Books Reviews

Book Review: Focusing

Focusing: How to Gain Direct Access to Your Body’s Knowledge by Eugene T. Gendlin is a most interesting book. Focusing is a skill which was discovered through fifteen years of research at the University of Chicago. Eugene T. Gendlin studied, together with a group of colleagues, why therapy so often failed to make real difference in people’s lives. And in the rare cases when therapy does succeed: What is it that successful patients and therapists do?1

Seeking the answers, the researchers analyzed literally thousands of therapist-patient sessions. These studies led to several findings. One is that differences in therapy methods mean surprisingly little. Nor does the difference lie in what the patients talk about. The difference is in how they talk.2

The purpose of the book is to teach focusing. Most importantly, not only is focusing an internal act which is useful in therapy. It’s also useful in approaching any problem or situation. Focusing enables you to find and change where your life is stuck. It enables you live from a deeper place than just thoughts and feelings.3

Focusing is natural to the body, and it feels that way. There is an experience of something emerging from the body that feels like a relief and a coming alive.4 A few seem to use focusing intuitively now and then, but it is mostly unused in most people. Some people learn focusing fairly fast, while others need weeks or months.5

Focusing is a process in which you make contact with a special kind of internal bodily awareness, a felt sense.6 The felt sense is a physically sensed knowing. The body knows the whole of each of situation, vastly more aspects of it than you can think.7

body shift is a definite physical feeling of something changing or moving within, a tight place loosening. Often what is next for the body is not what would logically come next. Focusing is unpredictable.8 And it is something to be used every day, as part of the daily existence.9

Just getting in touch with one’s feelings often brings no change. One must let a larger, wider felt sense form, which at first is unclear.10 Intellectuals like to figure things out. What is important is that the body is allowed to take the first steps. The analysis isn’t effective before these steps.11 When your felt sense changes, you change—and, therefore, so does your life.12

A felt sense is a physical experience.13 Since it doesn’t communicate in words, it isn’t easy to describe in words. It is a deep-down level of awareness.14 An emotion is often sharp and clearly felt. A felt sense, being larger and more complicated, is almost always unclear—at least until you focus on it.15 It bypasses your thinking mind. But when you let the felt sense form, then you can work with more than you can understand. And when you attend to the felt sense, it will shift.16

Eugene T. Gendlin divides focusing into six main movements: 1) Clear a space. 2) Felt sense. 3) Get a handle. 4) Resonate. 5) Ask. 6) Receive.17 To think of them as separate movements makes the inner act seem more mechanical than it is. Gendlin starts by giving the focusing instructions in a brief manual style from. He then approaches the movements from several different angels and explains them in more detailed.18 Finally, he reviews the most common problems that interfere with people’s focusing, and suggests ways to get unstuck.19

At the end of the book, there is a Listening Manual which was written for people who simple wanted to help each other with focusing.20 Four kinds of helping are discussed: 1) Helping another person focus while talking.21 2) Using your own feelings and reactions about the person.22 3) Interaction.23 4) Interacting in a group.24

To handle ourselves and our situations, we need to get into more of our own experience. The more deeply we go, the more the unique individual emerges.25 Beyond feelings, there is a holistic body sense, at first unclear, that can form. It is sense of the whole meaning of a particular situation or concern. It is from this felt sense that body shifts can arise. This cannot be figured out. It has to be met, found, felt, attended to, and allowed to show itself.26

A person’s experience is not a pattern. It might seem to fit a pattern just now, but moments later it will fit another or none. In any case, the seeming fit will never be exact, for experience is richer than patterns. Moreover, it’s changing.27 New forms can come from inside each person, instead of being imposed from the outside.28

Focusing lets people find their own inner source of direction. Instead of static structures we need dynamic structure-making. If we accept ourselves and each other as form-makers, we no longer need to force forms on ourselves and each other.29 Adopting patterns, old or new, is not the way. A sensitive focusing approach can eventuate really livable patterns suited uniquely to each of us and our situations.30

The holistic felt sense is more inclusive than reason. It includes the reasons of reason, as well as feelings, and much more. That holistic sense can be lived further, and has its own directionality. It is your sense of the whole thing, including what you know, have thought, and have learned. What is first sensed holistically is more basic than thoughts, feelings, and ways of acting that are already formed, already cut into existing patterns.31

A felt sense is body and mind before they are split apart. Focusing is not an invitation to stop thinking. It begins with the felt sense, and we then think verbally, logically, or with images. When there is a body shift, our thinking come together with the body-mind.32 Thinking put in touch with what the body already knows and lives is vastly powerful.33

Lived experience is more organized, more finely faceted, than any concepts can be. And lived further, experience creates new meanings that takes account of, but also shifts, earlier meanings.34 Focusing is a really powerful skill! It’s a different way of thinking and approaching any situation.

1 Eugene T. Gendlin, Focusing: How to Gain Direct Access to Your Body’s Knowledge (Rider, 2003, first published 1978), p.3.
2 Ibid..
3 Ibid., p.4.
4 Ibid., p.8.
5 Ibid., p.9.
6 Ibid., p.10.
7 Ibid., pp.vii–viii.
8 Ibid., p.14.
9 Ibid., p.16.
10 Ibid., p.29.
11 Ibid., p.31.
12 Ibid., p.32.
13 Ibid..
14 Ibid., p.33.
15 Ibid., p.35.
16 Ibid., p.36.
17 Ibid., pp.173–174.
18 Ibid., p.43.
19 Ibid., p.64.
20 Ibid., p.117.
21 Ibid., p.118.
22 Ibid., p.127.
23 Ibid., p.135.
24 Ibid., p.141.
25 Ibid., p.155.
26 Ibid., p.156.
27 Ibid., p.157.
28 Ibid., p.158.
29 Ibid., p.159.
30 Ibid., p.160.
31 Ibid..
32 Ibid., p.165.
33 Ibid..
34 Ibid., p.166.

Related book review:
Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning: A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective by Eugene Gendlin

By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

2 replies on “Book Review: Focusing”

I’m not familiar with Candace Pert. Added the book to my reading list. Thanks!

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