With a radio set, you have tune in to the station you want to hear. There are lots of other stations asking for your attention. And if there is too much noise going on outside, like the TV being on, it’s harder to listen in. Once you’re tuned in, you can really give your attention to the programme you want to hear.
Focusing is similar. It’s tuning in to something, only this is something inside of you, something about you you’ve not really been attending to very much.
Think about it. Even as you’re sitting (or standing!) consciously reading this, there are other things going on for the whole person of ‘You’: your body is balancing where you are sitting, you are breathing, smelling scents in the air as you do so; you are hearing background noise – but you’ve probably blocked most of that out in order to concentrate on reading.
There’s maybe other stuff you may not have noticed. There may be a pressured feeling about the time, knowing you’ve got other things to do. You may be feeling uncomfortable about something someone said to you, and it’s there in the background nagging away at you somewhere. You might be about to go on holiday, and there’s an inward excitement making it difficult to concentrate. You’re not actively noticing them; you would have to tune in more consciously in order to do so.
Focus is actively noticing lots of things like this that you normally don’t engage with; sometimes that you don’t want to engage with. What happens is that if you try to block these out or ignore them or just not notice them at all, they don’t go away. They’ll be back, if not now, another time. And sometimes, this can become troublesome, building up into other felt symptoms like stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, indecisiveness, a feeling of your life being un-lived the way you long for it to be.
If you haven’t been listening, part of you might feel it has to shout!
If you learn Focusing, it will help you – really help you – to come alongside these feelings and help them shift into somewhere they – and, as it happens, you, too – would like them to go. You don’t have to steel yourself into trying to do better, or fix yourself, or pull yourself up by your own boot strings. With Focusing, you can just learn to tune in with compassion to whatever part of yourself needs that attention right now. And then wait, and see where it wants to go…
I lost someone I loved very much back in 2013, and it completely knocked the stuffing out of me. My beloved ‘aunt’ Monica had lived with my husband and me until she got cancer and died 18 months later. The pain of her loss was unbelievable, and I can still feel it keenly now. Back in 2015 I was with my counselling supervisor and was talking about the dreadful feelings of regret I had about things I’d done or not done in the last months of her life. She invited me to Focus on what I was feeling inside, to stay with that uncomfortable feeling of grieving, instead of what I had been doing – getting away from it in busy-ness.
As I Focused inwardly, trying to just be with that feeling instead of turning away from it, I suddenly had an image that I was standing on broken glass: it was so vivid I could almost feel it crunching under my feet. I looked down and saw with surprise that it was thin panes of glass all jumbled together on top of one another. That made no sense, but slowly I realised I was standing in the ruins of a greenhouse. My tears flowed freely at this, because my aunt loved gardening, and had been our ‘head gardener’ with us at our house. Here was a greenhouse in ruins: what better picture of the desolation I felt?
But then, as if in a little prompt, something in me said, ‘But a greenhouse can be rebuilt’. Something about that just settled within me. Still in this Focusing session, inside my inner being, with my eyes still shut, I looked up and saw through the broken frame of the greenhouse a dilapidated walled garden, and I knew it was waiting for me to work on it. Monica cannot be brought back. But a greenhouse can be rebuilt, and a garden can be regrown.
I called it my ‘garden of regrets’. Every one of my painful regrets about Monica has found a place in this garden, and has been transformed. That incident with the perfume is represented at the centre of the garden by the most beautifully-scented roses; the regret about Christmas is represented by a tall, stately Noble Fir tree planted in the far left corner, and two variegate standard holly trees; the tears she was unable to shed and those which I shed for her are there in the weeping willow tree, and the little stream winding around its feet feeds into the orangery where there are now strange exotic and beautiful plants I have never seen before, which I have certainly not planted myself. In my garden of remembrance, Monica comes from time to time, and I’ve sometimes seen her there. I take it she has brought them here. There is a lovely summer house constructed out of branches with a spirit urn for cups of tea, and an apron of decking surrounded by flowers. When I want to I can go and sometimes I can sit and talk to her there; other times I sit alone. By a swing seat there is a statue of St Francis with a fawn. There are many other things in my (our) garden of remembrance, each one helping me turn a regret into a memorial. It is a refuge I can go to whenever I feel grief: a comfort and a consolation.
Focusing gave me this lovely, healing image. I am sharing this deeply personal experience with you because I want you to see a little of what Focusing can bring into your life: an inner place that is capable of bringing peace and resolution to the most difficult and seemingly unresolvable feelings.
To find out more or book for my next Focusing workshop at Bleddfa go here: http://www.bleddfacentre.org/focusing-workshops/
There are all kinds of hidden gifts our inner wisdom has for us, but this can’t always be accessed by our rational mind (useful though that is!).
Focusing gives you a way of being that encompasses ALL of you, and particularly in a way that lets your body in on the act. The body is not just there to carry your brain around. It has a memory and a wisdom of its own. Focusing recognises that we are embodied beings. What happens in the brain also happens in the body – and vice versa. There are many feedback loops in the system of the whole organism. Controlling our breathing can feed back into the brain to bring panic down, for example. And it is now believed that some bacteria in the gut are closely related to certain areas in the brain. We’ve all had that nervous fluttering in the stomach! Yet Western thinking tends to separate out the brain and the body and consider one superior to the other. This is nonsense. We are one whole human being.
Focusing brings awareness within the body in order to tap into what is almost unconsciously felt, understood, expressed in this inner way, rather than through rational or emotional shorthand. It is a key to open a door into a more subtle way of understanding ourselves. It is full of surprises, consolations, gifts, understandings that can change our lives, as devotees of focusing will tell you.
Come to my Focusing workshops at The Bleddfa Centre: the next one on Sunday 8th July: http://www.bleddfacentre.org/focusing-workshops/
James Roose-Evans, at 90, quoted T S Eliot today in his inspirational ‘audience’ with us at The Bleddfa Centre: ‘Old men should be explorers’.
If ever there was an explorer through – and of – life, he is one. And like many explorers, he is able to open up the way for others to find new territories.
The territory James Roose-Evans explores is the inner life, the journey is inward, and the destination? James encouraged us today to think of it as ever further, beyond, still to come. ‘Don’t think of yourself as old. No – not ‘old’! Older!’ Always moving forward, always looking ahead, and moving towards.
And death. We talked also about that great taboo. James thinks we do not think about death enough. And how do we think about that great thing we all face, we all come to? James doesn’t see it as an end, but as transition, a moving from, through and towards. At 90, he is able to say this without it seeming sophistry.
Someone asked him how he managed both to have given so much energy to so many different aspects of his life: so many disparate creative projects, his priesthood, theatre directing, Bleddfa itself, and so much more, and at the same time go so deep into silence in his life. The silence, he says is the place, the balance, the inward source of everything else. If James has an overriding message, it is to turn attention inward both to understand what is in us, and to find the deepest connection with something greater than ourselves. Everything we need, all the resources we need, he says, are in here, are within: we do not need to get them outside ourselves and from others.
And if we practise silence in our lives, give space to our inner life, it helps us to receive synchronicity in our lives and be open to things when they come to us. Learn to listen, so that we recognise something special when it is before us
After a shared period of silence, James’s final word was from Hamlet: ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will—.’ In other words, as he says, if we f…. it up along the way, it doesn’t really matter that much: something beyond ourselves is there, shaping something beyond the end we see.
And, that brings me back to Eliot again: ‘In our end is our beginning’. Let us not be afraid.
‘Why always “Not yet”? Do flowers in spring say “Not yet”?’ – Norman Douglas, An Almanac
‘Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week’ – Spanish proverb.
I’ll bet most of us recognise times when that ‘not yet’ or that ‘tomorrow’ holds us back. We feel that something on occasion seems to hold us back from doing what we want. That letter or book we want to write; the holiday we would like to take but keep putting off; the job we want to change but don’t; the diet we want to maintain; the resolution to get up early, or get out more, or make more friends, or… I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.
Focusing is a fantastic way of enabling this impasse to unfold itself and move forward into some kind of action, or inner resolution. Whether it’s a small thing or something that leaves you feeling disappointed with larger aspects of your life, Focusing can help you connect with both the wanting and the not-wanting felt-senses; if you just try ‘hearing’ them in this way you can be surprised by what you will find, and how things open up in new ways. You may find that this thing is not what you deeply want after all. Or you may find that it is, and that the rest of you is now OK with that.
Why not try this out for yourself? My next Focusing workshop is around this very theme: to find out more and/or book your place visit http://www.bleddfacentre.org/focusing-workshops/
In Focusing we call this ‘finding Self-in-Presence’. How to describe it? It’s just a very quiet, still place of being. It can be like finding the still point in a whirlwind of thoughts, feelings, doings and active life. It can be like coming behind a wall out of the wind. It can be like finding still water. It can feel like coming home to a comfortable chair. It’s a kind of space inside yourself, which also isyour Self. Usually, when I find it, I almost automatically breathe a sigh. It’s a kind of ‘Here I am’ moment. Very often, clients who experience this for the first time tell me, ‘I’ve never felt peace like this in my whole life.’
So far this sounds similar to mindfulness. But Focusing goes further. This inner awareness space of Self-in-Presence can also be a calm Presence given towards other aspects of ourselves, often aspects that are not so calm: aspects that feel stuck, or emotionally tender or overwhelmed, that feel stressed, angry, depressed, lost or trapped in some situation. Being ‘in Presence’ means we have a different way of approaching these parts of ourself, one that is able to be in relation to the part rather than overwhelmed by it, and one that can enable that part to be heard, accepted, understood empathically: all conditions that enable it to shift from its stuck state into where it really wants to be. There is often a sense of release, a kind of inner sigh as something moves and changes. This process is one that can turn what feels difficult into what feels less uncomfortable, less painful, or even joyful.
Focusers are passionate about all this, because we have experienced such wonderful benefit from it. As a counsellor, I have also seen how learning this skill can be releasing and healing even for very deep and long lasting hurts.
I’m probably showing my age here, but it is like the old Heineken advert: it refreshes the parts that other things can’t reach!
Let Spring arrive in you! Mindfulness to be in the moment with Spring all around you. Focusing to welcome what is in you that wants to shift and grow!
I’m putting my toe into the water for the first time with a video blog. I am looking forward to talking about counselling in lots of different ways. If you have any questions, just let me know, and I’ll do my best to respond.
The first of my four one-day experiential workshops at The Bleddfa Centre. This workshops reintroduces the practice of Focusing as a way of knowing one’s Self more deeply, with compassion and empathy, using the sense of our embodied feelings as a doorway into our inner awareness.
This workshop is for you if:
9.30 am – 4 pm. £40 including lovely home-made lunch (sorry, early-bird rate now over).