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Focusing and Buddhism: A Creative Weaving

John Amodeo

 

This page is dedicated to exploring the crossings between Focusing and various Buddhist traditions,
and encouraging dialogue to foster cross-pollination of these paths.

 

"Focusing is a beautiful and meditative approach to psychotherapy and personal growth. It offers a deep parallel to the practice of mindfulness in a carefully developed and sensitive way."

Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart

"Focusing is a therapeutic application of Mindfulness and is a life path for healing and spiritual transformation."

Tara Brach,  author of Radical Acceptance

"Who I am is simply experiencing itself."

Charlotte Joko Beck, author of Everyday Zen

There are curious similarities in how Focusing and Buddhism approach the human condition. Each invites us to attend to our experiencing. Each emphasizes the importance of trusting and learning from our own experience, rather than relying on external authority to tell us what is true. Each attempts to reduce anguish and anxiety, and move us toward greater happiness and well-being. 

The language of Buddhism is existential it deals with life as we experience it. This is compatible with the language of Focusing, which also invites us to listen closely within. Although there are varying traditions and perspectives within Buddhism, the essence of this view offers rich opportunities for dialogue. Both Focusing and Buddhism offer ways to train our attention so that we remain present with experience as it unfolds. Both may be viewed as a method of open-ended inquiry into the nature of human experience. 

According to the Dzogchen teachings of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche:
"The principle is always to discover ourselves."

Buddhism has thrived by cautiously adapting to the various cultures it has entered. There are some meditation teachers who see a distinctly American Buddhism developing in the U.S., and perhaps something similarly unique in other Western nations. It is exciting to witness various transformations that are occurring as Buddhist traditions of inquiry touches and is touched by Western traditions. 

Focusing may have something special to offer here. As various Eastern traditions interact with Focusing, there are likely to be changes and fine tunings to both approaches that we cannot yet anticipate. This site is a beginning. There is a richness here for us to explore. We invite you to join us in furthering our understanding of this interface and how it may benefit us.

"A multitude of doctrines have been established and left behind by the many wise masters, but they are all merely temporary statements made in response to different confusions... Moreover, if these words of a foolish old man are hard to make out, then leave them to their obscurity and discard them also...."

Ippen (from No Abode - The Record of Ippen, trans. Dennis Hirota)

What Focusing and Buddhism Might Offer Each Other 

Both Focusing and meditation lead to a growing sense of openness to life. Focusing is much more than a method of dealing with life issues. It can lead to a way of life where we live more and more in our felt sense. Developing the "habit of felt-sensing," a term used by Peter Campbell and Ed McMahon,  allows us to be with our experience with less clinging and attachment to any particular outcome. 

Meditation also helps us loosen our attachments so that we may be with experience unfolding. Our human tendency is to cling to what is pleasant and avoid what is unpleasant. According to the Buddhist view, the fact of suffering (First Noble Truth) is created by this clinging and grasping (Second Noble Truth). But there is a way out of this predicament (Third Noble Truth), which leads towards freedom, peace, compassion, acceptance, and gratitude.

"Without awareness of our sensations, we are not fully alive. Life is unsatisfactory for most people because they are absent for their experience much of the time."

Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special : Living Zen

Focusing and meditation offer pathways toward release from suffering by attending closely to our inner world. They both encourage being present with how things actually are. Presence means having an intimate connection with what is living inside us. By learning how to stay present with experience as it is, we find a greater sense of freedom, aliveness, and open space. Being with what is real within us also connects us with others in authentic community.

"Zazen is the practice of becoming intimate with oneself."

Taisen Deshimaro

Familiarity with Focusing may refresh and deepen our understanding of Buddhist thought and vice versa. Focusing has a gentle method for approaching Buddhist notions such as emptiness and non-attachment. We tend to have many attachments or identifications that block us from experiencing peace and freedom. For example, we may cling to a self-image, shame, the inner critic, and to a self-consciousness that is separate from the life outside of ourselves. Loosening these attachments moves us beyond our limited sense of identity.

This direction may also deepen our understanding of "presence" being in direct, gentle relationship with what is. Focusing has a loving way of showing concretely how to step back and disidentify from emotional intensity, habit, and compulsion -- all the while developing greater intimacy with ourselves through presence in the deeply felt currents of our lives.

As we increase our tolerance for not knowing, ambiguity, and emptiness, we connect more intimately with our true nature, other people, and life itself.  We become more present to life. 


Focusing, Feelings, and Sangha (Community)

Taking refuge in the Buddha (the awakened mind), the dharma (what is true) and the sangha (the community) are the cornerstones of every Buddhist tradition. By practicing Focusing with ourselves and engaging in Focusing partnerships, we are building the sangha in a very practical way.

Focusing can help meditators to welcome their feelings, needs, and wants. Learning to live more in our bodies and less in our ideas of how things should be, we connect more with what is authentic within us and between us. Opening more to the immediacy of felt experience, we enter a place within ourselves that simultaneously connects us with others who are also connecting with their authentic experience. This opens up fluid and creative possibilities for deeper love and connections in an non-authoritarian climate.

By contacting and sharing our authentic experience with others, we build a creative foundation for intimate relationships. This courageous opening of our hearts can nurture our connections with others building a vibrant sense of community.

There is a story about Buddha's companion, Ananda, commenting that good friends and good companions is one half of the spiritual life. Buddha responded, 'Not so, Ananda! Not so! This is the whole of the spiritual life."

Focusing and listening evoke friendship -- building community in a practical way. An increasing number of meditators are availing themselves of Focusing as a way to deepen a sense of community. 



"To study Zen is to study ourselves.
 To study ourselves is to forget ourselves.
 To forget ourselves is be intimate with all things."

Zen Master Dogen 




Focusing/Buddhism Discussion Group

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Online Discussion Group, send a message to 
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with the word "subscribe" in the body or the subject of the message.

Here are some questions we might consider as a starting point for conversation.

** A "felt shift" while Focusing may open us to a dimension of experiencing that Buddhism points us toward, whether we call it open space, a spacious, awake mind, emptiness/fullness. 

** The attitude of Focusing may be applied to staying with the felt sense of whatever we’ve shifted into. Can we relish that experience without holding on to it? Can we stay with the open space, perhaps being present with our breath and body and resting in the stillness? 

** Focusing can teach meditators something about how to deal with feelings, needs, and wants, and allow themselves to receive love and open to intimate connections. By allowing ourselves to welcome such experiences, rather than having aversion to them, we move toward a greater sense of awakeness and aliveness.

** In the Buddhist "chain of dependent origination," there is a point where the senses lead to feeling, which leads to clinging, which leads to craving.  Can Focusing help break the cycle by providing a way to work with feelings so that we’re less likely to spin off into clinging and craving? Finding a creative and intelligent way to relate to our feeling life may lead toward a greater sense of freedom and openness encouraged by Buddhism.

** Can meditation be useful before Focusing to help clear a space and develop some concentration before attending to what's happening in our lives?

** Does Buddhism encourage depersonalization or does it help us find our true self? Are we letting go of ourselves or finding our authentic self? What is a skillful way to describe the relationship between the personal self and a non-dual awareness? Can we find words that best capture this paradox and subtlety?

** Are Buddhist terms such as "defilements, afflictions, distractions, or unskillful mind states" helpful or unhelpful? Might this language create a subtle judgment or aversion to parts of ourselves that need attention
and embracing?

 

If you have been actively engaged or interested in the interface of Focusing and Buddhism, or if you have any comments or questions, you are invited to contact john@focusing.org


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