The Felt Sense, a True Story
As I walk along the street all is as it should be. The soft blue sky spreads out peacefully above me and the early morning sun shines warmly on my back. The street is quiet, apart from a myriad of birds chirping back and forth among themselves. I walk slowly taking it all in and sighing with contentment.
Feeling relaxed and dreamy I continue at a leisurely pace, noticing the brightness, and that the brightness has a certain quality to it, a promise of good things to come. I am peaceful and optimistic. The early morning silence is broken by a few birds still calling out to each other. I delight in being a part of this tranquil scene.
At the same time I am vaguely aware of some slight discomfort. Perhaps it is to do with the brightness there is a sort of stillness to it, and an intensity that feels a little unsettling. Then I notice again, how pleasant it is to stroll along with the sun’s soothing heat gently warming my back.
I realise that if I look ahead towards the brightness I get a funny, uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, a nervous, fluttery, edginess that becomes a rather sharp ache. There is something about that perfect brightness, a kind of atmosphere, something unreal. The word ‘artificial’ comes to me, it seems to resonate. I stay with the word and what emerges is a sense of shadows lurking behind the brightness.
Quite uneasy now, I calm myself by breathing in the comforting smell of heat on paving stones.
I shiver. There are still a few birds chattering reassuringly and I try telling myself that all is as it should be. However my body knows better. It is fully alert.
What was that noise….that faint rustling? I walk a little faster….not too fast….its probably a bird….my ears are straining, searching for the faintest sound.
The hairs on the back of my neck are literally standing on end….and then I hear footsteps behind me….I am almost running now…. a hand clasps my shoulder….Something crude is whispered in my ear.
I scream and scream ‘Okay, okay’ he hisses.Then I run in one direction and he runs in the other.
I remember this incident vividly, even though it happened some years ago. I can see now how my vague sense of discomfort developed into a definite awareness of danger.
Eugene Gendlin discovered Focusing, he devised the term ‘felt sense’ to describe an unclear, intricate ‘bodily awareness’. Focusing is a process of deepening my connection with this bodily sense. It is a process that might occur naturally and it can also be learned.
I can focus alone or with a Companion. To begin with I am just trying to get a feel of something faint and delicate. Slowly and gently I build up my connection with it by describing and acknowledging everything that I notice. Because the felt sense is very fragile I need to be sensitive. If I am impatient and try to hurry things along it will disappear.
Gradually the felt sense becomes stronger and more fully formed. Meanings contained within it can emerge, deepening self-awareness and personal insights.
Focusing with a Dream
I see my train and start walking towards it, my eyes are heavy and straining to close. I find a seat and then notice that there are people sitting opposite me. I am ashamed of my tired eyes and hold a book up in front of them. Now I can close my eyes and no one will know.
My eyes close, then they flutter open, I am very anxious about being found out. Eventually I sleep.
The train slows down and screeches to a halt. I join hundreds of people, all walking in various directions. I don’t know which way to go. My eyes are closing and I am moved along by the crowd. I am afraid of missing my train.
I can barely see, my eyes are tiny slits, sometimes I close them completely for a moment’s relief. Anyone who sees me like this will know how irresponsible I am, travelling with my eyes closed. I feel anxious and ashamed, and then I am running, and clambering onto a train.
There is great relief as I realise that this is just a dream. Waking up I stretch my arms. However I cannot open my eyes, my eyelids are stuck. I panic, terrified that they will never open.
Some time passes, perhaps I am asleep. I wake up and my eyes open naturally.
This is a recurrent dream, I am curious to see what will emerge when I Focus with it.
A ‘Lead in’ helps me to bring my awareness inwards
I begin by sitting comfortably and closing my eyes. I take a few deep breaths and pay attention to my outer body, noticing any sensations in my feet, legs, and seat.
Pressing my feet onto the floor and leaning back into the chair helps me to feel supported and grounded.
I continue with my outer body, paying attention to my back, shoulders, arms and hands and moving my neck a little to see if there is any tension there. I notice the weight of my head and am aware of the tiny muscles in my face.
Next, I bring awareness to my inner body getting a sense of my throat, chest and stomach, and noticing any sensations.
I pay attention to my emotions, taking time to acknowledge them all. Seeing whether there is something within me that feels blocked, and something within me that feels easy and flowing.
Inwardly I describe my dream, this helps me to remember the details and to be in touch with vague, indistinct feelings about it, known as the felt sense.
I recall the sensations in my eyes at the beginning of my dream and try out words and phrases to capture the experience. Heaviness, straining, a sensitive achiness, watery bleariness. I remember the desperate struggle to keep my eyes open, and become aware of a thin, sharp achiness in my head.
I have a hazy sense of some sort of feeling that goes with this and I try taking the word 'wrong' back to the sensation in my head. It doesn't work at all. However, 'ashamed' fits well. So I acknowledge 'something in me that feels ashamed' and soothe my burning cheeks with cool hands.
Now the panicky feelings, associated with my dream, become more prominent. I say to myself ‘something in me is feeling rising panic.’ ‘Rising panic’ is a good description.
The phrase ‘something in me’ reminds me that only part of me is experiencing rising panic. I am also aware of a curious part.
My attitude towards everything that emerges within me is friendly, welcoming and accepting. This creates a safe space for more to be revealed.
I settle down with the part of me that feels rising panic. I let it know that I hear it and I invite it to let me know how things are from its point of view.
I note the tightness in my chest and my fast breathing. Then I become aware of a dilemma, ‘something that I have to do and I cannot do’, I am pulled in two directions and feel for a moment that I will be pulled apart.
To steady myself I push my feet into the ground feeling its solidness and recognising my own solidness and personal power.
‘Something that I have to do and I can’t do’ takes me to a past situation and I recognise that I am still living with the anxiety of that situation. I acknowledge the anxiety, I will return to it another time.
I take a few deep breaths, there is still tightness in my chest, I greet it and gently ask whether there is something that it is wanting. My heavy eyes are telling me sleep.
‘There is a part of me that wants to sleep and also a part of me that believes I cannot sleep’. I realise that ‘cannot’ is not quite right, ‘must not sleep’ is a better description.
I spend time with the part of me that believes I must not sleep and I tune into my sense of deep shame. The feeling subsides a little as I give it my attention.
There is always more to explore and to discover, for now I am thankful for everything that has been revealed. There are areas that I will come back to on another occasion.
I sit quietly for a few moments. When I feel ready, I open my eyes and bring my awareness back to the room.
I have not had this dream again. I often find that once I have paid attention to what a dream is communicating and have acknowledged its messages there is no longer any need.
At the Edge of Awareness
I close my eyes, letting awareness come to my body...feeling the solid ground beneath my feet...sensing into my outer body....allowing my awareness come into the inner areas of my body, throat, chest, stomach.... And giving myself an inner invitation…what wants my awareness now….
What comes to me at first is vague and fuzzy, a bodily feeling that is not clear enough to be described in words.
This bodily feeling, known as the felt sense is implicit. It is at the edge of my awareness, between what I know and what I don’t know. If I can put it into words it will become explicit.
I sit with the feeling for a bit, noticing where about it is in my body and this helps me to begin describing it.
I'm sensing something in my head and behind my eyes....a quality of tiredness that is familiar to me....dull foggyness. There is also a chill around my shoulders and back...Now I am noticing something in my throat, a slight throbbing which changes to soreness when I give it my attention.
I am aware of something emotional that goes with all this, maybe sadness. I take the word 'sadness' back to the feeling in my body to see if it fits and find that it is not quite right. I try the word 'low' and feel that it is a good match.
So I take some time to be with something in me that is feeling low....sensing how it would like me to be with it and then quietly keeping it company.
I become aware that the grey weather is part of this whole thing....the gloomy, drab, dullness of it.
I pause.... noticing something in me that can only bear so much of the dreariness ....and something in me that is drawn to this gloomy, grey atmosphere. I acknowledge and welcome both. Taking time to be with each part and to sense how things are from their points of view.
Now I am noticing that the grey weather is associated with a sad memory.... and as I take some time to get a greater feel of it, I am in touch again with my tiredness.
I sense into my tiredness and clarify that it is more a feeling of weariness...
And so on....There is always more to discover about the whole experience....Something else is always implicit.
The edge is where more than what is already known or expressed emerges. Weiser Cornell, A and McGavin, B. (2002) The Focusing Students and Companion’s Manual Calluna Press p.44)