing is emblematic of the work that Kathleen and her sister coordinator, Mairead O'Brien, pursue.

"I came to appreciate Focusing during a retreat in Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1990," said Kathleen. "It was a time when I was 'lost enough to find myself.'" Kathleen read Bio-Spirituality: Focusing as a Way to Grow, by Peter Campbell and Edwin McMahon, finding words for what she already knew from the inside.

"The experience was really confirming and brought me to a deep place inside myself," she continued, "beyond the constraints of any existing culture, to discover what we human beings have in common. The body consciousness this experience pointed to became for me a way of spiritual knowing."

After participating in introductory workshops given by Mary McGuire and Ann Weiser Cornell in Great Britain, Kathleen went to Chicago to complete the Certification Training program. There she met Gendlin, who told her that teachers with missionary experience could help to spread Focusing.

Kathleen then held a retreat with Frances Hurley in 1993 where she introduced Focusing to Mairead O'Brien. The two had originally met in 1958 while both were on the staff of the Teacher Training College, Aba, Nigeria, West Africa.

"I came to Focusing later in life," said Mairead, "after a long career in education, spirituality and alternative therapies. In Focusing I found what I had been looking for all along – a way to accompany myself in an inner mode, especially in a sad space. Focusing gave me the confidence that no matter what was evoked inside me I would have a way to be with it, and would know from the inside how to move forward."

Mairead grew up amid a magical Irish landscape of limestone beaches stretching toward the ocean dotted with tombs and crosses – evidence of its ancient inhabitants. While the setting had always provided a rich spiritual dimension for her, it was Focusing that gave her a way to realize its full meaning in her life, imparting, in Gendlin's words, "a sense of being bodily alive in a vast system." She completed her Certification Training in Chicago in 1995.

"I had the sense of breaking through many boundaries at once," she said, "experiencing firsthand the true meaning of the Biblical phrase, 'widening the space of your tent.'"

Kathleen and Mairead began teaching Focusing in Ireland to people from every walk of life and, together with Anne Kelly and Greg Madison, developed a teacher-training program. They have trained more than 40 teachers, many of them priests and nuns, including Adrian Farrelly, a priest who is writing a masters thesis showing Jesus as a Focuser.

Kathleen can be reached at kkfocusing@ireland.com and Mairead at obrienmag@eircom.net

The Irish Focusing Teachers' Association (IFTA) produces a biannual newsletter, "Focusing in Ireland." In 2001 it hosted the International Conference. Over the years the IFTA has sponsored workshops by many international teachers. "Against that backdrop," said Kathleen, "we evolved our own way of teaching Focusing." Among the variety of settings including business and education, Kathleen has recently begun teaching Focusing to asylum-seekers.

Considering the religious and political strife in Ireland, the benefit of Focusing with its ethos of valuing unity within diversity, has had particular importance. The techniques of Interactive Focusing developed by Mary McGuire and Janet Klein have been especially useful. Mairead's article, "Justice and Peace: The Inner Dimension," published in the Education for Justice Committee newsletter, was well received. "Focusing helps us live from a deeper place than just our thoughts and feelings," said Kathleen, "deepening our access to transpersonal experience, letting us feel connected within a larger context. In our work it is a powerful promoter of spiritual growth."

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