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Gendlin, E.T., Grindler, D. & McGuire, M. (1984). Imagery, body, and space in focusing. In A.A. Sheikh (Ed.), Imagination and healing, pp. 259-286. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood From

[Page 259]

Imagery, Body, and Space in Focusing


After a short theoretical statement we will present some recently developed procedures and describe their use with a cancer patient and two suicidal patients [1-5].

Although theory and practice are deeply related, the need and mood for them may differ. Some readers might want to turn directly to the clinical section.


Readers of a book like this can agree that visual imagery is a bodily process, that it is symbolic, and that symbols are real and physical events. We know that visual imagery can play a role in bodily healing and physical change [2, 3, 6, 7]. Although we know it, we cannot understand this with the current concepts of imagery, symbol, object, space, and body.

The objects and space of medicine and physiology cannot be thought clearly together with how we experience the body, imagery, and symbols. To bring them together we must understand how science's "objects" and "space" are generated together and from the living body.

Current physics still renders anything as located at space-time points defined in relation to an abstract observer. We might think that a single particle courses independently through space, but "it" is "one particle" only by being continuous from "this one here" to "the one that is now over there." "It" is differentiated from others just like it only if an observer adds this continuity which is the observer's grid of space-time points. Relativity theory only provides equations for several such observers [8].

The human sciences study the observer and therefore cannot assume a constant and abstracted observer-continuity. We must see how this observer-continuity is [Page 260] generated. Then we can relate science's space and objects to other kinds of space and objects that also can be generated.

Without such an understanding, the focusing process [9] I described later in this chapter would be very puzzling indeed. The body-sense of a problem as a whole is an odd kind of "object" which can be "moved" and "put down" in an odd kind of space that was not there, moments before. As with the particle in physics, object and space are made together. They share the same continuity.

The space-time continuity of the observer in physics is abstracted from the continuity of living bodies. Body life has its own continuity, not only a continuity imposed on it from outside.

Body-Process "Implies" in Two Ways

First, the body's own continuity is expressed in the word "implying"—any present bodily event is also an implying of the body's next events. In the inhaling the exhaling is implied. The feeding is also the implying of defecating, ground-scratching, burying, and getting hungry again. Hunger is an implying of food-finding and feeding.

Second, body-events are always also environment-events. The implying of further body-process also implies the environmental aspects involved in those body-events, for example the food, and the ground.

If the animal is hungry and there is no food, feeding cannot happen even though it is the body's implied next event. The bodily implied feeding is very complex, but cannot happen without food. Food seems a simple occurrence, but when it happens, the whole complex feeding process occurs. The food carries the body forward into its already implied next events.

The food becomes "an object" by enabling and lasting through the feeding process. Carrying forward takes time or, we can say, makes time. An object has its continuity from the body-process which it carries forward.

We can define an "object" as what carries the implied body-process forward.

Do not assume one reality of independent objects in one space. Each species lives in its own mesh of objects which cannot be perceived by other species in the same way. For example, the complexity of the body's implying makes a food-object with the environment's cooperation. That object is not just there that way independently in the environment.

We cannot begin with perception as if objects were there waiting simply to be photographed. What a living body perceives is first made with that body's own complex implying.

The Body Originates Complex Forms

It used to be thought that imagery was a left-over from previous external perception. This old theory ignored the obviously wild imagery everyone has in dreams and other states. A rearranged copy of externals seemed to be the [Page 261] only explanation for imagery. How could the body originate pictures before perception? But the forms of the perceived objects also do not originate externally! They are formed in interaction. The body's complexity is implicit in them.

The body's implying is always more than what occurs. The usual events are only one way the implying can be carried forward. What has occurred has a fixed form and also implies further. The now implied is not a fixed form. We think the implied is what we often have seen coming next. Indeed, if the environment cooperates in the same way, the same object may be made again. Almost anything else will fail to carry forward. But new ways of carrying forward are always possible as long as a next step has not yet occurred. The body's implicit organization is much more complex and capable of many more possible further events, than those that have ever occurred.

Symbolic Purely Visual Objects

In one species of fish the males have a red circle on their bellies. When a male sees another, they fight. The male also will fight a floating toothpick that has a little red paper circle suspended from it. We scientists say that the fish responds to the red circle. But of course the fish responds to another fish. Their bodies do not imply such purely visual things as red circles.

Only humans respond to pure looks, something purely visual. For example, a little painting on the wall shows a vast mountain scene. My chest expands as I see this vast space. Behind me the owner of the painting is waiting for my comment, and I also hear car noises from the street. I respond to the picture as a picture and never lose track of being in the room, not in the mountains. The mountain scene is "purely visual," just its looks, because I also see the wooden painted thing on the wall in the room.

The picture is purely visual only in that its look is not part of the space in the room. The picture's own different space, which it brings, of course is not purely visual. I generate the vast space with my body. My chest feels expansive, and I "hear" the quiet in the scene. My body also implies how what is painted would feel if I touched it. The picture brings its own body-experience and is not purely visual.

The so-called "purely visual" depends on our living in more than one situation at once, so that something visual here belongs actually to its own different situation. The human capacity to live in more than one situation at the same time brings the separation of the five senses. Something can be just visual, or just a sound, or a texture, if it brings its own bodily wholeness of a different situation into this one.

We do not experience ordinary objects by putting the five separate senses together. On the contrary, their separation is only a result of two situations at once. The symbolic capacity is a bodily living in physically absent situations. Purely visual sensations, or auditory ones, are products from living symbolically [Page 262] in absent situations. Humans do not live in the space of the physical behavior objects but in a symbolic space. We live not in one situation at a time, but in all our situations. Let us see what new space is made thereby.

Symbolic Space: Internal/External

The many absent situations are each their own space. My body implies possible actions in the absent situation. I imagine the action there, as I sit here.

That is how there is an inner space. Even in the present situation, I can privately live one action, and then outwardly do another. All situations, including the present one, are a symbolic inner space.

Symbolic space is first of all inner space. But we will now see how an external empty space is derived along with symbolic inner space: The early proto-humans made hunting tools only when they were already out on the hunt. Then they left them on the hunting site, because once the hunting process was over the tools were no longer perceived objects. Only later after the symbolic power had developed, could they appreciate the hunting tools after the hunt and did they take them home. Then they also spent time at home making hunting tools. This involves living neither on the hunt nor at home, but imaging one while in the other. When archaeologists find hunting tools on home sites, they know they are dealing with a later human, one which lived after the last great brain expansion.

The last great physical brain development came after the beginnings of culture and happened in a cultural context. Just sound, the purely visual, and symbolizing are a late physical development.

So we understand that the simple "object" that just fills a slot in empty space is a symbolic product. For example, only as the tools remain perceived on the hunt and at home, do they come to be "things" that just remain, and thereby make a mere placement-space. Their remaining generates a space of remaining-slots. If we move such a thing, its space-slot seems to remain.

The external empty space that consists of empty slots is a result of "things" that exist in more than one situation. The "thing" falls out from the several situations we can live in and lasts across them. The thing is then neither in this nor in that situation, but in a new empty and external space.

The internal/external distinction is one development. The external space depends on the internal situational imaging.

Inner Objects

As I said, even a present situation is an inner space. It is much more than the outer objects one can see. The executed action is only one among many we can consider.

Even without so-called reflecting, our bodies "feel" the implying and the doing of our actions. But a feeling is a newly made object that carries the body [Page 263] forward differently. When we spend time attending to a feeling, we live some aspect of the situation differently than in acts.

The Usual Inner Objects Are Only Parts

An image places us at some spot within a situation. A thought is only one of many meanings we could make in the situation. An action is only one of many ways to change the situation. A memory is only one bit of our past that is involved in how we imply this situation now.

Similarly, a feeling comes in the body as we live in the situational space where a certain event might happen. We feel the heart pounding in the body, as we live in the situation. Or, we recall how someone treated us, and anger comes.

The fear is never the whole situation. We need to overcome it to find a course of action other than fleeing. Similarly, we are taught to count to ten when angry . . . because the angry feeling carries forward only part of the situation. Later we are sorry about what we did or said in anger.

Would it not be good, if in addition to these objects which carry forward certain aspects within a situation, we also could sense the whole situation? Our bodies, after all, imply the whole situation! Why can we not feel that, have it, live it as an object, an it, a datum? The focusing process described in the next sections makes this possible, but ordinarily we cannot.

Without some object, the implying is not carried forward or sensed at all. But with ordinary visual imagery or sound-thought we either imagine this or that, either this action and its consequences or that one. We make a feeling from this part of the situation or from that. We live in some one formed way and never sense the whole bodily implying at once and as implicit.

But there can be a very odd "object" whose occurring is a carrying forward of the whole bodily implying of a situation, so that we can feel all that. Such a sense of the whole situation does not come in the space of the situation. It generates a new space, in which it is a new kind of "object."

Two Kinds of "'Wild" Imagery

We live in situations with the usual imagery. But there are also two "wild" kinds of imagery which picture what could never happen.

When environmental interaction is greatly restricted (by sleep, drugs, deep relaxation, "altered states,") the bodily process is narrowed. The usual totaling which makes the familiar objects cannot occur. Instead, very primitive ancient sequences that are always implicit, actually occur. Any outer event then comes into these.

These experiences can be very valuable. The individual's and the species' pasts are implicitly part of the make-up of the usual objects. One finds out some of that vast richness when some usually implicit sequences visibly occur. But what one finds out is "not integrated," that is to say it is not totaled in [Page 264] the usual more inclusive process. So this kind of imagery is less whole than the usual kind.

But there is another kind of "wild" image that does come from the body's wholistic implying of a whole situation. If you now think of several of your own ongoing situations, (your work, one of your friends, your major relationship, what you must do tomorrow . . .) you may find that one of them feels expansive and energy freeing. With another of them a heaviness might come in your stomach and chest.

From this heaviness you might get an image, for example, of a large leaden ball which seems to be the heaviness in your stomach, although the ball also is larger than your stomach. It is in your stomach and also in its own new space where it is larger.

This leaden ball directly pictures your body-sense of that whole situation. In this type of process (which we will describe in practical terms) one is not as deeply relaxed as in altered states. It has great depths, however, on a different continuum of depth. One is open to the "wild" richness of altered states, but what forms is always already "integrated," already a new whole.

There is no leaden ball in the actual situation. It is not part of the situation, nor is it an old implicit sequence. The fresh bodily totaling of the whole situation now creates a new wholistic image from that "wild" implicit richness. Therefore it is "already integrated" if the image comes from first sensing the bodily implying of a whole situation.

If the image comes before wholistic bodily sensing, one needs to move from the image to the coming of such a body sense, (as we will explain in the next sections).

In the altered states, even during mere relaxation, there is often a stream of images, a whole mass of material which must then be interpreted. For example, in Jung's procedure a great deal comes which the therapist must interpret or which the person interprets as it comes. But there is always a great deal of material and change. On the other hand, the bodily-feeling side is often ignored or even missing; for, in deeply relaxed states the body "melts away," at times.

In contrast, in focusing the relaxation is kept sufficiently light so that the body sense is always there. Other ways also are used to insure the presence of the body sense. There is an emphasis on one specific situation or aspect of living. The result is that the leaden ball, for example, stays. Rather than a flood of material and many images that follow each other rapidly, there is one image along with one body sense. And this body sense is that person's sense of that one, whole situation.

All of the person's implicit sense of the situation is sensed in a bodily way, more not less than usually. A specific new kind of object arises, the felt sense (which might be pictured also, but is a body sense.) The leaden ball is the whole situation, and is in the stomach, as well as in a new space of its own. The body [Page 265] makes this odd kind of object which is a single one and thus permits the person to deal with the whole situation as a single thing.

Instead of having to interpret later and having to deal with a mass of different material, there is one felt sense of the whole situation and one way it is in image space. And one can feel in a bodily way that this is how the situation now is. It is a picture of how one is, just now, in that unique situation.

But as an "object" (see our earlier discussion) the very having and seeing and feeling this image is in itself a bit of further living. It is not a thing separately but a bit of further living.

In this odd space of focusing, the body can live on, in a way it cannot in the situation with others, (just yet). The body's whole implying and bringing of this situation can move past the point at which it is now stuck.

Jung already said that imagery (as in dreams) is "compensatory." He meant it brings a bit of living and being which is missing and needed by the conscious person's usual living. The whole organism or the whole psyche can live the situation somewhat differently than the usually functioning "everything" affected by "everything" does.

But, as I said, this poses the problem of how to go on from there. Jung frequently analyzed dreams of someone to illustrate his theory of symbols. Then he would often say something like: "But this patient is not developed enough, as a conscious person, to use these symbols at all. So they will just continue to come in dreams and make little difference."

With the present theory, we can understand this compensatory function more clearly. The body always implies the further continuation of its living processes, including the symbolic human interactions we call situations.

In forming a felt sense in its own space, the body makes the object it needs to live that whole situation further, as it is implied.

Humans, especially modern urban humans, live many situations in unique ways. The old stories and patterns are not sufficient to handle modern situations. We become aware, therefore, of our own unique texture underneath or implicit in what at first seem to be the usual stories. We say, "Anyone would be disappointed . . . he promised." But just after that, we can sense our own unique complexity in this unique situation. "And just when I was trying to be this new way, and just after that other thing happened, and now, the way I am, I don't know what to do, because usually when I try, what happens to me is . . . and so I can't, and that makes me feel helpless, and . . . and . . . ." All this is "the situation," each unique and much more than the simple social story pattern, promise-disappointment.

A felt sense (which may also have an image with it, as we will explain now, but is always in an image space of its own) is all that, all the implicit complexity which we can never have thought out separately, and yet it is also one single sense, one single object with which we live that whole situation a little bit further. Now, the big question is the practical one: How can we go on from that?


In the rather unusual and very specific process called focusing, the body forms an odd object called a felt sense. It is felt directly in the body as a certain physical quality, such as heaviness, jumpiness, tightness. Soon it turns out that this body-sense is a new kind of "this" and brings with it a new kind of space, in which the felt sense can be moved. We will clarify this.

A felt sense (the body sense of a whole situation) is always at first fuzzy, unclear, murky, unrecognizable; it is a unique quality which comes in the body and reflects how the situation is lived in the body. This unrecognizable character clearly distinguishes it from the usual emotions, gut feelings, such as anger, sadness, or joy, which we can recognize.

Focusing instructions are rather specific and complex. We will summarize them later on. Most people need two or three days of instruction followed by practice with subsequent further instruction. The Focusing book also offers a great many suggestions about what to do when certain difficulties are encountered [9].

The clinical procedures developed recently and to be presented here constitute a way around this teaching difficulty, especially with people in difficult situations. But something new also developed, of interest to anyone.

Focusing is divided into six specific "movements." In a difficult situation, it was natural to attempt only the very first one, which we always considered merely preliminary, called "clearing a space;" it is now far more than preliminary.

This preliminary movement already had become important in its own right a few years ago, when we found, over and over again, that it very often leads to a very large space which is often experienced with a spiritual quality.

Next we learned, just last year, that focusing can be taught successfully in a weekend, if all of Friday—that is to say, about one-third of the time available—is spent just in learning this first movement exactly. To teach and learn nothing but that, first, has made our intensive teaching weekends successful with nearly every person: whereas, before many people went home without having really found focusing.

What, then, is this first movement, or rather, what is its expanded version as we teach it now? If I can make that clear here, then perhaps, you may also carry these developments further. The first movement, clearing a space, used to consist simply of a few moments during which a person sensed what just then was being carried in the body and "put" these concerns "down."

For example, I wish to focus on a major relational problem I just now have with another person. I know I want to focus on that. Or, perhaps, I do not yet know exactly what there will be to focus on. Either way, I first sense what I am carrying just now, perhaps four or five concerns. Perhaps I have just come from a tense meeting, and even though next week it will not matter, right now it is still with me. "Well, that's one thing . . ." I say with a breath of recognition, and I put that aside. I feel a slight easing in my body. "Another thing . . . uhm . . . my [Page 267] work got stuck last time, I have to get back to it as I left it, stuck . . ." another breath. Each time I recognize, acknowledge, "Yes, that's there . . . that's another one." Perhaps a few more, small ones like some call I have to make, perhaps one more big one, too, mixed. When I have finished finding and putting down each thing my body is carrying just then, I move on into actual focusing. I pick one concern, and focus on the unclear felt sense of that.

So, in one paragraph, I can describe that first movement. It sometimes leads to a genuinely, physically sensed good feeling, good energy, and sometimes one feels only slightly better. No matter, it is only a preliminary to focusing. Or so it seemed.

In this form, clearing a space (also called "putting things down") was and is an important stress reduction method, as well as a way to be ready for each new thing in the day. One uses just this first movement in the times between one setting and another, that is to say on the bus, or while waiting for the elevator, or while waiting for food in a restaurant. One senses what one's body is just then carrying, puts it down one by one, and feels a physical relief. One works on no problem at all, just putting them all down enables one to clear oneself of accumulated tension and unease. One is then ready for the next activity. Most people spend every day chronically at maximum tension, so that one more troubled situation does not make any more difference. They never feel the physical easing and reduction of stress which this first movement alone can bring, if done several times during the day. So the first movement in its simple form became a method of stress reduction, and it still is.

Then another wrinkle was added: At the end of the series of problems or concerns, we learned to ask, "What is the background feeling?" We came to this, because often one has indeed put down each concern and still one feels not very much better. Most people have a chronic, ever-present feeling tone that is so constant that they do not notice it anymore, like the wallpaper that one doesn't notice because it is always there. "What is your always-there feeling?" We found it important to ask that. Some examples are: "always cautious," "always a little sad," "always trying hard" . . . When you find it, "put it down" also. Just ask, in your body: What would come, in my body, if this weren't there?

The first movement of focusing very often leads to a really major positive energy coming in the body. ("Herzaufgehend," a woman in Munich called it—heart-opening-up—the German language has such words.) Most people describe it with a motion of the hand and arms, beginning with both hands at the chest and then opening out, arms apart. "A big space" is another metaphor for it. Life energy moves, you can also say.

Of course this feeling may last only a little while. Of course one has not made any progress on any problem, one only has allowed the body to exist as it would, if life were going perfectly. (For humans, it hardly ever can.)

Our difficulties cramp the body. We "carry" our situations in the body, as constriction, as weights we feel or can feel, as a fixed set, sometimes an unfeeling [Page 268] one, of steady tension. We are difficulties then. When one puts each thing down in this way one discovers quite directly, "Oh . . . I am not these things. I am here, they are there. . . ." One is alive, temporarily without them, as it seems. (However, to have this experience, they must be put down right there. They must not slip back into an underground existence.)

Now we become much more able to teach this first movement exactly. First we found that, for this movement and focusing generally, people must be able to sense their bodies from inside. This is natural and obvious to some, unknown to others. Here now was a discovery: those who naturally sense from within their bodies find it very odd that some people do not know how to do that, and those who never did this find it odd and mysterious when first asked to do it. "Can you sense your stomach and chest from inside? Is it warm and fuzzy, tight, heavy, jumpy?" Some people wonder what that phrasing means! If some cannot feel it, we ask them to move to their right big toe. Everyone can, and everyone's attention is then in the toe. We move up to the knee and try to sense it without moving it. Some find it difficult. We progress to the groin and then up into the stomach.

What is the use of teaching focusing to people who cannot, as yet, sense within their bodies? Now we find this out early on.

Next we found that the first movement of focusing must include checking the body each time something is put down. Does the body feel physically different now? If not, the problem has not really gone down, even though in an imagery space one visually has put it down. Not the visual image but the physical relief indicates that one has put something down successfully.

Now when we teach putting things down, we include checking whether physical relief indeed ensued. Each act of putting down needs this physical release. If there is none, one of many other ways of putting down needs to be tried, until there is. We now have developed many different ways which fit different people at different times.

Examples of Ways to Put Things Down

After having put the problem down, one should ask, "What would come, in my body, if this trouble were somehow solved in just the right way?" (This is asked without knowing what that way would be.) This requires attending within the body, letting one's first thoughts go by ("Of course, I'd feel great . . .") and waiting for what will come, more slowly, within the body, physically.

One may have to let each problem (or some of them) show a little of how it is, now, before it will permit itself to be put down. ("Oh . . . I see . . . I got discouraged when that happened, yesterday . . . as if that meant the whole thing can't be fixed. . . .") The whole problem now may let itself be put down.

The superego, the critic, the negative inward attacking that goes on in most people may have to be put aside a little. "Yes . . . ," one says in response to [Page 269] inward attacking, "that may all be so, but move over, wait, I want to hear from underneath just now."

Again the causal order can go either way. One may find in putting problems down that the usual self-attacking also has moved over. Or, it may help the putting down to move the superego over, if possible.

There is a need and a way to be friendly with each problem, however much one may dislike the problem. It needs to be acknowledged like an old friend. ("Oh . . . yes, sure . . . that is heavy . . ." one might say in an understanding way, to comfort the body.)

Sometimes the metaphor "putting things down" is ineffective, and others are needed. Stepping back from the problem is another version. Some people like "find where you are, in relation to the whole thing." It turns out that any number of such metaphors can be devised by each person, as you will see in the reports.

Imagery may help: "Imagine a slanting board with steel rollers in it, such as truckers use to unload heavy boxes. One end leans on the back of the truck, the other on the ground. Let this problem slide down that ramp . . . (Now, is it physically better?)"

Moving back and putting down can be combined, as in: "Sit forward on the edge of the chair. O.K., now very slowly, slowly, let the heavy feeling remain where it is, in space, and move slowly back in the chair."

After any imagery one must, of course, check in the body if the physical easing has come. Imagery alone does not decide if the problem indeed has been put down.

Asking "What would come, in my body, if this trouble were somehow fixed?" requires, of course, attending within the body, and waiting there for what takes a minute to come, physically.

There is also a specific learning needed even to imagine that one could have a better relation to a problem that feels very bad or very hurt. That is a relation of sensing it, but not being all the way in it. It takes most people a day to discover this relation.

The Third Position:

Neither in the Problem Nor Away From It

In learning to put problems down, one learns a specific relation to problems: sensing them but not being in them. It takes most people a day to discover that such a relation is possible.

The relation is neither running away (so that one no longer feels the problem) nor being in it (at more intensity than one can bear just then.) The relation is not just some distance but the right distance, where one can still sense all that. At that distance the whole thing is, as it were, in front of one, not all over, and not suffusing one's body.

That distance enables one to relate to the problem as a whole. ("All that," [Page 270] "This whole thing," "Whatever all goes with it, more than I know.") From that third position one still senses the problem, but from a spot a little outside it.

Putting Down is a Kind of Working Too

A person may then consider whether to move further into it, or to wait, to try to sense it from this distance. Perhaps that is as much as one can do now, perhaps right at this place small steps come.

Most people do not know that relating to a problem as a whole, in this way, is working on the problem. Even though one thinks only about whether to enter into it or not, or when, one touches this whole a little, pulls back, touches again. This is in fact a way of working in which the whole of it changes.

From this place one may feel, "Wow, what a lot of sadness!" or "What a huge anger . . ." or "This will take more than one day. . . ." In the very act of sensing the whole this way one finds oneself stepped back. Or some other way of making the space might come first.

This third position is a different place from which to work on a problem. Whether it is an all-good feeling or merely bearable, it always feels better than either being overwhelmed or out of touch.

Life Energy

Finding the space is indeed a very good feeling; life energy flows again, one physically rediscovers oneself as not just this problem.

These two events can happen in either order. One may discover this all-good life energy coming in after one has put things down. Or the putting down may become possible from first having found a different, all-good place.

And now I move closer to where the latest developments begin.

When have you last felt really wonderful? It would be a long time ago. Many people have to search their memories, way back.

But the first movement of focusing (and really, every movement of it) depends on having a good feeling as a background against which the problem is sensed. Here is more exactly what this means:

One asks, in effect, "What would it take to feel good? What would be a step toward feeling better?" Or "What is now between me and feeling all fine?"

We have found that many people do not ask in this way and then the first movement does not work as I described. Instead, they either run through their list of known problems (quite long for most people). Or they sense their body just by itself, the belt tight here, a gurgling inside there . . . just physical feelings not about anything. Or they sense the heaviness of a problem, but heavy pure and simple, not heavy-in-relation-to-a-better-way-I-wish-I-did-feel.

The instruction now is phrased: "Suppose your life is going just perfectly . . . you feel glorious . . . now wait for your body to talk back and give you, how you now do feel. Then see, one by one, what that is about, in your life."

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The first movement should not involve all one's problems but only whatever the body is now carrying. How does one find that? It is by having at least some trace of an all-good feeling, against the memory of which one can sense what is in the way of feeling good.

If one has such an all-good feeling, even a trace of it, to begin with, putting things down is much more likely to be effective.

On the other hand, by putting things down one may arrive at such an all-good feeling.

What matters most is that for the rest of focusing, it helps greatly if there is such a good feeling, or open space, or new energy from which then to work on whatever problem.

As long as a person is and lives as the problem, the body is cramped by the problem, duplicates how the problem is, and the problem cannot be worked on. Instead, one is trapped within it, and one swims around rather helplessly in it.

From feeling and living as the body is without the problem, one can best work on the problem.

This is obviously true sometimes of many problems: "If I could first be as I would be if it were solved, in that way of being I could solve it. . . ." For example, confidence is like that. "If I were already confident, I could get the success experiences which would then make me confident, so that I could then do things well."

This twist about confidence, which everyone knows, is an example of a more general physical principle: We identify with our life situations and problems, and that blocks the instinctual life-energy which is needed to change those situations and problems. If we could first be as if these problems were already solved, we could solve them.

This all-good feeling (or all-good place, or space, or energy), which we first reached by putting each thing down, and then the deeper background feeling is the basis for further focusing.

The felt sense (the second movement of focusing) forms and comes as one's body sense of the whole of the problem. To sense a whole one is no longer identified with or inside the problem, but one senses it as there, a breathing space is between oneself and the problem.

Forming the wholeness of a felt sense is therefore greatly facilitated, if one is outside the problem in the preliminary movement.

Also, at every step of focusing one really asks: "What's in the way of feeling good?" or "What would be a step toward feeling better?" All the while there is an all-good feeling, from which one asks about this whole problem.

A felt sense is usually much less intense than the familiar emotions, although new and changed very intense emotions may come from a felt sense. It is less intense (often so tenuous that one easily loses hold of it) just because one is outside the problem, touching it from another place.

For all these reasons, once one has physically experienced this making a space, the rest of focusing becomes easy to find.

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Once the all-good feeling is here, the rest of focusing needs to be done from it, without totally losing it. Of course, as one senses the problem, it feels bad, but tolerably bad because one maintains the good place and a slight distance between that and the problem.

This positive energy is not optimism or preference for the positive. It comes, in fact, as one is both separate from and in touch with one's negatives. That is what the third position is.

But is it always right to engender this all positive life energy? What if someone is dying, or very aged, or if reality and limitations are to be accepted? From our experience, it is always right to let life energy flow!

The most debilitating thing about many problems and situations is not the loss or limitation but the overall stymieing and backing up of life energy.

You may not be able to imagine how you would live a given situation with this life-energy, but there is nothing unrealistic about it. If you had 5 minutes left to live you would want it, as well as if you had 50 years.

Some clients spend every hour over a long period of therapy, making this transition from backed-up energy to sensing it flow forward again. They come to each hour very negative and backed-in, then they find again the positive place from which the difficulties can be processed much more effectively. One can see a total physical change in the person. Yet this making a space is not alone a miracle cure, as if it needs to happen only once. It may have to be worked for in each hour, enabling it to grow, and enabling a long series of different problems to be worked on, one by one.

Why is this energy stopped in us? Why do we not usually live from this place, or in this space, or with our heavy problems put down? We do not know. To put each down, one by one, may be a capacity most people have not learned.

Sometimes a person also disapproves of that positive energy before it can come in fully enough to be sensed directly. Perhaps sexuality is with it, and the person disapproves of the particular form of that sexuality. Perhaps joy and a sense of being alive seems—at first—childish, or selfish, or unrealistic in relation to the superego type of reality. Perhaps it is mixed with being power hungry or irresponsible or feeling superior or other ways of feeling that the person considers bad. Never mind! Let the whole energy through, you need not give up your value system, you can decide later about actions and choices. For now, sense life coming through! Then the problem can be worked on.

A Guide to the Reports

Many therapists know about and have written about the value of asking troubled people to recall a time in their lives when they felt really good. This is something everyone can do, and it has at least a temporary effect. I had always thought of it as overly simple and superficial.

Now McGuire has found that one can take that situation when the person felt really good, both as a way to provide something like the first movement, [Page 273] and more importantly, by using it as a metaphor, the further steps of focusing can be instituted from the good feeling, just as is needed in focusing.

McGuire's first client thought of a time when she went sailing. Notice that the client was first asked to make this physically vivid in herself now. But after that, McGuire used the sailing situation as a way to work on the problem from the good feeling: She put the problem on the shore, so that it could be worked with at some distance, and so that the patient remained in her good feeling while working on it [10].

This produced the usual release and steps of the therapeutic process in a situation in which it would have been quite impossible to introduce focusing in the usual way, with all the jargon and required learning.

Here then is a procedure everyone can do immediately without having to learn anything first. This procedure in very different words includes all our ways of clearing a space—the inward bodily attention (by vivifying the physical feeling of the good situation), the good life energy coming, the making one whole out of the problem by putting it over there, and the steps of working with it as a whole, from the position of the good feeling, so that it does not overwhelm and yet can be felt clearly.

In the report on the cancer patient we see again the direct way of allowing the powerful positive life energy to come. Illness constricts most people, so that the life energy is even less able to flow through than ordinarily. The therapist flatly insists that the horror is not all. There also can be a good place. It takes work but that good place is found. From it, much can be therapeutically processed, which could not be touched at all before, and would have overwhelmed the person if it had been felt.

The cancer patient also discovered that she had been totally cut off from that part of her body which was ill. This discovery raises profound but empirically answerable questions: Is illness more likely in parts of the body one does not or cannot sense from inside?

Cancer patients quite commonly "cut off" the part of the body that has the cancer, giving it as little as possible bodily sensed attention from the inside. Most patients are also angry at that part. Will it aid in healing to sense that part of the body from inside? Does it make a difference if there is a kind of compassion with that body part which is having to suffer the cancer?

Does discovering the ability to do these things, and then the step-by-step focusing and processing the many gradually coming emotional meanings aid in healing? It is too soon to say, but these are eminently answerable empirical questions. We are publishing this work with cancer patients at such an early stage because this enables others to go further, perhaps much sooner than we will be able to do. In the following, the therapists who created these innovations will describe them in their own way.

Finally, consider what this humble preliminary putting down movement is now seen to contain! It leads to a spiritual place which one does not need to [Page 274] announce as such. It enables life energy (probably healing energy) to flow through the body and a given part of the body. It permits people to process therapeutically certain material which is otherwise utterly too overwhelming to touch.

Illnesses have long been thought to have as one causal dimension how one lives life. This public understanding can lead to a foolish prejudice against the physically ill. Someone said to me recently, "We used to make ill people utterly helpless, now we blame them." It is foolish to burden an ill person with the supposed shame of having somehow caused the illness by being neurotic or living less optimally. Who is not neurotic or lives optimally? Different ways of being neurotic might have led to less visible, but not necessarily less unfortunate results. If certain ways of being human lead to physical illnesses, others lead to other human suffering, either one's own or someone else's.

No one can say which way of being human and inevitably fallible is better or worse than another. If we try to decide that we could say: People who have to learn to care more for themselves are, if anything, better than those who still have to learn to care about others.

But we do not know what causes illnesses. We do know that the psychic way of being can contribute a great deal to getting well, in very many cases beyond what medicine has so far conceptualized. Today most medical people know that and are attempting to integrate that factor into healing.

We are publishing early reports, long before being sure, because doing so enables others to test and try new ways and develop better ones. Please notice, these are very early reports with no implication that one ought to work just this way, and with no claims.


by Mary McGuire

The first step of focusing called "Clearing a Space" is vital to the rest of the process. Why? In putting concerns, problems down, or outside of oneself, or stepping back, or leaving the problem there and moving away, some space of one's own, separate from the problem, is created. There is an I-It relationship. A solid I stands in relation to It, the problem. One is much more than one's problem, yet before clearing space one may not feel this "more." One can be so overwhelmed by a problem that one loses touch with the sense of self.

For example, a forty-two-year-old woman came to the emergency room in crisis. She was extremely suicidal/homicidal. She had a plan to shoot her husband and then herself. The only emotion she could feel was sheer anger and hate. She and her hate were inseparable. I knew she would be unable to place this outside [Page 275] of herself. After a few hours of listening to her acute rage, I could sense that underneath was a very scared, hurt person.

The question was how to help her touch that part that was crying out to be heard. I asked her if there ever had been a time in her life when she had felt completely happy and at peace. After a long silence (2 minutes) she said, "Yes. A few years ago my twenty-eight-year-old son and I went sailing." I had her imagine the scene with all its beauty—the color of the sky, the clouds, the color of the water, the sounds, the smells, the wind, the temperature of the water, the touch of the water. Only after that did I ask her if she, her son, and I could go sailing now, and we would leave her husband on shore. I took her through guided imagery using her description of that happy time. After we had put some distance between ourselves and the shore, I asked her to glance at her husband now and then. She did and sensed anger at first, but it was less intense. Next she sensed a feeling of being trapped, boxed in. She stayed with that and from it came a flood of tears and deep hurt. I could see the easing in her whole body, her facial expression was changed. She no longer felt like killing herself or her husband, but she also knew that she could easily feel that way again. She decided that it would not be safe for her to go home today. She agreed to stay with her aunt. We drew up a written suicidal contract in which she agreed to call me if she felt suicidal during the night. She signed the contract, and I witnessed it. At 4:00 a.m. she called; she was upset. After talking for a half hour on the phone, she felt better and went to sleep.

In moving some distance away from the problem, then glancing toward it, a felt sense of the whole could come. It was "trapped," staying with "trapped" allowed it to open and pour out the tears and hurts of many years. True, this is only one step, but it is a long way from how she was when she came. There will be many more. Putting her anger and hatred for her husband outside of herself was crucial. As long as that was inside her, she would kill him and kill herself. Touching and tapping, moving back was important so that she was no longer overwhelmed nor sunk in her feelings.

I went in the boat with her because it seemed that she could have little sense of self apart from the problem. In going with her I was a "borrowed ego" and together we could separate I from It.

I worked with a second client, a thirty-six-year-old male, who came into treatment very depressed. He had made one serious suicide attempt a few years ago. During the first five sessions, he talked about the misfortunes in his life in great detail. He was very intelligent, sat rigidly in the chair, and never once allowed himself to experience a feeling. He talked about feeling hopeless, having nothing to live for, but always immediately gave an intellectual reason for each feeling. Even when he talked about being sad, his affect was flat. I taught him progressive relaxation; he was able to do it but expressed a fear of losing control. This was the closest he had come to allowing himself to experience a feeling.

[Page 276] For the subsequent session, he arrived very depressed and talked of suicide. I asked him if he could remember a time in his life when he had felt relaxed and happy. He quickly said "No." I said, "That was fast, could you just go back slowly through the years and see if there was even one time?" He paused for 2 minutes and then he said, "Yes, when I was twelve years old, my uncle took me to Disneyland." And then he said, slowly with sadness, "My father never took me anywhere." I felt that if I would touch that sadness there would be too much pain and he would back off. So I asked him to describe Disneyland. What he remembered best was a little rowboat he and his uncle paddled on a small body of water. He described the rocks, flowers, smells in the air, trees with the sun shining through them, slight breeze blowing, little colored fish popping up and down. I now felt contact with him, and his stern look was gone. He was enjoying telling this. I had never seen him like this before.

I asked him if he, his uncle, and I could go in that little boat now. He looked more relaxed, smiled and said, "Sure." I did a guided fantasy, using his imagery, but as I went on, I added, "And your father, who never took you anywhere, is standing on the shore. Can you see him?" He said, "No, I don't want to look at him." I said, "Fine, you don't need to right now, we will go way out on the water, and you can then see if it feels OK for you to just glance at him on the shore." I went on with the imagery, and after a few minutes he said, "When I think of him on the shore I get tense, I feel a hard rock in my chest." I said, "Can you just glance at him, then turn away so it won't feel so tense." He was able to do that, and his whole body eased. I asked him to stay with the easy feeling for as long as he wanted.

After a few minutes the tears started dropping down his cheeks, and he said, "I feel so hurt about my father. I loved him, but I could never reach him." For 2 minutes lie sat in silence, crying. "I love him, right now I feel I hate him. I am so angry at him for what he did to me." He went on to tell me some of the wounds and hurts of the past. He cried and cried as he talked, at the end he looked and felt more at ease than he had up to this time.


by Doralee Grindler, Focusing Institute

I am presenting current work in this ongoing case because it may be of value to others working with cancer patients. At this time we have no medical outcome on this or any other patient.

S. has had cancer for one and one-half years. When the cancer was first discovered, she underwent a bowel resection and the removal of her ovaries, uterus, and cervix. During the preoperative time, S. became acquainted with Simonton's [Page 277] imagery process and made attempts to use it as part of her healing process. However, her attempts were not always successful. She said that it was difficult for her to have the discipline to do it regularly and frequently and, in addition, she had trouble working with the kind of imagery they were suggesting (aggressive/violent). After her surgery, she was told that she was cured, and she did begin practicing another imagery process in which she would relax and then find images of health. A year later the cancer returned. She underwent a colostomy and began an eight-week treatment program of chemotherapy, radiation, and hyperthermia directed at the pelvis.

When she came to see me, which was in the middle of her treatment program, she was depressed and suffered from extreme anxiety attacks. The attacks were associated with anticipation of the next painful treatment. She had two main concerns: "I want to find something that will help me live through these treatments, and I want to find something like the Simonton imagery that would be more compatible to me." I have seen S. for twenty sessions of focusing, and during this time she has changed considerably. In applying focusing to S.'s struggle with a physical illness, I discovered a new significance and power to the first step of focusing—clearing a space.

Clearing a Space

I already knew from my own experience that the process of putting down each concern one is carrying and looking for that place where one is "all OK" profoundly links one to an essential life force, which brings new energy to deal with problems and concerns. But S. showed me how crucial this movement may be for a physically ill person. This step in fact became the pivot around which I worked with S.

S. is a very intelligent woman in her forties who has had many experiences exploring herself psychologically. She was already skilled at self-reflection, could easily be in touch with feelings, and had access to the imagery level within herself. In fact, several years ago she had been in a focusing group that I had led and had found the experience worthwhile. In those days we always began with relaxation instructions. (Since then we have learned that some people become too relaxed to do focusing, while for others, relaxation is an important first step toward focusing.)

In our first meeting S. spoke mostly of the physically distressing details of her illness and treatments. There was concern and anxiety in her voice, and I sensed a very deep vulnerability in her courageous struggle to cope successfully with the treatments and to find a way to face a life-threatening illness.

Both as a way to begin the focusing and as a way to respond to the vulnerability (you can feel safe here), I suggested that we begin with a time of guided relaxation. I asked her to lie down on the floor (on a sleeping bag covered with a soft comforter), and she remained in this position for the whole session.

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I then led her in a process of total relaxation which lasted about 8 minutes, and in its course, I specifically mentioned the pelvic areas as a part of the body to relax.

After the relaxation, I asked her to let me know by raising her hand when she wanted to begin focusing. But she first needed to talk. Tears came to her eyes as she told me how hard it was for her to relax her pelvic area. The relaxation itself led to a discovery.

S: I can't believe it!

I just cut that part off! (crying) [1]

There was real shock in her voice as it suddenly hit her that since she had learned of her cancer, it frightened her so much that she just had cut off that part of her body. . . . Then slowly there emerged a mournful tone, as she experienced how hard it was to be caring toward that part of herself.

It was as if, all along, she had been blaming her body for the illness. Now something had shifted. That part of her body was no longer the enemy. Instead there was a desire to care about that part. In this process of recognition, there was a seed for developing a new relationship with her body.

After a while I asked again if she wanted to proceed with the focusing and she said, "Yes." I asked her to:

D: Put your attention in the center of your body and very gently ask yourself, "How am I right now?" and then wait and see what comes. We just want to see what's there, what your body is carrying right now. We aren't going to work on anything.

After a period of silence S. said:

S: I can't do it. When I put my attention there nothing comes. It's dead inside!

S. was in touch with her pelvic area [2], but I could feel how overwhelming this was to her. I saw fear on her face. She was terrified because what came was the feeling that it was dead in there.

D: It's very scary to feel the deadness there!

I knew that at this point in the focusing she needed to obtain a little space between this "dead place" and herself. In addition, she needed to find an OK place

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, the speech is paraphrased.

[2] The pelvic area is certainly part of what we mean by the "center of your body" and since she was concerned with that area, she went there.

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to stand in. I also knew that I could not go into a long explanation at this intense moment. How do I help her put that down? I made this suggestion:

D: Why don't you look around and move to another place in your body, a place where you sense more energy and movement.

She agreed, and then after a long period of silence what she said was surprising to me. In her own way she was searching for that OK place.

S: I'm in my heart area now but there is a lot of tension here.

D: So, in your heart area there's a lot of tension. . . . Can you mark that? Say to yourself, "Yes, there is tension here." Then go see if there is a better place.

S: MmMm

(Long silence)

I had some trouble at first, 1 went up to my neck and got stuck in a whole lot of tension. 1 thought, "How can I find any good energy. I'm sick! So much of me is wrapped up in thinking of myself as sick! Like I'm bad in some way because of that!

D: It feels like that's all of you, being sick. And so there is no good energy.

S: Yes, but the amazing thing is that somehow I managed to move past that, and I got to a place in my head where I feel some creative energy. It feels really good! (with surprise and relief in her voice). [3]

What was surprising to me as well was that S., all on her own, found what stood in the way of finding any good energy. It was this all-encompassing sense of "I'm sick." Then she put that down, and in this movement the good energy emerged. This is exactly what we teach about focusing. Once you find what is in the way of feeling good and make a place for it, the good energy has space to come in. This is what we call the "OK place." Sometimes we call it "the big space" or "the open space." Each is a short-hand description of an inner bodily experience of expansion and well-being. This is a direct experience of one's essential self distinct from problems, circumstances, and limitations.

Yet, once S. found that OK place, I did not stop there, but suggested that she apply the next steps of focusing. [4]

[3] The OK place is not usually found in a different body location. One focuses in a particular location in the center of the body, and finding the good place does not usually mean moving to a different location. We call it a "place" but the space in which this movement usually happens is metaphorical. With S., I changed the instructions and asked her to move to another part of her body because it was the original body location itself which was so terrifying. This was an easy way of making a place for the part that felt dead without having to do a lot of explaining of what I meant. Later S.'s OK place began to emerge out of where she was originally focusing.

[4] This is a recent innovation in the use of focusing. Usually one does Step 1 as a preparation to work on a particular issue. To apply the rest of the focusing steps to the OK place, we are learning, actually results in activating and intensifying the good energy.

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D: Is there a word that captures that good energy?

S: (Silence)

Connection . . . (deep breath) [5]

D: Your breathing really changed and became deeper at that point.

S: I'm glad you said that because "breath" seems to be another part of it.


I'm taking this good place and sending my breathing into my pelvic area.

In this process, S. found two "handle" words for the OK place ("connection" and "breath"): They further activated the good energy, which I could literally see in the change in her breathing pattern. She then, on her own, saw this breath as a healing force and directed it to her diseased area. Our first session ended at this point, and S. left feeling much less anxious with a new base for relating to her body.

In this first session, I observed three important factors. The first is the importance of putting one's attention in the body. S. did this, both during the period of relaxation and in Step 1 of focusing. This process of going inside the body and letting the body tell what it is carrying, began to nurture a positive relationship to the body (and specifically, with S., to the diseased part of the body). I also was struck by the fact that S. had cut herself off from the diseased part, and I wondered whether this might be a common reaction among people with cancer.

Secondly, I noted the power of the self-image of being sick. It was a very strong self-definition that took up all the space. I would compare it to what we now call "that background feeling," or "that thing that's always there," or "the wallpaper on the wall." The background feeling is usually such an implicit part of us that we do not even know it's there, except subliminally. It is in the process of looking for the OK place and not being able to find it because something is in the way, that we discover this background sense. It is often when one takes that problem out and puts it down, that the big space opens up. S. was able to put that sense of sickness down, and then she found the good energy. I thought that, in working with other people who are physically ill, I might try specifically instructing them to put their sense of being sick down.

Finally, it was clear to me that S.'s discovery of the OK place was very significant for her. It was both physically relieving and led to the release of a positive energy. Also, I noted the importance of going through the next steps of focusing while staying with the good place. Instead of "picking a problem," which is the Step 2 of focusing, I asked her to stay with her body sense of the good energy. Then, with her attention on that, I asked her to find a handle word

[5] I knew that S. had found what we call a "handle word" because the word "connection" accurately described the feeling quality of the good energy, and because 1 observed her head nodding involuntarily and her breathing was noticeably deeper.

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(Step 3)—a word which captures the quality of the body sense. From this, she was able to say that word to herself (Step 4) and experience the word resonating with her body. It was in this process that the good energy intensified and became more available to her. Step 5 is "asking an open question" like, for example, "What would help here?" We did not do this step directly, but she intuitively grasped that this energy could help, and she directed the energy to her pelvic area. Step 6, "receiving what comes," also was implicit in her process, because she was receiving and welcoming the good energy. I felt that a self-generating process with potential for healing began that day.

Gradually, by observing how powerful this process continued to be, I began to postulate that essentially my role was to guide her to this OK place, to strengthen this place, and then she would use this energy to relate more positively to the part of her body that was carrying the illness.

She began to bring to our sessions intense and often anxiety-provoking images of darkness, death, demons—all of which seemed to symbolize the life-threatening nature of her illness. Since she realized that she had cut herself off from the sick part of her body, she desperately wanted to look at the darkness to find out what it meant, yet at the same time the images were frightening and overwhelming. I continued to apply my hypothesis. I did not have her go into the darkness, but instead I consistently had her make a place for it and then go and find the OK place.

D: Make a place for the darkness. Yes, that's there, but put it out there. Get some space from it because it's not all of you. . . Now go find that place where you are OK.

Of course, in focusing, we always make a place or put something down or put it out there with the understanding that we will come back to it. We are not trying to avoid it or get rid of it. We only want to first create a bigger space within which to work on the problem. For S. the first result of putting the darkness down was an immediate diminishing of the anxiety and fear. Furthermore there was a gradual strengthening of the "I" which was not the illness. Through consistently guiding S. to make a place for each problem and then to find the OK place, this "I" did become much stronger and she continued to use this energy to relate to the darkness.

The following is taken verbatim from one session during which S. discovered a way to begin to relate to the darkness. After 8 minutes of relaxation, I asked her to put her attention in her body to see what is there.

S: It feels very hard to get in. I feel scattered. Just odd little meaningless things. . . . The images feel so disconnected, disparate, fleeting. I deduce from that, that I'm not getting in touch with anything.

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D. The images that are coming up aren't connecting you to a deeper place in you.

S: Right.

D: Then you have a sense of wanting to touch deeper. . . . Can you just be with that sense?

S: You mean the wanting?

D.. Yes. My guess is, that it is in the wanting, the sense that you want to go deeper, that something could come from that.

S: I feel calmer. I sort of sense going down into light, layers of reflected light, as if I were going into a cave and lights bouncing off.

D: A visual sense of going deeper you have now.

S: HmHm. I have more satisfaction with that. It's quieter. And there is darkness too.

As I mentioned earlier, S. is very adept at imagery. This ability is very positive in that it could potentially stimulate a deep process, but not necessarily. The felt sense of the image is what I really want her to work with, and my responses always are pointing to the sense itself, not just to the image.

S: (Silence)

D: You are being with your sense of wanting to touch deeper. And in that place is some light and some darkness.

S: HmHm

D: Is there a word to describe the quality of how that feels in your body?

S. I'm trying to be with the darkness. Just feeling I want to be with it. I'm a little afraid of that anxiety we talked about last time. And part of me wants to be with it. Just let me feel it.

D: A real want to be with the darkness even though there's anxiety.

S: I can see it. It has visual qualities. It's nothing impenetrable. Shapes and edges. A lighter darkness. It makes me think of velvet, which is more like a touching thing. I have a sense of wanting to get closer.

S: (Silence)

Poignant (sigh, tears). Like there is this slightly uncertain person who wants to stay open to this. It's kind of touching—that duality.

D: There is the you that's risking being open to this place.

S: HmHm


I had a little shift there. It's as if there are two parts—there's me and there's this darkness and I said to myself something like: 'In the earlier images there seemed to be a lot about the darkness but now there's me here too.' I said that in a stronger voice, not quite so childlike.

D: It's almost like being able to recognize the strength of the you that's starting to relate to the darkness; so it becomes more true to say there's you and then there's the darkness over here.

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S: MmMm. Yes, that felt good.

D: It seemed like something new came there that was both releasing and strengthening. Can you really welcome that and let that live for a moment?

S: (Silence)

The sense of myself growing in relation to the darkness, the strengthening of the part that's me, that's observing the experiencing. . . . The darkness just assumes a different kind of proportion.

D: You can feel your self growing stronger and that puts a different light on the darkness.

S: That feels like a really good shift.

D: Just stay with that as long as it feels right.

S: (Silence)

I was thinking about the way you ask sometimes to find that place where you feel all right, and I thought that's a very good place—that I got to where I can keep clear between myself and my experience and my surroundings or other feelings or any of that. It's a much calmer and more satisfying way to live.

D: It's like that inner place where you are all OK, where you're distinct from anything else. It's like you've tapped that place again now and you're recognizing it when you get here—and it feels good.

As S. describes what happened inside her, it strikes me how very specifically distinct the process is, of finding that inner place that is separate from one's problems. It's awesome, it brings peace, calm, and strength. S. now has more energy to bring to her struggle with the darkness.

At the time of our sixth session, S. happened to be in the middle of a setback. She had severe diarrhea and was physically so weak that she was confined to bed. (This is a common side-effect of radiation.) She was anxious about not getting any nutrition, until she was given a synthetic complete food which she could drink. This improved her diarrhea and physical strength. Still for the sixth session, she was too weak to leave home and therefore I made a house call.

I began, as usual, with a guided relaxation. Afterwards, she talked about how difficult the last week had been for her, but once this was out she looked visibly more relaxed. There was a long pause, after which she said:

S: I think I'm ready to hear from the darkness. (her pelvic area).

I was surprised that she was saying this now, given her physical distress; yet, I trusted what she said. I knew that she had been building up to this moment during all our previous sessions. Previously, we had been working mostly in a middle ground, always staying in both places at the same time: "There's the darkness over there," and "There's the OK place over here." Even her handle word "poignant" was not from the darkness itself, but rather it captured what it [Page 284] was like trying to be in relation to the darkness. A change had occurred. There now seemed to be a readiness from inside her to hear from the darkness directly.

As we began with the focusing, she first sensed a lot of impatience with the pace of her recovery, Her body was carrying that impatience, and once it had been stated, there was a little more space. She then was able to put her attention back down inside, and clear words came from her pelvic area which said:

S: We're doing the best we can . . . we just need more time to rest.

Here was a change. Before this moment, the darkness had remained threatening, the imagery had been vague, and there had been no words. Now words actually came from her sense of this darkness and the message was positive. I experienced the healing potential of the body, especially now, when the body clearly spoke as an ally instead of as the enemy.

This continued:

S. I feel so peaceful. (deep breath)


I'm getting an image. . . . It reminds me of when my husband and I were in a canyon one summer. We were just walking along. . . I'll never forget this experience . . . and we came upon a valley. It was so incredibly peaceful and beautiful.

This feels so good. I can't believe all this came from my pelvic area.


Now I'm getting another image. It has a different quality. It's like soft velvet . . . it feels very sensual, like I want to touch it and wrap myself in it.


I waited in silence out of respect for the powerful experience she was having, allowing her to stay with the positive feelings.

After a while I was still concerned that her experience was very visual, and I wanted her to clearly touch her body sense. So I asked her to go back to both images and see if she could find a handle word or words that would capture the body sense of both together.

She became quiet again and closed her eyes. By her expression, she seemed to be concentrating on finding her sense of the images in her body. The task was not easy, because she had to sense both images together, and it does take time for the sense to form. Then she struggled with a couple of words which did not really fit. She went back to the sense again, and then it came:

S: There's life here! . . . (silence) . . . (tears) . . .

S. has stated to me that she experiences this process of clearing a space as healing. When S. was given this report to check for accuracy, her main comment [Page 285] was that it did not strongly enough communicate her sense of this positive energy as a healing energy. (Of course, since there is as yet no medical evidence, even in this one case, I cannot claim that this experience is in fact healing.)

While S. experienced this as healing, I did not want her to neglect any other process that also could be helpful; so recently I strongly suggested to her that she again try the Simonton method [6] which she had rejected early on. I reported research findings to her that indicate strongly the power of mental imagery in affecting cellular healing processes in the body [2] .

S. decided that she would first clear a space and find the good energy, and then, while in this place, she would do the Simonton method. I work with her until she has an active image of the kind that the Simonton method involves. This continues to be hard work on both our parts. We now spend about one quarter of most hours on this.

The combination of focusing and the Simonton method involves both reaching the OK place first and also working, in a focusing way, to move from merely visual pictures passively experienced to a genuine bodily felt active experience.

Still, clearing a space continues to be the most important part of S.'s work with me. We continue to meet and her process continues to evolve, but I want to end here, for the purpose of this paper is to illustrate merely the first step of focusing.

She began her process with the shocking experience of feeling that the part of her body that has cancer is dead. This recognition filled her with anxiety. Together we struggled to make a place for each of these difficult experiences, while searching for a place inside her that was free from and not fully identified with her life -threatening illness. From this OK place she received new life and energy which she brought to the "dead" place. Gradually, she began to experience life in the part of her body that she had felt was dead.

This change from deadness to life energy also brought with it relief of her anxiety, pain, and depression.

She had been very anxious about the painful treatments (radiation, chemotherapy, and hyperthermia) and the ordeal of having them five times a week. She felt almost no anxiety after our second session and continued without it through the remaining weeks of treatment. The pain during the treatments lessened to little or none.

S. came to me very depressed. By the 11th session her depression lifted. Her mental attitude was positive and hopeful, and she felt more in control of her life.

What happened in this focusing process? It is clear to me that the focusing process taps into some power or force of life. . . . Is it healing power? Did some kind of healing occur that brought life back to the pelvic area for S.? Maybe, we cannot answer this question yet. But I do know that this process brings a profound gift of strength, peace, and further meaning . . . even to someone whose life is threatened.

[Page 286]


[1] A Process Model. Available from E. T. Gendlin, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637.

[2] E. T. Gendlin, Imagery Is More Powerful with Focusing, in Imagery—Its Many Dimensions and Applications, Shorr, Sobel, Robin, and Connella (eds.), Plenum Press, New York and London, 1980.

[3] E. T. Gendlin, The Body's Releasing Steps in Experiential Process, In Healing, J. L. Fosshage and P. Olsen (eds.), Human Sciences Press, New York, 1978.

[4] E. T. Gendlin, Experiential Phenomenology, in Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Natanson (ed.), Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1973.

[5] E. T. Gendlin, The Client's Client, in Client-Centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach, (Theory Section), J. M. Shlien and R. Levant (eds.), Praeger, New York, in press.

[6] O. C. Simonton, S. Mathew-Simonton and J. Creighton, Getting Well Again, J. P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, 1978.

[7] W. Smith, J. Schneider, C. Minning, and B. A. Witcher, Imagery and Neutrophil Function Studies: A Preliminary Report, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, 19xx.

[8] E. T. Gendlin and J. Lemke, A Critique of Relativity and Localization, Mathematical Modeling, 4:1, pp. 61-72, 1983.

[9] E. T. Gendlin, Focusing, Bantam Books, New York, 1981.

[10] The Focusing Folio, Journal of the Focusing Institute, Chicago, Illinois. (These and other reports of practice first appeared there.)

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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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