Monday, January 6, 2014

Free-Association as a Way of Being

I wrote an essay that I compulsively published on amazon that accounts my experiences experimenting with a dynamic way of inquiry and how learning free-association became a "eureka!" moment for me. When my 90 days is up I'll link it on here for free:

Something interesting occurred when I learned from several sources that free-association is not just an old artifact from classical psychoanalysis, it can actually be a wisdom practice or a way of inner inquiry that has the potential to lead to depths of experience that Socratic questioning and other methods of inquiry do not lead to very efficiently.

In 2012, I played with the practice of sitting quietly and surrendering to the flow of my mind. Having studied all the embodied practices I have, it naturally led to a flowing of my awareness to and from the body, emotions, and mind. It is difficult to explain and has to be experienced directly. It is a level of being of surrendering mental filters of awareness and allowing anything to come into awareness. A thought, memory, emotion, body sensation, a general felt-sense, sound, or gesture. This also provided fertile ground for subtle dynamics of inner subpersonalities (parts) to arise and be worked with.

 Anything was allowed and was silently reported on.

This worked optimally when I had more energy and focus. What I have found since restarting my Focusing practice, is that this method provides a systematic structure for this flow of my being. Much of the time awareness hits a wall. For example, circling in the abstract thoughts about problems, or fixating on body sensations with not deeper meaning.

This insight into free-association as a way of being and eliciting subtle subconscious material was the missing piece in my inability to get very far in years of attempts at making Focusing a daily practice. I did not know that my mind was so stopped that I would not let subconscious material flow. But when I learned how to do this, it came forth like a dam breaking.

The way this holistic method of free-associating work with the Focusing Method is that a step in the process will occur, such as a question asked, and the practitioner would let their mind freely flow and let anything that arises be the answer, or the potential forward movement. For example: let's say that I sit down, ground myself and consider how my life feels in general. Suddenly I notice an image of rain pops into my head. I would take this as an answer on some level. I would next let the associations flow a little and take the time to feel what this something about rain would feel in my body. Then I would let the meaning of that bodily felt-sense flow freely and so on.

So you can see that it works to free-associate in spurts, around a question or at the next step when something new is emerging. I cannot count how many times I have been at a stuck place with a client with a bodily felt sense and the simple instructions to let their mind flow with/around that (handle description) without censoring anything and let anything come be the answer. Suddenly great insight comes about or just the next step of forward movement in the person's process occurs. Sometimes I witness life changing shifts and realizations that would take years of talk therapy or meditative work to accomplish in the manner of minutes.

Focusing can even be simplified into simple steps such as: 1. attend to direct felt experience 2. elicit felt sense in the body 3. free-associate to that felt sense (with the whole of experience) 4. repeat.

One of the few criticisms towards the Focusing Methods and the main teachers of it would be that free-association type techniques are not emphasized, making Focusing difficult for those with a consciousness that doesn't allow the mind to freely flow.

 I will post on how I overcame this problem in myself shortly.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Transformation Occurs Through that Something Implicit With Meaning

I have studied and practiced everything I could read and get my hands on to attempt to understand the true mechanism of change.

For years it escaped me why there is such an extreme effort to reward ratio to the majority of inner work methods. This is true for psychological methods but I have experienced many more shifts through experiential psychological methods than meditative ones. I could do meditation all day and possibly feel more present, but at other times, something would just shift inside myself with the slightest of attention and curiosity. 

I have practiced all of the mainstream bodywork methods of the east and west. I never felt subtle energy systems from qigong or yoga techniques. Western approaches such as Feldenkrais, Reichian bodywork, or Bioenergetics helped me to become more embodied but still let me without that something deeper I was after. But I did experience changes and releases that felt like those supposed subtle energy systems more from embodied psychological shifts and realizations than any bodywork or breathwork method. 

I have also spent many years returning my attention back to direct bodily sensation and mindfully to my senses. This has helped to orient myself and feel that I am an embodied being but there always seemed like a missing next step. 

It came to me when I rediscovered Focusing that change truly occurs through the felt sense. 

Much of my confusion was brought on by focusing on other aspects of my experience, thinking that they would lead to a deeper unfolding and shifts. Essentially, I was not wrong but partially barking up the wrong tree. For example, I feel myself sitting on this couch with my legs up on it and typing with my computer on my lap. I am pretty mindfully in this sensation of myself in this moment. The fallacy arises when I expect there to be something deeper in this direct bodily sensation that will eventually be transformative. 

The felt sense may tend to be an embodied sensation but it is something else entirely. It is that something in your experience of which has a subtle taste of deeper meaning and potential to reveal more. For example, I was driving home from work earlier this evening. I returned my attention to the general sense of things and what was going on in my life context. It was amorphous for a good fifteen minutes, but eventually a sensation of something tense, or twisted in me going up to my throat from my chest upwards. Following this, it seemed to reveal that it was a feeling of tiredness from having been sleep deprived today. And I usually feel this when tired. 

I also was observing a general sense of something earlier, which came up as a sense of uncomplicatedness in general. This contrasted with the sense this morning of being complicated. It felt like every sector of my life was complicated. I came to this shift after a day of some good sessions with clients that were relaxing and a sense that I can deal with my life situation as it is and let it slowly unfold. 

If I were to simply attend to something mindful like my feet all day, or my breath, I would not have focused my attention to my felt sense and stayed with it to nurture its unfoldment. Simply attending to or being mindful of the present is just the beginning. The way to get out of the head. 

Attending to that general, "on the tip of your tongue," not yet describable, feeling that there is something there with meaning is the direct route to transformation on all levels. 

I feel like mankind's psychological, bodily, and meditative methods of growth through the history of civilization has been the fuel, but Focusing or other methods like it (eg: Inquiry) are the spark. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Focusing, The Felt-Sense, The Felt-Shift

What is this Focusing method and why am I all about it?

Focusing was developed by Eugene Gendlin in the 1960's and has been used in psychotherapy ever since and has been rigorously empirically studied. Eugene was a grad student who was working with Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychotherapy. Eugene, having a degree in phenomenology (the philosophy on direct subjective experience) wanted to precisely know what was the difference in the experiences of those who were successful in therapy versus those who were not. Through interviews and recordings of therapy sessions he discovered that a subtle but very precise inner listening took place with those who were successful.

This inner listening was a natural ability some patients had to feel an amorphous sensation of their problems in their bodies and recognize it and let it more cognitively unfold through recognition and bringing out the implicit. This amorphous sense of things in the body was coined the Felt-Sense. Being able to stay with and describe the felt-sense until it became more focused caused enfolded meaning, as in thoughts, feelings, memories, impulses, images and the like to arise out of the felt-sense. This would soon cause what Eugene coined a Felt-Shift.

A felt shift is a sense of the felt-sense of inner experience changes and is not like it once was. To use another one of Eugene's phrases: experience is "carried forward."

Compare this to the majority of meditation and spiritual approaches: they emphasis creating an experience or simply attending to experience. Focusing goes a step further from attending: it works so that deeper implicit meaning flows from experience and the mind-body system becomes fluid and unblocked.

Forget self-actualization, enlightenment, divine union or whatever spiritual systems expound. All that matters is that experience is carried on to the next step, or shift, however small. (Few in the transpersonal world have come to the same place: see Claudio Naranjo, or A.H. Almaas.)

Unlike most psychotherapy schools, Eugene and the humanists have always tended to be more libertine about what is done in psychotherapy. The magic of change that occurs in the best therapy offices can be brought out for the average person. Thus Focusing has not just carried on as an inside therapy technique for experts. It has been taught as a self-help method throughout the years. In fact, Eugene's first book in 1980 called Focusing, was just that. Eugene has even spoken of "giving therapy away." That is: breaking the taboo of psychotherapy technique by teaching it to the lay person.

I believe that just about anyone can benefit from Focusing. It helps us build that lost sense of intuitive inner listening that more "undeveloped" cultures still know and live by. It gets us out of our heads and into our bodies and emotions, without denying our heads. In fact, the head comes secondary, but simple recognition or representation of inner experience with images.

Unlike other self-help techniques Focusing can become a way of life. The more it is practiced, the more a person lives through their felt-sense. A felt-sense exists at all times. The only time it ceases to be is in death. So all of humanity can benefit by living by their felt sense, their contact boundary between inner and outer. Their sense of themselves and life and everything stuck and unresolved. Deeper knowing and wisdom can flow. Energies and motivations can be released. A deeper sense of self and truth can eventually arise.

Eugene did not intend to create a spiritual technique and has not been explicitly a spiritual person himself, but the majority of his colleagues and other Focusers have made it a very spiritually oriented technique, although it does not have to be.

Go to for much more on the subject.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Freud's Yoga and Inquiry

Consider this quote from Jung:

"No insight is gained... by imitating methods which have grown up under totally different psychological conditions. In the course of the centuries the West will create its own yoga."

This quote was quoted (redundantly by me) in a great book on Focusing called "Biospirituality" by Campbell and McMahon. Jung is a little too dismissing here, considering the great synergies occurring with the West encountering the change methods of the East. And yet he has a point. This is not ancient China with Chan (Zen) masters or Taoist sages running around, or the esoteric middle east of ancient Alexandria. No, this is the modern secular world. Things are different. Modern man requires, at least in part, an updated "yoga" or way of transformation.

Ever since beginning my meditative path in the early 2000's, I have felt something implicitly missing from spirituality. Call it a felt sense. Soon I came to wonder about the transformative potential in modern psychotherapeutic methods. I encountered many things throughout the last decade and have found one of the more psychologically and holistically oriented approaches: The Gurdjeiff Work.

Although I love the Gurdjieff Work, or "The Work" as it is often called, I have found that I cannot but integrate psychological ideas and methods into the inner work I do at all times.
This is because Freud, in my opinion, discovered a way, an approach that is little known to the meditative paths.
Despite all of the faults: the limitations and controversies within psychoanalysis Freud's original genius has only grown and expanded in many other words throughout time. What he discovered was a technique of an inner flow of the mind: Free Association. He discovered that when a person practiced free associating, their minds eventually led to spontaneous memories, impulses and other un/subconscious material that they were not consciously aware of. He also discovered that there was a dynamic in the stoppage of this flow. Thus, the idea of ego-defenses was born.

This was no small achievement and set off a great proliferation of modern-western transformative methods, known as psychotherapy.
Although there are exceptions, the vast majority of meditative or spiritual approaches have an implicit assertion that a technique and series of practices must be put upon our experience in order to eventually experience a state that is other than what our current state is. Usually because we have this bad ego homunculus inside us that we must get rid of.
Psychotherapy takes an entirely novel route: that is that it works (at its best) to begin from wherever we are and whatever is presenting itself to be worked on and works with that so that we can take the next step in our process. There's no need to worry about some enlightened, sage like state because we only need to focus on our next experiential step, which is radically personal and cannot be predicted.

It would be too much to elaborate on how Freud's original methods have been expanded upon, reacted to and innovated by greats such as Ferenczi, Perls, Rogers, and Gendlin. But I must say that Gendlin's method is a next step in this process, in that it integrates the mind and body in one whole. Although not mentioned by Focusing teachers, free association is implicit in this technique.

So, consider the difference here between making your experience other than what it is vs. deepening into what is there and making it more explicit and recognized.