Focusing, sometimes referred to as “felt-sensing,” is a way of allowing our bodies to guide us to deeper self-knowledge, to psychological healing, and to working more skillfully with the difficulties with which life presents us. Many meditators, after learning the practice of Focusing, remark that it feels like a “missing link” in their contemplative practice. That was certainly my own feeling when I discovered Focusing after 25 years of Buddhist study and practice. But what kind of link is it?
Focusing practice helps one to recognize and engage buried feelings and unconscious misapprehensions that may not show themselves in the course of meditation practice. It allows us to uncover and work through hidden wounds and deeply embedded fears lodged in our bodies. This in turn provides vital help in loosening recalcitrant habitual patterns, blocks to action, and other sources of personal suffering.
A risk for meditators is what has come to be known as “spiritual bypassing.” Spiritual bypassing means using meditation practice—and specifically the skill it cultivates in noticing thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them—to avoid and repress painful and uncomfortable aspects of ourselves that keep us stuck. Meditative letting go may provide some short-term relief from deep-seated psychological and emotional pain, but in doing so it can block healthy development and realization of our full potential.
Focusing was developed by American philosopher and psychologist Eugene Gendlin, who died in May 2017 at the age of 90. Gendlin’s term for spiritual bypassing was “process-skipping.” His method for overcoming process-skipping provides a powerful contemplative technique for recognizing and working with the inevitable internal and external problems that face each of us. While meditation gives us a way of detaching from emotional turmoil in the present moment, Focusing works to change specific and persistent elements of our thinking, feeling, and behavior that inhibit spontaneity and a fuller experience of life.
Buddhist meditation developed to dispel ignorance, overcome the clinging and grasping tendencies of ego, and realize full spiritual awakening. Meditation aims not so much to solve a person’s particular problems as to solve the person altogether. Focusing, on the other hand, provides a pragmatic tool for surfacing and unraveling personal sources of our individual suffering, which tend to be based in our specific life histories.
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