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Gendlin, E.T. (1981). Focusing and the development of creativity. The Focusing Folio, 1(1), 13-16. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2062.html

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FOCUSING AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF CREATIVITY

by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D., University of Chicago

It has long been known that creativity depends on the willingness to let go of the usual, trite ways of seeing anything, the willingness to "tolerate ambiguity" it is often called. But such a view of creativity is only negative. It tells what not to do. Don't hold on tightly to the usual ways. Don't be so uncomfortable with having no clear way. Very well. But now, if I don't do that, what do I then do, instead?

"Ambiguity" is a negative term. It means "not clear." If I do not think in the usual way, then at first I don't have anything clear. For most people this means having nothing at all.

With focusing one discovers that one can turn one's attention in a specific way, almost to a specific place–so that one then has a great deal, and something quite concrete. But this is a way of inward attending that most people don't know. To describe it has required some new words which cannot first be defined because they refer to this unfamiliar way of attending.

In focusing one attends to a felt sense. This term does not mean what "feeling" usually means, not emotions, not personal reactions of anger or joy, or whatever. A felt sense is the global bodily way one experiences something. For example, take some situation that is a problem for you. You can think of several ways of handling it but also some reactions against each. You could say a great deal about the situation, and you are likely to go round and round these facts, thinking about the situation. Instead of that, focusing would be as follows:

You would put your attention in your body, in the chest-stomach region, the center of your body. You would see how you feel there, perhaps (let us say) quite at ease. No stomach ache, not hungry, just a friendly sense of no discomfort. Now you would keep your attention there, and think of the situation. You might say to yourself, (trying it out) "I feel totally all right about this situation." Then you would wait a few moments. You would find a very distinct sense of discomfort entering. This is your sense of the unresolved situation as a whole.

Of course, if you had guessed, you would have known in advance that, in fact, you do not feel totally all right about the situation. Of course, not. It isn't solved. You did not need to perform the focusing procedure to find out that you don't feel all right about it. You knew that. But the focusing procedure (the little bit of it given above) has put you into direct contact with the way your body has the situation. In our research we have discovered that from this bodily felt sense you can move to further steps of new thought, which are not possible in any other way. You could not, from what you merely think, and already know about the situation, go to these new steps.

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Any situation, any problem or task or decision – anything, has a great many facets. It is not merely what we say of it. In the example you could say various ways of handling the situation, with their pros and cons. You could describe the situation and its background, what led up to it. You could say some of your aims with it. You could write a fairly long analysis. There would be much more than you can think at once. Even so you would omit thousands and thousands of facets of the situation which you have never separated and named, and never will. The felt sense includes all of these together.

The discomfort newly forms in your body when you think of the situation while still attending inside your body. There are specific steps for letting it form. If, for example, you have been feeling nervous or afraid or in some other specific way about the situation, there is a way to get beyond these specific feelings, so that the felt sense can form. The felt sense is wholistic, it is the body' s sense of the whole situation, not just one or another aspect of it. When the felt sense forms, you might call it "discomfort" or "queasy" or "unresolved" or some other quality word – but very soon you will see that it is vastly more than that. It is a sense of the whole complexity of the situation.

There is a second discovery: The felt sense wants to move. It has a directionality. With certain specific steps we can teach, one finds the felt sense moving a step. This is experienced as a distinct inward stirring. An exaggeration of it would be to say that it feels like a stomach cramp releasing and easing. But it can be a very slight stirring and you learn with practice to detect it quite unmistakably even if it is slight. And, along with such a physical release something opens and you get a step concerning the problem.

But such a first step might not solve the problem. It might not even be an idea. It might be only some seemingly small facet, or some way you perceive the problem, about which you didn't know. Focusing consists of a series of such steps. Quite soon the whole problem looks different and the ideas you can then have about it are also very new.

There are exact instructions for how to tap a felt sense so that it is most likely to move to its next step. The exact instructions have been published (Focusing, E.T. Gendlin, Ph.D., Everest House, 1978, Bantam 1981). Through constant teaching and many applications our ways of specifying these instructions and developing specific ways of overcoming difficulties are constantly improving.

Here I am concerned only to introduce the procedure in a general way. Although it has six specific "movements" and many more exact instructions, the basic ideas are just two: the felt sense which is the bodily having of a whole situation; the felt shift which is the stirring, the opening up, the movement to its next step by the felt sense itself .

What is surprising about the felt shift is that there is indeed a next step that the body provides. Considering the vast gamut of information, of facets of the situation and all that goes with it, one might have thought that a felt sense would produce vast amounts of this information. It can. But what is much more useful, a felt sense is a kind of totaling-up [Page 15] that comes to a particular result, a specific next step. If that next step is received, absorbed, so that the difference it makes is fully experienced (this takes a minute or so), then the felt sense of the whole situation is again different and a further step can arrive.

Suppose you have to break in a new assistant. You would have to lay out the situation in words, in order for the assistant to help with it. You would have to explain and delineate, go through many of the facts you know about the situation. You would also have to tell the background. You would have to bring up how this kind of situation is usually handled. You would have to give the objectives, and why they are desirable. You would have to mention what typically goes wrong and what is done about that, and so on! Your own body knows all that, and it is with you when you work on the problem. You don't have to go over all that with yourself, in words. The way the body has any situation includes everything that is relevant to it.

Unfortunately, when most people think about a problem they don't employ this great bodily resource. They think one thing, or two, and then later another thing or two. The mind can only deal with one or two facets at a time. So one goes round and round, from one set of thoughts to another, and one never has the good of the whole of what one's body knows.

But this bodily knowing is not just right there, waiting. It must first form. A t first you may feel only impatience, or worry about the situation. It is true that if the felt sense of the whole forms, its first quality may also be "worry" or "impatience. " Yet there is a clear difference. Your worry is only "what will happen if I don 't get this handled?" The felt sense – even if it too might be called worry"– will be your sense of the whole problem, not just of what will happen if you don't handle it. When the felt sense opens in a felt shift, you will find that what you called "worry" this time has to do with exactly what's needed in the situation itself, orwith some facet of the situation that needs to be taken account of.

The felt sense also feels different than our usual feelings. It is expansive. Just to sense it, one often gets a breath. Yes – that is how the whole thing feels, all right. . .

The felt sense is therefore very different from personal reactions. It is of and about this task, this situation, this problem. For example, suppose you and I are competing. Which of us first gets a good answer wins. Suppose I tell you my thinking so far – then you might sense how I am coming close to a solution, even if you don't want me to. You have a felt sense of the problem and you can sense a stirring in response to my idea, even though personally you wish my idea were a dud. But of course, you can sense such a directionality only rarely, in the usual ways we work and think.

Creative people have probably always used this method. What is really new in it is the specificity with which we can describe the steps and teach them.

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Looking back to the usual way of describing creativity, we can see that what might always have been meant by "ambiguity" is the felt sense. Only no one laid out the steps for getting one, and then for tapping it.

A felt sense is ambiguous in one respect: One doesn't know what it is, what is in it. Of course one knows a great deal about the problem or situation, but the felt sense itself is a vague whole.

A felt sense is very concrete and unmistakably there, and its quality is always just exactly what it is – the quality of just this particular situation as lived in the body. One can give it a round name at first but the details that emerge from it are all about this situation, this unique problem, this task.

Until now we haven't been told where to go with our attention, and exactly what to do, in order to be creative. And those who have attempted to describe what they do have not done it very specifically. But creativity would be very mystifying indeed, if it were merely the hitting, from nowhere, of new ideas. Where can they come from? Where do thoughts arise? If you pay attention to any thought whatever, you will find that you have some words and images, and also a sense of their meaning to you just now. You will find that this meaning is much more than what the words alone say. The whole context and background is also there, in your sense of what you said. Only from this richer underlying complexity which you do have can relevant new ideas arise. But there is a bodily way, through quite specific steps, by which you can let this form, as a whole, quite concretely, so that you can attend to it and work with it, rather than leaving it fleeting and silent as most people do. This is what focusing is all about.

ŠEugene T. Gendlin

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices (http://www.focusing.org) stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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