CLEAR INNER SENSING HELPS LEARNING

Eugene Gendlin, Marta Stapert, Zack Boukydis 2001

Vignette Lilian: Was I a cute baby? Methods of offering the program
Vignette Marc: I lost my fishing-friend  
The immidiate goal of the project  
Design of the project (in stages)  

Many children are weighed down by difficult situations, family troubles, abuse, peer problems, all sorts of things. Having so much anxiety, depression, anger, and agitated or suppressed energy distract attention and prevent children from making the discovery that learning can be clear and exciting.

Many children have never found the physical peacefulness which makes it possible to attend steadily to something inside. Take for example adding 17 +5. A child who is able to look steadily, can see that starting at 17 three more gets you to 20, and then two more is 22. This is because 5 can break into 3 and 2. A child who knows this is not in doubt about the answer. But something much larger and deeper is involved here. This child knows the difference between really knowing something, and merely knowing the answer. A child who knows “really-knowing” can look for it when it is not yet there. This child has the chance to discover the interest and excitement that can be inherent in learning.

When blockage and agitation make children too restless or seemingly dumb, not fully awake, disturbed or without self-awareness, there is no clear and steady inner sensing.

A child who is restless in this way cannot not find their inner sensing and are not able to spend time there. New material cannot connect directly with what the child can already does and knows. Taking something in and remembering it becomes a burdensome task, because there is nowhere to look for clear and satisfying connections. This is true in any subject, but especially in mathematics. In mathematics every new step can make tangible sense if there is a clear inner sensing in which the child can find that they “understand.”

It has long been known that we carry our situations in our bodies. Children in their short lives already have difficult experiences to carry with them. Adults know some processes such as meditation and stress reduction that have been found helpful to move one’s attention away from problems. However, the body generally retains the agitation or “dumbness”. Just putting the whole mess of problems aside does not make enough difference.

A recently discovered process called “FOCUSING” is an inner bodily-connected process with more elaborate and articulated steps to develop a process of change and growth. The Focusing-process begins by moving bodily agitations one at a time. This first step can also be used on its own and children can easily use this step. Each heavy or jumpy or limiting situation that the body carries, is found and named (or tagged “that one”). Then one learns to “place” it in a certain way which brings a tension-release in regard to that situation. The release is problem-specific and even acts as a guide because, if there is no immediate bodily release, there are more exact steps which can succeed in “placing” that thing. One moves from one thing to the next andthen the next, releasing each until one has successfully “made a space,” or at least feels considerably better in one’s body. This “space” is often temporary. After a few hours of living in difficult circumstances one may have to use the process of making a space again.

 

“Making a space” is only the first part of Focusing, but it is the part that concerns us here. The process typically takes only five or ten minutes. It is done more easily if one has the unobtrusive attention of some friendly person or “focusing partner.” It is expected that one will say nothing or very little about the content one finds. One is free to say anything one might actually wish to say, and people do talk much of the time, but the process is taught with an understanding that it is inherently private. Touching one’s physically-felt weights and seeing what they each are requires no self-disclosing. To be expected to talk about what one finds can block the process. One is expected to keep most of it to oneself. But it does help greatly to have the company of another person who can stay quiet and yet pay close attention. Once learned, people often use focusing alone during the day, just to “make a space” in order to free up their bodies.

Most people who know the process use it before any task that requires energy and concentration. If one can “place” the weights down and free one’s body, there is a physical sense of being in a free space. Then one’s full capacities will be available for the task. The process is also used in groups. The process can be used frequently before lunch, dinner, or any enjoyable activity because bodily-carried weights get in the way of real enjoyment. Especially for children it is very helpful for them to create inside a quiet, concentrated atmosphere when needed.

Small children take to focusing very easily. Most first graders learn it immediately when it is first shown to them. Older children and adults vary, some being able to do it immediately, some requiring a more slowly built up process, especially if you would like to use it in groups, for example in the classroom. .

Children can make this “space” mostly by sketching,, coloring, and writing ones difficult situations, experiences one after the other on paper. As they do this they are connecting with the developing, growing inner space, in which they can pay attention to their task. Children can also imaginatively move their inner agitating and dumb things so they can more easily reach their inner places of wisdom, and concentrate on their work. This process can be used in many different situations.

A teacher used to shout ”be quiet!” to the children, coming into the classroom after being at the playground. It took her about 3-5 minutes, and still then children had difficulties to be quiet, open and pay inward/inner attention to the lesson. Now the teacher sits quiet in front of the classroom, not behind her table, and proposes to the children: “We connect our bodies with our chair… we ask our body not to talk anymore… we listen to our breathing… now we leave all our excitement behind us at the playground… all happy and teary/troublesome things you met… so you can feel your clear place inside to start to work”. It now takes her less time, less tension and less energy.

(See Appendix 1 “I wrapped my problem in a blanket.” , and “Clearing a space in the classroom”. See Children’s Corner, on www.focusing.org).

 

Vignette Lilian: Was I a cute baby?

The following experience of an eleven year old girl illustrates how individual Focusing can help her to resolve her difficulties with mathematics. An experienced focusing-trainer in Focusing with children wrote this experience with her grand-daughter:

Lilian is in 7th grade. She never failed her grade, but always had difficulties with math. She is a shy, withdrawn, insecure girl, with emotional outbursts and periods of being pestered of by her schoolmates.

Lilian knows about my work with children and Focusing. However even when I initially made a few’ focusing-remarks’ she and I didn’t go any further. It was as if she was avoiding something that she didn’t want to approach..

One afternoon Lilian asked me to be with her in her room. I sat on her bed waiting to see what would come. I’ll describe from memory how we were together, leaving out the repetition of my sentences that came from within me during the process. You can imagine the pauses that were in between. These pauses gave Lilian the inner space to carry her process forward…and for me, the pauses gave me space to have an inner empathic process of hypotheses and new sometimes illogical seeming sentences.

Lilian made some remarks about school, how she felt insecure about the pestering done by ather children and about being left alone. I asked her tentatively:

M: what happens inside, that you are telling this to me…

L: I don’t know...( she laughs a little bit, seeming nervous)…a little bit of itching…

M: is it somewhere?…(moving my hands across my body)

L: maybe in my stomach…I don’t know exactly…you ask such strange questions…

(her face is tense now, and her eyes are moving restlessly)…could we both look in my book that has my baby-pictures?

M (this was an unexpected turn…I gave her a receptive, confirming smile): … you would like to sit together with your pictures when you were a baby…it is alright for me…

L: let’s begin to look at my first pictures…here my papa is holding me in his arms…and mama is looking at me…

M ( my heart is shrinking for a moment, because they are divorced 4 years ago, but feeling/knowing how important it is for Lilian to relive this moment of love, I can make space in myself to continue for her and can honestly say): yes, when you were born your papa and mama were very happy together and they both love you…you can see that in the picture…can you feel somewhere this feeling inside how this was for the baby? (here I introduce the connecting with her ‘inside’ baby)

L: She laughs a little bit…and goes to the next page…

M (I realize there are not too so many pictures, because soon afterward my daughter (Lilian’s mother) became ill, with cramps and pain in her belly. She had difficulty in giving Lilian enough attentio during this time. My daughter stopped breastfeeding at this time. When Lilian was 6 weeks old, her mother had to go to the hospital. The hospital staff didn’tt recognize her advancing colitis ulcerosa. By the 8th week she needed to have an operation. We almost lost her. We as grand-parents took care of Lilian and her 2 year older brother as much as possible): “Lilian, is it alright for you if we talk with this little baby about the time when she was this little baby

Lilian nods, with pain in her face…

M: do you know your mother became ill and was in hospital when this baby was so little and needed so much care and love?

Lilian nods again, coming closer to me against my shoulder. I put my arm around her.

M: could we say that this baby was missing her mother…somehow she has felt this…how bad it must have been for her…

L is listening very attentively…

M: …and maybe the baby never understood why it was that she was missing her mother…maybe nobody explained to her…

L: …Oma (grandma), do you think they liked me as a baby…I think they found her an ugly little creature…not an attractive baby girl…

M (My heart ached, yet also an inside clarity came from that): This little baby felt left alone…missing her mother so much…she must have felt terrible…and she could only think that she wasn’t nice and cute and beautiful enough to be loved…Could you tell her how terrible all this must have been for her…

L (she sits quietly, her knees pulling under her chin, her arms around her legs)…

M ( I feel and hear a sigh, releasing from her body):…could you tell the little Lilian-baby that mama and papa love her so very much…how cute she is…look at her picture…do you like her?… how she was too small then to understand that it was because of mama’s illness that mama could not pay enough attention to her… and maybe you can tell her now

L looks surprised at me as if my words are coming from an other world…with held in excitement she asks: do you really think she was a nice baby?

M: yes, I’m sure…we all love you…opa (grandpa) and I were often with you, when mama was in hospital, and papa was at his work… together with Raoul… I bathed you in the washbasin…and opa often fed you the bottle …maybe I should have explained it more to you…but at that time I didn’t yet know what I know now how important it is to explain these things…I’m sorry for that baby…hopefully she can understand it now… could you tell her she must be a very courageous and strong baby to survive all this what she really needed as a baby…can you feel this in your body now…

L straightens her back …now looking more energized…again a deep sigh of relief: they really found me a cute baby?

M: really you are the most marvelous baby we all love so much and it is really great she can understand this now…

L as if coming from far….. her body shudders…we still sit for some moments together…then slowly on her body starts to move… looking so much brighter, relaxed, shining… she closes the picture-book.

Later that week our daughter tells me, that Lilian that same evening came down with the baby-picture-book, hugging and cuddling with her mother, asking if she really liked her as a baby…if she wasn’t ugly and unattractive so that nobody could really love her.

My daughter who knows about Focusing and could guess what had taken place that afternoon, could confirm with her body and her words how she loves her. They cried together about missing each other…opening a deep inside place…with a feeling of trust in herself thatwas now stronger for Lilian.

Two months after this my daughter went to Lilian’s teacher for a regularparent-teacher conference.

The teacher said: I don’t know what happened with Lilian. It is amazing how she all of a sudden opened herself for her work in math. She gets more insight in how it works instead of only giving mechanical answers. Also in the playground she is developing more friendships. She has started to belong to the group.

Our daughter couldn’t say anything at that moment. She understood what happened. She had gratitude in her heart for the process of Focusing.

 

Vignette Marc: I lost my fishing-friend

The teacher who told this experience with Marc had already introduced the focusing program in her class. During the Focusing-times the children could pay attention inside, searching where and how their issue is inside, making a relationship with it and symbolize it by drawing, so a clear space can develop inside.

This morning Marc couldn’t pay any attention to the lessons, he was looking outside the window, turned restless on his chair, with a sad face, stood alone at the playground. His behaviour was unusual for him, so after the small break, when all the children started with their own work, I went to him.

I asked him if I could be allowed to talk with him about what was going on with him.

He agreed.

I only reflected back my observations to him: it seems you can’t pay attention to the lessons this morning, you are looking out of the window, as if this morning you couldn’t listen to anything I said

Tears start to pour slowly

M: my neighbour died last week all of a sudden…he was my friend…we always went fishing together…I learned how to fish from him…this afternoon he will be buried…I can only think about that…

T: That must feel really bad for you…where does this sit in your body…

The other children ask my attention again.

T: I need to go back to the other children now. Maybe you take your Focusing-drawing notebook. Stay with your feeling inside and draw from there…Later in the break we can talk.

After about 10 minutes he finishes his drawing, putting his notebook in his drawer, gives me a smile and starts to work again. In the break he says it is not bothering him anymore.

 

THE IMMEDIATE GOAL OF THE PROJECT, and

THE EVALUATION OF THE RESULTS CONSIST IN THE FOLLOWING:

Improved school performance

(especially grades in mathematics) , and

Reduced incidence of physical illness and emotional distress

(the number of times a child is sent to the infirmary, doctors, counseling, and the number of teacher complaints, inquiries to parents, to the principal, etc.).

These and other records will enable us to compare and evaluate the results at several stages of the project.

(See Appendix 2, research background on the effects of focusing and of “making a space.”)

 

 

DESIGN OF THE PROJECT

The specific arrangements outlined here will be discussed and modified in accord with the special circumstances of each setting.

Stage 1:

An experienced focusing trainer leads a class of children in “making a space” for about half an hour, once a week. They practice each step in silence.

Afterwards the trainer invites them to share whatever they want to say. They are told that they need not reveal anything, but can say if and how they liked the process, for instance what was good and what was hard about it.

The trainer listens and reflects back. The teacher reflects no more of the child’s experience than what the child means to convey. This enables the trainer to straighten out any misunderstandings about how the process works.

A video-tape will be made. The principal and teachers can follow and discuss the instructions which the trainer gives to the children. The adults learn more slowly, but they can observe the outward signs and effects of the process, and the ease with which the small ones can do it. This will help the teachers know what they are aiming at, later, when they try to learn it for themselves.

We evaluate the results as indicated above.

Stage 2:

The teachers learn FOCUSING (especially “making a space”) for themselves from an experienced focusing trainer.

Stage 3

The teachers get a course in CLEARING A SPACE IN THE CLASSROOM, following the manual “Clearing a space in the classroom” (Marta Stapert)

 

Stage 4

Afterwards in a PURE SUPPORT GROUP, the teachers can share anything they wish to say. The trainer tries to reflect back only what each person means to convey.

Then there is a round of LISTENING, as each person speaks for some minutes and the person on the right listens, thereby doing nothing more than indicate whether what was said was understood, or not.

 

Stage 5

The teachers each receive a FOCUSING PARTNER from us. A focusing partnership is the most effective way to learn and practice focusing. For each person we arrange someone outside your setting to be a focusing partner (usually on the telephone). Partners divide an hour in half and take turns giving each other their attention. Usually one talks about problematic situations at work, but one is free to bring up anything whatever. One only says as much as one wants to say about anything of concern to them. We often use the time to enter into the unclear edges that are difficult to explore alone. Focusing partnerships provide maximally close attention with minimal intrusion. Partners offer no opinions or comments. Partners are committed only to indicate honestly when they follow what is being said and felt,, and when they do not follow. (“Tell me that again please, my mind wandered.” Or “I couldn’t follow you, Can you say it another way?”) Focusing partnerships provide immense support at no cost.

Stage 6

Now THE TEACHERS TEACH “making a space” to new classes for about half an hour once a week. They also lead the next pure support group for the next group of teachers who will learn Focusing

We evaluate the results, as above.

In this way, teachers eventually can train other teachers.

 

METHODS OF OFFERING THE PROGRAM

How we offer the Program is discussed and arranged uniquely in each case because every setting has its unique circumstances and requirements.

Typically we begin with the most responsible people, both because it makes the most difference, and because it motivates the others.

In each school setting some department or subgroup is designated for the Program.

From among those designated we select the first group with whom we will work. We choose those who appear to be close to focusing already, as determined by the Experiencing Scale which comes from research on the process of Focusing.

At a later stage we can train in-house trainers to carry on the project.

 

FOCUSING is taught either in a two day group, or in individually arranged teaching hours, with some group time at the start and periodically during the training phase.

The training may occur in your setting, or in a place we provide.

FOCUSING with children, especially ‘clearing a space in groups’ is taught in a two day group, or individually arranged teaching hours, with some group time at the start and periodically during the learning phase.

The training may occur in your setting, or in a place we provide.

 

PARTNERSHIPS are arranged by us, and can be changed when necessary. After two times with the assigned partner the person can opt for another partner. Partners arrange convenient times for both of them to exchange Focusing turns. . Written instructions and examples are provided.

(See our www.focusing.org on focusing partnerships, and Appendix 3.)

At the start we provide a session with an experienced partnership “mentor” who models the process, taking turns as in a partnership, but also explains the process during the session.

LISTENING is taught along with the pure support group. There is a round in which each person speaks for five minutes while the person on the right listens. Then it is the listener’s turn to speak to the next person on their right. Listeners learn to feel inside themselves whether what the speaker said makes sense to them, and if not, to ask for a different way of saying it.

 

The PURE SUPPORT GROUP happens at the same times as the teaching of listening.