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WHERE TO LOOK FOR A FELT SENSE
You may have had trouble making contact with your felt sense of a problem or you may not have been sure you can recognize a felt sense as such when it comes. There are no ready-made words in the language for it and so it is hard to describe. Until now very few people understood it. Society, and thus also language, viewed only the resulting manifestations -- thoughts, emotions, perceptions -- not the felt sense. Even psychotherapists knew of it only as a mysterious something.
Only our recent research makes it discussable and teachable.
So let me talk a little more about what a felt sense is.
A felt sense is made of many interwoven strands, like a carpet. But it is felt (or "seen," if we pursue the carpet analogy) as one.
A felt sense is the many-stranded fabric of bodily awareness that (for example) guides golfers as they tee off. It would be impossible for them to think as the details of location, surrounding environment, and body movement that are woven into aiming. But the body knows the complex set of coordinated movements it must make to swing. The single felt sense of the situation incorporates the problem and the bodily known solution.
Golfers cannot think out all these details intellectually. When a golfer swings, several hundred different muscles must all work together in a precise way, each coming into action at a certain microsecond, each exerting just the right amount of pull on the right bone for the right length of time. The body feels all this as a whole.
If you observe a golfer getting ready to swing, you can see the whole body taking aim. It's done not just with the eyes or the arms but by changing the placement of the feet, rotating and repositioning the whole body. Golfers aim with the feel of the whole body.
It may be that conscious direction is needed on one part of the process. The golfer may be thinking, "This time I must keep that left elbow straighter." But all the other aim-taking motions occur without conscious thought as the golfer thinks about that left elbow. The preliminary movements are guided by the whole body's feel, finding its balance, seeking the feeling that says, "Yes, now I am ready, I feel right. Now I can swing." Golfers cannot describe that feeling of "ready," because too many details are involved. They know the feeling when it comes, however. When the body-feel is right, they swing.
You look for a felt sense in the same place where golfers look to find whether they are ready to swing. They don't ask the question in their heads, they feel for the answer in their bodies.
The same process of feeling within the body is familiar in any other sport. Asking questions in the head, or trying to make the head dominate the body, never works.
There is another way to get at this question of where and how to look for a felt sense—another kind of example that may be more familiar and useful to you. Suppose you have been listening to a discussion and are about to say something relevant and important. The others are still talking. You don't have your words prepared. All you have is a felt sense of what you want to say.
Only rarely, in very formal occasions, do we prepare word for word. Usually, when we are about to say something, we have the felt sense of what we want to put across, and the right words come as we speak. The felt sense includes dozens of component parts, perhaps hundreds: the meaning you want to put across, the emotional color you want to give it, the reasons why you want to say it to those particular people, the reaction you hope to elicit from them, and so on. But there are not yet any specific words.
Now suppose that, as you wait for your chance to speak, your attention is distracted for a moment and you lose hold of what you were about to say. The others are now giving you your turn, waiting for you to say what you wanted to say, but you cannot.
You never did have words to say, so you can't use words as a memory hook to fish up your lost meaning. What do you do to regain the sense of what you were going to say? Where do you look for it?
You look within the body. You go through a process that is much like an informal kind of focusing; you grope inside yourself. There you do have a felt sense -- but not the ready-to-speak open felt sense you had before. Instead, you have that feeling of what you forgot.
You might try simply becoming quiet, receptive, hoping that "it" will open and what it was will come flooding back by itself. Or you can ask yourself questions: "Was it something about... ?" Or you can try to trace logical connections: "They were talking about such-and-such, so it must have had to do with. ..." Or you can try to recreate the lost meaning by surrounding it with events like a lost piece of jigsaw puzzle: "It came to me right after Carol said... and then, before I opened my mouth, Lou said...."
Any of these processes might help lead you to "it," but "it" must respond. When it does, when it opens and what you wanted to say comes back, the physically felt release tells you that you've got it. And even at that moment, when you again "know" what you wanted to put across to those other people, you still don't have it in words.
Both when you knew what you wanted to say, and when you knew only that you had forgotten it, there was a felt sense. One can even say that it is "the same" felt sense -- but when it returns, the felt sense opens and lets you discover and use what it was.
Focusing is very much like that. One must go to that place where there are not words but only feeling. At first there may be nothing there until a felt sense forms. Then when it forms, it feels pregnant. The felt sense has in it a meaning you can feel, but usually it is not immediately open. Usually you will have to stay with a felt sense for some seconds until it opens. The forming, and then the opening of a felt sense, usually takes about thirty seconds, and it may take you three or four minutes, counting distractions, to give it the thirty seconds of attention it needs.
When you look for a felt sense, you look in the place you know without words, in body-sensing.
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