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Focusing, the Felt Sense and Somatic Experiencing


Focusing, as a technique developed by Eugene Gendlin and further developed by Ann Cornell, PhD, is an integral part of Somatic Experiencing. In particular, it is the awareness of the “felt sense” that allows the entire mind-body process of Somatic Experiencing to unfold.

 

 

For some people learning to identify the felt sense is entirely natural and organic, whereas for many others, it is strange, awkward and downright difficult. Indeed, it is completely natural and organic, but through various conditionings, many of us have unlearned that fundamental, integrating connection to self. Particularly in the face of overwhelming events, people who experience “trauma” become disconnected from their felt sense as a means of coping. Somatic Experiencing can gently guide people back into their bodies and relearn how to sense into what was once intolerable to bear and allow the body to heal itself.

 

Eugene Gendlin described it this way in his book Focusing,  “felt sense is not 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.” It is not a thought or a feeling per se, but it encompasses thought and feeling through the medium of the body, which allows for an event to be experienced both as parts and as a totality that is more than the sum of the parts.


 

A common focusing exercise involves a visualization of a wall with two doors. Out of one door emerges a long lost friend for whom you have deep affection. From the other door emerges a coworker with whom you have great difficulty collaborating. Notice the different bodily sensations as you imagine each scene. How do you know you feel deep love--where does the experience of that thought and emotion reside in your body? Likewise how do you know you feel a kind of antipathy--what is the experience within your body that informs you of your dislike? As you can see, it is not so much the person or event that is a solution or a problem in life--it is the body’s response through the felt sense that determines our whole understanding of relationships and situations.


 

Ann Cornell has developed a list of the kinds of adjectives that many people have used in identifying, allowing and accepting their felt senses. It is through that process that one becomes more whole, integrated and in presence with oneself.


 

Dense

 

Thick

 

Flowing

 

Breathless

 

Fluttery

 

Nervous

 

Queasy

 

Expanded

 

Floating

 

Heavy

 

Tingly

 

Electric

 

Fluid

 

Numb

 

Wooden

 

Dizzy

 

Full

 

Congested

 

Spacey

 

Trembly

 

Twitchy

 

Tight

 

Hot

 

Bubbly

 

Achy

 

Wobbly

 

Calm

 

Suffocating

 

Buzzy

 

Energized

 

Tremulous

 

Constricted

 

Warm

 

Knotted

 

Icy

 

Light

 

Blocked

 

Hollow

 

Cold

 

Disconnected

 

Sweaty

 

Streaming


Somatic Experiencing teaches that the felt sense has a physical location within the body with a palpable size, shape, and specific physical quality that is unique and yet ever flowing and changing. Just like moments in time--as soon as you identify them, energy flows and time moves forward.
Click HERE for a 10 minute guided focusing exercise.
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