This is my feedback written after I attended the 2015 Focusing Institute Summer School (FISS). The Focusing Institute is an international, cross-cultural organization dedicated to supporting individuals and groups world-wide who are teaching, practicing and developing Focusing and its underlying philosophy. Focusing is a psychotherapeutic process developped by the University of Chicago professor Eugene Gendlin. It involves holding a kind of open, non-judging attention to an internal knowing which is directly experienced but is not yet in words.
It’s a well-known fact that water can exist in various states — liquid, gaseous and solid. Though its chemical essence stays the same (H20), in each state water possesses so strikingly different qualities, that almost makes one think those substances are unrelated and alien to each other…
That was probably the third of the fourth day in FISS 2015 Summer School retreat when I felt that something in me was slowly “melting down”. The feeling was very light and vague, but unmistakably clear to me — some rough edges of what I consider “Me” started to lose their sharpness. Funnily enough the very fact of “melting” illuminated me about how much ice-like state I usually am.
Once I read about the metaphor of lighting a campfire in a deep forest and inviting some secretive wild animal to come and join you. The process is very slow and delicate. At first, you just feel its presence in the surrounding darkness. Then you notice his eyes. Gradually if you are patient, safe and kind enough, he may start making tiny steps towards you. That is exactly how my “melting down” felt like. Something new was hesitantly showing itself from the forest in me. This was something very new and yet something is deeply known to me. As if you met a stranger, but then start recognizing a dear face of a good childhood friend whom you haven’t seen for ages.
Then I started noticing that what seemed impossible for “usual Me” somehow became quite natural and even eagerly wanted. Many things, which in everyday life I would avoid for reasons like “don’t look stupid”, “you are a serious man”, “it’s a shame”, suddenly released their jaws and subdued to curiosity and frivolous fun of doing whatever felt right at the concrete situational moment. As if a baby-tortilla finally dived into the ocean after exhausting crawling through the sand. Asking controversial questions, expressing vulnerable ideas, making weird singing exercises, allowing my body’s strange moves, performing on stage — all that is not Me I know… and yet it’s Me I always knew. Surely in usual life, I could force myself doing those same things, but here at FISS I felt very different while doing — a feeling of deep joy and body smiling.
But why? What was unusual here that brought such difference in me?
Gene Gendlin, the founder of Focusing, once said: “I noticed that when I walked into the room (with another person), I was already different. The interaction affects you, long before you can think about it”. Maybe I came to FISS already “pregnant” with an implicit need to melt down. That inevitably affected everyone I met there and brought something in them that allowed some more of me to click and move.
Care. It felt like all the people who arrived at school left their armors and weapons at the entrance and stepped inside slowly and carefully, knowing that everyone is equally vulnerable as she/he is.
Attention. Usually, in interaction, we don’t feel truly listened to, but rather waiting for the turn to dump something out to the other. One can hardly recall a moment when she/he gets the entire attention of the companion when nothing else matters but the process inside of her/him. Well, here this thirst could be quenched as people tried really hard to listen and understand each other as if nothing else matters.
Embracement. Being open to whatever may come in you and the other person is paradoxically both tough and easy. When a woman you just met in exercise shyly asks if she can share with you her recent trauma, it’s almost like a screaming alarm in you urging to run away and hide. But once you stay present to your and her feelings, there is such a profound super-human connection being built between two of you, which is a joy and a reward by itself. And the rewards are many as soon you notice that something has shifted in her as a result of those few minutes together. Suddenly you are not strangers anymore, but deeply related humans beyond the surface personality’s facts.
Pausing. I am always amazed by people, who are able and willing to put the entire world on hold. They pay attention inward and sense how the body carries situation-at-moment and what their genuine response should be. Such people are extremely rare to meet in everyday life and their scarcity explains my delight of being surrounded by many of such people for the entire week. That their quality is contagious and soon you are puzzled: “How else can I think-speak-move otherwise?”.
Space to be. We often hear about the need for unconditional love, but in my view, “mere” unconditional attention is enough for good things to happen. It is surprisingly liberating and deeply healing experience when ANY of your feelings is met with equally accepting regard. I can’t find such attitude within me (yet) and hardly meet it in everyday life. But once I encounter such welcoming attention, I am overfilled with recognition how much something in me was missing it. At first, you can’t believe that nobody is demanding, asking or expecting from you. You can be sad or funny, reserved or dance, keep quiet or express what is yet unclear. Borrowing from physics such experience is alike gaining more degrees of freedom or when a particle is suddenly behaving like a wave.
That was my second time at FISS. When people asked me “Why you are here?”, I honestly replied, “Damn, I don’t know” and that was true. However, now I feel like at least one of the reasons was my need to know that I am not alone in a longing to be exist-essentially understood… as well as to understand the others and my unknown-known self.
This article was first published in Focusing Institute Folio in 2015.
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