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Gendlin, E.T. (1992). The wider role of bodily sense in thought and language. In M. Sheets-Johnstone (Ed.), Giving the body its due, pp. 192-207. Albany: State University of New York Press. From

[Page 192]

The Wider Role of Bodily Sense in Thought and Language

by Eugene T. Gendlin


This paper will attempt a way of thinking with, and about, that which exceeds logical forms and distinctions. Today it is widely held that any form (rule, pattern, concept, distinction, category . . . . .) [1] always involves an inseparable so-called excess. It is furthermore held that that excess is chaotic, a limbo. I will show on the contrary that excess is a vital part of thinking, and that it is not chaos but a greater order.

It is widely assumed that language is inherently just a conceptual system. If language is more than that, we seem unable to say what exceeds concepts (rules, distinctions, . . . . .) because we can only speak by means of concepts (rules, distinctions, . . . . .). It is assumed that if anything did exceed concepts (rules, distinctions, . . . . .), it would only work to dis-organize what we say. In [Page 193] contrast, I will show that language has an order greater than its conceptual system, its distinctions, rules. . . . . .

The body functions vitally in that thinking and saying which exceeds forms. It is in that excess mode of thinking and saying that I will talk about how the body functions in thinking and saying.

Let me give an example: You are walking on the street and you meet someone who says hello. You say hello back. You don't remember who it is. But your body knows who it is. Any moment who it is will pop into your head. Then it doesn't. You scour the world, work, home, neighbors, stores, colleagues. Perhaps suddenly you know, perhaps not. But you have a felt sense—a bodily felt quality—in which that person is implied. At that point you may think, "Gee, isn't that interesting. I know that I don't like this person, but I don't know who it is yet." And when at last it comes to you who that is, you may be surprised. You say, "Gee, I didn't know I didn't like this person in this funny way." But while as yet you didn't, this bodily implying knew who it is.

So the body implies a next step of speech or action or knowledge or feeling. The word "implies" is important to me. Suppose though that I didn't say the body implies the next step. Suppose I said the body is pregnant with the next step. You would say, "Yes, I understand." Suppose I said that the body loves the next step. You would say, "All right, you can say that." Suppose I say the body cooks the next step; bakes the next step; lacks the next step, or holds its breath longing for the next step. By this time you would know what I am saying, even if I use no word at all but just write that the body . . . . . s the next step. In that blank, my word "implying" says and is the intricacy which is greater than the schemes that any one of the possible words brings with it. In whatever way I might actually say it, you would let the word work newly and freshly when it comes into a spot like that. All the words can in this way acquire a new meaning, provided of course they're part of the situation, part of a context, part of an interaction. It is right to say that language is inherent in experience, but we have to understand by language this way in which words can work newly in a given spot.

Language is implicit in the body. The body knows language. But language is not a closed system. The body can always give the words more feedback than can possibly be derived just from concepts or forms or distinctions. I mean the familiar body, the one that is sitting in the chair or standing by the stove, knows language in this way. In other words, it is the physical body that you enter to get to the intricacy that I am talking about.

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The physical body is continuous with the universe, but to enter it you start not with microscopes. You start with quite ordinary experience; you start in just the same place where you are hungry or scared. Starting with this ordinary body you get a wider, at first confusing, murky (. . . . .) sense that we're taught to consider as nothing. But a felt sense comes. And when we have a point to make, words come. You know how words come? We open our mouths and expect. Really, and if they don't come, there is not much we can do except try again.

This coming is characteristic of the body. What else comes like that? Sleep comes like that, and appetites. If they don't come, you just have to wait. We all know that. Tears come like that, and orgasm. Emotions come like that, and so also this felt sense, which is wider and at first not clear, comes like that. Then steps come from that felt sense, and they can be quite new steps, and often more intricate than any common concept or distinction.


Forms (categories, concepts . . . . .) are always already functioning in anything human. It is true that what exceeds them cannot be separated from them, or they from it. My issue is only whether what exceeds them is chaos, or rather, another order.

It seems that all words bring distinctions, that language works by distinctions. Even the statement that there is another order seems itself to be a distinction. So it is often said that there is "no other of language." [2] Sometimes this is also said in Friedrich Nietzsche's way: There are only interpretations, there is nothing to interpret. He means that there is nothing that first is, and is then later interpreted. And indeed, insofar as forms and distinctions are always implicit in any human experience, they would seem to bear out the claim. But the question is: Are forms and distinctions the only order? I will show and say another order.

When the philosopher Edmund Husserl developed phenomenology as a method for uncovering the structures of experience, he discovered another order. [3] Phenomenology finds something more than theories and concepts in experience. Husserl denied the old theory that, for example, a tree is seen as bits of color. We see a tree, he said. Even if we think that perception can only be of color and light, still—it's a tree we see. Similarly, we hear a door slamming, and motorcycles going by. Husserl found that our ordinary [Page 195] experience of situations is utterly different and more complex than our theories and concepts render it. For instance, in every event there is always something definite and something vague; time relations are different and much more intricate than our usual use of clocks would have us believe. Moreover taken phenomenologically, every concept or distinction opens out into an experiential field, an intricacy that is compellingly there for us in quite another way than the concepts and distinctions are there for us. In all this, Husserl thought he discovered a realm of eternal essences, finer distinctions far exceeding any extant concepts, theories, or philosophies. But he went in like Adam, naming all the animals. For example, he began by dividing everything into three sections: perceiving, feeling, and willing. It didn't occur to him to question that old, three-way distinction. He thought he found it in the phenomena and went on to render much more into finer and finer distinctions.

Husserl did not realize that intricacy cannot be caught within distinctions. With different distinctions, a somewhat different intricacy opens. But that doesn't mean intricacy depends wholly on the distinctions. Rather, after any distinctions, the intricacy is always again more, and can overthrow the very distinctions that first brought it. The finest distinctions open into a further intricacy that is not consistent with them.

The task is to think with this fact! To think how intricacy functions is the task I am setting up here.

Since phenomena do not have that simple independence Husserl assumed, it can seem as if phenomenologically speaking, experience has no order of its own at all, as if it depended entirely on the distinctions that one reads out or into it. Martin Heidegger, who followed Husserl, wrote early on that all concepts and distinctions depend upon a more basic kind of understanding that already exists in all human living and practice. It is that felt, "moody" kind of understanding with which we create our situations, the implicit understanding with which we go about acting, trying, going-for, and avoiding. It is an understanding which, he said, "reaches much farther than cognition." [4] That would seem to set up the task, in philosophy at least, of changing our approach so that we would think with this felt, moody understanding which reaches further than ordinary cognition. But Heidegger did not go on to do this. Instead, he proceeded along Kantian lines [5] to look for antecedents which determine the making of all experience. Where Husserl had given the intricacy of experience too much independence from concepts, Heidegger credited all of the intricacy to a general metaphysics. He [Page 196] assumed that the more-than-cognitive, felt, "pre-understanding" (as he called it) is always entirely determined by a philosophical approach. He believed that every age has a certain philosophical understanding of being, and that it is exemplified by everything that happens in that age. He believed this basic understanding to be the crux of a period's dominant philosophy. While he denied that the basic understanding consists of concepts, he affirmed nevertheless that a dominant philosophy has the power of determining everything under it, just as concepts would, or perhaps even more thoroughly than concepts would. Heidegger argued that no change can move from practice to philosophy, only from philosophy to practice, only in one direction.

The relativism that is current today in Western culture stems from this one-way direction, from interpretive approaches to cultural practice, to people, to bodies. A belief in relativism (and nihilism) is so widely held today because it is assumed that all experience is derivative from forms, that these forms are given by history, and that they are therefore utterly relative. A lot of interpretations but nothing to interpret. Thus the view, for example, that there is no nature, no human nature, no truth, and no rightness, other than whatever variant happens to have been programmed into us by culture. There is also new programming, of course, but as relativist thinkers see it, it is always from the top down, from the outside in, never from experience. For instance, Michel Foucault's understanding of California is that you can, with Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls, get into your body more, or you can, with death counselor Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, learn something called "leaving your body." Equally, with psychoanalysis, you can make yourself more controlled, or with assertiveness training, less so. Such thinkers think that nothing new can ever come from within the body. Animals might have instincts, but the human body, says Foucault, "was utterly destroyed by history." [6] One might say that on this view, you make yourself as one is said to make a work of art: you build into yourself certain values and concepts that are determined in advance. Foucault thinks it can only be an illusion that you find anything coming from deep within yourself. Everything is assumed to be a product of some arbitrarily imposed order of one sort or another.

In sum, relativists assume that the intricacy of experience is entirely derivative from forms (social rules, distinctions . . . . .) which always already determine any individual's experience in advance. They think that cultural practice consists only of derivatives of an implicitly functioning program of historically imposed forms [Page 197] and rules—ones which can of course break down, but then leave us only in limbo. But experience is neither independent of concepts nor just dependent on them. We will find that we can enter into the intricacy between the poles of the distinction: dependent or independent. In so doing, we will miss neither the greater intricacy of

experience and practice, nor the patterned forms which are, indeed, always already at work. But we must see how forms work in and after the intricacy. (Notice, by the way, the distinction here between a "we" and an "it"—we who will see how intricacy works.) I will show that all distinctions, when broken into, do not break down into meaninglessness. Rather, they work and at the same time open into a more exacting intricacy.

Since intricacy is not separable from distinctions, and since it is somewhat different with different distinctions, you might wonder what independence from them it can have. You will see that intricacy has an order of its own because it always responds with an unavoidable exactitude that vastly exceeds what could possibly follow from the distinctions. So it is wrong to say that they—the distinctions—made (found, lifted out, synthesized, differentiated . . . . .) what comes. That attributes the intricacy to them. While it is true that what comes is always orderly and exact, yet much more comes than could have followed from the order and exactness alone.

For example, my ideas about another person (or myself) can lead to finding something in direct experience. But what comes in direct experience is always much more intricate than my original ideas. Moreover what comes can also overthrow the very idea that helped to bring it up. For example, I wrote this down after a therapy hour: "After following my client very closely, I give a well-considered interpretation. I say: "Oh—isn't that about your father?" My client is silent a bit, and then says something like: "Oh, it really helped me when you asked me that—it, uh, I can hardly touch it inside—it's my mother."

Yes, I get a lot of credit for interpretations like that. They help to bring to the fore the experience which proves them wrong. But even if it had been her father, what comes is always ten thousand not-yet-separated-stands, never simply just what we said or thought.

All the same, one might object: "Sure, any experience has a more intricate order than the concepts you bring to it, but doesn't any experience implicitly contain many old distinctions and concepts, and aren't these really the intricacy of which we speak here?" We will answer first that those concepts that are implicit in experi- [Page 198] ence do not work in the same way as if they were explicit. They do not work in that clean, determinative way to constrain everything that follows to be consistent with them, as concepts and distinctions were long said to do. Nor do they just contradict or make disorder. We will go on to say that, "Yes, there is a welter of implicit concepts in any experience; but no, the intricacy vastly exceeds them as well." How can we know that? We can know it from how the intricacy functions; it does not function like concepts, whether implicit or explicit.

The issue depends not on mere assertions; it depends on whether we can examine, think with, show, and say, how the order greater than distinctions functions, and how distinctions function after, in, and with it.


Let us now think with stories, with incidents from practice, to show how one can move from practice to philosophy.

Suppose again, for instance, that someone says hello to you as you walk down the street, and that you don't know who it is but you certainly know the person. It is uhm, ah, . . . . . . Now you feel how you don't particularly like the person, something odd, yes, sort of uhm . . . . . . You rotate your hand. The dislike has no words either; it is your uniquely felt sense of knowing that person. But if you now go into this sense of dislike, a vast intricacy opens—all your situations with that person and your own quirks are implicit in making that dislike.

Take another example. The others are talking and you are waiting for a break to get in, to make a point which came to you as you listened to them. You can feel that it's a good point and you are eager to make it. Now your chance comes, you announce that you wish to say something. They turn to you, and—someone walks in and interrupts. When the interruption is over, everyone turns to you again, but you have forgotten the point! Again, as in the first example you do have something left; you have the implicit feel of that point. It was so good; just right. And again, in this instance, it is something forgotten, but something which a . . . . . somehow implicitly knows. But this time you never had the point in words as you once had the person's name in words. It was a new point.

Yes, something new can come in this way, but in my examples [Page 199] so far, what you forgot did exist before you forgot it. In the next example we will see that such a blank can also imply something that has never existed in an explicit way.

When one stands before a painting that hangs crookedly, one feels a certain unease. One can straighten it, then stand back and sense very exactly if it needs finer adjusting. Symmetry, you say. Learned, of course. But by now a bodily demand.

An unfinished design also makes one feel what it needs. The artist adds a line and then stands back, and feels very exactly whether the line is what it needs or whether that new line was wrong and must be taken out again. The artist might stand before such a design for a long time—even years, sensing but not finding the needed line.

The design needs something, but what? It's not just unbalanced, as if adding most anything to the left side would do. No, it needs—uhm, ah, hmmm, . . . . . . That blank seems to know what the design needs. Certainly it knows to reject the line the artist just tried. And also to reject many more lines that come and are never even drawn.

That . . . . . knows what and where a right new line goes, and yet that line has never existed before—in the history of the world.

Certainly old forms and patterns might function to help bring such a new step, but not by constraining the new to be consistent with the old. Rather, the old forms change as they work implicitly. That shows that they do not work alone to bring a next step.

Here is a story from psychotherapy. Notice how the new next step comes after the silent, stuck blank between.

The client has a felt sense, something about not wanting to live, being pulled to die, something very sore. She says that she badly needs rest, but resting is impossible because this, in her, will not rest.

(silence) . . . . . This needs to rest, and it can't. If it lets down and rests it will die.

I keep her quiet company. I only repeat: "Maybe it could let down and rest if you could trust something." As therapist, I think, "If only I knew what to do!" No, wrong. As therapist, if the client is already feeling and sensing that stuck blank, keep quiet. The step comes from that bodily-felt sense:

(silence) . . . . .

After a minute, she says:

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Now, suddenly, it feels like a house on stilts that go into the earth. All of me on top . . . that's a house and it's on stilts. It is lifted off of this sore place. Now the sore place is like a layer, and it can breathe. Do you know those steel posts they put into the ground, to hold up a building? These stilts are like that.

(silence) . . . . . Yea (breath), now there's time for that sore place to breathe.

Later she says:

When I was little I played a lot with stilts. I used to go between the power wires on them. It was dangerous, but it was play! I used to make taller and taller ones, and go on them there. Stilts! I haven't thought of those for years. And play, and danger. How does this process do that? It uses all these things to make something that wasn't there before.

Like every experience, this one includes much from the past. The play in the danger zone and the stilts are from the past. But this step is not a deeper experiencing of the past. This client had experienced the past more deeply many times before. Here something new came instead, a new physical way of being, a new internal arrangement that never existed before.

This kind of step can be more intricate and novel than any that we could design on purpose. In retrospect we say it is just what we wished. But we could not have designed, in advance, just this intricate arrangement of stilts supporting her, lifting the pressure off, so that something underneath can breathe.

After all of these stories I can state to you directly what they were meant to show. Had I done that without them, you might have only understood my words in one of their old uses. All words, after all, bring old schemes. Even now, if I say that the blank implies the next line, someone might object that the word "imply" implies that the line was there, folded under, hidden in the blank. I deny that the word "implicit" says that here. It says rather how a (. . . . .) functions to let such a line come. The next objection might be: "OK, so the line was not there." I deny that, too. "Aha," the person will then say, "so the line was there and also not there. You see! A contradiction. Rupture. Breaking of all distinctions. Limbo."

I want to show that behind a distinction opens an intricacy that is a much greater order. Here, someone might patronize me by saying, "Yes, yes, but it can't be said. All words bring distinctions." [Page 201] To be sure, words do, I would answer, but their saying is beyond distinctions. If you think the stories with me, you won't need me to tell you that some of these words work in a new way here, and also, that the stories say how it is possible for words to say something new. Any situation, any bit of practice, implies much more than has ever been said. That is how poets and artists are possible. It is also why we know in clinical practice to be careful not to limit people to our ideas of them. Much more than that can come from them.

When I said earlier that the blank implies the next line, I did not need to tell you that the word doesn't say the line is there, only hidden, folded under. Why didn't I need to tell you that? In that instance and that phrasing, the word has already broken out of its old distinction. It is not in limbo. It is saying something new and more intricate, more orderly than either was or wasn't there before. This will happen with any word that works in the blank. It might require some degree of genius to let it make sense, but if it does, it will say this blank.

What is this . . . . . ? Language, certainly. Grammar insofar as the words around it hold the blank open. Yes, it is language. But the blank is also our situation. And the . . . . . is also a felt sense in our bodies; for example, it is a felt sense in the artist's body. So it is in ours as we try to say this . . . . . . The felt sense is an odd quality, an unease, a hunger, a wanting that knows in a very exacting way what it wants, . . . . . . So the blank is the body (language, the situation . . . . .).

In the (. . . . .), body and situation are not two different things in two different places. In thus opening the old distinction between body and situation, you can see that there is a far more intricate order than just the demise of a spatial division. Now I do not need to tell you that body, language, and situation are not three different things, nor the same thing. After all, three words have worked to say what the blank is, and each word now has the others implicit in it. Yet each still says something different after what the others say.

There are many quite fine ways in which we can say that body and situation are different. Such fine ways also let the word "difference" say a different kind of difference, no longer a difference between two things. Rather, the body can imply what has never yet happened in a situation, and a situation can exceed what the body feels. For instance, when one first learns to fly an airplane, high-up is scary and one relaxes near the ground where everything looks familiar. Later, one's body has learned that it's safe up there, and one feels [Page 202] in peril and most alert near the ground where crashes most easily occur. So, the situation has a bodily implying in it too, and it may be beyond my individual body's implying.

You see how intricacy opens as soon as we think with it. Surely new distinctions do arise, but thinking in intricacy allows them to open into still further steps, which are again very exact but not equivalent to them. Some implied further steps also simplify into a new understanding of a whole. The steps do not always bring finer distinctions. The finer the new distinctions, the better, but there cannot be one consistent system comprising all of them. There is not one eternal or absolute system in which the body is first distinguished from the universe, so that finer distinctions then all fall on one side or the other. We let distinctions work to open an intricacy that is always more exact, and that can always be different.

Let us open another old distinction: it is not a question of trusting or not trusting the body. We cannot trust the result of any one step; we can, however, trust the kind of process of steps I am describing. It is also possible to discover a more exacting intricacy about the process itself: how to trust, think, and act with this bodily implying.


(a) The body is (has, feels, lives . . . . .) an implying of further events.

(b) The body has intentionality, that is to say, it has (feels, knows, is, implies . . . . .) situations.

(c) The body has language implicit in it. (Situation and language are furthermore implicit in each other.)

(d) Words to speak come to us in a bodily way, sometimes smoothly, sometimes after a . . . . . . If the words to speak don't come, we are stuck, and must wait for them.

Let me remind you that this coming is characteristic of the body. I mentioned how appetite comes, also orgasm, tears, sleep. You recognize the bodily nature of such comings. Emotions also come in this way. You can feign joy or anger but to have them, they must come. So also does the muse come, when she is willing and not otherwise. And new ideas, the lines of a new design, and steps of therapy come in this way.

(e) The body can imply something quite new which has never as yet actually occurred.

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It is a mistake to think of the body as a fixed machine, and thought-forms as creating novelty. Just the reverse: logic only rearranges already cut units. In contrast, the body, particularly a more bodily thinking, creates novelty.

When you hold your breath, your body wants and pre-figures the familiar exhaling. But not just exhaling is implied, rather any way to get oxygen, and not just oxygen but anything that would fulfill the function oxygen fulfills, and perhaps not just that function but some other function that would serve to keep the body alive. Implying is always like that, very demandingly exact, but more than a fixed form-in-advance. Evolution implies this. The evolution of species is not wholly explained by selection among untold trillions of useless variants. Living bodies imply their continuation more precisely than by just one form. It is for this reason that something new and more intricate can always happen.

(f) Bodily implying is a value-direction.

Bodily implying implies steps in the right direction. It helps to expect a step in the right direction, without defining the right direction. Then you are whole in your wanting. You get beyond the patterned forms and every either/or. Instead of either/or, or in between, the little steps bring something else. The intricacy of bodily implying has an other-than-formed direction.

It may seem that every step of such a process changes its direction. For example, suppose you were at a party and felt you were bored and needed to go home. But suppose that instead of going home, you opened up the boredom and found anger. And suppose that in finding the anger you found also that you needed to stay and say something directly about the anger to someone. In a similar way, as we pursue a goal, the goal seems to change. But later we say that our new goal is the one we really wanted all along but we didn't know it. It may seem that "direction" is the wrong word for this more intricate continuity-discontinuity of implying. The word "direction" seems to be taken from geometry. But the kind of direction I am talking about already exists even in plants; it long precedes the geometric kind of direction and geometric kind of form-continuity.

(g) The felt sense used to be little known.

Until recently, there was no established word or phrase for this bodily sensed implying. It was often called "kinaesthetic" but kinae [Page 204] means motion, and I need not tell you that you can have it also while sitting still. It was also called "proprioceptive." Etymologically that means sensing oneself. It does not well name "sensing oneself living in interaction in situations." Also, "proprioceptive" is mostly used for sensing one's muscles. Until recently, did most people really sense their bodies only as the five external sense, plus motion and muscles? Of course, some people knew this felt sense, but efforts to describe it show that most people did not. Even today, judging from my own clinical experience, roughly half of the readers probably do not know it.

(h) A felt sense is not an emotion.

A felt sense differs from an emotion. It is wider, and at first unclear, murky—the sort of feeling which we might describe by saying: "This is nothing." Or: "Just confusion." At first it can be very slight, just a whiff of some bodily quality; for instance, a slight unease, a tightness, or a jumpy feeling. Quite soon it may then turn out that very strong emotions were implicit in it, along with much else.

For example, the word "angry" describes an emotion which, in some respects, is always the same regardless of whom or what you are angry at. "Sure, I'm angry," you say, and your heart pounds and your body would be ready to fight if you would so choose. But in another way, if you wait for a few moments, you can find that the anger is only part of something wider—a felt sense. The quality of that felt sense is unique to just this situation. At first it is only a murky bodily quality. For instance, along with your anger, you might find a kind of rush-rush, a sense of hurry. If you focus on that felt sense, you find, perhaps, that you want to stay mad. Now, going into it further, there is that most unwelcome sense that you yourself acted stupidly, not only the other person. And in that chagrin is much more, of course. Now it opens into how you never handle this kind of situation well, and that, in turn, is because you feel ashamed of this other thing, which would not make you ashamed except for your lack of self-confidence, which involves a certain other way you are, which is because of still other things and so on. And that was all with you in some implicit way when you got mad.

Because there is always such an intricacy, it cannot be said that we just impose meaning. It is incorrect to say that, from the top down, we "attach meaning" to experience, organize or reframe it. We cannot just tell ourselves a story that we like better than all the [Page 205] intricacy that is us. Those who say that our past is a "narrative" understand that situations are not fixed facts. But we must not miss that they are an implying that can be carried forward. And, yes, all meanings, concepts, and distinctions can help toward a genuine new step in which the sense of a situation changes. But if we try a refraining, and then it does not bring a physically-felt step actually from the body, then we better try another reframing. Or, we wait, and let the felt sense give new steps.

The felt sense has all this intricacy, but at first it is a murky bodily quality, quite different from an emotion.

(i) A felt sense is found in our located body.

A felt sense comes from the ordinary physical body. In order to find a felt sense, one must first let one's attention go inside this body. My attention must attend here, to this body located, for example, here behind this desk. Your attention must attend to your body seated in the chair or on the couch as you read these words. One first finds a felt sense by attending in the middle of one's ordinary, located body.

(j) A felt sense is not automatically there; it must come.

It is erroneous to assume that the felt sense is ever present, that it's just not always noticed. Sometimes a bodily implying moves smoothly into occurring. But when we are stuck, we may just be at a loss. An implying of the next step may not come. To learn how to let a felt sense come opens a great many new possibilities for further steps at any juncture.

We have devised a procedure called "focusing" to make this letting-come teachable. [7] The procedure is now taught in relation to therapy, writing, business, problem solving, healing, and in other situations and fields of endeavor. The instructions are more than I could present here. For each common difficulty one encounters, there are specific ways of working through the difficulty. It takes longer than a few minutes to learn the technique, but over a period of days nearly everyone can learn it.


There is an ancient tradition according to which, if we were directly in contact with God, we would burn up. If you think of the [Page 206] body as insulation, then it makes sense that the cosmos comes to us through our bodies. It might otherwise be puzzling, given the history of mechanical concepts of the body, why we need to pay attention through the body. We must indeed attend through the body to think about a situation or any topic further than the obvious. We need to attend further than the obvious in order to develop as people—and I would argue that we need to develop as people. It is not enough that there is an infinite cosmos. We need to develop ourselves, however discouraging we may sometimes seem to ourselves.

Your own inner phenomenological sense of your own body is not only your sense of your muscles, your legs, the back of your head. It's not only a sensing of things like the floor, the chair, or whatever you see or touch. The bodily sense is also your sense of your situations, your life. For example, I am now part of your situation. You have been permitting my words to have an effect on how your body feels to you right now.

Our bodies carry our situations. We carry our life with us. Our bodies can total up years of all kinds of experience and at any moment give us something new, a new more intricate step.


[1] I often use a string of words instead of just one in a given slot. For example, I might say you feel your life, you are, have, live . . . . . your life. The five dots leave room for other possible words. After the string and the sequence of dots once appear, any one of the words can later say what is meant. But furthermore, when we let each of the words work, then each says the (. . . . .) that includes the others so that the (. . . . .) is more than any single scheme. In this way we are not limited by any one formulation.

[2] Jacques Derrida, Disseminations, Outwork (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 3-43.

[3] Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomentological Philosophy, Book I, trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983).

[4] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 172-173

[5] Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe (Collected Works), Vol. 26, The

Metaphysical Foundations of Logic (Following Leibnitz), trans. Michael Heim (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1984), 199.

[6] Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed. and trans. D. Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 148.

[Page 207]

[7] Eugene T. Gendlin, Experience and the Creation of Meaning, 2nd ed. (New York: Free Press, 1970); "Experiential Phenomenology," in Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, ed. M Natanson (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973); "Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree," in Phenomenology, Dialogues and Bridges, ed. R. Bruzina and B. Wilshire (New York: State University of New York Press, 1982); "A Philosophical Critique of the Concept of Narcissism," in Pathologies of the Modern Self: Postmodern Studies, ed. D. M. Levin (New York: New York University Press, 1987); "Thinking Beyond Patterns: Body, Language, and Situations," in The Presence of Feeling in Thought, eds. B. den Ouden and M.Moen (New York: Peter Lang, 1991).

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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 ( 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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