Recently a leading practitioner in somatic healing, Serge Prengel, asked me, “What sustains you, Michael?” I was surprised to be temporarily disoriented by being directly asked a question I knew was coming. After all, I was being interviewed, and this was the key question in the study he initiated. Without words, in an immediate sensory imagining, I experienced the connection between the wisdoms of 12-step programs and a somatic technology we have come to call focalizing.
Neither of these human technologies promotes “outside causes” as either motivation for or hindrance to finding solutions to human problems. For 12-step programs, the impetus is “the desire to stay sober”—or abstinent from whatever is the object of a specific addiction. For focalizing, however, the purpose is an organic expansion of that motive. This advanced technique is concerned with assisting individuals and groups to dissolve blind spots that are preventing them from achieving their goals or intentions. While both social techniques require the engagement of internal feelings, in focalizing the purpose of that engagement is to create, expand, and maintain an organic, nature-based, somatic process that will allow one to meet collective and individual challenges in a way that also fosters the ability to move forward gracefully and with dignity.
What sustained me in my youth, and in some sense continues to do so, is a primal survival instinct. As a child, I experienced family violence, divorce, displacement―you name it, I went through it. Somehow, through all that I knew that only I would be able to defend myself. My dad did the best he could to raise three boys, and I was fortunate enough to have others who stepped into my life as well and provide me with support, love, and the encouragement to continue on life’s journey.
In fact, it was not until a near-death experience and during recovery from an aggressive lymphoma in 1983 that the next step on my road was at hand. I recall being on my deathbed, reviewing my life while loved ones hovered around me, and asking myself if I had regrets. What came to me quite clearly that night was the glaring disappointment that I had not lived up to my potential. When I then had what is called a near-death experience, without realizing it I began to fearlessly dedicate myself to making a difference in the world, whatever that might mean—to feel able to live to my own full potential. At that time, that life-altering intention became what sustained me through the grueling period of physical and emotional healing.
Inventory what seems to work and what may not, and avail yourself of the myriad human technologies for living a fuller, more embodied life.
Serge’s question reignited an awareness of my inner conditions (sensations) and my life’s evolution thus far. Even while I was in the midst of an authentic and dynamic exchange with Serge, something else was happening. There was a cacophony of memories going on in the background of my mind. It was subtle, bringing together bits of information and prior experiences, and it had colors and a sort of rhythm all wrapped in curiosity. At the center of this heady experience were the connections I saw between Alcoholics Anonymous and focalizing.
Serge’s question and my internal processing of it caused a revelation that I had heretofore never articulated. And that was that focalizing is a process that came to me, my experiences, and my teachers by directly building on AA wisdoms and Stage 2 resolutions. I found that such human technology is very helpful to folks who are not in any particular addiction recovery, but who are experiencing what we call “stuckness.” It has been my experience that carrying such interior conditions and physiological barriers to what we want can indeed act like an addiction.
As with the 12-step processes, focalizing provides a framework for individuals and groups to work through the blind spots using, among other techniques, a one-to-one component. In 12-step programs, this is called fellowship or peer sponsoring. In focalizing, it’s simply a one-to-one conversation with a peer or a professional who enters and shares the resolution process.
There are six conditions for a successful focalizing event:
- Start with a willingness to be authentic in your participation, motivation, and responses.
- Have an intention for your focalizing experience.
- Have a belief (even a tiny mustard seed of one) that your intention can be realized.
- Ground your body through the resource of nature, with breath and sensory contact.
- Observe your experience with open curiosity, with no shame, blame, or judgment.
- Be respectful to yourself, to others, and to all other present realities.
The rest involves individual preparation as well as coaching. Every focalizing event awakens source energy (or, for many 12-steppers, “higher power”) that manifests uniquely.
The important similarity in the two technologies is that both methods bring us closer to remembering who we are and how we want to be in the world. We become more present in every embodied moment, have deeper access to our inner intelligence (heart, body, nature), and are able to produce often inexplicable and delightful resolution to our situations and challenges.
Coming Full Circle
So what sustains me comes back to my grounding childhood instinct and to early experiences with 12-step programs. Survival, insight, awareness, discovery, creativity, and a sense of being a part of something larger are all part of the fabric that has become my life.
You may want to sit with Serge’s question for a while. Explore what the question means to you where you are with your life at this moment. Inventory what seems to work and what may not, and avail yourself of the myriad human technologies for living a fuller, more embodied life. This introspection may lead you to surprising revelations about yourself, your history, and your current situation. It has helped me to practice this, for I have always maintained that, in one’s self-searching, “the diamonds are in your own backyard.”
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