Much of human experience is implicit rather than explicit. For instance, John Le Carre describes such a thing in his novel, A delicate truth (Viking, 2013, p. 156):
…until at some point in the interminable dawn he discovers that an unconscious mental process has delivered him a seemingly spontaneous decision.
We now use the term “felt sense” to describe such experiences. It was coined by Eugene Gendlin:
“There is a kind of bodily awareness that profoundly influences our lives and then can help us reach personal goals. So little attention has been paid to this mode of awareness that there are no ready-made words to describe it. I have to coin my own term: felt sense.“
A felt sense is something that happens really fast, below the radar of awareness. It’s in the same general category as a hunch, an intuition, or a gut feeling. It is subtle enough to be difficult to pin down. Training develops the skills to be more mindful of the implicit and creatively work with it.
The work we do with the felt sense is grounded in a philosophy of life as interaction that is consistent with the emerging models coming from neuroscience. That is, much of our responses to our environment are bottom-up rather than top-down, implicit rather than explicit.
In a traditional top-down model, it takes cognitive understanding and willpower to define our responses to situations. In a bottom-up model, much of our responding takes place below awareness through implicit bodily processes.
As these implicit processes are beyond the reach of explicit cognition, we can only get in touch with them through felt sensing. Turning our awareness toward bodily experience allows us to become aware of how our organism spontaneously re-organizes to respond to situations. That is our bottom-up, bodily way of knowing who we are and what we do.
This experiential exploration helps identify the places in us that need attention. By bringing attention to them they can change.
Thus, felt sensing is how we gain access to our leading edge: what we do not yet know but is occurring below awareness. Listening to the felt sense allows these bottom-up processes to get unstuck and carry forward. That is, we literally experience shifts in our body. These shifts point us in the direction of healing.
Working with the felt sense in therapy helps our clients heal the specific problems they came to us for. It also develops their capacity to face future challenges and enriches their experience of life.
See video: Felt sensing: a mindful inner exploration