Teaching Children to Focus
An Interview with Marianne Thompson
By Rev. Edwin M. McMahon, Ph.D. and Rev. Peter A. Campbell, Ph.D.
THE INSTITUTE FOR RESEARCH IN SPIRITUALITY PAMPHLET SERIES
For Your Continuing Education in Focusing and Spirituality
MARIANNE THOMPSON is the mother of three grade school children, David 10, John 8, and Elizabeth 6. She and her husband, Lance, live with their children in Santa Rosa, California. Marianne is a member of the Institute for Research in Spirituality and as a trained Focusing facilitator assists at Focusing and Spirituality workshops.
Readers unfamiliar with Focusing might first want to read an earlier pamphlet in this series, “What is Focusing?” or another titled “Practical Suggestions for Helping Someone to Focus,” which describes the Focusing Steps.
The Spiritual Growing of a Mother and Her Children
Could you begin, Marianne, by sharing some general reflections on Focusing with children. What have you learned as a parent that guides you in teaching your children to Focus?
In teaching Focusing to children parents must first use it personally and know how the process feels from inside before they can ever guide a child or open up the spiritual dimension. It also takes personal dedication, flexibility, and time. You have to be willing to leave your projects and just go sit with a child when the need arises. Taking time to do this is the only way to bring this approach into a family’s way of living and growing together.
In my experience with our three I find that they seem able to stay with a felt sense very naturally and express what they are feeling in words or by drawing a picture of how it feels inside. While never using technical words like “Focusing” or “felt sense” in the beginning with them, I introduced it informally when my oldest boy was 8 years of age, the next was 6, and the youngest, my daughter was 4.
How did you get started teaching them to Focus? What did you do first?
Prior to sitting down with them in any sort of Focusing way, I told all three of them one night just before bedtime about stories and we talked about what makes stories exciting to them. They love to have stories read to them and to hear “made up” stories. So, we talked about how they feel when all of their attention is in a story. Their comments ranged from, “It’s exciting and fun to hear what’s going to happen,’ to “it doesn’t feel right when you stop and don’t finish the story.” They seemed to catch the notion of the on-going movement in stories and how they love to stay with that story as it unfolds.
Then, when we were together several evenings later, I referred back to the previous discussion and went a step further. This time I told them that behind all their feelings is a story that is waiting to be heard, too. They listened intently, and that was as far as I took the explanation at that time.
Can you give an example that illustrates how talking together about stories actually helped your children when they needed to Focus?
Yes. Several weeks later as we were getting ready to start swimming lessons, I noticed that the two older boys were very restless as the morning wore on. They normally keep busy with what they enjoy, but on that day they were constantly following me around the house and I could feel their anxiety. So, with not more than a half hour left before we had to leave, I thought this was the right opportunity for them to go the next step.
I gathered them around me on the couch and reminded them again of what we had said earlier about stories and how behind their feelings was also a story waiting to be listened to. Then I asked them if quietly they could just be with how they felt inside their tummies about starting swimming lessons. David (8) quieted down quickly. John (6) took a little more time as he started to giggle. Then, within a minute or so, David said, “Mommy, I’m so scared that I’m going to drown.” His eyes were gently cast down and the release he had was very visible as his whole body relaxed.
This was such a moving experience for me, because the previous summer David had jumped into the deep end of the pool when his instructor asked him to, not even aware that he couldn’t stay up. It was a very frightening experience for him and he apparently was still carrying this trauma around inside.
After staying with David a short while so that he could sense more fully how he now felt inside, John interrupted to ask if we had time for him to draw a picture. I had told them previously about drawing their stories as well. We had a few minutes left, so he drew a large swimming pool with lots of details-a diving board, bushes around the lawn, people in a group and then himself standing all alone near one end of the pool. He talked a little about it in showing me the drawing and then we had to get ready to leave for the lessons. What amazed me, though, was the abrupt change in their behavior. There was now a calmness and actual excitement about starting instructions and no more hanging around under my feet.
You have to be willing to leave
your projects and just go sit with
a child when the need arises.
It must make you feel really good as a parent to witness such growth and change. Can you share any other example that might help our readers appreciate how Focusing can help children?
Another experience David had with Focusing happened one evening as I was getting dinner ready. He was again sort of just hanging around the kitchen with a look on his face that told me something wasn’t quite right with him. I asked if something had happened at school that he would like to tell me about. He said, “No.” Then, after a few moments said, “Yes.” I was quiet and then he told me how his friend, Raphael, had been mean to him at school and said he didn’t like David any more. I responded with something like, “It hurts to have your friend do that to you, doesn’t it?” Then I asked him if he would like to stay with this feeling inside for a while, if he wanted to be with how Raphael’s remark made him feel inside. He just nodded, was still for a while, and then some tears came and the words, “I didn’t think friends were supposed to do that…be your friend and then not be your friend.” We were both quiet as I observed the change in him. Then, after a few moments I helped him notice how different he now felt compared to when he first came into the kitchen. He said he felt a lot better and quickly announced that he was going outside to play.
In addition to actually Focusing with your children, did you continue to teach them anything further about this process?
Yes. As time went on I talked to them even more about their feelings and the stories that are behind them. I told them that underneath their feelings is another story that they may not even know about yet. I gave examples of some of their feelings; what they feel inside when Daddy and I are paying more attention to the others than to one of them; or feelings of boredom or a general uncomfortableness in school; or feelings of excitement when we are getting ready to go on a trip; or the feelings they have when drawing or building something they are really interested in, even digging or planting in their own little gardens. Naturally, Elizabeth couldn’t relate to some of these examples, but she felt good being included with her brothers. I then briefly told them that inside of all these feelings were stories that would come to them if they were quiet and paid attention to these feelings.
I think it’s important not to say the above in such a way that we set children up for unreal expectations. Rather, we must do it with a certain amount of matter-of-factness along with enough of the game and curiosity part of it that we hold their attention, they understand what to do, and are motivated (with your encouragement) to try. They are intrigued with the idea that surprises come this way, things that they could never think of with their minds.
At times when it’s painful
or really difficult to go
inside, I wonder if this
isn’t what the symbol of
the cross means in our tradition.
It takes such faith to move into
these hard places, these
areas in myself that I want to run from.
From the way your eyes light up when you talk about “stories” and “surprise,” it seems like this is something more than what you have learned with your children. There is an “adult” excitement in your voice.
Yes, when I first learned to Focus I was exhilarated to find out that something happened in me that I didn’t do. I didn’t make it happen. It just occurred on its own. That original feeling soon changed into a somewhat more apprehensive one as I Focused further and became more in touch with some scary, fear-filled places in myself. I found that it was easier to resist than to let go.
I resisted the deep vulnerability that came over me when I could let go.
Somewhere in all of this, though, I sensed the very core of what I had been in search
of for years! Somewhere in the surrender, in the letting-go was this spiritual
dimension that I longed for. inside of that letting-go experience was my way
to my real self! What I had learned as a child, and then had reinforced through
the growing up process about pushing away pain or ignoring the negative hurting
places in myself, seemed to take an odd twist. I sensed that being with these
painful areas in my life was the way to growth and holiness. I needed to learn
to stay with whatever was real at the moment in myself and then allow the
meaning of my experiences to come through. This is what I try to help my
children do also. Growing this way with my kids has brought me to a new kind of
wholeness and aliveness.
As the children get older it seems
like it takes them longer to go into a
painful place. There seems
to be more hanging back.
It sounds like “surrender” is a very important aspect of spirituality in your experience. Does this come easily for you? How is Focusing part of it?
In a very real way when I Focus I surrender to the truth of who I am. But this has been hard for me. I keep returning again and again to a learning that seems gradually to be making its way into my bones. For example, I started out to Focus one morning thinking that I could spend as much time as I needed because I would be alone until evening with plenty of time to “fit everything in.” It felt like: “OK, now something happen!” A lot of pushing. I sat for a long time, but nothing. Then, it dawned on me again, I’m trying too hard, planning too much. I have all this time so something had better happen! Finally, I said, “The heck with it” and let it all go.
Then, just sitting with that letting-go feeling ever so gently an image of a slab of smoothly cut rock with jagged edges came to me. With it was also an awareness that my life and my Focusing aren’t like a smooth stone without rough edges. A shift in meaning is a gift given apart from my planning for it. It happens in between many jagged edges and not on a smooth course. A feeling once again came of being carried along. I can’t plan for this in advance. I came to Focusing trying too hard. This gift of Focusing comes when I get out of the way. With all this came a profound sense that this is what spirituality is about - a sense of presence which words can’t really describe. Talking about it, explaining it, pushing, etc., doesn’t do any justice to the reality of the experience.
It’s really hard to put all this into words.
Words often seem to be painfully inadequate to describe what I feel inside myself of being more alive, more whole, more open. All of these have brought about a greater sense of closeness to my children as well. What happens in me when I can let go and surrender is where I feel the depths of what is spiritual about Focusing. It brings an acceptance from the inside of what is really there in me. With that comes a very real awareness of the more in life, a sense of myself as being part of a much larger whole. The monotonous, seemingly unimportant tasks around the house that take so much time feel connected to some bigger happening. I am learning to be in the job of mother and homemaker in a different way; a way that changes the perspective and the feelings.
How do the children react when you talk with them about being in touch with painful things and the reasons why this has come to mean so much to you?
As the children get older it seems like it takes them longer to go into a painful place. There seems to be more hanging back. So, I’ve talked to them about learning a way of being friendly with themselves when they’re hurting, and being with the hurting feelings that need to be paid attention to by someone in this way. They seem to understand being friendly in terms of how they try to be with new kids in their classes at the start of school each year. John, especially, wanted to know why we would want to stay with something that hurts. He said he already knows what it is, so why stay with it. I told him that he may, indeed, know a great deal about what is bothering him, but that there is still a whole lot more to the story of this thing that he doesn’t yet know. This seems to have satisfied him, even though with him more explanations are always necessary.
Over the past ten or twelve years I’ve
come to realize that my spiritual life has
changed course, from one that was nourished
by a more traditional kind of’ faith to one
that seems part and parcel of’ my own human growth.
Can you give an example of Focusing that might make this clearer for our readers?
I was going over some questions with John one afternoon after he had studied his homework and as he missed several questions, I could see him getting more and more agitated and frustrated. Then he started to cry. I asked him if it would be OK to put the homework aside for the time being and, instead, stay with the frustrated feelings inside to see if they wanted to tell him something. He sat quietly for awhile, tears stopped, and then he said, “I think I need to study some more.” I then asked him to check inside and see if there was anything more left to that frustrated feeling. He was quiet again and then said, “I don’t like to study and not get it.” Then he opened his eyes and said, “Yeah!” I noticed he seemed much more at ease then and wanted to get on with his home-work.
This approach seems so much more effective than any lecture you could have given John about how he needs to study more. Just acknowledging his felt sense seems to have given him a release in his body and enabled him to stay with it a bit further.
Teaching children to wait quietly this way is in itself such an important step for them to learn in being with themselves. They see and experience so little of this in school or in other areas of their lives.
Does your experience of Focusing in any way connect with your religious tradition?
At times when it’s painful or really difficult to go inside, I wonder if this isn’t what the symbol of the cross means in our tradition. It takes such faith to move into these hard places, these areas in myself that want to run from.
I sensed that being with
these painful areas in my life
was the way to growth and holiness.
I needed to learn to stay with whatever
was real at the moment in myself and then
allow the meaning of my experiences to
come through. This is what I try to help
my children do also. Growing this way
with my kids has brought me to a new kind
of wholeness and aliveness.
But it’s a growing faith that helps me act. If I can go into this hard place inside, new life, new meanings, flowing water come-all symbols of on-going resurrection. This whole area of being gifted, graced, of being in touch with the Spirit in my life feels profoundly spiritual to me. Moreover, this growing graced realization of who I am helps me to be present to my children and others in such a different way. It feels like “I am for me and for others.” That is more an experience of communion than anything I have ever felt. Touching the pain in myself this way always brings with it empathy for others and a presence that is more whole. When I can be present to my husband this way, then in turn he has been freed to go inside himself, sharing feelings that are very deep and personal to him.
What do you do, Marianne, when things just seem so stuck that nothing will move.
Sometimes, I’m so far away from my insides that it feels like I’m looking at everything from the outside. Then I feel cold, uncomfortable and distant. Only when I have enough faith to let go again into this stoney, cold place in myself is the gift again given. There are deep feelings then of awe, humility and wonder when a shift like that takes place again. I have a sense of just wanting to stop and be in it, nothing else. I feel myself as an extension of what I call God, and this presence is extended to others, especially the children.
One day when I was going through the motions of playing on the floor with the kids, I became aware of how forced and artificial the whole thing was. I realized I was preoccupied with a heaviness I hadn’t noticed before. I told the kids I was going to leave for a while, but would be back. So, I went into the bedroom and sat with my sense of all that heaviness. It wasn’t too long before a phrase came that lifted the heaviness. I was amazed at how I was then able to go back and play with a completely changed way of being with the children. I became involved with them like I hadn’t a care in the world.
Has Focusing in any way changed your sense for spirituality or the way in which you understand it?
Over the past ten or twelve years I’ve come to realize that my spiritual life has changed course, from one that was nourished by a more traditional kind of faith to one that seems part and parcel of my own human growth. I had searched for meaning while trying to fit my experience into a more church-like mode and then gradually came to realize that this didn’t seem to match anymore. My personal experiences were taking me in a different direction. I found myself moving toward a way of being with myself that placed much more trust in my own experience and my faith in a process of inner unfolding. I came to realize that spirituality has everything to do with healthy human growth, ‘with being more in touch with my real self. I found myself asking, “Who am I, really?” and discovered a deep yearning to get in touch with that realness. Ever so gradually it dawned on me that I needed to let my own body experiences answer that question more fully for me.
When, in your experience, does Focusing seem most helpful with the children?
In general, I feel that one of the more natural times for a parent to be with a child in a Focusing way is when you are aware of some painful, strong sense that the child has around a current issue. In practical terms, that seems to be when there is some negative behavior going on, or when you sense a restlessness in them, or if you hear one of them say something that has a lot of feeling energy behind it. To recognize this takes being with your children in a way that is beyond just the details of their days. When I sense that something has a strong feel for them, then I ask if they would like to go to their room with me and sit quietly with how it feels. Being with them in this way teaches children a practical, simple method for going inside themselves. They learn to recognize when to go inside and gradually they become more comfortable with doing this.
For example, one night David was having trouble sleeping, so he got up and asked if I would sit with him while he Focused on how he felt about a movie he had seen at school. It was about a young man with an amputated leg (cancer) who had run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. I could tell David was really frightened, so after he told me the story I asked him what he was feeling. He touched his stomach and said, “I feel really scared in here and can’t go to sleep.”
I asked if he could be a little more open and gentle with that scary feeling and wait quietly with it in a more friendly way to see if it wanted to tell him something. He nodded. The feeling was so strong I sensed it would help if I gave him some support with words, letting him know that inside this feeling was a whole story he didn’t yet know about. He took quite a while just sitting with it all. After some time I asked him how the worst part of that scariness felt. He responded, “It’s the way I feel about that man dying.” (At the end of the story the young man was in a wheelchair, got up to walk and collapsed. It was found he had died of lung cancer.) I asked David if he could stay with how that felt inside him and he nodded again. Then, ever so quietly with moist eyes he said, “I’m really afraid of pain and suffering,” and took a deep breath. I let him be with that for awhile and eventually he said, “You know, that scariness is all gone now.” We sat quietly. Then I asked if it felt right to go back to bed. A very firm “Yes” came from him. I gave him a hug and noticed how straight and secure his walk was as he left and went down the hall to his room.
I sat for a long time, letting the realization surface that a great gift, not of my doing and more than myself alone, was being given to our children through Focusing. Something was changing inside me, too-a bodily feeling that as a parent I don’t have to fix everything and always be in control to care for them. We were all being gifted and growing through “letting go.” That is the core of spiritual development for me.
What other changes do you notice in your children as you spend time with them in a Focusing way?
Being with children like this month after month has enabled my kids to express some of their deeper feelings to me. This is especially true for David, who tends more naturally to be reticent in talking about how or what he feels. It’s so satisfying to watch him gradually learn a more open way of being with himself. Focusing seems also to make for a deeper relationship between the children and me. I think kids, as well as adults, are very reluctant to share deep, personal feelings for fear that someone (even their parents) will laugh at them or think they are different. When they are taught by a parent how to touch these feelings and listen to the story in them, and then in the sharing afterwards they experience acceptance, not rejection, the fear gradually lessens and then growing is something they learn to trust as we do it together. Hopefully, healthy patterns of openness to both the truth of themselves and God’s grace are being learned as something they experience as going together.
Can you share an example of some Focusing experience you have had with your little girl?
One evening after dinner as we were alt sitting around the table talking, Elizabeth got up to go brush her teeth. As she left she took a big swipe at a hanging fern by our table. She almost looked surprised at what she had just done. I then asked her right there, how that felt inside. She stopped and was quiet momentarily and then said, as she looked at the floor, “You never play with me, Daddy, like you play with John and David.” The look on her face as she raised her eyes was as if she was just then listening to what she had said.
As we reflected on that after she went off to brush her teeth, Lance and I realized she was feeling left out, because he usually romps and rolls on the floor with the boys after dinner and she goes off to bed. I thought to myself, what a great way of knowing what a child’s real feelings are. They can guide parents so well when they are encouraged to Focus and share. It takes all the guesswork and often erroneous interpretation out of trying to understand their behavior-an effort that can be so off the mark. Moreover, even if we do guess correctly it never really changes anything for them, because they don’t stay with their own feeling, allowing the meanings in there to speak and then experiencing the shift inside.
One of the more natural times for a
parent to be with a child
in a Focusing way is when you are aware
of some strong sense that the around a
current painful, child has issue.
Sometimes incidents in the family which seem insignificant to adults are often interpreted by children in a very negative and traumatic way. Therapists recognize that more often than not such blocks and wounds are carried into adult life because the child is not helped or taught to process such experience. Can you recall any situations like this where you could recognize that Focusing was exactly what was needed at the time?
Yes. Sitting with David after he had been teasing and antagonizing Elizabeth one evening, and after he had been harshly reprimanded by Lance, I realized that the hurt was a bit too painful for him to stay with head on. He was really crying and couldn’t get beyond the hurt he had already sat with for a while. I then asked him what more it felt like besides the hurt, hoping for him to describe it in words that might further fit the feel of it. He really couldn’t say much more about it. So I told him I was only going to guess at what I thought it might feel like in me if I were in his place. Then I asked him to check inside to see it anything I said seemed to fit how it felt in him. I mentioned several things and he kept saying, ”No” or ”Sort of,” but mostly they weren’t on target. Then I asked, “Does it feel like you hate Daddy?” He looked down and forcefully said, “Yes”! We were quiet for a while as he savored the rightness of it. A bit later I asked him how he knew that what I said was right; what told him I was on target or not? He first said, “My brain,” and then hesitated before correcting himself, “No, it’s what it feels like inside of me.”
I was so amazed that he could do this checking with his felt sense so well, and that he could feel the difference between what felt right and what felt slightly or way off. He went back to his homework very easily and an interesting point that we both noticed was the look of his handwriting before and after Focusing. Before, his writing was very small and shaky; afterwards, it was much larger and more firm looking.
Our families represent Our hopes and hunger for long-term loving and caring relationships. It is here that the next generation either learns or doesn’t learn how human wholeness happens.
Our experience as therapists is that painful things can happen during those childhood years in the family, at school, etc. but that such experiences need not block the development of wholeness. Rather, what seems to be the key factor is whether whatever the child feels about life has an opportunity to “tell its story,” as you have been describing. That is as true for beautiful and exciting things as it is for those that are painful. It all depends upon whether the child has been helped to listen “gracefully” to what is real right now in those formative years. When that kind of “processing” happens in childhood, then we grow to feel good about ourselves and our story, even when there have been painful experiences. When that hasn’t been encouraged, even in families where there is love, the seeds of low self-esteem are planted, because the child’s personal story is blocked. Day after day as a child grows older, feelings that need to be heard and allowed to tell their story are neglected or actually pushed away in fear. Thus, a process of self-alienation, not self-possession is fueled by ordinary living. This is a tragic situation, pervading our culture, most of its education and religiosity. The pain this produces spawns senseless violence and aggression at every level of society, undermining family life and community throughout the entire social fabric.
It sounds to us like part of the struggle you have made to persevere with Focusing in your own life and with the children is rooted in a deep conviction that you intend to do something practical about counteracting this suicidal direction.
Right. I find the potential in Focusing for children to be extremely exciting. Their training at school seems mostly to miss the whole area of felt meaning and experiencing. Teaching them Focusing brings such health and freedom into the family. They learn to be self-directed as they check inside to see how an issue feels, wait for it to express itself, and then act on that rather than always letting external factors be the major influence over them. I find it especially rewarding when I think of my children making choices and important life-decisions in the years ahead. They will, hopefully, have learned to trust their own experiencing process, as well as having found the spiritual in it. I tell them now that this is the way I experience God so they can begin to get some sense that God is more than information given in religion class. They have wondered how I pray by staying with what is real inside me. I tell them that, for me, this is God’s way of touching my life, by my opening up in a quiet, listening way to what is real in me, and then letting God’s grace speak to me with the story that is in it. I believe that as the children use Focusing more and more they, too, will sense the religious meanings that come from their own development toward greater wholeness. I think they will come to know in time that one is intrinsically connected to the other-their spiritual journey will be the journey we have started together in our family, helping each other to touch in faith the truth of ourselves.
Something was changing inside me, too --
a bodily feeling that as a parent I don’t
have to fix everything and always be in
control to care for them.
Following this discussion, the two of us reflected further on what Marianne had shared.
PETE: I’m really encouraged by the sensitivity Marianne showed in dealing with a potentially difficult and quite delicate situation. I’m referring to the incident of David’s anger with his father. Marianne could have taken the approach, which I’m sure many parents would, of trying to argue David out of his feeling by listing all the reasons why he shouldn’t hate his father, or, she might have expressed her own shock at such hatred and ordered David to stop feeling that way. Instead, she helped a process run its course, encouraging and allowing the anger to be heard, thereby providing an opportunity for change. Marianne has a sense for getting beyond the words which don’t change anything to a process which does.
ED: Think of the tremendous gift this is to a child and the impact it will have on future relationships and marriage. Learning how to be with negative feelings so they can change and become more positive is passing along something which money can’t buy! Focusing offers a child real alternatives. An attitude is developed toward inner pain, conflict and negative feelings. There is another approach to destructive patterns inside ourselves. ‘There is more than the heartache of guilt, repression and uncontrollable outbursts. A priceless treasure can be given to children which is far beyond status or wealth. It is passing on the actual “feel” of a presence that saves. This isn’t just words and information. It’s like the difference between talking about riding a bike and actually doing it. The value which Marianne passes on is an experience, a “feel” of grace, of salvation as it can be touched right within David’s experience of himself.
PETE: I’ve always been drawn to the notion that sin is “missing the mark” and slipping off the path of evolution. I liked it when that linguist attended our psychology of religion classes and did a computer word study on the meaning of “sin” in St. Paul. After reams of computer print-out he concluded that the best translation for “sin” in the Pauline epistles was OOPS! He saw it as slipping off the path of growth and abandoning the way of grace.
When we speak of developing moral character in children, it is providing a process, a feeling about themselves that keeps them on track and positions them for grace. This is so much more than teaching abstract information. It is passing on a bodily felt believing and hope. Focusing helps a child look for the Mystery of God right within the change that brings wholeness in place of divisive negative feelings.
I find the potential in Focusing for children to be
extremely exciting. Their training at school
seems mostly to miss the whole area of felt
meaning and experiencing, Teaching them
Focusing brings such health
and freedom into the family.
ED: I have found over the years that there is a believing within our bodies, a believing radically different from anything we think in our minds. Such believing profoundly affects behavior, values and whatever future we create for ourselves. The religious formation and future spirituality of an adult are rooted in this body-belief-orientation which is learned in childhood. I’m referring to the body’s “felt-connection” with whatever is called religion or religious; the “feltness” of what adults tell the child is connected with God and religion. What lasts and endures in a child is the feeling for religion, not the information about it. The basic meaning of religion is “to tie back into,” re-ligare. Healthy religion ties us back into attitudes, memories, experience and practical exercises that support change and growth. If the practice of religion ties us back into negative, destructive feelings about ourselves and our future, it pathologizes rather than saves us. The self-fulfilling, prophetic role of our beliefs, especially those we carry embedded in a deep feeling way in our bodies have a profound impact on the future we allow to happen. Anyone trying to facilitate change and support healthy religion must understand this.
There will never be a better world until there are better people in it. Parents need to teach their children in a practical way how to take responsibility for the quality of their own lives. Through Focusing, parents can teach children how to tie back into the Good News that change is possible; that their stories can unfold; that God’s grace is available right within their own bodily knowing; and that their lives can move forward into greater wholeness.
“Passing on the Faith” is not saying a lot of words about religion or saying a lot of prayers. It is helping children discover positive feelings and a process within their own bodies that connects religion with hope, freedom, meaning and constructive change. Healthy spirituality ties a child into his or her experience of Good News “inside me,” not just some vague promise “out there.” When this can happen, the energy and love put into religion do, in fact, renew the face of the earth.
PETE: That’s a very precious time, isn’t it, the period between about six years of age and high school? It’s then that patterns and habits can be encouraged which, hopefully, will be returned to again and again in adult life. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. During this period a child is old enough to experience insecurity, confusion, fear and negative feelings as well as the possibility of learning to be friendly with all this. If a parent can take advantage of this precious opportunity and be committed to putting in time to help a child be with feelings, both difficult ones as well as the joyous, then a significant new birth can happen during these years.
ED: Yes. Our experience teaching adults to Focus certainly makes rue realize how limited is the capacity for “being still inside” and taking time to touch what is real. I find so many people who are motivated to use Focusing periodically for coping and stress management. But they seem loathe to go further, allowing it to become a way of life and continued growth. Focusing for such persons is generally restricted to periodic problem solving and crisis intervention. It is putting out brushfires and looking for quick solutions.
I feel that’s why the spiritual implications of Focusing are often lost on many people. They rarely get beyond thinking of Focusing as just another tool for control, no matter how we try to encourage looking beyond this limiting perspective. The interview with Marianne makes me really wonder what tremendous possibilities might occur if more and more children and young people were exposed to this process.
The social implications are staggering. Human aggression and the insecurities which generate it are not only a major problem in the modem world, they pose a threat to our very survival. I know there are political, social and economic inequities which must be rectified. I realize that much of the violence in our world revolves around such imbalance. But these external problems are further aggravated by the violence and aggression which burst forth when we live much of life so totally out of touch with ourselves. There are so many unheard stories within the feelings of each one of us. So many people are more afraid of their own insides than of any external threat to their security. We have rarely been encouraged to inner stillness, to making friends with our fears, to learning the language of our own story telling. Marianne is lighting three little candles in the dark. I wonder what that light will be like thirty years from now?
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