ON EMBODIED SPIRITUALITY, PSYCHEDELICS & INNER GUIDANCE
OPENING TO INNER GUIDANCE USING THE FELT SENSE.
EUGENE GENDLIN outlined six steps for doing his focusing technique to access inner guidance, but we don’t have to exactly follow those six steps. Gendlin says that it’s best to let it flow in its own way. The steps may show up differently for different people. Because I’ve done it a while, I’ve made this method my own, as he suggested we do. So I want to share with you how I’ve come to use what Gendlin introduced to me and what I’ve made my own, with the hope that it will inspire you to make it your own, too, because if it’s going to be about inner guidance, you really have to make it your own.
So here is how I do it.
To begin with, I need some way to quiet the mind. An obstacle to inner guidance is a busy mind. A mind that worries. A mind that is running too fast. And there are many methods, both secular and spiritual, that say they can help with this obstacle of a too busy mind that feels jumpy and fragmenting. I’ve tried many of methods to calm my mind, and right now I want to share what I learned from Gendlin because I’ve found it to be especially valuable.
Clearing the space
First, I ask myself the question, “What is keeping me from feeling completely at one with everything right now? What obstacles are making my mind run fast?” Or “What is making my mind feel uncomfortable? Something feels out of balance, so what could be blocking my natural, peaceful mind?”
When I do this, it doesn’t take long for something to arise. For example, when I ask myself the question right now, I think, “Oh, I have to do my taxes.” I can’t wish it away. It is going to be there. So what to do?
First, I acknowledge this is there, and then I ask myself, “Aside from the pressure and resistance to doing taxes, if I put that aside, what else might be there?”
The movement of setting it aside is what matters. It’s not that I fixed it, but I acknowledged that yes, that is disquieting. It's making me nervous. I can’t do anything about it, but for right now, in order to open to inner guidance, I am going to set that aside temporarily to clear some space in my mind.
So then I notice, taxes are not the only thing. What else is there that is keeping me from feeling the natural peacefulness that I think is our birthright?
It doesn’t take long for the next most pressing thing to come to mind. Finances. This is, of course, related to taxes. There’s that devil. The devil that worries me. And yes, that’s there. I can’t wish it away. I can’t wave my hand and make it vanish. I need to pay attention. And here’s the important thing: worrying is a good thing if it tells us what needs to be done. It’s good that I do my taxes. It’s good that I pay attention to my finances. That’s the gift of anxiety. There are things we should take care of. Once they’re taken care of, that worry leaves us.
Part of me wishes there was a time I would have no worries because I would complete everything that needs to be done. But when I ask myself, “Is this possible?” the answer is no, there is always something that needs to be done. But can I experience what needs to be done in a gentler way, in a way that doesn’t aggravate my mind? That is something inner guidance can help us with: How to be at peace with what needs to be done, and not fight with it or procrastinate.
So I set aside taxes and finances, and continue to ask the question: “Aside from these two things, what else is keeping me from peacefulness and a spacious mind?” Often for me there are five or six things. I go through each one, and at the end of the list, there is a strange sense of relief. Why should I feel relief? Because I realize the list is finite. Aside from all those things, I could be peaceful right now. I could experience a peaceful mind. And in some strange way, a little bit of peace comes just from doing this.
Sensing the felt sense
With this little bit of peacefulness, the next thing we do is turn our attention to the mysterious place inside where we can detect subtler levels of disquiet. What we did previously was to notice the obvious, loud kinds of disquiet.
So now we ask, “Is there still, in some deeper place, something that feels not quite right? Something that if it could shift and if it could open, I could find more peace?”
Gendlin calls this, sensing the felt sense. He says there is a sense inside that is subtle, murky and mysterious. Unless we are quiet, we won’t even notice it. But if we clear space, it’s Something we can notice. Gendlin says, and I find this to be true, that this felt sense is somewhere in the belly or chest area. Sometimes it’s easier for me to sense it if I put my left palm on my belly, and the palm of my right hand over my heart. I sense in and ask, “What is there?”
Sometimes what is there is something murky that feels quite frightening to experience. For me, I notice that when my fear is too strong, it’s a sign for me to find what Gendlin calls a safe inner place. When that has happened to me, I have had to do additional preparation work before using focusing to open to what feels too frightening. But at this moment, I am not experiencing this level of fear.
When I sense into the murkiness at this moment, I feel something a little rough, a little jagged. My breathing is not smooth. There’s a little bit of tightness. I stay with this feeling. I breathe several times, and then I try to find words for it. Not a word like pain, but something more nuanced. Something specific, like, tight and gnawing. The feeling is not strong, but it’s a subtle, gnawing tightness. A tender tightness. If we can find a phrase like that, a phrase maybe we never used before, it helps us to feel into what this vague and quiet discomfort really is.
Now I ask myself, “Is that the right phrase? Gnawing and tight? A little sharp maybe too? Yeah, that’s a little closer.” I pay attention to the sharpness, the gnawing, the tightness — and now I feel a sadness. I just caught my breath the way you might catch your breath before you cry. That little gasp does something to that place, what Gendlin calls the felt shift. It doesn’t remove it all, but it makes it different. There’s still soreness in my upper chest, but now it’s spreading a little bit. And my belly is looser.
For some reason by feeling into this subtle place in the way I just did, it has transformed. This is moving toward something important. It is inner guidance expressed bodily. Gendlin says to welcome this and take it in. We don’t need to think about it — just receive it with gratitude. The next time we do this, it will be there. It won’t go away. Then we can go deeper. We can allow it to unfold more.
And this is a body path to locating inner guidance.
This video of Gendlin shows him responding to someone who felt blocked by fear:
Embodied Spirituality -Part 1