Using Focusing to Support Trillium Awakening
By CC Leigh
Trillium Awakening coaching services support a remarkably successful process of whole-being awakening and transformation. Some of the key practices that contribute to that success include greenlighting, active or “whole-being” listening, speaking one’s truth, “recognition yoga,” conscious re-parenting, and enlivenment of one’s transcendent-yet-embodied nature (through teacher-transmission and exercises that direct one’s attention to Consciousness). Focusing is a specific technique that manages to incorporate all of these elements into a form that is quite accessible, easy to learn, and potentially quite transformative.
One of the key practices of the Trillium path is greenlighting, or “unconditional friendliness” to all aspects of what we are as human beings. Greenlighting has been proven to help catalyze awakening and integration through freeing up energy and attention from the places in the body-mind where it has been bound. When that happens, a fundamental inquiry into the nature of existence can really begin, and sufficient being-force can be activated to precipitate a quantum shift to a new level of experiencing self and world.
Focusing is intrinsically greenlighting. One of the foremost teachers of Focusing, Ann Weiser Cornell, has even written a book with the evocative title The Radical Acceptance of Everything. It’s not about fixing or getting rid of anything. Instead, it’s about sensitively and compassionately listening to ourselves and each other from the standpoint of Presence: that which naturally and effortlessly registers, holds, and cares about whatever’s arising in the world of form. Greenlighting in this way is a form of conscious mothering, or re-parenting, which is very healing to the parts of us that did not receive enough of this unconditional acceptance as we were growing up. In the warmth of this conscious allowance, our tender selves that have been suppressed or hidden away can begin to feel safe enough to come out and engage again with others–and this in turn invites a full awakening into our divinely conscious wholeness.
Listening is another of the key ingredients that facilitates embodied awakenings. Conscious, whole-being listening requires an ability to listen both inwardly and outwardly. The listener stays aware of what’s going on in their own internal world while also staying present with whoever is speaking. This type of listening is without concern about formulating a clever reply or trying to “do” something to make something happen for the one who is speaking. Listening in this way is simple, but to actually be able to do it takes practice. Focusing (when learned and practiced in pairs) provides structured practice in both types of listening.
And naturally, the counterpart to listening (and a key practice of the Trillium path) is speaking one’s truth. Focusing takes “truth” to a whole other level, because what most people experience as truth is only the thinking mind’s commentary about what it’s aware of at any given time. This isn’t necessarily inaccurate, but because it is a linear process (one thought at a time) it is inherently limited and tends to overlook significant parts of the whole of what is happening. On the other hand, Focusing, because it works with the body’s comprehensive knowing, gives access to the more complete truth that is active in the present moment and available for healing, natural evolution, and next steps. So speaking one’s truth in this way becomes a very vital, enlivening process, much richer and more potent than when it is only coming from the more superficial levels of “mind thinking.”
Those who are familiar with the 6-step process of recognition yoga from the Waking Down teaching (see it, feel it, live it, be it, transcend it, and speak it) will readily notice Focusing’s similarities with this next key element of the Trillium process. Both practices have the intention of inviting people to become more aware of what’s occurring spontaneously, without trying to push or change it. And both are based on the understanding that Being itself naturally brings about integration and wholeness when caring attention and Presence are brought into play. (More about Presence under “What is Focusing?” below)
How Focusing is Practiced
Focusing sessions can be done with a trained facilitator who is experienced in whole-being listening and in skillfully guiding sessions. This can be very useful for gaining clarity or movement around an issue or situation that is occurring in one’s life (Focusing has been adopted by many therapists as part of their skill-set, and also has been incorporated into a number of newer body-centered therapies, like Somatic Experiencing and Hakomi). And there are now some Trillium Awakening teachers and mentors who are also offering Focusing. By working with them, you know they will be utilizing Focusing in the broader context of your awakening into your divinely human wholeness.
Focusing can also be taken to another level of self-empowerment by learning to practice it in pairs, alternating between being the person doing Focusing and the one who is doing the listening (the “companion”). When practiced in this way, it provides an opportunity to learn several important skills that can also carry over into other life situations outside of formal sessions. For example, it can really deepen one’s ability to listen well (without trying to fix or control), which is a valuable relationship skill. And as one repeatedly experiences the whole-being intelligence and healing ability that gets accessed through Focusing, greater trust in Being arises naturally. Perhaps the most important benefit is that you can become skillful at self-discovery, so that you become less dependent on therapists or other practitioners for gaining insights about what is happening in your own unfolding process.
This is not to say that Focusing replaces the need for trained therapists to help unravel sticky issues. Therapists remain a very valuable resource for those times when you find yourself up against the wall, psychologically speaking. However, life presents a continual array of challenges and the attendant need for self-awareness, especially for a person who is actively pursuing spiritual awakening and integration. You can’t have too much support in going through these passages. Focusing, if undertaken as a mutual practice with other companions, is a wonderful modality for increasing the amount of support you can have for your journey.
The Origin of Focusing
Focusing as a tool for self-awareness, healing, and whole-being evolution was originally developed by Eugene Gendlin, PhD., in the early 1970’s, as a by-product of studies Gendlin and others were conducting to see why some people experienced success in therapy and others did not. What he discovered was that success had less to do with the skills or approach of the therapist and more to do with a natural tendency of the successful clients to slow down and listen inwardly, as if tuning into their bodies, before responding to the therapist’s questions. It seemed that this inner listening made their sessions more potent than when clients responded more quickly, from their thinking minds.
Gendlin next discovered that this inward Focusing on body sensations could be taught to therapy clients, giving them the same successful results as those who focused naturally. This approach proved useful not only for therapy; pretty soon large groups of people began learning it as a means of increasing their self-knowledge and personal growth.
Today, there are many “Focusing trainers” throughout the world using this technique. Some are therapists, some not. And there are also many individuals who have learned to do Focusing, alone or with a partner, who are finding that it enables them to resolve areas of stress, confusion, or stuckness in their daily lives, and may even lead to unexpected spiritual awakenings.
Some are still using the exact steps Gendlin originally outlined, but others have refined the practice out of their experiences with their clients over the years. In particular, I find the approach used by Ann Weiser Cornell to be very compatible with and enhancing of Trillium Awakening coaching, which is so much about embodied awakening and subsequent integration. (See end of article for references.)
What is Focusing?
Intrinsic to Focusing success are felt senses, felt shifts, and Presence. A felt sense is how the body (and here we’re talking not only about the physical body, but also the subtle intelligent energy matrix that we might call the inner body) experiences any situation or issue, whether from the past or happening in the current moment. It is the “whole sense” of something and will show up initially as something vague, non-specific, unclear, or unfocused. Getting in touch with a felt sense takes a little patience, because the body “thinks” more slowly than the mind. It’s rather like sensing the mood of someone when you first walk into a room, or, on a foggy day, the way the shape of a tree will slowly appear as you approach it. A felt sense may take 30 seconds or more to form.
A felt shift is what happens when the thinking mind “gets” what the felt sense is about. It’s almost like the body wants to be heard and understood by the mind, and is pleased when that occurs. After noticing a felt sense, then words (or possibly gestures) are found to describe what is sensed. When these words really “fit” the felt sense, generally there will be a shift of sorts. As if the body says, “Ahhh! You got it!” Later in the session, there will be opportunities to hear more from the felt sense, to get a full picture of what it’s about. And in a similar way, there will be some shift when the meaning behind the felt sense has been brought into conscious awareness.
There is a reason for this. What has not been fully felt by the body in a conscious way remains the same–stuck or held in the body’s energy field, where we get to re-experience some of its effects over and over. When it is fully seen and felt, it moves or changes. This is a natural healing process, and the body knows how to do this if the thinking mind will only cooperate by being willing to listen to and feel it. Focusing provides the opportunity for this conscious listening. There is no need to actively try to make anything change or be different than it is. Simply listening to what’s already present in the body provides the setting for natural unfoldment to occur, in its own time and revealing its own best next steps.
The third essential element in Focusing is the invoking of Presence (or embodied Consciousness). During a session, the focuser relates to the felt sense from Presence. For instance, when a felt sense is noticed, the focuser acknowledges it by saying “hello” to it or otherwise letting it know that it’s been seen. This is a subtle reminder to the focuser that they are not only what they are experiencing (as they might think when experiencing a strong emotional reaction, for instance) but also that which is able to hold and be with whatever they’re thinking or feeling at that moment. In this way, Focusing directly reminds the focuser that they are always both Consciousness and phenomena. And the more you experience this, the more apparent it becomes that there is always that something which is noticing and registering everything that you think, feel, sense, or respond to. This ever-present noticing is an effortless function of Consciousness, and practice with Focusing can help the Conscious nature become fully alive and awake to itself.
Focusing is Associative, not Dissociative
To explore this “being with whatever arises” a bit more fully, we observe that in order to regain our wholeness and live from our greatest aliveness we need to be able to feel all of our sensations, thoughts, and emotions fully in a dynamic, spontaneous manner. Those things that we suppressed because we were not able to fully feel them at the time they occurred remain in us as energy blocks and areas of deadness. In addition to that, there will be things that we don’t want to feel or know about ourselves. We will tend to “exile” those aspects and consider them foreign or “not me.” “Not me! I’m not a jealous person!” or “I’m not angry and critical!” Then when feelings of jealousy or criticism inevitably occur, they are kept below the threshold of awareness where they can only fester and form energy blocks. Conversely, there will be categories of feelings that we gravitate to or identify with, and we will tend to merge with those feelings. “I’m always the last one to be chosen. No one really likes me” is an example of being identified with a particular thought-form. We can spot identification because it comes prefaced with “I am” wording, whereas an exiled feeling or thought-pattern will feel foreign, almost like there is someone else living in your skin.
Again, wholeness and freedom comes when we neither suppress, exile, nor overly identify with the aspects of ourselves that naturally show up in response to different situations we encounter. When we are able to remember that we are also the Presence in which all of these parts arise and interrelate–in other words, that we are bigger than any of our parts–we begin to be able to navigate the complexity of being a human being with much greater ease and enjoyment.
Some people question the “distancing” that happens when things are met from Presence as is the practice with Focusing. They prefer, or have been taught, to just fully “inhabit” whatever feeling-state is arising. Inhabiting things this way IS a useful practice at times, especially when someone has been overly dis-identified or dissociated in the past. As part of coming more alive, they may well need to fully inhabit their feelings in order to become accustomed to feeling things more directly. However, the Focusing practice of “being with” accomplishes the result of full feeling at the same time as it calls in the dimension of Presence as a supportive agent. Far from being dissociative, being with whatever arises from Presence is quite associative as well as furthering healing, integration, and a greater awareness of the totality of what we really are.
I’d like to mention one more potential that Focusing opens for its practitioners. The body inherently knows “wellness of being.” This is a natural state (when the body is not sick), and we gain more access to this state as we awaken to our Conscious nature. Because Focusing brings our attention into the “inner body” or subtle energy field, it can be used not only to bring greater awareness and clarity to any situation that we are faced with, but also to the very essence quality of Being itself. This is a natural ability. In theory it is always available, but in practice the feeling of aliveness in the body–which is inherently blissful–is often obscured by all the “louder” things going on in our psycho-emotional field to which our attention gravitates.
Once you have opened up the dimension of body-wisdom, however, it becomes possible to enlist the body’s support for experiencing the base-state that is “wellness of Being.” This, in turn, opens up a natural flow of vital energy that promotes greater health on all levels.
Okay, enough talking about Focusing. The best way to discover its potentials and see if they will be useful for you is to try it out. Generally speaking, three sessions are better than one, and provide enough time for having the experience of bringing an issue fully into awareness and greater integration. To support you in having this experience for yourself, I offer a discounted three-session introductory package–just call or email me for details. Or you might wish to take a class in learning Focusing. Either way, I think you will find it a most useful adjunct to your work in Trillium Awakening.
The Power of Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell. This book provides a thorough, detailed, yet easily-read introduction to Ann’s particular style of “inner relationship” Focusing. Highly recommended (and widely available).
Ann Cornell’s website is www.focusingresources.com. She offers courses for learning Focusing either in the Bay Area of California or by phone. She also sells other useful materials, as well as two student manuals which are excellent adjuncts to learning to focus with a companion.
CC Leigh is a Trillium Awakening senior teacher who offers Focusing sessions primarily by phone, because (as of 2013) she is living the gypsy life traveling about the country in her RV with her dogs Tucker and cat Bodhi. CC can be reached at 970-222- 8988.