Focusing – Eugene Gendlin

I was so excited to see this on the shelf of Hard Feelings, the bookstore/low-cost counselling place I volunteer at. It first came to my attention during one of the classes at TAC (Transformational Arts College). I remember writing it down as a to-read book.

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter that resonates so much with the first chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s TMBW.

“Focusing, the technique described in the pages of this book, is uniquely suited to our turbulent times when so many old forms are crumbling and old roles are vanishing. Most of us are having to invent, discover, and create the next steps of our lives without a light, a map, or a relevant tradition. We are trying to keep apace of rapidly changing technology, trying to understand ourselves and our relationships, seeking ways to be well, looking for meaning in our work and a new center of gravity within ourselves. 

In a classic series of essays, the anthropologist Anthony C. W. Wallace described the phenomenon of cultural “awakenings.” Such movements are triggered by stress, he observed. The “mazeways” of the culture, the customary sequences of behavior, are blocked. People cannot move into the roles they anticipated; their lives do not unfold in the ways they had been led to expect. 

Under the duress of disintegrating social forms, a few creative individuals – Wallace called them New Lights – propose a way out: new pathways through the cultural maze. At first there is a “nativist” backlash, in which traditionalists urge a reversion to the old ways, but eventually, out of historic necessity, the New Lights prevail. Their ideas are adopted and the society moves into a new era.

Clearly our culture is in the early stages of the transition Wallace described. Every aspect of our society, every institution, is challenged. The political structure, the medical and educational establishments, the economic, the family, religion, the workplace – all are undergoing change. We have no collective maps.

“Many people today are struggling with a baffling fact,” Eugene Gendlin writes. “The old patterns that are supposed to make life work – and once did – no longer serve. Being a parent today, for example, doesn’t work if we try to do it as our parents did, yet no other form is established for us to follow. We have to make it up as we go along…”

The old patterns were once useful, he acknowledges. Except for a few nonconformists, most people historically fitted themselves to their roles. “Only a small number of educated and thinking people created roles and patterns.”

But today a large mass of people are educated and literate, with expanded needs to be creative. They feel confined by stock roles and emotions. They have feelings “far more complex than accepted roles either demand or offer.”

Because of the radical changes we are undergoing as a culture, we have new, “unclear” feelings, emotions and sensations for which there is no common pattern. We are trying to create new forms appropriate to a new time. And we have an exciting, unprecedented opportunity. “If we accept ourselves and each other as form-makers, we will no longer need to force forms on ourselves or each other.

Eugene Gendlin and his co-explorers of the focusing process are New Lights in this awakening, offering not only cultural alternatives but a tool for understanding our unclear feelings and inventing new patterns for living. Focusing is a key to personal momentum and unfolding, a dynamic process that can guide us through the tricky mazeways of a new world.

Like any powerful, new idea, focusing is not readily described in old terms. It moves us into unfamiliar territory, the realm of creative potential that we have usually considered the province of artists and inventors.

There are websites that describe the focusing process in detail. I’m curious to try it and see what pops up for me.

Curious.. so curious..


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