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.