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Focusing Practice, Inner Activism, Agaya and Ubuntu

In Novasutras, we believe that we can be most effective in our work to protect, heal and restore our world if we are well-engaged with a supportive community encouraging personal wellness practices. The synergies between work within and ongoing community connections improve our empathy and understanding as social change agents, developing heart-knowing and deep listening skills so we can better serve the world’s needs. Focusing partnership practice is a powerful tool for our work within.

As without, so within. What we seek to accomplish for the planet has work within as a necessary corollary.

Dr. Kendon Smith

We invite you to join our exploration of Focusing Partnerships as a BodyMind interbeing practice in an upcoming session on October 29th.

The Neurobiology of Agaya and Ubuntu

Dr. Kendon Smith has been exploring the ways that this BodyMind approach can be understood from a neurobiological framework. The wisdom of the inner body emerges from the allocortex, those parts of the brain which evolved very early in the mammalian lineage. In a human child, the allocortex develops earlier and independently from those brain structures responsible for speech and reasoning, yet it is very active in our emotions and decision-making throughout our lives, forming the likely basis of most of what we call “intuition” or “gut reactions.”

Lemur catta, photo by Zahra Jentges on Unsplash

Practices to build our capacity to integrate information from allocortical “implicit knowing” into our consciousness help us with life satisfaction and authentic action in the world. They can support our connection with agaya and ubuntu, helping us remain true to what our hearts know: that we are connected with all life on Earth so deeply that our own well-being, the well-being of human communities, and the well-being of our biosphere are inseparably interdependent.

The Power of Heart-Knowing

The centrality of implicit knowing was demonstrated  in multiple studies of psychotherapy carried out by Eugene Gendlin and colleagues. A series of papers demonstrated how success in psychotherapy could be easily predicted from transcripts of the first 2 sessions[1]. The relevant variable was not the therapist. It was not the therapeutic technique. It was whether the client showed evidence of  accessing an inner body knowing during therapy. Gendlin came to call this inner sense of what the body knew a “felt sense“. In addition to body knowing, he also termed it implicit knowing.

Felt sensing and implicit knowing are ways of describing that inner intelligence which is primary in our preconceptual learning and probably primary in life thereafter. We may legitimately characterize this as “heart-knowing.” If our hearts are not involved, then our sense of satisfaction with life appears not greatly altered by psychotherapy. And the anatomic centrality of allocortex relative to neocortex appears as a mirror to its mental manifestation, as being central to what gives life meaning: our  experiencing, our embodied knowledge.

Elephas maximus, photo by Ash Edmonds on Unsplash

Sharing your heart, experiencing ubuntu

In Novasutras, we begin most of our gatherings by sharing individually where our hearts and our minds are at that moment. This heart-sharing element gives an unusual depth to our sense of involvement and mutual caring within our groups. These are people we have more or less taken into our hearts, they are near-family, they matter to us.

This heart-knowing and sharing is a direct reminder and deep manifestation of ubuntu. It primes us to listen from a place of acceptance, care, compassion, and love. Would we be so prone to wars of words – or wars on battlefields – if we were better able to access heart-knowing reliably? Would we be better able to hear and respond to the world’s needs if we were better able to hear what our hearts know?

Using Focusing Practice to Connect with Heart-knowing

Important work within practices live at the intersection of meditation, psychotheraputic assistance, and spiritual community. One of the most promising practices emerging from this complex habitat is Focusing Practice. Focusing practitioners work in partnerships to help one another connect with their own “implicit knowing”: accessing the wise intelligence of the inner body through a series of steps.

Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

There is vast subliminal knowing that can be better accessed with Gendlin’s techniques. So why are the use of “focusing” techniques not more widespread? It is as though despite all we know we know consciously, we do not let the implications of the implicit sink in. Our attention, our conscious minds, can turn away from these broader implications as though  we are forbidden to think about them.

Hillel Braude, in recent review of Gendlin’s Saying What We Mean[2], characterizes trying to think about the implicit as, “…analogous to the sensation in holding two opposing poles of a magnet in close proximity. One feels the invisible magnetic force between the two poles of experience and logic. However, maintaining this force is a slippery undertaking that gives rise to a perplexing sensation.” Learning to access felt senses has also been compared to learning to write with one’s non-dominant hand. And whereas our conscious thinking seeks specific conclusions, we are not accustomed to the process thinking that seems intrinsic to implicit knowing.

Gendlin writes of a BodyMind that is coherent, that embodies one’s personality without a sense of self. He gives body-knowing a centrality unique among authors writing of felt sensing.

Focusing Partnerships

“A Focusing Partner costs nothing. You take turns. This new institution is changing the atomization of society… Speaking from far inside lets me hear myself and live connectedly in a receptive interaction.”

E. Gendlin, Focusing [3]pg xi

Gendlin and his Focusing Institute also give a very different emphasis to working with Focusing partners than do other authors, whose viewpoints tend to the explicitly psychotherapeutic.

“Partners give no advice, judgements or comments. … They need only say when they cannot follow…

A regular focusing partnership improves one’s life immensely. I would not want to do without mine. In fact, I have two.”

E. Gendlin, Focusing [3]pg xi

Your Truest Self – How BodyMind Supports Heart-Knowing And Spirit

October 7th
Dr. Kendon Smith introduced his work on connecting with felt sense and knowing from oneness, including a demonstration of Focusing partnership practice. He also discussed the neuroanatomy and its functional consequences in our lives.

Raw video

Introduction to Focusing Practice

background beautiful blossom calm waters

Thursday, October 29th, 3:00pm PDT / 22:00 UTC (90 min, Facilitator: Dr. Kendon Smith)

This will be a conversation to introduce the fundamentals of Focusing Practice. Our session (of one to one-and-a-half hours) will include time to review what we already know, ask questions, and try out Focusing Practice. Kendon will be inviting experienced focusing practitioners to briefly talk about their experiences. There will be an opportunity for those who are interested to try focusing practice.

Please register ahead to receive the “homework” – a few pages of reading to introduce key concepts.

Intro to Focusing: Register & Join via Zoom


[1] See Cornell, A.W.; Focusing In Clinical Practice; 2013; discussion and  references p. xvii
[2] Braude, H.; Phenomenolgical Reviews 1/19/20; “Eugene T.  Gendlin: Saying What We Mean”
[3] Gendlin, E.; Focusing; 1978/1981/2007

See also

Primary bibliography of Eugene T. Gendlin (2007)
Your Body Knows the Answer: Using Your Felt Sense to Solve Problems, Effect Change, and Liberate Creativity, David Rome (2014)

written by Dr. Kendon Smith and Dr. Michelle Merrill

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