The announcement over the p.a. instructed us to buckle up and prepare for take-off. Susan and I were aware of our excitement and anticipation as we shared our disbelief. Were we actually heading for Budapest?
In Amsterdam, the day before, we had experienced a wonderful day. It had been a very special personal treat for me. My inner child was happy and alive with the tastes, the sounds and the smells as we wandered the streets of my childhood. The very first time, I had ever left Amsterdam was from the very same airport back in 1951, but the circumstances were very different. That departure had been traumatic and painful for the immigrant family heading for Canada as well as the family and friends we were leaving behind. Many tears were shed and many white handkerchiefs were waved for our final good-bye. None of us imagined seeing each other again, we would only be connected by letters and photographs after this day. Such was the belief transferred to the little girl who cried along with all the grown ups at that time.
For my 21st birthday I had saved enough money to make the first of many return journeys in my attempt to prove that belief to be wrong. However, this return journey had been different from all the others. I had learned Focusing fourteen years ago and it had also been fourteen years since my last visit to Amsterdam. What an unusually rich experience to be back as a Focuser, with my Focusing companion Susan Watson. Added to all this privilege was the timely awakening of the connection to my inner child that I had experienced at a Focusing retreat only six weeks previously. In hindsight, that week in Winnipeg had been a preparation for the journey I was presently on.
Immersed in my memories in Amsterdam helped me to process a sense of loss that I had not been aware of carrying for over 45 years. The little Dutch girl in me was delirious and delighted to be connected to the Canadian grandmother now flying off to new adventures in Hungary.
Susan and I were sharing an edge of knowing equal to an edge of not knowing during the take off for the two-hour flight to Budapest. As teachers it has been our honor for many years to share our passion for Focusing with anyone curious to come to our workshops to learn this amazing tool. The most exciting for us was whenever people wanted to hear how we used Focusing with young children in our classrooms. The primary (age 6-10) children I had been teaching were fond of doing elevator rides" whenever opportunities presented themselves. They sensed something authentic happening here for them in ways that were difficult for them to describe. Susans special needs children of the same age asked regularly for ... elevator rides today Mrs. Watson?" It was the enthusiasm of the children that gave Susan and me the courage to share more openly and continue to look how Focusing in the classroom was valuable. With confidence we began giving presentations and offering workshops to spread the word to our colleagues. It is our experience that children who have been connected to Focusing and taught by teachers who practice Focusing themselves, feel empowered, enhance their self esteem and develop in all areas of growth in a more integrated and holistic manner. Their spiritual, social, emotional and physical needs are embraced and cared for while not being disconnected from their intellectual development. At any early age they respond intrinsically to the invitation to give caring, feeling presence" to self and this compassion begins to affect the classroom climate and the group dynamic as an added bonus. Our years of observations led us to make many claims. Now we were heading for the first international conference on Focusing with Children. We knew we had enthusiasm, experience and commitment to bring to the people at the conference. We did not yet know what we would be receiving from the other participants in return.
I love flying and in particular the take-off. My felt sense about the moment we would slip the surly bonds of earth" offered familiar vibrations of my amplified heartbeat and more bits and pieces of J.G. Magees poem High Flight", which was flitting in and out with my breathing. However, my anticipation of entering the sanctity of the sunlit silence" with awe and reverence was not quite matched by my seat partners. Susan, on my right had noticed that I was sitting with the felt sense and we had stopped talking. The woman on my left seemed a bit anxious and so this precipitated some remarks. No, she had never flown before ... but yes, she had been to Budapest on her bicycle. No, we had never been to Budapest ... yes, we were from Canada... we were teachers going to attend a conference." It is difficult to describe the feeling that followed when our seatmate asked if we were going to the Focusing with Children" conference. Focusers do learn along the way that life is continually full of surprises. Anneke Broertjes was also a teacher, en route to the conference. She happened to work in the special needs school in Holland where Marta Stapert was a psychotherapist. Marta had been the catalyst who first wrote to me in the spring of 1997 with the invitation to what was her vision in the works for this conference.
Anneke shared her tool of a little bucket as a metaphor for clearing a space with children. Susan and I shared how we used the elevator rides for our metaphor for going into the body so those children could find their stories.
The two-hour flight seemed only to last two minutes as we landed with renewed energy and enthusiasm for when we would see each other again in Salgótárjan at the conference. Meeting Anneke by chance was a lovely affirmation, gratefully received that we were heading for adventures of great value. Our one-day in Budapest was cold and rainy. We decided a three-hour city tour on a warm bus, was the only way to handle the weather, the distances and the short time available. We had a caring and knowledgeable tour guide who helped make that a good decision, because we saw and learned a lot. It was lovely! We ended the day with a three-hour meal in a cozy, warm restaurant before we acknowledged our bodys need for sleep. Jetlag and many hours of travelling were taking their toll.
The next day we had to take another two-hour journey, this time by train. Our final destination would be Salgótárjan, the conference location for the next four days. At the train station we experienced more apprehension than excitement. We had had numerous warnings about pickpockets and robbers. Neither Susan or I spoke Hungarian but somehow we bought tickets that did not show the name of our destination, it had the name of another town or city instead. The conference organizers had sent us a schedule so we knew we had to get on the train at 11:05 but which track was that? Even the large departures and arrivals board did not show the name of where we were going. We had perhaps twenty minutes to solve the problem and every wicket had very long lineups. Conference papers in hand I queued up at the information booth (a lovely international word). While feeling my anxiety about the situation and Susan closely guarding our entire luggage, it took some time to notice that woman beside me trying to get my attention. She wanted me to see she also had a paper also just like mine. German became our communication as I discovered she was going to the conference as well. Madeleine Walder was a psychotherapist from Switzerland. Her apprehensions at that busy train station had resonated with ours for all the same reasons. Together we found out which track and embarked on the train once more travelling as a trio. This time we shared a train compartment for the two-hour journey to the conference. Once again we found ourselves sharing our passion for Focusing and our concern for hurting children. We hadnt even arrived at the conference yet! These synchronistic meetings were received with joy and gratitude on this journey.
The conference destination was finally arrived at Wednesday afternoon around 1:30 p.m. We had left home the previous Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.!! It had been a lengthy journey but so far very much worth it. The conference in a word, was wonderful. The felt sense of a group of more than 70 participants from 11 different countries was huge and palpable. Now the first hurdle was the translation process of Dutch to English to German to Hungarian and back again and again and again. On day one I and the group itself were feeling and voicing our exasperation as to how time consuming and slow moving the conference was going to be with these word for word translations. Thanks to the perseverance, the commitment and the foresight of the organizers these feelings were not compromised with the temptation to move into English even though many people had working knowledge of it. I became aware of the shift happening during the presentation of Glorias video on the second day. It was spellbinding even though every three or four minutes the video was stopped for translations. I felt the shift in myself and that of the group. For the continuation of the conference all words spoken were given caring and attention to loving detail for communication. During the translation times all words were heard and received in the same way. Time and space had been the gift with which our bodies responded by taking those words from our hearts to places deep within for processing. The outcome of our patience was very rewarding. We had accidentally tapped into the wisdom of our Northern American Native Peoples who provide time and space (up to five minutes) consciously, during their circle sharing between speakers. They had never lost that wisdom of letting the body hear and hold the sacred words passed between each other. What a unique experience we were having here at so many levels. Focusing became our common language and children our common bond. It offered a heady mix to do the work we were embarking on. How to spread Focusing with Children around the world.
The format of the conference was large group presentations, with small groups for learning and small groups for self-reflection. The conference was coordinated by Eszter Kovats, Marta Stapert and her husband, Ynse. The Tranzit F & S. in Budapest, the International Focusing Institute, the Haynal Imre University and the Nepjolati Kepzesi Kozpont Wellness Center all sponsored the conference. The work Marta and Ynse Stapert have done to spread Focusing both in Holland and Hungary (Ynse teaches at two universities, Amsterdam and Budapest, Marta teaches focusing at the Universities of Budapest and Gent in Belgium), was very evident at this conference. The scope of how they helped Focusing spread was remarkable. In 1996 they both had attended the International Focusing Conference in Boston. As a psychotherapist in a school in Holland, Marta had been using Focusing with children and her enthusiasm had led her to share this with her teachers in her school.
Her enthusiasm at this conference in Boston had led to a corner table in the dining room being designated for the participants in Boston who wished to share how Focusing with children could be spread around the world.
This led to the birth of the Childrens Corner. After that a web site and continued sharing of our experiences was established and the vision of the present international conference was the outcome.
During the opening remarks we had a welcome address from Iván Török, Director of the Népjóléti Képzési Központ which was our conference center. He touched me deeply as he spoke of how Hungary has been embracing Focusing these last three years. Since the exit of the last occupiers of Hungary, the Communists, Hungary has been truly free from foreign domination for the first time in its entire history. There has been a fast growth of Focusing with no less than four universities becoming involved. Iván expressed his hope that the inner child of a nation called Hungary after all these years of oppression would now be listened to as a result of this conference. In his words, I want the foreigners to our country to understand how this inner child has been wounded and hiding but is actually a wonderful child."
The first presentation to the large group was in German by Ynse Stapert. He presented us with some key learnings of focusing and guiding to keep in mind. He compared two models of interpersonal interaction that were basically product oriented versus process oriented. Asking us to stay with the latter plan of action. He reminded us we were a learning community, all contributing our own expertise from our own experiences. Our inner child was to be validated in these experiences as much as the children with whom we worked. We were coming together to share in a space which was to be safe and without dominance. Susan and I both felt that where we were at that point in time was right for us. When Ynse invited us to allow ourselves to move through the next four days with the theme from a little girl named Jackie, it felt even more appropriate in our togetherness as a group. I know but I dont know that I know."
It was then that we realized that there were three Canadians in attendance. This little girl Jackie was featured in the video from Gloria Bruinix. Not only were we three Canadians but friends through Bio-Spiritual Focusing. One more lovely surprise!
When we were not in large group presentations we were interacting in either a learning group or a self-reflection group. Our time together was intense from 8:00 a.m. until 21:30 every night. In our learning groups Susan and I were delighted to be connected with a dozen other people involved in education. It was a privilege to be with two other elementary teachers from Hungary and one from Holland. A teacher from Iceland who taught E.C.E., a psychotherapist who worked in Hungarian schools and a high school English teacher who helped with translations. Other translations to Hungarian or back to English was done by a wonderful young student who endeared herself to the entire group (Linda even translated the entire transcript of Glorias video for the presentation). We also enjoyed the perspective of someone from England who taught parenting skills. Bilha Frolinger added some wonderful excitement from Israel. She and her sister, Atsmaout were celebrating the recent news that they were given permission and sponsored by the Ministry of Education to teach Focusing in the schools in Israel. It became our celebration too. The diversity of our group was a powerful mix with the Focusing attitude we all gave each other.
Susan and I were invited to share how we do Focusing in the classroom. We chose to use the experiential approach I had discovered as a useful technique while in Winnipeg. It involved role-playing and over a two-day period we had sessions where the participants would become the children in our class and we were the teachers. The power of role-playing had worked its special magic in Winnipeg and I had felt well received. The question Susan and I had was, how would it work with the slowing down of translation and having people from diverse cultures and experiences. We risked it! The magic was there once again in a powerful way for all of us as we explored from an inside place with our own inner children, how Focusing is for a child. We knew we had been well received with our presentation from within the group. However, up until our very last night, even in Budapest, we found ourselves explaining to others from other groups who were curious and had heard about us.
Part of the preparation for our success had been the exercises the large group had been presented with on the morning of our second day. Zack Boukydis had taken us on a presentation to connect us to our inner child. Zack is an American psychologist doing fascinating research and therapy in particular, with babies and parents and their non-verbal communication. Again this was a presentation with a large experiential component engaging us in a bodily felt way".
Zack was one of the people in my self-reflection group. Here Susan and I found ourselves in separate groups where the common bond was now language. We were not in need of translation in this small group setting and in my group I found it exciting to be Focusing with people from diverse countries and cultures, sharing deeply in the safety of our grounded ness in the body" practice that we all shared thanks to Dr. Gendlins work. In this group I also met Martina Pelakova, a psychotherapist from the Czech Republic. She had been sent to the conference by Karl Koprivaand had learned her Focusing from Janet Abels.
Martina was excited to know that I was recently together with Ed and Pete and expressed her desire to one day have the privilege of meeting the teachers we shared in BSF. Marta Stapert was also in my small reflection group.
I admired her enthusiasm and energy. She hosted and cared for everyones needs like a mother hen and was constantly evident throughout the conference with her passion and her sense of responsibility for the success of this event. The evenings of socializing which included dancing until all hours saw Marta not only participating but also inviting, suggesting and cajoling everyone to join her. This provided a wonderful balance of playfulness throughout the four days our headwork" continually balanced with our body play". Bus excursion to Eger on October 23rd was part of this balancing act. This was significant as a location as well as a date because it was the national holiday to remember the uprising in 1956. Eger is a fortified historical town located in vineyards northwest of where we were. We saw a lot of the Hungarian landscape, had a guided tour of the historical perspectives, and enjoyed a wonderful authentic evening of wine with the name bullsblood from the region, Hungarian cuisine and gypsy music. It was a memorable souvenir of our trip to Hungary.
Saturday was another full day that began with Zack and Marta presenting some fascinating thoughts on birth experiences and their influences. Sabine Boss from Holland described how she had done Focusing with her baby, 4 hours after birth to process a traumatic birth experience. I experienced wonder and awe and continuously felt resonance with my own inner child at the uncovering of these new ideas.
The day before had been the presentation of Glorias video to the large group. It too had stirred everyone. Watching the incredible transformation of Jackie spoke volumes of the caring, feeling presence" Gloria had been giving to that little girl from a place within herself. Many people spoke to us on the bus and during breaks about how they felt touched and empowered to take the risk as Gloria had risked with Jackie. Glorias letter to the group shared her own insights as to the importance of ones own inner child being cared for and nurtured when you want to teach Focusing to other peoples children. As Gloria asks herself How can I Focus with children when I know there is so much inside me unfinished?" Was it any wonder that the ending became a very tearful time? Our inner children had been cared for, nurtured and listening to. There was much embracing and promising of staying in touch and reconnecting again. We all felt, renewed and strengthened in our resolve to return to our homes and our work and continue with the path we had taken together. The children of this work were not going to be abandoned wherever we could help it. The tool to empower children was too simple and valuable to be ignored. The gift of healing our own childhood was also part of the process. The director of this conference center had expressed his hopes for the inner child of Hungary as a country. We were going home to eleven countries with a new awareness that these too had an inner child to be discovered and nurtured.
Presently, I am reading a book by Pema Chodoran. She suggests we try not living in hope. For someone like myself, constantly struggling to let go and to trust, this is a huge paradigm shift. My participation in this conference has given me new insights to make this shift. Having received the gift of strengthened trust and new truths to explore, I can give myself permission to lay back and savoir this. One of the truths I have claimed for myself for some years are that children are the greatest resource in the Garden of the earth. The new awareness I brought home from Hungary tells me that there is a global village emerging to tend that Garden. The journey was long but it continues.