A Participant’s View of “Focusing” Workshops

By Ann Lynch

As a relative newcomer to “Focusing”, I came to these work­shops in search of new insights at two distinct levels. Firstly, I wished to acquire a more comprehensive, objective under­standing of the process itself and in relation to dreams in particular. I also wanted to journey further along my own inner process with the guidance of professionally trained focusers. I’m very glad to say that both my objectives were achieved.

The first workshop was entitled “Introduction to Focusing”. It tried to convey how the focusing method concerns itself with personal change. Its emphasis was on the focuser’s awareness of the body’s felt sense of a particular issue or problem. For example, in the opening session each par­ticipant was led to awareness of this “more than one emotion” bodily sensation. In pairs and in turn each partner walked slowly towards the other until the latter got a body sense that their space was being invaded.

Here the participants experienced what is actually meant by the crucial term “the felt sense”. This was a basic step for many in the group who were new to focusing. It also underlined, right from the start, the value of the ex­periential approach. For myself, this exercise gave me an excellent way of con­veying to others who are interested, the meaning of this vague, murky feeling.

Much of the first day aimed at demonstrating the six steps that act as an umbrella for the method. I thought the key factor in the success of the work­shop was the trainers’ teaching manner; i.e. demonstration followed by experience through practice in either small groups or with a partner. This took us away from the conceptual approach sufficiently to return and ask questions about the concepts. This was made more profitable by the added depth of experience.

In this way the steps on focusing became more soundly understood. In addition, the presence of three fully trained focusers meant that as new people took their first step, a sense of security was engendered. We also learned both through observation and practice, that it is the focuser’s own inner process that is the most authentic guide. Nervousness on the part of newcomers was minimised. Observation taught me, in particular, that each one’s process is unique and requires respect in that vein.

Thus far I have not alluded to the focusing attitude that is as essential as the method. Attitudes are difficult to teach. In focusing the attitude that needs to be developed is a gentle allowing, so the person can speak whatever arises from the felt sense in the body. As the workshop progressed, the trainers attitude had a profound influence on the participants. The atmos­phere grew more sensitive in tone.

The experiential approach helped us to tap into hitherto hidden wisdom contained in the body. As people worked with a partner in a small group they were observed and coached, if necessary. In one session the result of listening to the inner child led to a deepening of shared emotions and new knowledge of ourselves. This served to bond the members more and we felt less isolated on our own journey.

Perhaps this bonding was one of the plus factors of this first weekend. Many of us were new to each other and to focusing. By Sunday evening there was a felt sense of the group’s new energy. This was illustrated by song, dance and various other forms of verbal appreciation. The “surprise” factor that is part of this method had obviously enhanced many participants’ understanding of themselves. I thought many of the new-comers had acquired a new vision for their future.

The second weekend concerned itself almost completely with focusing on dreams. The same methods of teaching, chiefly through demonstrations in the large group were used. This was followed by an option to work on a dream with a partner or to focus on one’s own process. This approach was one of the most successful attributes of this workshop since many of the par­ticipants did not feel quite ready to work on a dream. Both needs were met.

We were encouraged to welcome whatever speaks to us. So, in focusing on a dream we were taught to welcome them all and to love and honour them. Coaching was constantly available, particularly to those who wished to take their first step in listening to someone else’s dream. I found this invaluable. I was able to discuss my listening skills with an experienced and trained person. Others had a similar experience and at the end there was a deep felt gratitude toward the trainers for their constant availability. In addition there was a healthy freedom of choice as to the type of skill one wanted to enter into during this particular workshop.

There are a number of questions that can be asked in dream focusing but the most essential concerns a person’s associations with a particular dream. A felt sense of the dream is gradually allowed to emerge and the ensuing questions are addressed to this bodily awareness. The technique of Bias Control is used by Gendlin in dream interpretation. A personal example is best to illustrate: A workman, a carpenter appeared in one of my dreams. Interpreting it myself I saw that his gentleness reflected my own, but that was not new information. The leaders suggested I look at what ways he was different from me. At once the answer leapt up from my body – it was something to do with my hands. The new development for me was that I needed to cherish and value the work of my hands as distinct from my head much more. With this insight came a new spring of energy in my body that only EUREKA could explain.

I am one who has had the benefit of some years in psychoanalytic therapy. I also have some experience of primal therapy and group work. I have come upon focusing with these as a background and I continue to find in it a gentle, caring method that I can do on my own or with a partner. Costs are minimised once the basic focusing method and attitude have been learned. It not only helps me pay attention to the needs of my body, it gives me the necessary space to do it. The purpose of focusing; to initiate change in peoples’ lives was crystal clear from both workshops. We each left with a new freedom, ready and prepared to launch the next step in our own lives.