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Gendlin, E.T. (1979). Gendlin: experience is richer than psychology models. Brain-Mind Bulletin, 4(10), 2. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2131.html

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Gendlin: experience is richer than psychological models

Eugene Gendlin, a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Chicago, has been instrumental in the development of theory and a valuable body of research on subtle inner experience.

Gendlin's technique, 'focusing,' is a recipe for generating life-changing insights—'felt shifts' in awareness that seem to integrate right and left-brain processes, intuition and intellect. The felt shift is marked by a sense of release felt in the body. (See page 1, this issue, and also Brain/Mind Bulletin, July 17, 1978, for a description of focusing.)

ESG studies have shown a sudden change in the harmonics of the brain's alpha rhythm, hinting at what one researcher called "integration at a higher level," preceding the felt shift.

Gendlin has described the technique and theory in numerous articles and more recently in a popular book, Focusing.

How does focusing relate to the various schools of psychology?

Direct experience is a kind of texture—it doesn't have boxes. It's more like a Persian rug—even that is too structured. Experience is non-numerical and multi-schematic. No one scheme will ever explain it. You can always create another aspect of experience by putting any two elements together.

Therefore new symbols and concepts are always possible. Jungian, Freudian and other schemes work if you just use them to lift out of experience something useful, something that almost jumps out. But if you force a scheme, it will never work. You can't fit the whole of experience to any conceptual system. You falsify your experience if you assume it must be like your concepts.

Experience is not made up of the kinds of units constructed by theories. It's seamless.

People say, "The map is not the territory, " and after bowing East once, they go on to disregard that warning.

You have written about the relationship of the focusing technique to creativity. . .

The experts tell you not to be fixed in your thinking, but they don't tell you how to become free and open. If you pay direct attention to your sense of anything, that opens you up. Start reading, for instance, and stop at any point. Stay with what you're feeling right then, even if it seems vague or blank at first. Just know that you may have a sensation of something opaque, uncomfortable for a few seconds. But then you'll find the texture—it's always there.

Florence Bonime and Saundra Perl, working independently, are using focusing to teach creative writing in New York. In this case, instead of looking at problems they look at what works. Students pick out their favorite spot in a piece of writing and focus on why it works—why they're coming through the way they want to in that spot. . .why it helps the story.

In focusing to recognize problems and feelings, do people sometimes come up against material they are afraid to handle?

I think a lot more about this now. I talked about it also in Focusing, in a chapter on 'making space.' You may not be ready for everything you touch upon. Some things are too hot to handle.

I tell people, "If it's too scary, consider that you now know it's there. You have your hand on the doorknob, and you can go back any time, letting in as much as you can handle. You aren't avoiding it. You know where it is and you can work on it slowly, you can be nice to yourself."

Is there a 'felt shift' without a verbal tag?

This kind of shift feels as if you forgot what you wanted to say, it comes back, you get a body shift—but you still don't say it. Usually this is something hard to conceptualize; a whole new constellation is changing. You have new concepts and you need a new way of talking. The old way wouldn't handle it.

Wait a while. Stay with it. Usually, it's going against all your old concepts, the old way of cutting things. Meanwhile the experience is demanding something new and radical.

Is this like the situation when new scientific data require a new paradigm?

Yes. You aren't looking for a new perspective. It just grows out of the new material. Focusing doesn't move you from concept to concept. Rather, it's concept/experience/concept/experience, etc. The new way of thinking is spawned by a direct look at the experience.

I have my own version of the Oedipus complex. When troubles afflicted his kingdom, Oedipus kept saying, "Who is responsible?" The people kept saying he was. When he finally saw that he was indeed responsible, he said, "These eyes shall not look at this" and blinded himself.

Many of us have that kind of Oedipus complex. We have the tendency to react in accustomed ways, repackaging our experiences in the same old concepts when what we need is to let something wider in.

How would you compare focusing and meditation?

Focusing is an active process, not all the way down. It oscillates on the line between normal consciousness and meditation. Material comes from what seems like below, and you're there to respond to it—but below the thinking, jumping-around level.

It's easier to respond from that line than from the depth of meditation or hypnosis, where you generally experience some discomfort in shifting back and forth to normal consciousness. That's not so in focusing,

It's good to focus before meditating. A Zen master used the same expression I use: "Before you meditate, see what you're carrying with you, put it in front of you." Then you can go into meditation with a body that's free of that stuff. Otherwise meditation amplifies it.

The kind of knowing that emerges from focusing—how would you categorize it?

In the western tradition we have a notion that only reason and perception are in touch with reality. We ignore sensation. Experiential feeling, which does include sensation, is another way of apprehending reality. It's holistic, smarter and richer than our limited 'normal' consciousness. By the time parts of it emerge as reason, the patterns are already grosser—split off from that more finely structured, more ordered global sense. Nature is unlimited in its responses.

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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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