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Focusing and Spirituality

by Elfie Hinterkopf
on behalf of the Working group on Focusing and Spirituality
at the 15th International meeting, May 2003.

Spirituality is a personally meaningful process. During this process one is able to accept more aspects of oneself, others, and life. Spirituality involves a vague, holistic feeling (felt sense) that brings new, explicit meanings. Spiritual experience leads to a transcendent growth process moving one beyond former frames of reference in a direction of broader scope.

For example, a person may have an experience that begins with a vague feeling of becoming larger by accepting a person from a different cultural background. In the process the person becomes aware of a wider felt sense and feels connected with something larger. Additionally, when the beauty of a scene from nature or a religious symbol moves a person to feel at one with something greater than before, the person often senses an inward opening to more than the eye can see and the mind can understand. This description of spirituality includes people from all religions and spiritual practices, even those who do not consider themselves to be religious or spiritual.

The Focusing process helps people experience and express themselves more congruently and authentically. By carefully resonating the felt sense with the expression of symbols the person’s inner self can more accurately match his or her expression. By carefully checking if a felt sense leads to a felt shift, or a sense of release, relief and more life energy, the focuser knows if he or she has an accurate picture, if it fits and is congruent. This process leads to a more authentic and congruent spirituality.

The Focusing process can help people work through religious and spiritual issues, deepen existing spiritual experiences, and bring about new, life-giving connections to spirituality. People learn through Focusing to examine subtle but concrete, bodily feelings central to spiritual discovery and growth.

The following exercise introduces one way to experience spirituality through Focusing.

Description of Focusing on a Word, Phrase, or Symbol that has Spiritual Significance

In this exercise you may choose a word, phrase, or symbol that has spiritual significance and Focus on it. People have reported that this exercise helped deepen their experience of their chosen word, phrase, or symbol. Some people reported that words that they had previously said in a mechanical way became significant at an experiential level. For example one person, a recovering alcoholic, said that the words "Let go and let God" had become automatic for him. After Focusing on these words, they again became meaningful to him because he could experience them in his body.

This exercise may be done with any sacred symbol, for example the yin yang of the Tao, the Jewish Tree of Life, the Christian cross, the crescent moon of Islam, or a scene from nature. These symbols cannot be understood from a rational, sequence perspective. However, they can be understood through Focusing, which involves a creative process that opens us to more than we can understand consciously. Some people call this the "mystery." Frequently these symbols, especially those used during one's childhood, are rich with meaning that may be explored numerous times.

This exercise may be done by reading a sacred text. If you decide to Focus on a sacred text, read the text and recite the words to yourself slowly. You may wish to read the text a second time. While reading the text, notice which words you feel most strongly. These words can be your chosen words. Then continue with the exercise.

Instructions for Focusing on a Word, Phrase, or Symbol

Choose a word, phrase, or symbol that has spiritual significance for you. Notice whether or not the word, phrase, or symbol elicits a feeling in you. If the word or phrase does not stir up a feeling in you, you might try choosing a different one. (pause)

Get comfortable and relaxed. Notice your breathing. Notice how your breath comes in and out of your body. (pause) Take time to be aware of your body. (pause) Be aware of your arms and your hands, noticing your hands and what they're touching. (pause) Notice your legs and feet, and what they're touching. (pause) Let your awareness come into your body, your throat, your chest, and your abdomen. (pause)

Now remember the word, phrase, or symbol that you chose. Notice the feelings the word, phrase, or symbol stirs up in you. As you keep remembering the word, phrase, or symbol, find just the right words to describe your feeling.

Take time to be with your feeling. Notice whether you can feel a sense of "more" there. Gently keep your feeling company for a while with an attitude of friendly curiosity.

As you notice your feeling, you can ask, "What is it about this word, phrase, or symbol that leaves me feeling this way?" or "What is it about this word, phrase, or symbol that is best or most meaningful for me?" Ask the question of your feeling and wait for an answer to come to you. When you get an answer, repeat it slowly and see if the feeling affirms the answer.

Then remember the original word, phrase, or symbol and notice what you feel. Describe your new feeling and take time to be with it.

After you have completed this exercise, you may wish to express what came to you in your process. For example, you may wish to share your process with another person who can listen. Or you may wish to express your process through writing, art, or movement. This often helps integrate new material received during the exercise.

Many of these ideas are based on the book, Integrating Spirituality in Counseling: A Manual for Using the Experiential Focusing Method, by Elfie Hinterkopf, 1998, published by the American Counseling Association. The book is available from The Focusing Institute Bookstore on this web site.

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