Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Focusing to Heal

If you read my last post, you may have wondered what I meant when I described how I let my body grieve without getting mentally involved. There's a good story here.

Many years ago, I had started reading a book called Focusing, a book about how to listen to your body and the wisdom it contains. This was my first exposure to the idea that intelligence existed in my entire body, not just in my brain. However, I found the book to be difficult to read, so I abandoned it about half-way through. At the time, I didn't feel I needed the skills it would teach me bad enough to justify the slog through it.

Fast-forward several years, and Deb and I were full-bore into our battle against cancer. I remembered the book but didn't have time to get into it again. Once Deb died, I felt that now was the time to delve back in and learn the skills. Besides, now I was motivated — my body felt terrible, and I liked the idea that it was trying to tell me something, if I would only learn to listen.

I read through Focusing quickly enough, pushing through the difficult parts. I didn't find it terribly accessible as it seemed to be written for a professional audience as opposed to a layman. Still, I liked the simple exercises and felt they were helpful. I also started to do more research into the focusing technique, and I stumbled upon Ann Weiser Cornell's The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing. Unlike the first Focusing book, I found this one to be highly accessible and much more helpful. Here's an example from the first chapter:

Whenever Jenny needed to speak up about herself, she got a choking sensation in her throat. The more important the situation was to her, the stronger she felt the choking. Job interviews and class presentations were painful, nearly impossible. She had been to many therapists and tried many techniques to try to get rid of this choking sensation, without results. She diagnosed herself as "self-defeating, masochistic, always sabotaging myself."

Then Jenny heard about Focusing. She heard that Focusing is a way of listening to your body with compassion, without assumptions. She heard that many people experience profound and lasting change from this kind of inner listening. She was doubtful. It sounded too simple! But she was willing to give it a try, because she was desperate for something to work.

One thing that intrigued Jenny was that Focusing is a skill, not a therapeutic technique. Although many therapists incorporate Focusing in their work, Jenny would be able to learn Focusing without going to a therapist. She liked the idea of learning a skill that she would be able to use, not only for the choking sensation but for any issue in her life, on her own, without needing to pay someone.

When Jenny came in for her Focusing lesson and told me her situation, I had a strong feeling that Focusing could help her. I've taught Focusing to many hundreds of people over the years, and Jenny's circumstance was classic. Her body was already speaking to her. She just needed to learn how to hear its message.

I asked Jenny if she was feeling the choking at that very moment. "Yes. I can feel it. It's here now because I'm learning a new technique with you, and I feel I have to do well."

I asked her to describe what it felt like. She looked a little surprised, and said, "Choking, of course!" I asked her to go back to the sensation and check the word "choking" to make sure that word was the right word for how it felt.

She looked thoughtful. "Actually," she said slowly, "it's more like a hand squeezing."

Now Jenny's eyes were closed and she was concentrating inwardly. I asked her to gently say hello to the hand squeezing sensation. "Just say to it, 'Yes, I know you're there.' "

This was a completely new attitude for her. "I've never sort of looked it in the eye before; I've just tried to get rid of it." So this new attitude took a while to find, but when she did, there was a definite sense of bodily relief: "It's still there, but it's not painful anymore. It's almost like, now that it has my attention, it doesn't need to hurt me."

Then I asked Jenny to imagine that she was sitting down with the sensation as she would sit with a friend, compassionate and curious about how the friend was feeling.

Jenny was silent for several minutes, eyes closed, sensing. Then her eyes opened in astonishment. "Wow. I never dreamed it would say something like that. That's really amazing."

I waited, knowing that she would tell me the rest in her own time.

In a moment she spoke again. "It says ... it says it cares about me! It says it's just trying to keep me from making mistakes!"

"And how does it feel now?" I asked.

"The choking or squeezing is completely gone. My throat feels open and relaxed. There's a good warm feeling spreading all through my body. This is really amazing. I never thought it would change like this!"

I hope you find this intriguing enough to source yourself a copy. It has helped me immensely.

No comments: