In my first piece, I said “we want to move into the place where meanings can reconstellate…we sit quietly, eyes lowered, with attention inside.” But what precisely are we paying attention to?
We are paying attention to the forming or coalescing of an internal phenomenon Gendlin calls bodily felt sensing (BFS) or bodily felt experiencing. Since BFS is a central concept in Gendlin’s philosophy (and is best grasped when sensed directly), I want to be clear conceptually about what it is and what it is not.
Gendlin’s construct of BFS is a holistic unity that cannot be divided into the traditional divisions of mind and body. If you are reading Gendlin from a Cartesian separate mind/separate body, it may take you some time to grasp how BFS is different. I think of it as the smallest indivisible microunit of experiential process.
Each of the descriptions below emphasizes different aspects of this central concept (the italics are mine).
“A felt sense typically forms in the trunk area of the body, as an unclear but tangible sensation. If attended to directly where it forms in the body, a felt sense can respond with new meanings, confirmed with shifts in the bodily feeling.” (Barnett, L. & Madison, G.)
Sills describes BFS as a kind of “global perception of the whole of arising process in any one moment of emergent experience – a sense of “all of it.” All those sensations, emotional tones, mental constructs, symbols and images that compose our self-constellations are directly experienced as an embodied and coherent whole.”
“A felt sense is not (only) a mental experience but a physical one. Physical. A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about the given subject at a given time-encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail. A felt sense doesn’t come to you in the form of thoughts or words or other separate units, but as a single (though often puzzling and very complex) feeling.”(Gendlin, G., 1981)
At any moment, one can refer directly to an inwardly felt datum. Experiencing, in the mode of being directly referred to in this way, I term the “direct referent. … At first it may seem that experiencing is simply the inward sense of our body, its tension, or its well being. Yet, upon further reflection, we can notice that only in this direct sensing do we have the meanings of what we say and think. For, without our “feel” of the meaning, verbal symbols are only noises (or sound images of noises)..” (Gendlin, E. T., 1964)
“Focusing is a way of paying attention to one’s being-in-the-world, one’s interaction as it is experienced through the individual (but not separate) body. A felt sense is a temporary wave from the sea of being – it is understood as on-going process, not ‘internal content.’” This initially unclear bodily feeling is referred to as the ‘felt sense.’ It is physically felt, more than clearly defined emotion, and incorporates a whole constellation of this and other situations, now and other times, self and others, elaborated by language. By staying with a felt sense, a shift in meaning may eventually occur that brings a physically felt relief in the way the body holds that issue. (Madison, G.)
Although the content may be vague at first, with practice, the focuser (and the listener) can identify the phenomenon of BFS distinctly. It is manifested in the quality and prosody of the focuser’s language. Also, BFS, carries within a potential to transform or to move, to “shift” as you come in contact with it. Further, it is accessed through the body, as an epiphenomenon of our experiencing self, yet cannot be localized in the physical body proper.
What BFS is NOT
It is not sheer emotion, yet includes emotions within it.
- It is not sheer emotion, yet includes emotions within it.
- It is not “pure” thought, yet includes thinking within it.
- It is not purely physical, yet includes physical sensations within it.
- It is not imagery, yet includes imagery within it.
- It is not memory, yet includes memories within it.
This “temporary wave, from the sea of being” is embedded in a worldview that has implications for our notions of relationality and communication, as I will explain in the next article.
- Barnett, L., Madison, G. (2012). Existential therapy (p.83). New York: Routledge,
- Gendlin, G. (1981). Focusing (p. 33). New York: Bantam New Age Books.
- Gendlin, E. T. (1964). A theory of personality change. In P. Worchel & D. Byrne (eds.), Personality change (pp. 100-148). New York: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2145.html
- Madison, G. www.gregmadison.net.focusing_way_being.
- Sills, M. (2006). “In this body, a fathom long…” In J. Corrigall, H. Payne, H. Wilkinson (eds.), About a body, working with the embodied mind in psychotherapy (pp. 199-213). New York: Routledge.
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