Excerpts from Must Read Books & Articles on
Mental Health Topics
Books, Part XXXXIV
Eugene T. Gendlin (1978)
Chapter 1- The Inner Act
At the University of Chicago and elsewhere in the past fifteen years, a group of colleagues and I have been studying some questions that most psychotherapists don't like to ask out loud. Why doesn't therapy succeed more often? Why does it so often fail to make a real difference in people's lives? In the rarer cases when it does succeed, what is it that those patients and therapists do? What is it that the majority fail to do?
Seeking answers, we studied many forms of therapy from classical approaches to recent ones. We analyzed literally thousands of therapist-patient sessions recorded on tape. Our series of studies had led to several findings, some very different from what we and most other professional therapists expected.
First, we found that the successful patient—the one who shows real and tangible change on psychological tests and in life—can be picked out fairly easily from recorded therapy sessions. What these rare patients do in their therapy hours is different from the others. The difference is so easy to spot that, once we had defined it, we were able to explain it to inexperienced young undergraduates, and they too were able to sort out the successful patients from the others.
What is this crucial difference? We found that it is not the therapist's technique—differences in methods of therapy seem to mean surprisingly little. Nor does the difference lie in what the patients talk about. The difference is in how they talk. And that is only an outward sign of the real difference: what the successful patients do inside themselves.
The purpose of this book is to tell you what they do and how you can do it. For this uncommon skill, this internal act, not only is useful in a psychotherapist's office, it is a way of approaching any problem or situation.
We have taught this skill to large numbers of people not in therapy in subsequent years. Now that it seems anyone can learn it, I also want this book to be readable by anyone. The book is addressed to professionals, but not only to them. Therefore I am writing it simply and not in the technical manner of my philosophical and scientific publications.
The skill we have observed and defined is not only for problems. Among those who know it, it becomes an internal source that is consulted many times every day. I am using it right now, in the process of writing this book.
The skill I am about to teach you is called focusing.
It will enable you to find and change where your life is stuck, cramped, hemmed in, slowed down. And it will enable you to change—to live from a deeper place than just your thoughts and feelings.
One fact that disturbed us the most in those research studies was that patients who did the crucial thing inside themselves could be picked out in the first two therapy sessions. We found we could predict success or failure right from the start just by analyzing the early interview According to a careful statistical analysis, there was less than a thousand-to-one chance of getting the same finding accidentally.
Today we know how to teach focusing. So this finding does not mean that some people cannot learn it. But at the time this was a shocking discovery. Here we had therapists and patients embarking on a year or more of hard effort. Much human need, hope, devotion, and money would be evolved, and we already knew they would fail.
The finding means that psychotherapy as usually practiced doesn't show patients how to do psychotherapy. In other words, patients did not improve with practice. If they did not somehow know right from the start how to approach themselves inside in that special way, they did not achieve major changes, no matter what they or their therapists did or how earnestly or for how long.
This finding was contrary to my predictions, and to what had been my own firm subjective conviction. I thought I had experienced the gradual opening and increasing ability of patients to come into touch with their feelings. I had been certain that patients learn to do psychotherapy in themselves over the course of treatment, and do it more effectively in the second half. I had had many experiences of beginning with patients who seemed inept at sensing themselves inwardly, and, by my own skills as a therapist, and with the patients' efforts, I had brought many such patients to a successful resolution of their problems.
One reason why research is so important is precisely that it can surprise you and tell you that your subjective convictions are wrong. If research always found what we expected, there wouldn't be much point in doing research.
With hindsight I realize I was thinking only of the successful patients and not of the many patients with whom I failed. Now we know how to teach these people the crucial skill as well.
The research shows plainly, and repeatedly, that successful patients do indeed improve in this key skill, but the research also shows that they had it to some extent right at the beginning. The others, those who failed, did not have it at all and never achieved it through psychotherapy alone. At that time we did not know how to teach it.
Most therapists don't know what this crucial internal approach is, let alone how to help patients learn it. So I was led to wonder: can it be taught?
My first feeling, stemming from my training as a psychotherapist, was to say no, it can't be taught. I was trained to believe that only a very naive therapist would try to tell the patient in words how therapy works. Someone who hasn't experienced it wouldn't understand the words. Psychotherapy was supposed to be an art, a mystery, not a science. Some groups claim to have developed exact scientific techniques, but this is only a propaganda claim. The omniscient and totally self-assured psychotherapist exists only in the movies. Of course, each school of therapists has its own ideas and techniques, but they all know that they stumble around confusedly when their techniques don't work, which is more often than not. Therefore no serious psychotherapist would claim to be able to put into words exactly what makes therapy work, how to make changes happen inside a person. Only therapy itself was supposed to teach how.
But the research had shown that therapy does not teach how to those who don't already know how. The research had also shown very specifically what the crucial inner act is. Was it naive, now, to think it might be teachable?
Despite my doubts, I set out to see if I could make that all-important inner act teachable. With many people's help, I gradually devised specific directions for doing what those rare successful patients had somehow known how to do. We tried those directions out on large numbers of people and revised them and tried them again many times over a period of years. Those instructions have now become very specific and very teachable. Research conducted in several places has shown that people can be taught effectively in these ways to perform that internal act.
Since this crucial internal act can be taught, and is not taught by therapy, people need not be therapy patients to learn it. What follows from this fact is a kind of revolution. No longer need this change process be in the charge of therapists. People can do it for themselves and with each other.
Of course they are not "therapists" or "doctors" or "authorities" with each other, but the authority aspect of the medical doctor never has really fitted the human process of personal change at all. Human problems are by their very nature such that we are each inherently in charge of ourselves. No authority can resolve our problems or tell us how to live. Therefore I and others have been teaching more and more people to help themselves and each other.
This book will let you experience and recognize when actual change is happening in you, and when it's not. There is a distinct physical sensation of change, which you recognize once you have experienced it. We call it a body shift. When people have this even once, they no longer helplessly wonder for years whether they are changing or not. Now they can be their own judges of that. Often, when focusing is taught to a new group, some people experience a bodily shift, a step toward resolution of a problem they have discussed with a therapist for many years without change. They are shocked. Could a few minutes of this let me experience more change than I've had in my expensive psychotherapy?
People still think of the therapist as an authority. Even if patients feel no change, they think "the doctor" must know what's happening. If "the doctor" thinks they should keep coming, they accept it as necessary. They think something "must be happening?' As someone wrote me recently: "When I confronted my therapist about there being no change, he thought it was all right if I have a paid friend for the rest of my life. I never went back... but after four years!"
When the revolution in self-help fully takes place and people generally learn and do these helpful processes with each other, will professional psychotherapy be unnecessary? I think expert help will always be wanted. But it will have to be better than what ordinary people can do when trained in specific skills. People will know how to recognize, unmistakably, whether they are being helped or not.
One must try out a number of therapists (a few sessions at a time, not years!) in order to find real help. You can do this after you learn the unmistakable bodily experience of a bit of change going on.
My approach to therapy and some of my colleagues' approaches too have been radically changed by the knowledge that the crucial inner act is teachable. When people come to me for help, I no longer let them talk and talk. And of course .I don't—and never did—just analyze their feelings intellectually. Nor do I let them scream the sane phrases and work in circles on the same things over and over again as happens in some of the newer therapies. Many people can get in touch with feelings—but then what? They have "gut feelings" all, right, but the feelings don't change.
Focusing is the next development after getting in touch with feelings. It concerns a different kind of inward attention to what is at first sensed unclearly. Then it comes into focus and, through the specific internal movements I am about to present, it changes in a bodily way.
Another major discovery is that the process of actually changing feels good. Effective working on one's problems is not self-torture. The change process we have discovered is natural to the body, and it feels that way in the body. The crucial move goes beneath the usual painful places to a bodily sensing that is at first unclear. The experience of something emerging from there feels like a relief and a coming alive.
From this new vantage point, the traditional methods of working on oneself are seen to have been mostly pain-centered. People get into and repeat over and over their painful emotions, without knowing how to use the body's own life-centered and inherently positive direction and force. That way people stay as they are and hurt themselves over and over. One of the chief new principles is that the change process feels good. It feels like inhaling fresh air after having been in a stuffy room for a long time. The moment it doesn't, you stop and back up just a little bit.
This crucial skill is not easy to explain. Many people can do it only after some practice. On the other hand, it is very much easier than struggling for years with the old troubles, perhaps ending with a better self-understanding but with no change, perhaps getting in touch with feelings but being unable to make them move, shift, resolve themselves.
As hard as it was for me at first to accept the research finding that therapy doesn't do the job, research findings can never hurt you. They move you forward. If the therapy as it now exists doesn't do the job, then we must change therapy.
The happiest change of all is that we can build the change process into society generally and not only in doctor-patient therapy that costs so much and sometimes gives so little. Now that the inner act is teachable, we can teach it not just to therapy patients but to anyone. We have found that it can be taught in a school system, in church groups, in community centers, in many other settings. Any person can use this internal process. People can also be shown very specific ways to help each other with it.
Before I start to explain this inner act, I want to make an earnest request of you. Put aside for a while what you know about psychotherapy or inward processes. What I am about to show you is not the familiar "getting in touch with feelings." Nor is it the content-free quiet of meditation. Whether you are a psychotherapist, patient, or intelligent layperson, this inner act is probably quite unfamiliar to you. The internal equipment needed to perform the act is in every human being, but in most people it is unused. A few seem to use it intuitively now and then, but the chances are you have never deliberately done it and have never been aware the possibility exists. Only recently is it being discussed in the professional literature.
Some people learn this inner way fairly fast, while others need some weeks or months of patient inner listening and tinkering.
Chapter 2- Change
The process I am going to teach you in this book, the inner act, is a perfectly natural one. But as our language contains no words to describe it, I have had to invent the needed words. I call the process focusing. It is a process in which you make contact with a special kind of internal bodily awareness. I call this awareness a felt sense.
A felt sense is usually not just there, it must form. You have to know how to let it form by attending inside your body. When it comes, it is at first unclear, fuzzy. By certain steps it can come into focus and also change. A felt sense is the body's sense of a particular problem or situation.
A felt sense is not an emotion. We recognize emotions. We know when we are angry, or sad, or glad. A felt sense is something you do not at first recognize—it is vague and murky. It feels meaningful, but not known. It is a body-sense of meaning. When you learn how to focus, you will discover that the body finding its own way provides its own answers to many of your problems. The process brings change.
A therapist is not necessary in focusing. By yourself, or with a friend who knows how and when to keep quiet, you can achieve focusing results. The most important rule for a therapist or friend to observe, in helping someone to focus, is to stay out of the focuser's way. Most therapists like to believe it is they who produce results, rather than a process in the patient. Therapists have much to offer and think this will make all the difference. There is always a strong temptation to analyze what the patient says, to make guesses about the nature of the problem, to lecture, to rearrange the person's situation.
But only your body knows your problems and where their cruxes lie. If I were your personal therapist, I would resist the powerful temptation to tell you things, as though I knew more about your problems than you do. But I would not just let you talk either. I would teach you how to focus effectively, and I would keep you company as you did so. There are also some other things I would do, which I will tell you about later.
Now let me give you some examples of some people's focusing experiences. Later I will carefully explain each of the six movements of which focusing consists. When these are successful, there is a physical change in the body, a felt shift. Then the problem seems different. In the following examples I am not yet teaching the focusing movements. I am only illustrating what the changes are like that come with each body shift.
Notice that the nature of the problem changes as each shift comes. Without tapping the deeper bodily level, which is at first always unclear, one would stay stuck with the thoughts and feelings of what the problem appears to be at the beginning.
The Young Woman Who Thought Death Would Be Peaceful
Fay phoned me in the middle of the afternoon. She had been walking through city streets all morning, with thoughts about suicide. "Life is too much trouble," she said, and she really felt the limits of weariness and despair. "What's the use of going on with it? Where does it get me?"
Fay had talked to me before and I knew about some of her life. She is an attractive woman of about twenty-eight. A few years ago she had broken up with a man for whom she had felt a lot of love—call him Ted. She had not loved a man before or since. Since Ted had left, she had spent time with a succession of other men, searching for another Ted but not finding one.
"What feels so bad?" I said. "Give yourself a peaceful minute and see what feels so bad." Quicker than I would have liked, but after at least some time of silence, she said: "I didn't get my period. I'm scared I'm pregnant."
The last time she had talked to me she had told of being with a man whom she found dull, stuffy, insensitive, not interested in her as a person but only as a sex partner. She had spent a weekend with this man. "I miss Ted so much!" she cried over the phone. "And now my period is late. What if I'm pregnant? Oh God, what's going to happen to me?"
I could sense that her agitated feelings were running off again. She was finding it hard to stay more peacefully with her attention lower down inside, as focusing requires. She was obsessed with painful emotions instead of trying to find that deeper place, the felt sense.
I asked her to begin with what I call the "first movement" of focusing. This is the act of pushing problems to one side temporarily, stacking them, stepping back and looking at them. In a way, this is something like coming into a room so cluttered with furniture and packing crates and bric-ca-brac that there is nowhere to sit down. You push things around so as to clear a little space for yourself in one corner. Of course, you haven't emptied the room. The things that were in your way before, the problems, are still there. But at least, now, there is a space for you to be. "Just stand back, now, and take each thing that's bad, and stash it in front of you. One by one. See what each thing is that feels bad."
She cleared her space. The two major problems she found herself looking at were that she wanted Ted back, and she feared she might be pregnant. "Which one is the worst?" I said. "It's missing Ted that hurts the most," she said, beginning to weep again. "The loneliness, not having anyone to turn to ... it's no use...."
Another agitated, self-destructive emotional spiral was beginning and I interrupted her. (In much the same way, when you learn to focus, you will learn to interrupt yourself.) "Why don't you go down inside there," I said, "and see what the worst of that is? Just stay quiet for a little while. Get to the unclear body sense of all of it."
She knew what to do. She had focused before. If you ask why, in that case, she needed me on the phone at all—why she hadn't simply sat down and focused herself—the answer is simply that it can help to have another person present, even if that other person is only a friendly voice on the phone. This is particularly true if, as in her case, you are caught in a trap of emotions and can't seem to get out. Often, when that happens, all that is needed is a friend's voice saying, "All right, let's just sit and be quiet for a while... :'A friend can interrupt an emotional spiral when you feel powerless to interrupt it yourself.
I listened to the silence on the phone as Fay went into the second movement of focusing. She was making contact with the feeling of "all that about Ted being gone?' With her, as with most practiced focusers, these movements tended to flow into each other and become one, just as a practiced golfer or pole vaulter puts many separate body movements together into one fluid motion. Having gotten the felt sense, she sensed the quality of it and got a "handle" on it—a word that fitted the quality exactly. (Third movement.) Finally, she checked the words against the feeling and found them right.
"It's all about anger, or something," she said. "I don't know.... It's like I'm angry—at—Why would I be angry?" She was asking herself or me for an intellectual analysis. I didn't offer one. Focusing avoids analyzing. I also tried to help her not go off on an analysis. I said, "Go back to the felt sense and ask it, see what the anger is."
Asking is the fifth movement of focusing. She asked the felt sense, directly, what the anger was about. I heard her sigh as this happened. I knew something had shifted inside. To the focuser, a shift is a definite, physical feeling of something changing or moving within, a tight place loosening.
After another silence, she said, "I'm angry at myself. That's what it is. For sleeping with all those men I didn't love, didn't feel anything for." Analysis would not have produced this answer. Instead of being figured out, it had to come from the felt sense.
Back through the focusing movements again, waiting for another shift toward resolving the problem. It is a shift whenever the felt sense changes, even if just a little. Then more silence and another step: "And part of it is, I'm angry with myself for sleeping with Ralph, maybe getting myself in trouble—an abortion, maybe. And I call myself bad, also, sleeping with a man I don't care for." Another deep breath.
Sometimes a shift will seem to clarify what emerged from a previous shift, or to elaborate it. This is what happened just now, when she had found "And I call myself bad ... " which continued from what came before. But then her next step changed the previous series. In focusing, one must take what comes. Often what is next for the body is not what would logically come next. This happens frequently in focusing. It is unpredictable and fascinating.
She said, "There's a kind of heavy discouraged feeling:" And after a while this heavy discouraged feeling opened and the details came out. "It's about all these men I don't care for. I have no sexual feelings with them...."
She was silent for a while. I heard her say that word "discouraged" to herself, as though she were trying it out. Apparently it didn't quite match the feeling, for she sounded dissatisfied with it. She checked with the feeling again to see whether a more exact word would come up from it. She was trying to match a specific physical sensation.
This experience of Fay's is a common one in focusing. A change begins but seems oddly, mysteriously incomplete. It gives you the start of a shift, but you know (your body knows) a more complete shift is possible. You stay tuned to your bodily feeling and wait for it to happen.
Suddenly she said, "Weary!" The relief in her voice was clearly audible. The complete shift had taken place. "That's it. I'm weary. I feel like I'll spend the rest of my life going from one dull man to another, never feeling sexual but never letting myself stop trying. I can see all those men lined up ahead of me, all those blank faces, rows and rows of them from here to the end of my life. I'm condemned not to have sexual feelings, that's what."
I waited for her to say more. Evidently she felt that this focusing session had accomplished what she needed for the moment, for she suddenly said, "I feel better now. What a load to get rid of!" Get rid of? To a rational observer, she had rid herself of nothing. The problems that had existed when she first phoned me, the problems that had driven her close to suicide, still existed. What had she really accomplished by focusing? She had changed inside.
It had seemed a problem of loneliness. With the first shift it was her anger at herself, and with the next shift it was her calling herself bad. Then the heavy discouragement came up, and with a bodily release it turned out to be a conviction that she would never again have sexual feelings. Even as she sensed this last, it changed in her body.
At such a time one cannot yet know just how much change has happened. Many more cycles of focusing would be needed later. But a change happens in a body shift. Some change happens even in the mere bodily relief of sensing and touching the trouble in just one definite deep place. When she first phoned me, her bad feelings were diffused throughout her body. Her whole body hurt. But now she had localized the problem and it had shifted. The rest of her body was released.
Focusing helped her in a time of desperation. In the following months she continued to focus and to change inside. Eventually her sexual life and some other painful aspects of her life became rewarding. By that time she had woven focusing into her way of living. It became more than a therapeutic tool to be used in times of crisis. It became something to be used every day, a comforting and familiar part of daily existence.
The Man Who Felt Inappropriate
Fred, as I'll call him, had an almost constant knot in his stomach, a tightness that never quite went away. The stomach knot was worse on some days than on others. It was particularly bad on the day Fred first focused effectively. The day had begun badly. He had had an argument with his boss.
Fred was an interesting man who had a job as a sales executive in a manufacturing company. The company wasn't doing as well as it had at one time. Fred believed he could fix that by reorganizing the sales force, and he had drawn up a detailed plan for doing so. This made Fred feel more creative on his job. The plan involved a fairly drastic change in the company's general selling philosophy, and this proposed change had pulled Fred into the argument with his boss.
The emotional residue of the argument settled in Fred's stomach and stayed there all day. After work that evening, he tried all those familiar approaches that don't work. He tried lecturing himself: "Get hold of yourself! You let little things upset you too much. Rise above it! Stay cool!" When the self-lecture was over Fred's stomach was still in a knot.
He tried reliving the argument, going round and round with it: "When he said this, I should have said that." Of course, this only increased his emotional tension. He tried the trick of pretending the problem didn't exist. "Nothing really happened at all," he told himself. "My boss knew my views long before this, and I knew his. The argument didn't' change anything. It just got things out into the open, and that ought to make me feel good, not bad. Sure! I feel good!" But his stomach didn't believe it. It was still in a knot.
He tried analysis. "He's an old-timer, wedded to old ways of doing things, scared of change. That's his hangup. My hangup is that I'm basically scared of older men in authority...." His stomach didn't relax after that approach either. An analysis of a personal problem might be true. But it is different from going inside to feel directly how it is.
When all of Fred's attempts to make himself feel better failed, he went to a bar and had a couple of drinks. But this made him feel only a trifle better. He could still feel the same knot in his stomach, only the pain was slightly muffled because of the alcohol in his system.
Later that night, when the alcohol had worn off, he tried focusing. He had learned it from me a few weeks earlier but, so far, had been unable to do it well. Now he sat down on the edge of his bed and found himself able to do it.
This is what he reported:
"I made myself shut up inside, turned off (or at least turned down) all the lecturing and intellectualizing and other noises that had been thundering in my skull. I let my attention go down, not just to the argument with my boss but to get a feeling of all the thousands of details that surround it, all my concerns about my job and my future and what I am doing with my life."
This large, vague feeling is what I call a felt sense. Then he sought the core of the felt sense. He stayed with the vague discomfort. "I asked myself what was the worst of it? Where did it hurt the most?
"I tried to grasp the quality of that. It was so strange I couldn't make it speak to me. It was a feeling of something being out of place. It was the kind of feeling you might get from seeing a picture hanging crooked on the wall, or a book placed upside-down in a bookcase, something not quite right.
"1 waited for words and got 'out of place' and 'off', but when I checked to see if they were right, they weren't—not quite. I felt very close, I had that tip-of-my-tongue feeling, the feeling I get watching a quiz show, and I know I know the answer but I can't quite bring it up.
"I never got that far with focusing before. I never had that feeling without knowing—the felt sense that you talk about all the time. This time I knew I had it.
"Then I got it, got my word. It was inappropriate! "That was my word. And I did feel my knot, my tight place inside coming loose. And right away, I knew:'
He had not needed to make a separate movement of asking. The body shift and release came along with the word. Inappropriate: that was the word—as his body felt it—that described all his actions in his job: his elaborate plans for reorganizing the sales force, his arguing with his boss, everything. All were inappropriate, for this job wasn't what he really wanted to do with his life.
He had long thought he was past all his youthful dreams, thought he had "grown up" and become practical with maturity. But now, in that body shift, that feeling of a knot loosening inside, he knew something that came along with that one word "inappropriate." He knew it all in one instant flood.
What he knew was this:
"The reason I got so upset about the reorganization plan was that I was hoping for the plan to fix my life. And of course, that made me act stupid. What my life needs is much too big for that plan to fix. I didn't know that and it sure made me a difficult person to be with, on the job. It's like I was reacting with this enormous emotional intensity which doesn't fit the plan. My intensity was inappropriate to the plan, and I was acting inappropriately on the job.
"Of course, I sort of knew that I wanted the plan because then I could feel creative about my job. But I didn't know I was letting that plan be my whole life, the part of it I didn't manage to live out. No wonder I couldn't stay cool about it."
Fred hadn't known what he had invested in the plan, but his body knew. And all he needed to do was "ask" it.
Fred could never have figured this out analytically, partly because he thought he already knew his own answers. If someone had asked him to think it through, he might have answered that the plan made him feel like the creative person he wanted to be. And with this simple and true answer he would have prevented himself from corning into direct touch with the actual way the problem was in his body. Also, Fred could not have figured this out analytically because his mind had been occupied with thoughts about details and people on the job.
Fred tells this focusing story only as far as that evening when the tightness in his stomach released. It is necessary to observe, as with Fay, that Fred had not yet fully resolved his problem in practical terms. But he would be detached now, on his unwanted job, relaxed about the reorganization plan. He would certainly continue to champion his plan because it was good, but he would be able to listen to other people's objections and would be at ease in combining their ideas with his.
This relieved his immediate tension on the job. The body shift had produced other changes as well. Something had come free in him about changing his life. He puts it this way:
"I could see that the job never could satisfy me even if my plan or any number of plans got accepted, but I felt better. I should have been discouraged. I certainly can't change my life just like that. It isn't as if I hadn't thought about that before. But some way, this element in me which needs something else got more released, too. It was right there in me, some appetite for living. I don't need to force it into a straitjacket anymore. I don't know why, but it's there inside me, a little excited thing, saying, We're going to change! And I have no idea how, yet. If I were purely objective, I'd be discouraged."
Of course, to change his life took practical steps, only focusing. And it took more focusing to meet fears other obstacles inside, as well as practical steps outside. Fred didn't know at first what inner and outer changes would come to him to make. But since that time a whole new life has opened to him. As it turns out, he has been able to pursue his new interests without changing his job.
But that happened to be Fred's further development. Perhaps another person would have changed jobs. Still another might have found relief simply in not needing the reorganization plan to work out exactly as written. Focusing usually leads to deeper levels, but sometimes they are at peace and need no further change. In Fred's case, a new life direction began.
Previously, if he had been asked to apply a descriptive label to the job, he would have called it "this desperately important job that ties my stomach in knots." Now he could call it "this job that is only a small part of me." Same job. Same man, but a man with an entirely new outlook on his goals in life, most immediately his job.
The Girl Who Was Scared of College
When. I first saw Evelyn, she had come to Changes, a group of people in Chicago who welcome anyone. They practice focusing. They listen to each other, help each other in various ways.
Evelyn felt no purpose in life and had no goals. Nothing interested her. She had a part-time job but no idea of any work that would fit her. She felt sexually exploited, without real sexual satisfaction in such relations as she had had. She was overweight, dull-eyed, and sad. She was also extremely quiet.
Some of the people from whom I have focusing reports, or with whom I have done focusing, may seem to be quite hopeless when I first describe them. But focusing moves into the inside of a person. It discovers a richness there. Focusing will show you this in yourself and in others. Once you see it, nobody will seem hopeless. In fact, nobody will seem to be "a type," either, for these are only superficial and temporary aspects of people.
People coming to Changes show me this over and over. Someone who first strikes me as a certain kind of person—destroyed, hopeless, listless, boring—may later turn out to be different, rich, fascinating.
And so I remember my first impression of Evelyn. A woman named Lori had been listening to her regularly as she tried to focus, but Evelyn was hard to listen to. She never had any feelings at all. Evelyn could only talk about externals, situations, other people. It made her anxious that she had no feelings inside herself.
Several school and community therapists had tried to help Evelyn before without producing any notable results. In effect, without saying it in so many words, they had given up on her as hopeless.
Lori wasn't going to give up on Evelyn, and she sought help from another woman, Nancy Between, them they helped Evelyn realize that being anxious about having no feelings was itself a feeling.
They and others listened to Evelyn, and helped her to focus, fairly regularly for some months. For the sake of this book, I asked the Changes people to tape-record some of their sessions; Evelyn's was one. Evelyn gave me permission to reproduce a particular focusing session that made a major difference.
By the time this session took place, there was already a different Evelyn. It had turned out, for instance, that she was bright, that she could differentiate her feelings with the precision of a thinker. There were all sorts of things in her that were the opposite of the woman she at first appeared to be. In that key focusing session she was concerned about her education.
"I guess I ought to go on to college," she said. "Everybody says I should, and I guess it's good advice. I mean, I know I have to if I want to do interesting work. But I just don't want to."
A pause, then: "The thing is, I'd have to give up everything else, and get a full-time job to pay for it, and—like, I'd never have just time to live. Everything would be tense, and—"
She interrupts herself. She knows she is just talking around the problem, repeating familiar reasons that have long been in her head. It is time to be silent to focus, and wait quietly to see what comes.
She sighs, and there is a long silence. Finally she says, "Well, all that about making a living and not having time, that isn't what it's about, not really." She starts to cry. "It's that it takes such a lot of faith, or something, to believe I could take that part of me seriously—I mean the thinking part, you know? The brain part, the creative . I want to be with thinking people, and I love reading and discussing and wondering about things, but to take this thinking part of me seriously...."
She has achieved her first shift. Some tight place within her has come unstuck, and her crying is a tangible symptom of that release.
There is another pause, and then a second shift. As often happens in focusing, it is, a change in direction, an adding-on of a new dimension. Verbally it can contradict what was said before.
"Well, it isn't exactly that. I mean, about taking this thinking part seriously. I could do it, but the thing is, school is just what's in the way of doing it. School would prevent me from doing it. That's why school was always so painful for me. Like I'm so unsure I can take me seriously, I need teachers to tell me my ideas are okay, I need thinking people to tell me, 'Yes, you're okay, you can think: But teachers never do that. Nobody ever wanted this part of me at all. They always sent me off to do chores and other stuff they thought of, non-thinking stuff. So I had to force myself back inside myself, kind of. My thinking part had to stay hidden away because nobody wanted it. It was like I shouldn't come out. That's what going back to school feels like. It's that feeling of—you know, not letting myself out."
Between each cycle and the next there is a silence on the tape, in which she focuses. When there is a shift in the body's way of having the problem, then she speaks again. What she now says about the problem is different. She is silent again, focusing. But she doesn't work only on the problem as she just stated it. Instead, she focuses on the whole sense of discomfort, the new murky body-sense of what still feels unresolved. In this way she is not imprisoned within the thoughts and feelings of the problem as just stated.
Notice. that what the problem seems to be about changes with each bodily shift. That is why it doesn't help much to try to solve a problem by working only on the thoughts and feelings one has about it at first.
She is crying again. Then she has yet another shift. "It's not really what the teachers think. It's—well, this unsureness in me, this keeping myself from coming out. That's me. I mean, I'll go to college expecting a lot, and it will be the same as school always was, and I'll be disappointed and hurt all over again. I'll always be the same. Yeah, that's what the feeling is now. It's this feeling of ... that's not going to change." She sighs. She is silent for a time. Then another shift occurs.
"Ah, yeah, it's—it's not just that. This thing about not coming out—it isn't school. It's all the time. I've felt that way about me in almost everything. It's been there so long...."
Another pause. She is listening inside again. Finally she says, "Yeah, it's like I keep myself inside because—because there is something I have to not see. If I come out, I'll see it. Yes, that's right:' She cries for a long time. "I don't know what it is, but there is something I mustn't see, and if I come out I'll see it. No ... people will see it, and I will see it. So I have to not see anything or hear anything. And I've always been, well, confused:'
She cries again. "I have to stay confused and not see ... something. And I have to not come out so people won't see it:'
There is a long silence as she focuses on the felt sense of that something. For a long time there is only silence on the tape. Some unknown something that she mustn't show people has made her keep herself locked inside. Some unknown thing that is wrong with her, something she has always tried not to see, not to run into. Trying not to run into that, she has kept herself from seeing or hearing anything at all too dearly. I know, although the tape is silent, that she is focusing on the unclear felt sense of all that—the whole felt sense of "something about me that I mustn't run into, that people mustn't see."
Then she cries again. "Something is wrong with me! That's it—and people will see it if I come out:' There has been still another shift. "That's what it's all about," she goes on after a while. "It's an old feeling way down there, that something's terribly wrong with me. I don't know what it is ... some terrible thing. So I have to be careful and not come out, because then people will see it, and I'll see it too."
So that was what her body really felt about going to college. Suppose she hadn't focused and hadn't made contact with that place inside her. Suppose she had lectured herself, clenched her teeth, and forced herself to college despite all those inner doubts. With her body feeling that way, the college experience would have been awful. More likely, she would have continued to feel a barrier in her way, and now would have said that this was the way school always was. And, of course; that was true, but only part of a larger truth.
But now she was all right. The heavy, hurting place was localized. The rest of her body was released. And just because her body felt different, she (like Fred) was now able to take practical steps that would have been hard or impossible before, and to take them in a new way. The old felt sense would not have let her go to college and "come out," as she put it—would not have let her bring out that "thinking part" in a forceful, cheerful, confident way. But the old felt sense had changed. The changed sense not only let her go to college with hope and anticipation but enabled her to become interested in what she was doing once she was there. She had to work harder than other students because the coming-out issue was not resolved in one step. There were periods when she could not allow her love of thinking to show. But more and more her creative thinking ability came out, and she got to know and rely on it.
This could happen only through changes in the way her whole organism felt. Evelyn's story illustrates an important characteristic of focusing: You feel better, oddly, even when what emerges doesn't sound encouraging to anybody trying to analyze the situation rationally.
One effect of the focusing process is to bring hidden bits of personal knowledge up to the level of conscious awareness. This isn't the most important effect. The body shift, the change in a felt sense, is the heart of the process. But the bringing-up of bodily sensed knowledge—the "transfer" of this knowledge, in effect, from body to mind—is something that every focuser experiences. Often this transferred knowledge seems to be part of a tough problem, and it might be expected that this would make you feel worse. After all, you now know something bad that you didn't know before. Logically, you should feel worse. Yet you don't. You feel better.
You feel better mainly because your body feels better, more free, released. The whole body is alive in a less constricted way. You have localized a problem that had previously made your whole body feel bad. An immediate freeing feeling lets you know there is a body shift. It is the body having moved toward a solution.
There is also another reason. No matter how frightening or intractable a problem looks when it first comes to light, a focuser becomes used to the fact that at the very next shift it may be quite different. Nothing that feels bad is ever the last step.
For both reasons Evelyn felt better when she made contact with a feeling that "some terrible thing" had always been wrong with her. To an analytic observer, this might seem like a nightmare: to stumble on the truth that you have kept yourself hidden for fear that some mysterious wrongness will come to light. But Evelyn felt better. She cried, certainly, but out of relief, and because the shut-in part of her was at last being heard. Crying is often the first stirring of a part of one's self that has been long held in. The body shift had felt good when she made contact with that feeling. Moreover, she was sure that further focusing would move that heavy place, just like others in the past.
When you are focusing well, you are glad about the coming of any feeling. You might hear an inner feeling say, "You're doomed!" You would consider this gently and understandingly. You would say, "Oh, that's interesting. A feeling of doom. No wonder I felt locked up—if there's been a feeling like that in there. Glad it came up. Let's find out where that feeling comes from." You can take this attitude because, many times before, you have experienced feelings like that changing and resolving themselves physically in a very few minutes.
Some months after Evelyn's taping session, at a large group meeting of Changes, there were some eighty people in the room. Sweeping my glance across the room, I saw a beautiful woman with bright, intensely alert eyes sitting somewhere in the middle. "Who is that?" I asked myself. "Someone new in the group?" Then I realized it was Evelyn! It had been only a few weeks since I had last seen her, but perhaps I had not looked closely at her for some time. I had been very aware of her intellectual sharpness. She had even helped me with a piece of writing. But I had never seen this!
When people change, they show it physically. At first this may not be outwardly noticeable, except in the momentary relaxation and easing of a body shift, the better circulation and deeper breathing. But over a longer period, with many shifts on different problems, it is definitely noticeable in the face, the carriage, the whole body. And it can be a startling change.
Later on, Evelyn traced the feeling of something wrong with her. It had come to her from her mother. She could then sense her mother's basic and constant attitude toward her: "Something's wrong with Evelyn. She isn't like anyone else." Evelyn discovered this with much relief and much crying, as her crowded-into-herself part at last became uncramped, and the big "felt block" shifted.
A postscript: Evelyn recently visited her parents. One evening her mother went out to attend one of a series of lectures on children. It turned out to be a lecture on exceptionally gifted children. Evelyn's mother came home excited, saying that the lecturer had described precisely what Evelyn was like as a little child. Her mother felt that—at last—she had discovered what had always been so odd about Evelyn.
The Man Who Couldn't Work
"I'm having a lot of trouble finishing this book I'm writing," said George. "It's because I have to do it. If I didn't have to, I could. But this way, I sit there and I'm sort of stuck—disconnected like. I can't seem to turn on my mind. All I do is sit there and stare out of the window. I can't do the actual writing. If I do have an idea, I sit there and sort of tell myself, 'Well, George, it's great that you have an idea here, and then I feel like going and reading a mystery novel:' I said, "That body sense of 'stuck, `disconnected'—what is its quality? Focus on it."
He was silent for about a minute, sitting, eyes closed. He started to say something and then stopped: "It's a feeling of—no." Evidently he had a feeling and was trying to let words come from it. Words were coming, but when he checked them with the feeling, they weren't exactly the right words. They made nothing shift. Suddenly, he had it: "Contempt!" He repeated the word, trying it again and liking it. "It's like this book isn't the real world, it's just in my head."
George is a college professor. He has a reputation for working harder with students than most professors do. He went on: "This feeling of contempt—well, it's like everything I do sitting at my desk is crap. It's in my head, in my private space, instead of out in the world. That's what makes it crap. Head work isn't out in the world where things happen. It's all inside, like it isn't really happening at all. It isn't real or important. What's important is what I do in the world. That's real—teaching classes, seeing students, taking care of my family.... Ah, I've had this for years, off and on. Head work is nothing?'
I repeated the gist of what he had said. "So there's in-your-head and that's contemptible," I said, "and there's in-the-world and that's real, that's taking care of things." "Yes. No. Well—uh—"
This is what focusing is like. The nature of the problem changes with each shift. You make contact with a feeling and you say, "Yes that's it!" Then you feel something below it or behind it or alongside it and you say, "Well, no, that isn't it after all:' The problem, when you finish, is not the same as you thought when you began. The felt sense of the problem changes.
George sat quietly for a while, focusing. Then he said, "There's something else here. It's crazy, paradoxical. This being in the world, taking care of things, it isn't the important part of me at all. Taking care of things, teaching, earning my salary—that isn't the main thing for me. I always arrange it so I can get it out of the way, get back to writing my book. It doesn't make sense, does it? Writing is contemptible because it's all in my head, but it's still the main thing, the thing I most want to do."
"What is the whole unclear body-sense when you say, `this thing I most want to do'?"
"It feels like I have to do this writing. It dominates my life. It would be awful if I didn't do it, even though I have this contempt feeling about it:"
I said, "All right, go back to it and say, 'Okay, right, it would be awful not to do this writing: Then ask what that whole sense of 'awful' is:'
George often goes past a feeling without letting a whole felt sense form. That is where I usually help. He knows it is important to accept every feeling that comes, not argue with it, not challenge it with peremptory demands that it explain itself. You don't talk back to the feeling like an angry parent demanding that the feeling justify itself. You don't say, "What do you mean, such-and-such would be awful? That's nonsense! Just why would it be awful?" Instead you approach the feeling in an accepting way.
George accepts his feelings, but this is not enough. Just getting in touch with one's feelings often brings no change, just the same feeling over and over. One must let a larger, wider, unclear felt sense form.
George had said "it would be awful." We didn't yet know what there was in and with this "awful." To find out, and to let it shift, the whole vague body sense of all that goes with "awful" had to form for him.
George focused on the felt sense and its quality. Then he said, "It would be awful not to write because—if I didn't do my book I'd be a failure, a parasite—well, no, not exactly that...." He paused to let the right word come, and finally it did: "A playboy."
"A playboy. Now ask what that is."
"Ah ..." George sat silent for a long time. "Yeah," he said at last, "yeah, this is a very evil path this leads me down. Wow. It feels—it feels like it's immoral not to do this serious work, writing." George breathed a huge sigh. "It's sexual," he said. "That's what it feels like. Not to have to work at writing: that's sexual. Like masturbating all the time, or—wait, no, it's more like being a kid watching adults making love. Yeah, that's what it would be like. It would be like having the grown-ups tell me I could just sit there and watch."
"And that would be all right?"
"Sure! That would be fine!" George's felt sense of the situation seemed to have given him permission to stop writing. But then that permission was withdrawn. "Wait a minute," he said. "I don't know if that would be fine after all. It would—well, ah, it feels both good and bad."
"Sort it out. See if you can get a felt sense of what would be bad about it."
"Well," he said after a while, "there's a feeling of blankness. Like, if I stopped writing I'd be facing a big blank. I'd have nothing to do but read mystery stories. I mean, if I, didn't feel compelled to do this writing, I could do whatever I wanted—but I wouldn't find anything to do."
George had a "handle" word. If actually released from work, he'd get a "big blank; Because such an empty space is frightening, people who find one inside themselves often run back into work and other time-filling activities that they don't enjoy. Like Fred, the man with the knot in his stomach, they may drive themselves so hard to avoid the blank that they make themselves physically ill.
Focusing allows you to approach any such blank with equanimity, like anything else. For a blank is also a feeling. Instead of backing away from it in fear, you walk right up to it, and find out what is there. I encouraged George to do just that. "Be with the body sense of that blank. What is its quality?" I asked.
George sat quietly, feeling around the emptiness. Then he said, "It feels like there are things I want to do, but—I'm not allowed to see them. Like when I was a kid, my father had certain books on the top shelf of a bookcase, and I wasn't allowed to look at them:'
He paused again. I didn't push him. He asked into this sense of "not allowed." After a while he drew a deep breath and let it out noisily, and I knew something else had shifted inside. "Yeah; he said. "Yeah, of course. I'm an adult now, right? I can look at anything I want to look at. Sure, I—wait a minute.... Things are coming to me. Sure. One thing I'd do if I didn't have to work on this book—I'd jog. I've been wanting to go jogging but whenever I feel like it, I have to go and sit at my desk instead. Yeah, and—" He paused briefly while something else came up. "And I'd write a book about birth control! I've been wanting to do that for a long time. There's a point about birth control that nobody has ever brought out before, a really crucial point. I'd love to write that book! This book I'm stuck on now, it isn't anything I'm really excited about. But I can finish it too, I bet, if I let myself write what I want. This birth-control book—ah, that would be great!"
He paused for a long time. Then:
"Wow, yes, now this finishing this book is OK too. Yes, it feels all right. The point wasn't to finish the book, it was not to have to finish it. Under that have-to-but-can't feeling was all my good energy, all locked up. That's what I figured, all right, but I couldn't shift it. My whole life was under there, seems like. Letting myself have forbidden urges, yes, I see. To be free to stop, that's like being free to follow urges, and that's like being free to do what I want, which is to write. But free to write from out of my direct urge and energy. Well, I knew that all the time, but now I've got it."
George was analyzing now—in effect creating an intellectual rationalization to explain what his body had already solved. The analysis wasn't necessary. But intellectuals like to figure things out, and, done in retrospect, that's all right. What was important was that his body took its own steps first. Before these steps, his analysis wasn't effective.
Chapter 3- What the Body Knows
The stories in the previous chapter illustrate the two main discoveries on which this book is based:
First, that there is a kind of bodily awareness that profoundly influences our lives and that can help us reach personal goals. So little attention has been paid to this mode of awareness that there are no ready-made words to describe it, and I have had to coin my own term: felt sense.
And second, that a felt sense will shift if you approach it in the right way. It will change even as you are making contact with it. When your felt sense of a situation changes, you change—and, therefore, so does your life.
Let's study these two propositions in more detail. First, I want to be sure you understand what a felt sense is. A felt sense is not a mental experience but a physical one. Physical. A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about the given subject at a given time—encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail. Think of it as a taste, if you like, or a great musical chord that makes you feel a powerful impact, a big round unclear feeling.
A felt sense doesn't come to you in the form of thoughts or words or other separate units, but as a single (though often puzzling and very complex) bodily feeling.
Since a felt sense doesn't communicate itself in words, it isn't easy to describe in words. It is an unfamiliar, deep-down level of awareness that psychotherapists (along with almost everybody else) have usually not found.
Let me illustrate. Think of two people who play a major role in your life. Any two people. I'll call them John and Helen in this discussion, but substitute the names of your own people. Let your mind slide back and forth between these two people. Notice the inner aura that seems to come into existence when you let your attention dwell on John, the sense of "all about John." Notice the entirely different aura of Helen.
The inner aura as you think of each person isn't made up of discrete bits of data that you consciously add together in your mind. In thinking of Helen, you don't laboriously list all her physical and personal traits one by one. You don't think, "Oh yes, Helen: she's 5'6" tall, has blond hair and brown eyes and a small mole next to her ear, talks in a high voice, gets upset easily, wants to be a playwright, likes Chinese food, needs to lose weight...." Nor do you list each detail of your relationship with her.
There are undoubtedly millions of such bits of data that describe Helen as you know her, but these millions of bits aren't delivered to you one by one, as thoughts. Instead, they are given to you all at once, as bodily felt. The sense of "all about Helen"—including every one of those thousands of bits of data that you have seen, felt, lived, and stored over the years—comes to you all at once, as a single great aura sensed in your body.
The sense of "all about John" comes to you in the same way. It is a huge file of data: what John looks like, how he speaks, how you and he first met, what you need from him, what he said yesterday, and what you said in return. The amount of information is staggering—yet somehow, when you think of John, all the relevant facts and feelings come to you at once.
Where are all those thousands of items of information stored? Not in your mind, but in your body. The body is a biological computer,' generating these enormous collections of data and delivering them to you instantaneously when you call them up or when they are called up by some external event. Your thinking isn't capable of holding all those items of knowledge, nor of delivering them with such speed. It would take all the remaining years of your life to list all the details you know about Helen and your relationships to her. Your body, however, delivers "all about Helen" in one great, rich, complex experience of recognition, one whole felt sense.
To illustrate the point further, think of your own reactions when you talk with Helen, and then when you talk with John. You change inside—correct? You can sense the difference within you. If you are talking privately with Helen and then John unexpectedly walks into the room, you can feel yourself becoming different. Your felt sense of John is now here too, as well as your felt sense of Helen.
These changes, inside you are not brought on by thinking. You don't think, "Oh yes, this is Helen: with her I've got to behave in such-and-such a way." Little thinking is involved. Ask yourself, "Why am I this way with Helen and that way with John?" The answers are not in your mind. Only your body knows.
Notice that a felt sense is not an emotion. It has emotional components in it, along with factual components. But it is bigger than any single emotion, more complex—and much less easy to describe in words.
For example, your felt sense of Helen probably includes a large number 'of emotions that you have felt at various times when with her. Perhaps some such emotion is dominant in your relationship at this very hour. The dominant emotion right now, let's say, is anger. You and she quarreled bitterly last night, and now the first word that comes to mind when you think of her is "anger." Yet that emotion is not the felt sense—is not "all about Helen:'
An emotion is often sharp and clearly felt, and often comes with a handy label by which you can describe it: "anger," "fear," "love," and so on. A felt sense, being larger and more complicated, is almost always unclear—at least until you focus on it—and almost never comes with a convenient label.
To illustrate, let's suppose there is some difficulty in your relationship to John. Asked to describe this difficulty, you might say: "I'm tense when I'm with him. When I'm with Helen, I feel as if my 'natural' self is alive and free, but when I'm with John, I am uncomfortable, tense."
This tension arises somewhere in "all about John." People who don't know about focusing are likely to be aware only of the tension, over and over. They never consult their felt sense of "all about John," or perhaps a little less broadly, "all about this odd feeling I get with John." The word "tense" might be the best one-word description of the feeling, but "tense" is only the tip of the iceberg. "Tense" might be the dominant emotion at a given moment, but below it and behind it lies something huge and vague.
You can feel that huge, vague something with your body, but you can't touch it with your mind—your mind protests, "I don't want to be struck dumb every time I'm with John! I want to be relaxed, bright, natural. Why can't I be? Why?" But there are no answers in your mind. If your mind knew the answers or had control of the situation, presumably you could surmount the difficulty through rational processes and an effort of will. You could think your way to a resolution of the problem. But this is patently impossible. No matter how your mind protests, no matter how hard you think, the same tension makes itself felt inside you whenever you are with John. This tension is generated by your body, reacting to John's presence. The reaction bypasses your thinking mind almost entirely. But when you let the felt sense form, then you can work with more than you can understand. If you attend to the felt sense through certain steps I will show you, it will shift.
That is precisely what this book is about. It is necessary to approach our felt senses by an entirely different route—that special through-the-body route that I call focusing. By approaching them that way, we can let a felt sense form and change.
Much of what has passed for emotional guidance and psychotherapy in our past has been futile. Counselors tried to make us analyze our feelings rationally, or "face" them over and over. Let's look again at that hypothetical difficulty in your relationships with John, and let's look at some of the most common ways of approaching such a problem. (All the common approaches are, unfortunately, futile.)
Belittling the problem
You try to convince yourself that the problem doesn't exist or is too trivial to worry about. "It doesn't matter," you tell yourself. "It's nothing. I shouldn't let such silly little things bother me."
Does this change anything? No. The next time you meet John, the "trivial" problem is exactly as big as it always was.
"It must be that John reminds me of my father," you conclude solemnly. "I was always intimidated by my father. He was so sure of himself. So is John. Sure, sure, that must be it...."
The analysis may or may not be correct. But it does nothing to change the feeling. You can analyze furiously the whole time you are with John, but if that feeling is there in your gut with its inexplicable discomforts and tensions, the relationship will not be eased any more than it was last time.
"Facing down" the feeling
"I'll just grit my teeth, stand up to it, and walk through it," you tell yourself hopefully. "I'll ignore it. I won't let it get me!" But it doesn't help, does it? If something gets you, it will go on getting you until some fundamental change takes place.
"Now see here; you tell yourself sternly, "it's time you pulled yourself together and stopped all this nonsense. You're supposed to be an adult, right? So act like one! There's no reason in the world why John should make you feel uncomfortable...." No. That doesn't work either.
Drowning in the feeling
You sink into the emotion, hoping that this time just feeling it again will change it. "Yeah, that was a bad time when he started talking about my sex life. I just sat there like a dummy. I am stupid. Wow, that is awful! I feel like a squashed bug...." Whenever you sink into this unchanged feeling, it makes you feel as bad as last time.
These approaches cannot work because they don't touch and change the place out of which the discomfort arises. It exists in the body. It is physical. If you want to change it, you must introduce a process of change that is also physical. That process is focusing.
Part Two of this book devotes itself to the job of teaching you how to focus. I won't start teaching it here. For now, I just want to finish describing the characteristics of a felt sense.
The most exciting characteristic of all is the fact that a felt sense, when you focus on it well, has the power to change. You can actually feel this change happening in your body. It is a well-defined physical sensation of something moving or shifting. It is invariably a pleasant sensation: a feeling of something coming unstuck or uncramped.
I can best describe it to you by starting with a familiar human experience: the odd feeling of knowing you have forgotten something but not knowing what it is. Undoubtedly it has happened to you more than once. You are about to take a plane trip, let's say, to visit family or friends. You board the airplane with a small, insistent thought nagging you: you have forgotten something. The plane takes off. You stare out the window, going through various things in your mind, seeking that elusive little piece of knowledge. What did I forget? What was it?
You are troubled by the felt sense of some unresolved situation, something left undone, something left behind. Notice that you don't have factual data. You have an inner aura, an internal taste. Your body knows but you don't. Maybe you try to argue it away, try to squash it intellectually or rise above it—the method of belittling it. You tell yourself: no, I won't let this bother me and spoil my trip. Of course, that doesn't work. The feeling is still there.
You sigh and rummage in your mind again. You find a possibility. "Helen's party! I forgot to tell Helen I can't come to her party!" This idea doesn't satisfy the feeling. It is perfectly true that you forgot to tell Helen you would miss her party, but your body knows it isn't this that has been nagging you all morning. You still don't know what you forgot, and you still feel that wordless discomfort. Your body knows you have forgotten something else, and it knows what that something is. That how you can tell it isn't Helen's party.
At some moments the felt sense of what it is gets so vague that it almost disappears, but at other moments it comes in so strongly that you feel you almost know. Then suddenly, from this felt sense, it bursts to the surface. The snapshots! I forgot to pack the pictures I was going to show Charlie!
You have hit it, and the act of hitting it gives you a sense of sudden physical relief. Somewhere in your body, something releases, some tight thing lets go. You feel it all through you: Whew!
It feels good. You may feel bad about the pictures but the step feels good. This is one of the key characteristics of a shift in a. felt sense: it always has that easing and sometimes very beautiful sensation of bodily release. It feels like exhaling after holding your breath. You can feel the tension draining out of your body.
There are no words in the language to describe the felt sense and its physical shifts. Therefore, I must give a name to that feeling of coming unstuck inside. I call it the body shift.
Not everybody feels the shift taking place specifically in the belly. It may seem to happen all over the .body, or it might feel like a loosening in the chest, or it might be a relaxation of a tight throat. I call it body shift mainly to suggest that it doesn't happen in the mind. It is always, in some way, a physical sensation. You often can see it and hear it when it happens in somebody else. There may be a long audible sigh of relief, a sudden loosening of some tight facial grimace, a quick, comfortable relaxing in the posture.
That is what it is like to get a shift in a felt sense. The example I've used—forgetting something on a trip—is trivial, of course. But undoubtedly there are problems in your life that you don't consider trivial. Stuck places inside you that spoil parts of your life, ways in which you feel trapped and helpless. In all these cases, exactly as with those forgotten snapshots, your body knows much that you don't know, much that you cannot possibly figure out.
Nobody can figure out, intellectually, all the details of a personal problem. No therapist can. You can't—neither for someone else nor for yourself. The details are in your body. The way to find them is through focusing. When you do, as we've seen, a physically felt shift occurs. Why does it occur? Where does that odd feeling of release come from?
It comes from two sources:
First, the once-hidden knowledge is now available to your conscious mind. You may be able to use it in some rational plan of action for resolving the problem. This can certainly lead to a feeling of relief "Yes, of course! That's where the hangup is.... That's the direction I need to go!"
Consider those snapshots again. The once-obscured fact—"I forgot the snapshots"—was not the kind of fact that could be put to immediate use in a rational plan of action. The fact came to you aboard an airplane. There was nothing you could do with it. Despite this, your felt sense of your trip was now changed. You were changed.
The second source of that "uncramping" feeling is more important. Even if you can't make immediate or direct use of the once-hidden knowledge, the body shift makes your whole body different.
And so it is with more important personal problems. You can feel the change happening inside you.