On Saturday 13th February 2016 I attended a workshop to discover more about the Art of Focusing and was intrigued by such a seemingly simple approach to mindfulness. The workshop was entitled Radical Self Acceptance – rather than Learn Focussing which was genius – it immediately offered a solution that we could grasp rather than simply telling us about a new technique, because, really , who needs any more?
So six of us gathered in the warm and welcoming space that is The Isbourne Centre in Cheltenham, the Heart of the Cotswolds. We were greeted by Manjudeva of Livingfocusing.co.uk, a lovely gentle soul of Buddhist persuasion and together we embarked on a journey of discovery.
Focusing, it was revealed, is the art of truly connecting with oneself in order to achieve a better relationship with the self. I doubt there is anyone alive that cannot admit to holding the following thoughts or beliefs at some point in their life:
“I am stupid.” “I am angry.” “I am scared.” “I am weak.” “I am jealous.” etc…
but what would happen if you were to begin to re-language such statements in the following way:
‘A part of me feels stupid.’ ‘Something in me feels angry’ ‘Some part of me is scared’ ‘A little bit of me feels weak right now’,
Can you feel the immediate difference? I could, I was blown away by the simplicity of such a difference and I told Maju that I’d learned enough and could I go now? He laughed. But my feeling was that this little morsel alone was so valuable and life changing I could have left happy right there and then. But there was more – much more.
We looked at how we could take this ‘little part’ of ourselves and hold space for it – as you might hold a strange object in your hand and explore it with all your senses: What does this feel like, what texture does it have, does it have a colour, a scent, a taste or sound?
Whilst this may feel extreme, it works brilliantly to allow you to stand apart from the feeling rather than being engulfed by it: Suddenly ‘part of me is sad‘- rather than ‘I’m Depressed’; which gives me the space to feel other things and still function, without guilt or judgement, whilst watching and listening to that little part of sadness and really understanding what it is trying to tell me. After all – what are our emotions if not our own Selves communicating with our Consciousness? And to what end if we refuse to listen to what they have to say?
We paired off and practised this new technique; firstly by actually holding an object with our eyes closed, spending time in childlike curiosity, exploring how we can relate to other without being overwhelmed by it.
Then we tried to ‘Focus’ taking ten minutes each, with our partner ‘Witnessing’ and holding space for us. This skill was very similar to the skills of active listening we are so familiar with from Person Centred Counselling, the use of mirroring, reflecting, paraphrasing when needed, but mostly, truly hearing the words used and helping the ‘speaker’ find the right words.
It was incredible to both hear and feel the journey around language as one might say :
‘I feel stuck…no, not stuck, restricted – yes, that’s it, I feel restricted. I feel like my arms are tied tightly and…Oh! My mouth is taped shut! I really shouldn’t be sharing this. Oh, I feel so naughty, taking all the attention.’
Being able to hold space in the silence for her to assimilate these thoughts and feelings, to be able to reflect back ‘You are feeling restricted, like your arms are tied and your mouth is taped. It feels naughty to take the attention’
This gives the time and space, and actually, the permission to the speaker to continue, knowing they are seen and heard, and most vitally, accepted. She continues…
‘This feeling of being tied up, it hurts my heart, (she rubs her chest and pain shows in her face. She breathes a long slow breath – as do I)
‘Ah, that’s better. I feel it loosening now I’ve said it out loud,’ (she laughs lightly) ‘it is as if the silence was binding and now I’ve broken the bonds.’ She smiles widely and physically loosens up as she sits in the silence, trusting me to hold the space and I breathe deeply, smiling back at her.
Time is up. We are both quite thrilled and exhausted. Together we broke through a barrier she has held for so long – but didn’t even know was there. Such is the magic of Focusing.
My own personal magic moment occurred near the end of the day after three sessions of pairing up and practising both Focusing and Witnessing. Maju shared a quote which said ‘You can only go as fast as the slowest part of you can go’ meaning that you cannot rush the healing process and some layers will take more time and repeated efforts to dissipate.
But I was immediately thrown into a memory of my childhood Crash-Course Swimming Lessons when I was about 9. I was the last one to manage to swim ‘a width’ gaining my star badge. But I managed it as everyone else was clearing the pool at the end of the session. It was my first ever swim without putting my feet down!
I should add at this point that I was terrified to go ‘out of my depth’ after an early years near-drowning experience when I was tripped by a wave on the beach and floated face first for too long before being rescued. The terror of not being able to find solid ground never left me and prevented my swimming properly.
Rather than celebrating my little win, I was immediately informed that as of the next lesson I would not be in the shallow end with the non-swimmers any longer but would join the Swimmers group in THE DEEP END. I was terrified and the next lesson I tried everything not to get in.
Once in the water I clung onto the side desperately, unable to let go, sure that I would sink like a stone to the bottom of such a very deep pool. At this point, rather than help me, or encourage me, the instructor – bored or frustrated by my continual reluctance, took hold of the swim pole – you know a huge metal ring on a pole that you use to fish people out – and proceeded to push at my chest to get me off the side. My instinct was to grab the pole – a thin, almost nothing piece of metal that gave me no reassurance at all.
That’s where my memory ends. After that I can recall nothing. All I was left with was the terror of drowning, the mistrust of Sports Instructors (I still get hives when I enter the swimming pool or a gymnasium!)
The phrase ‘You can only go as fast as the slowest part of you can go’ somehow spoke to me of that time, of being pushed too fast, and I realised I needed to address it, now!
In the session that followed I sat with an experienced ‘focuser’ who was helping Manju to facilitate this workshop, and I shared how I was feeling, and almost immediately I was aware of emotions stirring inside me.
As I shared the story of that little girl (who is separate from me, today) I began to smile, realising that she had been seen, heard and validated, possibly for the first time. In doing so I felt that I was actually giving myself a gift of LOVE (I hope you are following this) .
My inner child was validated. Her feelings were acknowledged. The memory and trigger in the NOW was acknowledged and in doing so I was giving myself the energy I usually only gave to others.
I realised that I spend so much time taking care of, being considerate of, being aware of, how everyone else is feeling, but I rarely, if ever, give myself the same loving attention. As I sat with Marianne I truly felt as if I were gifting my Self with some much needed loving attention, and my heart swelled.
My body softened and I relaxed back into my chair, no more words were needed. I felt seen and heard and validated and healed. It was such a precious moment and a massive realisation for me, as one who is constantly being told by my partner that I am too hard on myself. I don’t think I ever truly understood what that meant, until that moment; in that one moment of kindness to myself, I realised just how hard I had been on myself for years, and how this terrible habit had contributed to my lifelong depressive tendencies.
I would go as far to say I think I could wean myself off my medication for depression by utilising this technique of Focussing. And I look forward to sharing the journey with you.
Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think of Focusing – and please visit the links mentioned and give them some love. I am attending some other great workshops in the coming months and look forward to sharing my discoveries with you in due course.