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Gendlin, E.T. (1978). The body's releasing steps in experiential process. In J.L. Fosshage & P. Olsen (Eds.), Healing. Implications for psychotherapy, pp. 323-349. New York: Human Sciences Press. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2117.html

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Chapter 12
THE BODY'S RELEASING STEPS IN EXPERIENTIAL PROCESS

Eugene Gendlin, Ph.D.

Most attempts to work on a personal problem only duplicate the problem. One works very hard to get rid of some way of being or feeling—the hidden essence of which, in the first place, is some impossible attempt to get rid of some part of oneself that needs integrating. One works hard to arrange and organize oneself, all the time missing the fact that what is really wrong is one's tendency to arrange and organize instead of allowing genuine motivation to rise up in oneself.

This is especially true of how we think about a problem. We think in the terms and pieces of the problem as we have it cut up. And it is just these terms and pieces that would change if the problem moved toward resolution. Therefore, there is often no way to think about a problem except in a way that simply reinstates it in the very act of thinking it, and draws it, in heavy lines, all the harder.

This can make it seem as if problems were insoluble almost by definition. This is because the person having the [Page 324] problem is, after all, the same person as the one who is trying to solve the problem, and so the problem is repeated in the very activity of trying to solve it.

Oedipus, after four acts of trying to find out who the culprit is (while angrily rejecting countless hints) is at last forced to see the truth that he himself is the culprit. His past crimes have made the pestilence. But what is his reaction to seeing this? His reaction is to take his own eyes out. As he does so, he says, "These eyes shall not look upon this crime. . . ."

This is the broader Oedipus complex, which Freud construed narrowly in terms of the actual "crime." The broader crime is the reiteration of being blind, both in the activity of trying to solve it and in the reaction to the realization. It is the "repetition compulsion," which Freud attributes only to the mother-father-child pattern.

If people were limited only to their deliberate and controlled efforts, this view of problems would imply that they could not be solved.

But, in fact, there is another problem-solving process, one that does not proceed in terms of the logical steps of arranging the already cut pieces.

There is a process that uses more than the pieces, and precisely alters the pieces. In this process it is not possible to get the next step from any point, by "figuring out" (just because "figuring out" is rearranging already cut pieces). In this process astep changes all the pieces, sometimes the whole scene, so that what the problem seems to be, now, is all different, and yet it is still "the same" problem. It has moved a step toward a real solution. This is the process of steps that I will now describe more exactly.

However, I must first establish something that many people today know: anything human is internally complex. What we are and feel is never just the simple first-cut pieces it seems to be. Beneath those simply cut pieces there is always an intricate patterning, something like an oriental [Page 325] rug. Human experience does not consist of the simple pieces our language or psychologies suppose but, instead, it is much more organized, much more richly patterned, than any of our logics and theories.

Only then can I describe what most people today do not know, that this bodily felt complexity, this oriental rug, also moves of its own accord; it makes its own steps, and thereby it changes the patterning that we at first find. These steps of change are not just any change, but exactly the change that the whole organism as an adaptive system needs. These are the steps that I will describe, which cannot be figured out, but which one can allow the body to make of its own accord.

First the oriental rug itself must be described. A given psychological content, feeling, emotion, thought, pattern—anything that goes on in a human—is never just the single thing it seems. Instead, there is always a rich complex texture inside and just below any human feeling. In the past only special people knew this.

Traditionally, in human history, there were thought to be certain common emotions that everyone knows and has under certain circumstances. When people are cheated, they get angry. When they win something they want, they are glad. When they are constantly interrupted, they are annoyed. If, under such circumstances, one were to ask "How do you feel?" the answer would be "Angry, of course." (Or glad, or annoyed, whichever.) Although this is still true today, more and more people are discovering that "below" these universal reactions is a very rich texture that is also uniquely different for each person. "Just what was involved for you in this being cheated?" we can ask. People who have not yet discovered the underlying texture might say "I'm mad, that's all. How would you feel if you got cheated?", implying that everyone is the same. But people who have discovered it can sense, for example, "Oh, what really gets me about it is that I opened up to him, it's like [Page 326] I'm trying to learn to trust myself more to people, not to stay so guarded all the time and uh, him using that to take advantage of me is like, well, it's the wrong lesson for me to have to learn right now, it's the opposite of what's a good direction for me. It pushes me back into me, into my old places." Another person might say, "What really gets me about it is that I sort of knew I shouldn't trust him. I knew it, but I wouldn't go by my own perceptions. It's another time I pushed myself aside and ignored me. Damn it, that's what makes me so angry." And the last time you were cheated, your underlying complexity was, of course, different than either of those two people's.

These examples make it seem as if one bit of underlying complexity is the "real reason" for being upset at being cheated. This is not so. There is a whole complexity. For instance, "I am always pushing my own perceptions aside, I want people to like me, and I give myself up in favor of whatever they are saying is right, and I do that because I'm so hungry for somebody liking me, and that's because it doesn't seem I'm good enough or real and substantial enough to be, just on my own alone. Nothing I feel alone seems like it's enough to stand up in the world, and I'm scared just to be alone because then I am sort of locked in, isolated, and that's so bad because then I'm in there with my own bad anger-thing that beats me up, and that's because I don't take up for myself enough, and so anger gets stored up, when I ought to take up for myself, that would feel good, but I don't do that because. . . ."

This complexity is in all of us (if you are afraid there is nothing in you of this rich kind, don't worry—the feeling of emptiness is only itself another bit of such complexity, see what that feeling is). This complexity is "under" every seemingly simply human feeling. No matter how simple and clear what we call an "emotion" may be (anger, fear, shame, guilt, joy, etc.) just under it is a felt sense of com- [Page 327] plexity that is larger and broader, and so to speak sticks out around the edges of what seems to be clear and simple.

Unfortunately, this complexity as it shows itself in psychotherapy has been greatly misunderstood. The insights so gotten were too fascinating. Freud, and most therapists since Freud, considered this sort of thing as "getting at the root of the trouble." Systems were laid out as to what sort of thing is usually at the root of what. Causal sequences were drawn, and precut units of human experience were offered to the public. Fortunately, there were many contradictory such systems. In one or another of these systems one can explain oneself.

But to change is something else than to explain oneself, and it is to change steps that I will soon turn.

In the preceding paragraph, where the person goes on into the texture, notice that if we wish we can think of each next thing said as being "the root of" the last thing. Then we think of it as if it were a causal sequence. Or we can tie the last step back to the first, as the person might find that ". . . and I don't take up for myself because I don't trust my perceptions." Then the person might get discouraged at the circularity. Or one of the middle steps could be made basic to all the rest. And we could do this in various technical vocabularies, such as the Freudian or the Jungian.

Not only do psychologists disagree as to what is fundamental to what, and what precut units to use in explaining oneself, but they also disagree as to the direction of desirable change. No agreed on "outcome measures" to define success in psychotherapy have been arrived at in 30 years of research. Thus therapists speak of "setting goals," and individuals inside themselves also wonder and are in conflict about what is good, or what is in the direction of health, as well as what is possible. Between the insight that we can change and should not miss the great opportunity that life is and the insight that there are real limits and one [Page 328] is not forever young with limitless options, any combination of challenge and resignation seems arguable.

Thus we seem to have too many psychologies, too many concepts, too many interpretations, and too many value directions.

And with all this complexity and all this variety, we mostly stay the same. Yet there is a way of change that is the body's own, which we can let happen.

The Process of Experiential Steps

The chief discovery in the psychotherapy of recent years is that the bodily felt sense of some problem or difficulty will move of its own accord. It will shift, and release. There will be an overall change in how the body feels, a release of energy. There is a relief. Energy flows again as it had not for some time. Along with this there is often an involuntary exhaling of breath, a "wheewwww. . . ." Simultaneously with such a release, there is a new emergence of words, or images, or aspects of the problem. These are a by-product. Usually the problem now looks different; often the problem is not even about what one thought it was about. Now one can connect backward to explain from here how one had been, how one had seen the problem, why it had seemed as it did. But there is no logic with which one could have come from there to here. The problem now posed in new terms may still not be solved; it may look worse (but it feels enormously better). The bodily concrete version of the problem (not just our thoughts, but our being the problem) has shifted in a bodily physical way. That is a step of experiential change.

It feels like one would feel, after having long sat in a cramped position, as one permits oneself to shift. It feels like the body doing what it needs and want to do. It feels like something happening that is exactly what the previous cramped constricted way of being was the lack of.

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Experiential process steps feel good. That is a major thing to note about them, in contrast to the so widely current pain-centered notion that anything good for you must feel bad, like bitter medicine or hard work. When something feels bad, it is not a process step, although it may be the trouble that needs such a step. I call the process "focusing."

How Does One Get Such Steps?

1. First, one must know the difference between such steps and merely imposing some interpretation on oneself, without one's feelings responding, or without even looking to see how one's feelings respond. Such a feeling response may be a great shift, or release, as just described, and then it is already an experiential step. Or it may be a slight shift, a mere guiding that the feelings give you. You might say something you think is right and then ask, "Is that right?" And wait. Sense if your body-feeling of the difficulty releases, eases slightly, in effect says, "Yes . . .that's right." If there is no response at all, or a fuzzy discomfort, whatever you are thinking is not right, at least it does not now give a step. however right it might be in other respects.

2. But I must explain just what sort of inward attention to what sort of "feeling" gives one such steps. It is a level "under" the usual inward attention. It is attention not to the individual pieces, which are clear (what one feels and how one thinks about that) but, instead, attention to the total global feel of all that, together. Any human problem or difficulty has many many facets (the complex texture described above). One cannot think each piece at the same time, but can feel "all that," as one global aura, one felt whole. Even one sentence, if one begins with a sentence, can be taken as either this meaning, or the more global sense of this meaning, what all is involved, what the sentence arises [Page 330] from. Even if a given label is just right, the feel of what that label touches is a little more global than the label. The feel of all that, which the label labels, "sticks out from behind it."

To touch the bodily feel of a personal meaning is to touch directly that which the meaning is about. The meaning alone is a floating meaning, abstract. It could be about anyone who happens to be like that. The felt meaning is this concrete "being like that," which you have here in your viscera. It takes a few moments to let the attention come down from the abstract to the directly felt. It takes a little while longer to let the felt concreteness come into focus inside you. During that time, you cannot be paying too much attention to other things, the person before you, or the thoughts that come by. Someone may be speaking or there may be thoughts in your mind but, if you let them pass by without going with them, you can stay centered on trying to find and sense what the concrete version of something in you feels like.

Some sentence, such as: "Is that right?" or "What does all that feel like?" helps one to stay until the feel of it comes into focus.

3. It is important to begin in a fresh way, and not simply to go directly to one's familiar and precut emotions and "bad places." It is important to take the whole problem (or even if it is one sentence, to take everything that the sentence gets at) and to ask, "What does that whole thing feel like, now?"

This gives a fresh beginning. After half a minute or so, a feeling of the whole does form. Then its feeling quality can be pursued. What is that peculiar feeling? Or, if it has a name (scary, shaky, icky, urgent, funny, etc.), ask "What is that scary feeling?" (Ask, but do not answer, let the feeling itself answer! Just repeat the question and keep touching the feeling directly.)

4. Many thoughts, many correct ones, too, will come and take your mind on various byways. The bodily concrete [Page 331] feeling is left behind again, and does not change, whatever the thoughts may arrive at. One can bring oneself back: "What was I focusing on? Oh, yes, all that" "What does all that feel like?" "Oh, yes, there it is, scary." "What is that scary sense, there?" And wait. Half a minute. It seems a long time, it is hard to stay there a whole half a minute!

5. Sometimes the questions "What is that feeling?" or "What is that scary sense?" do not bring the shift-step I am talking about. Then one can also ask a number of other questions, always open-ended ones that are asked, but not answered. Let the feeling move and give the answer. Let the feelings open up, so that words come from the feeling itself. (Sometimes images can come instead of words; then see what feeling the image gives, and see what that feeling is.) Other open-ended questions are: What's the worst of that?" "Why is that so bad?" "What needs to happen here, that hasn't happened?"

6. And when the feeling opens, and there is a shift in it, a release that feels good, and along with that some words and different details of the problem come, do not get stuck on the fascination and intellectual interest of them. Instead, welcome that, whatever it is, and sense the whole global feel of that, in turn. What now is the feel of that? (Again, you may think you know, but let the knowing wait. See what the feel of that will open into when it, in turn, shifts. Do not leave the concrete feel of that behind.)

In this way a series of steps form, not just one. Experiential process is hardly ever just one step. Everything is not usually changed and resolved in one step. Even if it all feels fine, wait a few minutes, then ask "Is that all of it, is it all okay?" If it is, fine. But there may be more to go, later on.

For example: George:

I've been taking care of Kathy back from the hospital, looking in on her every 20 minutes, wow it's been 2 weeks. I haven't been with me at all. Everytime I try to get in touch with me, I just run out and do another thing.

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She gets very snotty, I've been putting up with that.

I often carry a lot, and I don't see how much I'm carrying. I don't let myself notice.

feels this . . . "don't let myself notice"

Yea . . . it's anger . . . I think "Okay you bitch. . . ." I can't express anger at her, she can't take any. It's not so much the carrying, its the anger not expressed

feels this . . . "anger not expressed"

When I don't express anger, I get to an old place that's sort of "Yes, I know I'm no good, sort of passive and sad and I don't even notice. that's what the don't notice is, not so much the carrying! or the anger! The passive sad know I'm no good, that's what it feels like, this "don't let myself notice."

feels this . . . "passive sad I'm no good"

Oh yes, I can't take control of any situation, it's too threatening for me. I've seen that before. Sometime I want to see what that is, but it's too threatening to go into right now. Yes . . . in focusing I can feel this "too threatening" and not go otherwise into it.

feels the "too threatening"

This is hard to get into, how do I get that concretely? I just feel threatened. Ah . . . suppose I say "I want the door painted red just because I want it red, and not because somebody said, or because it matches the house . . . just because I said . . . yes there is that threatened feeling . . . yes . . . .

feels the "threatened" feeling

Sort of like the room cleared, the sun came out, when I said "I want it red." But now I'm angry. Where is it written that I can't take control? Who the hell says I can't have the door red? What's the Goddamned rule that I can't take control?

feels "the rule"

Oh . . . of course, yeah . . . whew. . . . (shift). . . . Of course, I must not see the rule, if I saw the rule that says I [Page 333] mustn't take control, I wouldn't believe it! I'd fight. I have to not see it so I'll stay passive and carry all this shit. If I saw the rule I wouldn't believe it . . .wow, once I see the rule there is no rule! I can take control!

These steps may retrospectively be made to fit one or more theories, but the steps could not have been predicted from the theories. Nor could George have figured them out in advance. Instead, they came. The issue at first seemed his wife, who had to be taken care of when she came back from the hospital (anyone would find that hard . . . the universal pattern); then the issue was not the taking care of, but the anger unexpressed, and then not the unexpressed anger, but the "not let myself notice," and then not that either, but the threat in taking control, and then the threat feeling oddly cleared and instead there he was, furious at the idea that he can not take control, looking for the rule that says so . . . and then the really big felt shift—along with which he got also the sense that the rule that says he "must not" has to be hidden in order to work! And in this last shift he has really changed in a bodily way!

At each step the scene is different, the problem does not seem to be the same one even, but the person can feel that it is, indeed, "the same" felt problem. Only, the terms andpieces in which it is cut, and the scene that is made from these termsand pieces, change, from taking care to anger, to passive no good, to not seeing, to threat in taking control and to rule. The pieces of the next step simply do not appear in the scene at the previous step; therefore, there would be no way to figure the next step out from the last.

But this kind of change process is then—or so it seems—fundamentally not amenable to science. Does not science basically consist of explanations such that time 2 can be explained from time 1? And to do so, does not science regularly find a way to get the pieces at time 1 to be the same as at time 2, so that the change from time 1 to time [Page 334] 2 is only a rearrangement? Bits of charred wood, ash, and smoke may look different at time 2 than the match looked at time 1, but we know that if the bit of water vapor that escaped is collected and the atoms are all counted, they are the same ones, merely rearranged. Thus is time 2 explained as consisting of the same atoms that were in time 1.

And now I am saying that this is not the way the experiential change process works! But, in fact, it is found that many other change processes in nature also do not work that way. And the more fundamental ones are the changes that do not work that way.

Thus physics finds that quantomechanical interactions generate a new space-time field that cannot be figured by analyticity from the space-time field that one had before the interaction. Also, the elements coming out of an interaction are not the same as those that went in. Thus, too, the embryo grows, not by a rearrangement of the same parts we can trace.

A bit of actual change is much more, and is organized in many more ways than the mere rearrangement of otherwise unchanged pieces or parts.

"Science" means publically testable knowledge; it is not limited to one model or another. If space-time parameters and elemental parts are not "conserved" across a real change, momentum and energy are. Quantomechanics will continue as science, although the reliance on analyticity will have to be forgone. And this is not because nature is less organized, more vague, and more unpredictable than the old model had thought, but because nature is more organized in more ways, and is an organization in change (compared to that now too simple model of organization, the rearrangement of conserved parts in one space-time system).

And this need not surprise us, since "parts" and "rearrangement" are in themselves spatial. This simple old model comes from the handling of objects in ordinary [Page 335] space—such as rearrangeable bricks and stones. Looked at that way, it becomes obvious that there can be phenomena more complex than that.

The process in which the pieces themselves change (and not only their arrangement) is naturally not explainable by some rearrangement of unchanged pieces. But this bodily process has more order, not less, than we had thought. Not only does the process change the pieces by changing the whole problem or difficulty or way of being, it changes that way of being inthe direction in which it needsto change. A little while ago I said that there is no agreement among psychologists or people generally as to the direction in which we wish to change. Without (or despite) deciding in which direction one wants to change, the body has its own direction of health. And not only the direction, but very exactly the next step, is prefigured in the bodily concreteness of any trouble.

To understand the process, one must first see that body life is organized change. When we wish to change something in ourselves, that is not the first kind of change the body and person has. Instead, body and person is change, inherently. And, usually what we want is not a change from being ourselves to being like someone else, but a change from being not quite me to being more me. (There are always already many other people; being one of them is not possible for me but would not be much of a contribution anyway, since they are already. The exciting and irreplaceable project is to be me! If I can.) The change we want is really a change from a blocked life process (i.e., from no change to change.) It does not go counter to the nature of ourselves, but restores it. It is healing; the doctor does not decide if the wound should heal or if the wound's healing is to get wider open or more shut; all this is already inherent in the body's process.

I will divide this into three points and then discuss each. (1) Body life is organized change; we do not bring the [Page 336] question of change to it as if it were a new question, as if body life were inherently static and only we want it to change. (2) The steps of "finding" something in inward focusing are not really "finding," but changing. (3) The body, as concretely felt, determines the direction of change and gives the next step.

1. Changing ourselves in personal ways is hard. Most of the time most people do not change much. And yet, life is fluid, it is change, there is no static "self" or "body." A living organism is a moving system, a process, a flow of life. It is a breathing, circulating, ingesting, and excreting process on the physical level of observation, and an ongoing living, and experiencing on the psychological and spiritual level. The body is not a machine that can be preserved as a physical structure even when it is turned off. The body as a material structure lasts only so long as it is also processing, and it begins to disintegrate as soon as its life processes cease. The body is living in an environment, and it cannot be separated from its ongoing interaction with the environment. The environment is not only air and food, but the other people, society, and the universe. It is an ongoingness, not a static something. To want to know "what I am," to "get to know myself" are phrases that assume that I am static; with self-exploration I will find out what is in any case the static fact. This is false. I am none of the "things" I find—as I will see as soon as they change and transform when I let them process further. And it is this "letting process further" that I will say more about.

2. Finding out what psychic contents (e.g., certain feelings) "really are" is no mere act of knowledge—at least it is not the kind of knowledge Western science has until recently employed—the kind that purports to leave what becomes known unchanged by being known. If a way of knowing ourselves leaves us unchanged, that knowing is false or insufficient. When we think, we understand some [Page 337] unease we feel, and then there is no change, no easing, no felt response in the feeling itself, I argue that it is not experiential understanding. If we stay with that feeling, it will ease, shift, move, change, come into focus more; thereafter some steps dissolve into a well-being. Only thereby do we also correctly know. Otherwise, the feeling may perhaps disappear, but it leaves us tense and disoriented or, as often happens, there will be no felt change at all. Real knowing involves bodily easing.

3. The living organism is an adaptive, life-maintaining system. Its energy is life energy. When we feel "hot," for example, this is not only a sense of the temperature as it now is; it is also simultaneously a sense of the temperature as it ought to be: a little cooler. It requires no external value judgment or decision to sense the direction of cooler as the body's own right direction. Facts and values are not separate in the body. The "bad" feeling of "too hot" is also the direction to the "good" feeling of cooler. Similarly, any feeling or psychic or behavioral content or pattern that we think of as "bad" (sophisticated words here might be "pathological," "destructive," "self-defeating," "irrational," "unrealistic," etc.) is also inherently the organism's direction toward how it ought to be. They imply and push toward change, movement, they push toward a shift in regard to the "bad" way of now. Holding your breath for any length of time is and feels "bad," but it is inherently a tension toward exhaling. So also a pattern of, say, fear whenever one is close to success in something is not only a block in the way of going ahead; it is also a right need for something (as yet not seen) to be different, so that one could then whole bodiedly go ahead. It is therefore an error to think that there is a static "thing" such as "fear of success," just as there is not a static "thing" such as "too hot." The "too hot" is already the change that the body needs, prefigures, and pushes toward. Just therefore do we feel too hot. We may phrase and conceive and react to something [Page 338] in such a way as to view it statically and negatively. As understood by us, it is negative. Nevertheless, as bodily felt, it is something positive that has not happened but is pushed toward, and just this pushing is the "painful" quality of it, so long as it is not permitted to move.

But only the bodily version, and only the wholistic overall bodily sense of the difficulty, has this trustworthy character. It is a reliable push toward health for the organism. A single emotion is not trustworthy—as such alone, but only if it is again allowed to lead to the bodily sense of the whole context in which it comes. For example, if I am angry, that pushes me to hit or attack someone. This may or may not be what I will later be glad about. But if I let the anger lead me to that wider whole, "all that which gets me angry," or "that whole thing that is involved for me in this anger," then I will, for the moment, not feel only the anger, but a much wider, more global bodily sense of all the people, situations, alternatives, past and future that are involved in the context that makes me angry. That felt meaning (which is different than the emotion: anger) is my bodily living that situation. That felt meaning and its discomfort are what need to happen and have not happened—and will give me an experiential step if I let it.

Usually an experiential step has to be let happen within, on the plane of our inward feeling life, before we can then see what to do in the external situation. (Once in a while the order is the other way round.) Usually the body can give a step in feeling, when we cannot yet see a step of action, because our action situations are cut in whatever way they happen to be cut. Once the bodily feeling step or shift occurs, then it lets us also cut the situation differently and see something to do that we could not see or do before.

This is analogous to the old circular problem: "If I felt confident, I could handle the situation. But I won't feel confident until I have some successes . . . and I won't have [Page 339] any successes till I feel confident." While this is well known when it comes to confidence, it is less well known in all other problems, yet just as true. (This is my version of the Oedipus problem and its solution.) Usually not until the body first solves the problem so that the body is as the solution requires can we live that solution out in external steps, steps of thought, or calculation.

It is therefore a fact that the body will move itself, and shift itself into how it is as problem solved, if we let it. When it does so, it gives us the scene from the point of view of the solution.

Once one knows what these process steps feel like, once one has experienced a few steps, one knows that nothing that exists or comes up in the organism is "bad"—because quite soon it will shift, release, and what one then finds is the good sense, the inherent forward movement, which was trapped in whatever form it seemed to have at first.

A very striking inward attitude develops: one receives anything that comes with a certain gladness that it has come and is thus about to shift, open up, and show its inherent rightness. Whatever it now seems to be is not at all right, of course. It is a trouble, a difficulty, something painful, ugly, evil, self-defeating, immoral, negative, destructive, or at least it is something one dislikes. It is "what is now in the way" of feeling better. But it has something to say. Most of it, perhaps, is all wrong and silly, and one knows better. Intellectually one knows how one wishes to be and would be if this were not in the way. But fortunately it has come to say why it is in the way, and thereby to release and open the way. And the way it blocks is the way to feeling and being better.

Where there is as yet no release step, the crucial question is whether one can be in direct touch with "what is now in the way." If only it will form in a focused way, directly there, if only it will come into focus as a distinct "this [Page 340] feeling," there will soon be a step. While everything is still murky and blocked and diffuse, working on a problem can be painful and difficult.

In terms of concepts and decisions a person may not know in which direction "better" really is. But once one has experienced the felt shift, the release in the body, of an experiential process step, one has a very distinct sense for that release. One knows very distinctly when that has not yet happened, when something still bars the way to feeling better, and one can sense what is in the way of it. To have this sense of direction, one asks, "Why am I not feeling all whole and sound and released?" And then one does not answer in words. Instead, let the body answer.

Another form of this same open question is, "What would it feel like in my body if it were all okay, all whole and sound and fine?" This is the method, par excellence, of freeing the body to feel totally all right, right now (while the problem is still unsolved). It is a way of feeling a little bit of "all solved" before there is a solution so that the solution steps can come.

When that release and shift in the body comes, in response to the "what if it were all all right?", one can hold on to that and work backward from it. It is as if one had looked up the answer to the problem in the back of a book, now can work backward from it. One can ask: "Can I stay like this, all all right?" (Do not answer in words!) Usually a feeling comes after a few seconds and says, "No."

"Ah," one says. "Here is the feeling that says 'No,' the feeling that does not permit me to be all all right. I am so glad it has come into focus. now let's ask it, what it is:"

The eagerness and gladness because that feel has come into focus, which is after all the one that is in the way, is a learned gladness. It comes from having learned many times that the hardest part is getting the troublemaking feeling into focus. Once it is there, concretely, as that oddly [Page 341] felt "something" right there, which says no (or which scares me, or feels weird, or icky, or whatever), once it has come and can be interviewed, then we are close to a good step.

The same learned gladness is again one's reaction to whatever this feeling will say, as its reason for saying no. Whatever it is, stupid or evil or objectively, false, immature, destructive, negative, or selfish, one is grateful that it speaks and is glad to accept whatever it says—as one step. Of course, one can be glad with whatever it says, because this will not be the last word. Soon that, too, will shift. Thus, if it says "You are incapable of living altogether," one says, in effect, to it: "Ah, fine, I see, how interesting, sure, makes a lot of sense, of course I'd feel I couldn't be all okay if that's what it says. Let's see now, why does it say that?" And again, gently and in the expectation of further steps, one says, "Okay, too incapable to live at all, okay, okay, but why?" What is that ""incapable of living" thing? And again, one doesn't answer that question oneself, but waits for the feeling to come into focus again and answer the question. Soon there is a shift, another easing, and something comes from the feeling itself. It might be some phrase or an image or another feeling. Perhaps it says, "Too scared."

And again one accepts that. There must be half a minute or so of accepting it before going on to ask what that is. It is a brief but important time of taking it in, just as the preceding example. So one says again, "Ah, I see, scared. Hm. Scared. Yea (breath). That's what I feel there. Yes. Aha. How true. Yes, yes. Scared?"

Only then one goes to the next step and asks, "What now is that scared."

In these examples I have tried to explain two points. First, from having experienced the bodily shift and release a few times, one comes to expect it, and almost to feel it in anticipation. From this anticipation, working backward, what is in the way can be gotten to come directly into focus, [Page 342] so one can concretely feel it. Second, I have tried to show that once one knows how these things shift and change right in one's body, one no longer needs to be afraid of, or angry at, whatever comes. One can welcome whatever comes, glad that it came into focus, because now it will shift.

Therefore, when I say that there are no "bad" things, I am not stating a general cosmic principle. I believe such a cosmic principle, but I know much too little to speak cosmically. Instead, I am describing very exactly what I do know very exactly, the steps—and the exact expectation of steps. One can know in advance that these will soon come, once the whole of what feels or seems bad comes into focus. Knowing this, I also know that what feels or is objectively bad is, in the body, only a pushed-for step of organismic forward living, which has not happened yet—but will, as soon as we let it.

People have sometimes told me that such steps seem like magic to them. A man once asked me "What is this, a crease in my brain opening up and giving me the answer?" But it is not an answer getting, and it is really quite clear that the step comes from the body, is made by the body. The step is like when you inhale and then hold your breath. How long can you do it, before the body's own perfectly certain next step happens—the exhaling, of course.

We live life with our bodies. The converse is that the body is very much more than a mere physiological machine. It is a living in its environment, both physically, as with food and air, and psychically, with other people, situations, and the cosmos. And the distinction between these is artificial. Only the German universities of the 1880s invented the separated "fields" that we have now, according to which there is an unbridgable gulf between the purely physiological and the interpersonal. The gulf is administrative, it is like reconciling two departments of an organization—often it cannot be done, but this does not mean that reality is [Page 343] divided in this way. Between mother and infant, for instance, there is no line to be drawn between the milk and the warmth and care, and the personal interaction, as in a game of "peekaboo." In "peekaboo" the baby's belly laughter is as physiological in its belly as its digestion. The baby, sensing itself in communication, is as physical as the milk. The body therefore is the bigger system of ongoing living with others. It is not just within the skin-envelope.

Every situation we live (and this includes past situations that we still live in, in our feelings) is partly in our bodies. Each way we live wrongly or problematically constricts the body. You can feel the tightness in your stomach, your chest, and your musculature. If you acted it out, you would visibly contort your body. As it is, only experts can see your muscle contortion (they can see it).

Most people carry their bad situations and modes of living in their bodies at all times. They never give the body even a few minutes off. Every moment the person's body is like a monument, a statue, representing the situations that are wrong in its twisted-up inward muscles and stomach tightness.

Once a famous man retired and went back to his home town. The city council came to him and told him they had decided to build a statue of him to stand in the town square. "How much will it cost?" he asked. "Eighty thousand dollars," they said. "That much!" he shouted. "For that much I'll go stand there myself."

Of course, the man would not last long, standing there every minute of the day and night, being a monument to his life. And yet, most people do something like that with their own bodies. They let them stand there and be monuments to all the things that are wrong in their lives.

One need not do that. One can go up to one's body, as it "stands monument," and one can say kindly, "It's okay, we know, you can rest a while. We won't forget how the situation is bad. We won't forget that things are wrong.

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After a while you can come back and stand monument again, but go take a break."

To take such a break is to align the body again to its original source. One takes it out of its set, out of being the problems. The body can step back, step out, so to speak, leaving the problems right there where they were, now in front of oneself. One can take the problems out of the body and put them in front of oneself, stashing them in stacks. One's body is here, the problems are there, right in front of the body a space is made.

Since the body is for a little time temporarily freed of being the troubles, the body eases and feels expansive. It is again part of wider nature, part of the universe. How did the body come to be in the first place? The individual person was not in charge of that. Bigger forces than the individual made the body and maintain it now too. If I myself were in charge of my digestion, for example, how badly it would go! I would not know which glands to squeeze when or in what mixture. All my time would be taken up pushing this intestine muscle and then that. I would have to command each of the little cells that absorb the food into the bloodstream. It would wear me out doing this nervously, forgetting meanwhile to pump the heart properly, and to open and close the right chambers. But I do not run it. Similarly, I can also ease my controls in living, at least temporarily, to let my body reestablish its natural belongingness in the wider scheme of forces in which it is made and maintained. And in doing so I can breathe a deep sigh of relief, knowing that this is quite right for the body.

Doing that I can feel it align itself. I can feel it straighten itself. I can feel some of the tense places wash away.

It is only temporary, it is only a break, a rest. My troubles are waiting, before me. But, for the moment, it is totally right to let my body be in its proper natural context. Quite soon, now, I will begin to process the troubles. Even a little of such easing will help me do it.

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This space between me (me = person and body) and the troubles is the best space in which to deal with my troubles. I am in charge of this space. It is my space, and now that I own it, I can let anything come into it and talk to me. I now take whatever would want to bother me the most. I take that, as a feeling and not as a lot of thoughts. I let that feeling come into focus—and I make everything else wait outside.

In this way I have a whole free organism with which to process the given bad feeling. The space, my being whole and eased here while "it" is there, enables me to be much more than it. Where before I felt as if I was "it" (the trouble), now I am here, and "it" is there, in front of me. Can I feel it? Ah, oh yes, there it is, that feeling. What now is that feeling? Let it answer.

My eased body is only the easing before the process—but what I want is the easing that comes with each step, and then that real, fuller easing of a real, felt shift.

The steps of the actual process are, of course, very specific. They are just what does come, of its own accord. So long as one is not sure, wondering if this or that is true or right, one is only thinking. The feeling itself says "yes," unmistakably (by easing, opening up, shifting, giving the next step), or "no" (by nothing changing). Therefore, even though it seems as if a great deal of faith is required in allowing the body to feel all whole and fine and sound and resolved and permitting every tenseness to be washed away, if it will, the actual steps of feelings coming into focus and shifting no longer need faith.

Some Important Attitudes

Because one experiences bad feelings shifting, changing, and opening up into their own right next steps, one comes into an attitude of acceptance of any given feeling at any given moment.

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One discovers inside that there is a part of self that is oneself as the child once was. Typically, at least in our culture, one has been critical, condemning, and angry at that child part of oneself. Typically, people internalize the negative social attitudes: "Be mature, act grown up, shape up" and, along with these attitudes they internalize a more or less constant criticism. One lives inwardly against the background of self-castigation, or self-contempt.

Taking, instead, a friendly attitude toward oneself, especially toward one's inward child, is a very important move that many people find difficult at first.

A way to do it is to imagine a different child, some little girl or boy 3 or 4 years old, sitting on the steps of some house, as you walk along the street. That little girl or boy is crying and feels that she or he is no good. What would you feel like doing with that child?

What came to you to feel and say and do is the attitude you can take toward the child you were, which still lives in you. It is an attitude of hugging and comforting that in you, which had to endure whatever had to be lived. A little child cannot know that little children are never "no good." Little children are always completely all right.

With this attitude one can then best hear what the child part of oneself has to say, what it feels it is up against. One listens with a comforting attitude, as I have already said. "Oh, uhunh, sure, no wonder that feels bad if that's the way it seems (scary, or no good, or whatever)." But let's see now, what in turn is that feeling?

The child part of a person, the creative part, the sexual part, and also the spiritual part, the imaginative wider cosmic part, these are all in the same place. They come through the same channel in us, and so we must not reject or try to leave the child. Notice that all the dimensions I listed have in common that they are not amenable to conscious control. They "come" of their own accord. They come in us more or less through the same channel. To let [Page 347] them come, one must allow and welcome whatever feelings first come. If anything is pushed back, it clogs the channel.

But to allow and welcome whatever feelings come does not mean agreeing with them or being stuck with them. If feelings are allowed to come and be in focus, if asked for their good reasons, they will also shift and change and open up into their own next steps. Therefore it can be easy to allow and welcome them.

Some people think that since they were not loved as children, they cannot love, cannot recognize love, and cannot expect to find it inside themselves. This is not so. Every living creature has the conditions for its living built into it, organically. Therefore no unloved child ever fails to wonder why it is not loved (long before it can talk), since its body knows that it should be. No unloved child is ever not baffled about not being loved. And therein, again, is this central fact that the right steps and ways of being alive are built into our bodies, and they will come if we let them.

But one has to still self-criticism from the head, from one's "superego," from the outside in, from the top down. My saying this can seem to contradict my strong statement concerning welcoming any feeling that comes. It is important to distinguish the self-castigation, to recognize it and separate it, so that there can be a safe space in which one's feelings can come.

To separate the self-attacking voice and attitude means to intercede in favor of one's inside self which has not yet spoken. One intercedes to give one's inner self a hearing. It is something like what you would do if someone came to you for help, but a "friend" came along. As the three of you sit down to talk, suppose the friend does all the talking, and is very insulting and blaming. After a while, you would intercede and say to the friend, "Wait—we've heard you." Then you would turn to the person who came for help and you would say, "Now let's hear from you." But then it might take a minute or two before that person would [Page 348] say something. After having been quiet so long and having been blamed and attacked, the person might not instantly find words.

Mind, feelings, and body are one system. This is not just a general assertion. Anyone can find, in themselves, a bodily felt sense (of any problem or situation or aspect of life) that is all three before they were ever split.

If we sense inwardly, there forms, in response to this inward sensing, the body sentience of any problem, situation, or aspect of living. Under any thought or emotion, a bodily sense can form. The thought, or the emotion, are already cut pieces, thoughts cut away from feeling and feeling cut away from all the rest. But under that seemingly single feeling can form the bodily sense of all that is involved in that feeling, all that went to make that feeling. And this is not yet split up. It is meaningful, like thoughts felt like feelings, and located in a bodily way.

On this level the bodily easing can occur, both before any steps at all, as a letting the body step out of being its life problems, and also in letting each problem be felt whole and letting the body's own steps come, in resolving it.

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REFERENCES

A theory of personality change. In Worchel and Byrne (Eds.), Personality change. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1964. Reprinted in J. Hart and T. Tomlinson (Eds.), New directions in client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1970. Also reprinted in A. Mahrer (Ed.), Creative developments in psychotherapy. Cleveland: Case-Western Reserve, 1971.

Values and the process of experiencing. In A. Mahrer (Ed.), The goals of psychotherapy. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1967.

Focusing. Psychotherapy: Theory, research, and practice, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1969.

Experiential phenomenology. In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the social sciences. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

Experiencing and the creation of meaning. New York: Free Press, 1962. Rev. ed., 1970.

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