Focusing as an action-oriented mindful practice


As Eugene Gendlin was researching the process of psychotherapy, he noticed that the best predictor of a successful outcome was the client’s ability to stop in their tracks for an aha moment. He went on to study this natural process in order to make it possible for people to make more use of it, in therapy as well as in any other context. He came up with the name “Focusing” to describe the process that allows a felt sense to form and progressively come into focus, much as an image comes into focus when you adjust the focus on binoculars.

The process may be called “Focusing”, but a major part of it is to “unfocus” from autopilot mode. It takes a pause to unfocus. When you pause, there is an ever-so-slight sense of surprise (hence the “hmmm” sound you might make). This temporarily unfocused, disoriented mode is needed to activate your natural ability to re-orient, i.e. to focus on what is actually going on right now.

This has to do with the paradox of mindfulness:
– It is totally natural for us to be on automatic pilot (i.e. mindless), in the sense that mindfulness is engaged only when we need it;
– It takes gaming the system to engage mindfulness (the intentional pause, which interrupts the mindless autopilot mode);
– The disruption automatically engages our inner GPS, i.e. the natural way our whole organism takes stock of the environment and adapts to it, most of the time below awareness.

So, a very simple way to describe Focusing is to think of it as a mindful practice:
– You give yourself an opportunity to shift from mindless autopilot by “unfocusing,” i.e. taking a pause (which can simply be a beat, a brief moment);
– As this pause disorients you, your built-in GPS takes fresh stock of the situation. This is similar to what Zen practitioners call Beginner’s Mind. This is essentially a “right-brain” process, implicit rather than explicit;
– You then engage your “left brain” in making the fuzzy felt sense from the “right brain” progressively more explicit.