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A Summary of Gendlin’s Philosophy

July 31, 2011

A very good summary of Eugene T. Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit can be found on Rob Parker’s ‘Life Forward’ site:



The Focusing Space

July 16, 2011

The felt sense (of life-situations, experience, practice, a line of literature, and so on) is often missed as a phenomenon, because it necessarily presents itself as vague. Most of us know from our schooling that vague is not valued in our culture, hence this is easily missed. An analogy might be the feeling that ‘I am.’ If you tap the pure feeling of simply being, you’ll notice that it’s vague. You might not know who you are (or such knowledge will be irrelevant to the simple feeling of being); you might not know what you are. I once sat with someone who didn’t know where they were, or who they were – which understandably produced considerable anxiety. However, they could tell that they were. When I helped them touch that simple feeling of being, their anxiety subsided (albeit momentarily, in this case). ‘Vague,’ the (….), can also be a doorway to the kind of experience that most people shy away from, namely ‘the feeling of not existing.’

Here, the space of inquiry into a felt sense can segue into deeper philosophical territory. It’s no wonder that many people in the Focusing community feel that Focusing is a spiritual practice. Gendlin doesn’t make that claim for it. He sees his brief as opening “that little door,” knowing that it can be applied to all areas of human life – to business, politics, food-aid, philosophical inquiry, and the spiritual quest.

I’m interested in the experiential space that makes Focusing possible. Popular culture uses the word space in all kinds of ways that indicate its ‘inner,’ subtle, experiential dimension as distinct from its grosser, physical dimension. We talk about feeling ‘spacey,’ or ‘spacious,’ or we ask that we be given ‘space to think.’ This space, experiential space, is the quality of intimacy itself. Psychotherapy at its best offers a space to know oneself – intimately. It is real, and, indeed, it turns out that it is the experience from which physical space and serial time are derived. (Gendlin goes into this, somewhat, in his A Process Model.) I don’t have the room in this essay, but I only say that his approach to experiencing can lead to a new, creative version of space and time – one in which time is not a limitation, but a empowering.

Experiential space makes things possible, and in particular makes the felt shift possible. The most fundamental definition of space (in my OED) is that it is a ‘continuous area or expanse that is free, available, or unoccupied.” This is the best thing I can do for a client, to make myself “free, available and unoccupied” for their life. One of my trainers some decades back called it ‘the empty bowl.’ While we may rejoice in the client finding a catalytic space for self-discovery, ‘the focusing space’ is what the therapist needs to find for the process of the relationship to move forward.

(To facilitate this outcome, of course, we find we must disengage from the voice of external authority: the judge, the critic, the inner jealous god. This is always a wonderful spot in a person’s work, when they find they no longer need to obey the inner voice of introjected conscience; when they find they have, in their felt sense, their own guide to ‘what is right.’  “Bodily felt values do not have opposites.” Opposites exist in logic. The critic’s values are propped up by this unit-thinking order.)

Can we see, then, that experiential space has a profound bearing on how we experience our being-in-the-world? A significant part of our species-wide ‘trouble’ as humans is caused by our ‘stopped process’ in the area of identity, and this is associated with stopped processes in the areas of our apprehension of time, space and knowledge. IGendlin’s work brings us into contact with a more fundamental order of ‘time-ing and space-ing,’ than the current dominant unit-model mode of conducting time allows. (This is Tarthang Tulku’s language, here)

Not willing to simply turn the light generated by Focusing toward my everyday ‘troubles’, I’ve often turned it toward the kind of space (consciousness/mind/heart/being) that is present when I am focusing. I’ve come to see that the pivotal thing that makes Focusing powerful and that brings healing is the freedom from content that it brings. Gendlin affirms that we are that “no content.” Without this dimension of being no content ( some counsellors speak of being an ’empty bowl’), without this, Focusing can only be a process of bringing the old patterns to bear on current difficulties. Nothing fresh emerges without some level of presence. One morning I found myself working in the following way…

Using Voice Dialogue, I called up the voice in me of (borrowing from Ch’an master Lin Chi) “the true person of no content.” Once I could be sure of the presence of being a person of no-content, then, in the groundlessness of space (where the Focusing community speak of thinking at the edge) I asked a Gendlin-style question: “What does the body know that is right about this?” It was easy to find what’s wrong about it, from the logical point of view. However, here, I was not looking for a logical right about the statement, but rather I was looking to feel the body’s rightness when it was organised by the presence of this ‘no-content’ voice. (Of course, in the course of the epoche, it was only to be found if there was such a process available). “How does that (no-content state) live in me, here?” My result may not be yours, of course, however, I can say that in that instance, there was such a rightness and that it was the rightness of a organismic living-forward. I’m grateful to Gendlin for his work.

The ‘Gendlian’ Ellipsis: the more; the big thing that’s going-on; the (….)

July 16, 2011

The Implicit is a Dynamic, Responsive Order

David Michael Levin, in his Language beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy, says: “For Gendlin, we dwell and speak directly in what he calls the intricacy of our situations.” To Gendlin, experiencing is always more intricate than concepts. In each person’s experience, there is the more at work than we/they currently know. We can cultivate a curiosity and a love of this special case of not-knowing, this (…..).

This kind of not-knowing provides us with a powerful foundation to interact with the felt sense. Because experiencing exceeds known forms, known patterns, while including them, fresh living can emerge, if we include the (…..) in our thinking and saying. From the not-finished and more-than-we-consiously-know dimension of experience we can facilitate our moving forward.

In the first chapter of Levin’s book (above) Gendlin gives instances of how the (…..) functions in his writing. One distinguishing mark of Gendlin’s brave work is that he lets the implicit function, and be seen to be functioning, in his writing. Hence, the writing does what it is about. (To many of us, that is refreshing, but I’ve found from my workshops that this can provokes some people to anger; who want a more academically-ordered discourse.)

In writing that chapter he could say (at p.21) some of the ways that the implicit was functioning in the writing of that chapter. (Remember that, in the following extract, the dots, ….. , indicate the dynamic presence of the implicit). He lists:

  1. Something implicit lets us know ….. that we forgot something.
  2. It also lets us know ….. when we have remembered.
  3. It let us know when a new step of thought is implied.
  4. It functions to reject otherwise good proposals if they leave the ….. hanging there, still implying something more precise.
  5. Something implicit knows the situation directly.
  6. What we want to say forms implicitly, and words come.
  7. Something new can implicitly rearrange the language, so that
  8. quite new phrases form and come.
  9. It lets us know when “the right” phrases have come.
  10. The cumulative effect of a chain of thought is implicit.
  11. To understand is an implicit function. We say “Oh….., yes, I see what you mean.”
  12. The point is implicit.
  13. To rephrase what we said, we go on from the implicit sense of it.
  14. The new use of a word makes new sense – implicitly.
  15. Words say how the implicit functions, if we take the way words make sense in and about that.
  16. Taking the same word or sentence in various ways is made possible by the implicit. How do we know which way we took it? The difference does not lie in the sentence; it lies in how we think on from having taken the sentence this way, rather than that way. Logical taking depends on this function.

The emphasis on the outcome, here in this example, mustn’t give the impression that there are end-points – the (…..) comes to go on from there. These words that I am writing for you, here, are carrying forward many contexts, including the contexts gathered by woMerds themselves. And, it isn’t somewhere waiting for me to think it: it’s unfinished character invites my next movement.

This is evident in our saying and thinking. Gendlin: “It’s important to realize that…. words form in a bodily way. The right words must come to us. (If they don’t, there is little we can do about it, except wait, and in a bodily way, sense what our situation is, and what we sensed that we were about to try to say.) It is our bodily being in the situation we are in, that let’s the right words come. if the reader would stop for a moment, and self-observe, it will be immediately clear. The words of speech and thought “just come.” How do they come? We do not sift through many wrong words, as if going through a file. We don’t “select” words from among other words. The right words, or close to the right words, “just come.” What precedes this coming? Sometimes a bodily sense of the situation. But often there is no separately attended to sense, of this kind. Being in this situation lets the words come. The system of interrelated words and the system of interrelated situations and interactions is, in some basic way, a single system. And, in another basic way, there are two interrelated systems: the system of works and the system of our living in situations.”

Neither of which ever finish.

The Unfinished Nature of the Implicit

“Experiential intricacy is finely-ordered, but unfinished,” says Gendlin (here). There is no end, finish, or conclusion to experiencing. Why do we look for endings? This may itself be an indication of a stopped process, from which we are seeking relief in our ‘final enlightenment.’ As if evolution knows endings. So, let’s say it again, slightly differently: experiencing is an ‘open-endedness’ which has its next step implicit in it. It has a carrying-forward kind of order implicit in it. It is tendential, always oriented to further living.

It is not a problem that experience is inexhaustible, that it can’t be measured. Only from the point of view of the unit-model could this be conceived as problematic. However, it does require the cultivation of an openness (which itself is ultimately immeasurable). It requires an openness, not only before the implicit, but in the presence of what is explicated from or ‘out of’ the implicit order. Let me illustrate this. When our adult-formerly-the-unloved-child (in our previous example) sits next to that vague something in him/herself,and follows it step by step; and when over time it has explicated the kinds of life-changing steps which we rejoice in, in psychotherapy, then (if all is well) there is nothing to go back over, or to latch onto – the person’s life continues to unfold without that old ground; that is, without (in this area, at least) the former fixity.

Where Stopped Process is, Carrying Forward Can Come

July 16, 2011

If we include the ‘experiential mesh’ of the body, carrying forward can come from stopped process.

What is offered, then, when we include felt-sensing in our understanding of human being, is a dynamism where the felt sense implies the next steps in a person’s life-process. Nature unfolds its next steps, and where that is not possible – where, for example, the environment doesn’t offer the requisite support: such as water for a plant, love for a child – then there will be a ‘stopped process.’ This stopped process doesn’t just disappear (except with the death of the plant or child, perhaps), but it is in waiting for the missing element. Most of our human trouble is due to stopped processes and to our reiterated, unconscious (and therefore usually fruitless) attempts to satisfy the conditions for our process to move forward. Gendlin calls this forward movement, ‘carrying-forward.’ (See: here) For stopped process to carry forward needs us to turn up, to experience the whole experiential ‘mesh’ that this ‘stopped’ something is a part of.

Without the experiential mesh that a statement carries forward, we do not know what it means: Without entering into the felt sense and carrying it forward into further experiencing, the person saying it may not know what it means. Although the statement may be affirmed and kept as such, how it carries experiencing forward is what it means just then. Experiencing in always more intricate than concepts. (Gendlin, Focusing-Orientied Psychotherapy, p.268)

The sense of a vague ‘something in there,’ wanting our attention, implying in a felt way its movement forward, this is a ‘felt sense.’ When we come there with the appropriate non-judgemental and empathic curiosity, and when we find the language for that vague something, then a shift happens in the body’s way of living that process forward. (I say ‘language,’ but it can be a dance, or a gesture, or an image – it’s a symbol). Then the process can take its next step. Take the case of our above unloved child: in the adult there may be symptoms of depression, for example. Under or inside of the depression there may be a felt sense of ‘more.’ Further exploration might reveal a ‘hole,’ there where the fullness of love doesn’t usually come, where it didn’t happen as it should have. Once this is contacted, relief is possible, and the discovery of inner value. When each step is allowed to unfold out of the implicit, responsive order of the body, then the person changes. Stopped process can move, when the right conditions present themselves.

In Gendlin’s theory, the central values are not those patterns imposed on experience from outside. “Experiencing is intrinsically a valuing.” (See here) Value inheres in our bodily experience of situations. (See Ch.21, Values, in Focusing-Orientied Psychotherapy.) Each unfolded step of the process can be experienced as carrying life forward in the person. ( This means that sometimes it is possible in therapy, even when a client is saying what is wrong with their lives, to ask if the body might know what would feel right, in the area that they are speaking about). The feeling of the way forward is right there in the body’s sense of the problem which they bring – in what Gendlin calls the ‘experiential mesh’ or ‘experiential intricacy.’ This is radical, in that it directs us to the root: to living bodily-felt values, not socially imposed values.

“One can decide to want “whatever should happen” or “whatever would be right,” leaving open what that is. This has a large effect in the body. If one says this and the body responds to it, one is no longer conflicted. One no longer plays one thing against another. Instead, one is all in one piece in one’s wanting. It gives one a breath, one’s whole body straightens. Experiencing moves on past the stoppage. Then, from the further experiencing, a new way can later be formulated.” (Focusing-Orientied Psychotherapy, p.271-2)

This is the very powerful thing. I have found my clients in psychotherapy feel liberated by the realisation that, as Gendlin says, bodily-felt values have no opposites.

Primacy of the Body

July 16, 2011

No doubt you can appreciate from the forgoing introduction that training ourselves and our clients to be, as it were, in our bodies, in the way that modern mindfulness-based psychotherapies are doing, is very useful. However, such is not mandated in Focusing-oriented psychotherapy. A trust in our body as a source of wisdom can grow slowly and steadily without special mindfulness training.

When we consider the primacy of the body in the context of knowing ourselves in situations – including in the psychotherapy room – it raises several philosophical points of interest. For instance: What is the body? And how many kinds of body are there? I won’t go into this area deeply, here, but will point out that Focusing and Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit suggest that the human body is a cognitive body, a knowing body – and as such, a doorway into the more than we currently know.

This emphasis on the body, moves our thinking away from the ‘unit-model’ style of thinking, which is the basis of the physical sciences, toward process models – first-person, phenomenological models. This means it counters the reductionism that is so common in scientific contributions to understanding human behaviour. People cannot be reduced to chemistry, to neurological ‘foundations,’ or to the sum of mere environmental influences.

With Gendlin’s philosophy and with the primacy of the body, when we think of human beings, we start first with ‘interaction.’ Before we divide up our experience into units, we are already interacting. That very dividing-up and dividing-out, is made possible only by interacting as the ever-present background to our discriminations, our discernments. With ‘unit-thinking,’ the body is one thing and the environment (the not-body) another thing. There are absolutely two. With the ‘interaction first’ approach, the body is its environment. They inter-penetrate; they are a non-dual pair, or in the words of the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, they inter-are. I’m reminded of Gendlin’s sentence: “A great undivided multiplicity is always at work.’ (See his Beyond postmodernism: From concepts through experiencing

(For further reading on the primacy of the body, see:


July 10, 2011

I’d like to say a little bit about what inspires me about the presence of felt-sensing (i.e. Focusing) in psychotherapy. This comes from the many times I have seen clients tearing up or crying more overtly, when they realise that they have something in them which is on their side. They have seen that they can trust something in themselves to guide them in knowing what is true in their experience. That is, their next steps forward in life need not depend on outside authority – the parents, the government, therapists, the priests or even some external (somewhere-) God. The discovery of this ‘something’ and the skills for accessing it – whereby one can listen inwardly to one’s own body, where one can touch, directly in one’s self, a surety about personal experience – this discovery brings a significant shift in the client’s self-confidence. This certainty is not based on opinions or theories about one’s capacity for self-healing – not based in believing – it is directly known in oneself, verified by the shift that happens in the body when the right words are found for one’s experiencing.

It is crucial to individuation, to becoming the whole individual that one is, that one’s saying and thinking are integrated with one’s experiencing. When Focusing functions in psychotherapy, there is an emphasis on how words function in us in the saying and thinking, rather than on the logical, or lexical content of the words.

This shift in emphasis – toward regarding the meaning of words as existing in what they do in us – is accompanied by an increasing trust in one’s own perceptions. Take, as an instance, the interpretation of dreams. Before I discovered the process of letting my body interpret my dreams, various methodologies provided equally valid interpretations. A panther in my dream would evoke a different response from a Freudian, a Jungian or a shaman. Now, I can hold each of these approaches up against my bodily feel of the panther in my dream. And the meaning of the dream-panther will be evident in my living, breathing, feeling, cognitive body. Perhaps each one of these three approaches can bring forth something of the intricacy of my dream, without any of them having to have a monopoly on the truth of my dream-panther.

Normally, with dreams, it’s not unusual for a person to interpret the dream in the light of their usual waking consciousness.  However, with the inclusion of the body in dream interpretation, new and surprising angles on our waking-life are made possible by the dream. When you think of it, this is obvious: surely, the dream doesn’t come to tell us the same-old, same-old, does it? (Notice, this last comment is in the realm of logic – of patterns, of logical forms, of concepts. The body’s response, while not being free of previous linguistic inheritance, is, nevertheless, more than logical forms, patterns and concepts).

So, to put all this in a more general form: the inclusion of Focusing in psychotherapy brings about an increasing trust that the direct reference for our words lies in the body’s felt sense of a situation (or a dream, an issue, and so on). Indeed, Gendlin, in his Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning calls a felt sense a direct referent. With this increasing trust of our bodily experience comes new, fresh linguistic and other symbolic expressions. We don’t have to let our experience be circumscribed by past forms.

From the point of view of narratives, this means we needn’t impose new, healthier narratives arbitrarily, or merely logically, but that new narratives can emerge organically through the interaction of our thinking and saying with our experiencing.