The body knows its activity at levels we call ‘unconscious’ (for example, its cellular activity). The following schema presents categories of ways the body ‘knows’ consciously – ways it is lucent (mindful) of its interacting. This conscious ‘having’ of experience helps the body carry forward its life.
Remember, however, although we say ‘six,’ they are not separated out like that in reality. This schema of the ‘senses and their bases’ presents them as separate only for our understanding; they are, in actuality, never separate, isolated processes. They always imply each other. It is our discriminating capacity which discerns them separately.
In the body-en approach, all these categories indicate the interactive activity of the body. The body is the one ‘organ’ (the one sensing organism).
Sight consciousness results from the body’s interaction (contact-activity) with its surrounds, via the eye. Seeing is an aspect of body-environment interaction (body-en).
Sound consciousness results from the body’s interaction with its surrounds, via the ear. Hearing is an aspect of body-en, body-environment interaction.
TASTING AND SMELLING
Likewise, taste and smell consciousness are also each aspects of body-en.
TOUCHING (skin contact)
We in the West have traditionally said there are ‘five senses,’ the fifth being touch. This is an over-simplification; but let’s separate out touch:
Touch consciousness results from the body’s interaction (contact-activity) with its surrounds, interacting via the skin (which, in particular, is the organ of touch, though muscle pressure plays a part, too). Touching is an aspect of body-en. (The word ‘feel’ is often used as a synonym for ‘touch.’ Via the skin, you can feel your clothes, for instance.)
Introduction to two other body senses:
In the light of modern scientific categories of experience, we will add two further body senses. These are subtle interiorly ‘felt’ ways of knowing: ‘form perception’ and ‘innermost perception.’ (See the note on this.)
PERCEIVING FORM (Loosely speaking: Proprioception)
With form-consciousness the body registers sensations arising within its own tissues; especially those concerned with the sense of position, balance and movement of the whole body, and its limbs.
Proprioceptive consciousness results from the body’s interaction (contact-activity) with its inner ‘environments,’ interacting inwardly. Proprioception is body-en. This, too, is the body feeling, the body’s sentience.
PERCEIVING ‘INNERMOST’ SENSATIONS
(For now, I’ll refer to this by the term short ‘Interoception’)
This points to sensations in the viscera and nerves. Interoception enables us to feel things such as: hunger, satisfaction, itching, tickles and tingles, pain, body temperature, nausea, need to urinate and defecate, physical effort, sexual arousal, emotions, and – very important, and little recognised – bodily-felt meaning. (Gendlin’s ‘felt sense.’)
Interoceptive consciousness results from the body’s interaction (contact-activity) with its own inner processes (its own ‘environments’); specifically, through interacting inwardly with the guts and subtle energies. Interoception is body-en. This, too, is feeling; that is, sentience.
Also, the body is aware of the mental – the Buddhist 6th channel of sensing.
This activity – that is, knowing of concepts, ideas, images, memories, and other subtle inner energies, including consciousness of consciousness – all this too is body-en. ‘Mental’ consciousness results from the body’s interaction with its surrounds, via its inward sensing. Hearing is an aspect of body-en. Mental life, too, is sensed.
EXTENDING THE USUAL MEANING OF ‘ENVIRONMENT’
How is this category – ‘mentality’ – an ‘environment’? Mind is body-environment interaction; but for this to have all its power, we have to expand our understanding of how the body has its ‘environments.’ Along with proprioception and interoception (as defined above), awareness of mental content is such a differentiated activity – which the body ‘goes on in’ (Gendlin). In this work, ‘environment’ is what you go on in.
Any organism, by virtue of reflexivity, becomes its own environment to some degree. The human body has developed a high degree of conscious differentiation of its own activities, and so its ways of ‘having’ its own activity have become differentiated as environments (situations) to be taken into account. The eight-in-interaction take shape as our states of mind, and our skill in handling them. So, I’m in a job interview, and my innermost sensing tells me I’m nervous. It that’s so, I know some things: I can sit up confidently (that feels better immediately) and I can activate the mental operations that might ease my amygdala’s presently disruptive functioning.
When we become familiar with the range of body-environment-interaction as outlined above – everything from what is ‘external to the body’ to what is ‘internal to the body,’ including the making of that distinction – then we can recognise the intricate dynamics of ‘states of mind’ and work with them skilfully.
The Buddha was teaching one day, and he said, “Practitioners, I will tell you about the ‘All.’ Listen closely.” Upon the practitioners assenting, he said: “What is the All? Simply: the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & smells, tongue & tastes, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, ‘I reject this All, I will describe something more,’ if questioned as to the grounds for his claim, would be unable to explain; and would, furthermore, be at a loss. Why? Because [whatever he posits] lies beyond [the] range [of experience].”
We’re extending this some, but it remains essentially a powerful method of self-awareness.
 In the light of modern scientific categories of experience, we can add two further body senses to our experiential schema: proprioception, and interoception. These are subtle interiorly ‘felt’ ways of knowing. However, science has not very clearly delineated the categories, yet; so, I’ll use the phrases ‘form perception’ and ‘innermost perceptions,’ provisionally, to try to offer support for these subtle discernments.
I expect that in future this last-mentioned category of consciousness will be further differentiated by science to account for subtle energies, such as chi, or kundalini, and so on; but, at this point in history, these are included in my ‘innermost’ category.
 The dictionary defines ‘mental’ as of the ‘mind’; and, by ‘mind’ most people mean: thoughts, inner images, memories, and so on. However, let’s include that the mind can be aware of its own knowing of such contents. This makes this category extremely subtle as an experiential category.
While in the populace at large the word ‘mind’ has largely become restricted to a kind of content – products of the body such as thoughts, inner images, memories, dreams, and so on – we can widen the meaning of ‘mind,’ so that it includes what some call ‘awareness of awareness.’ If that’s so, then we have a broad category called the ‘mental’ which includes the subtler ‘spiritual’ experiences (If extra-sensory modes of knowing are detected, I would include them here.)
 Some further theoretical thoughts on the ‘mental’: Firstly, it would be too big a topic to go into, here, to explain how consciousness [or awareness] can know consciousness. This has to do with living organism’s reflexivity of process. Even one-celled organism ‘know’ organise themselves reflexively.
Secondly, and relatedly, tradition – East and West – have conceived of a separate organ – called the ‘intellect’ or the ‘mind’ as an organ, or ‘the soul’ – which knows mental phenomena. Of course, it’s quite possible that the organ especially developed for this territory is the brain. Experientially, it’s not so important to adjudicate on this issue right now; because whatever way you look at it, it’s still the body interacting – albeit extremely subtly. In the activity of become optimally lucent in our living, we just need to sensitivity to experiencing.
Lastly, a further distinction could be made here between the obvious psychological content – thoughts, concepts, ideas, images, memory, gross imagination – and more psychic or subtle level of mentality; such as subtler imagination, spontaneous visions, discrimination itself, and awareness of awareness. Again, this is not the place to explore that possibility.
I intended today to write about regret; but in the early afternoon, I gathered my materials together and I painted. At first the process felt a little mechanical, but very soon I found myself absorbed.
Amongst the interesting things I did was to make up a yucky mix that worked perfectly for the red eucalyptus stems in the painting. How does that happen? It looked awful as I mixed it, but I knew it was right; and it worked well, enlivening the whole canvas. I was now engaged, and seeing colours that were mysterious – like the blues which I invited into the black in the setting.
After I’ve painted, I find I’m sensitive to colours everywhere I go. Suddenly the rock-faces hereabouts turn up colours which I don’t usually see. The forests are showing a myriad of subtle greens, and tender reds in those same greens. The way the sunlight plays on the sandstone cliffs at sunset is fresh to me.
As I walked back to the house, from my studio, awake to the unfathomable being of the world, something rose up in me: a felt sense without words.
Going inside the house, I made a cup of tea, and sat down to invite that sense, to ‘say hello’ to, that ‘sense of something.’ Like all felt meanings, it was murky at first. It’s the kind of thing that, if I didn’t know better, I might say was ‘nothing,’ or at least unpromising. It could easily be dismissed by someone not familiar with what Eugene Gendlin calls ‘a felt sense.’ Or, if such a one could at least respect it, they might be satisfied with calling it ‘mysterious’ or ‘ineffable,’ and enquire no further.
However, sitting alongside it, giving it some space and some kindly attention, in the way that I’ve learnt and practised over several decades, more could come there. Like a shy fawn, it could only peek out at first, but then come into view. The poet Ted Hughes has a piece called The Thought Fox that suggests the cautious, even wary, way a felt meaning emerges.
That’s why Gendlin called his practice Focusing – because when we give it the right kind of attention, this vague ‘something’ in the middle of the body goes from murky to clear (as when in the old SLR cameras the frosty circle of the centre of the lens went from blurry to clear when you got the correct focus.)
So, now, what came clear was an understanding which I haven’t been confident about, hitherto. It was this: what I had just been immersed in for that period, breathing in and out, painting, was an introduction to the radiance of being as it exists in my own body. It was revealed through the art of seeing. And, then I recalled that the artist Brett Whitely had once said that the only reason to paint is to learn to see.
I now had the words for the experience which occurred immediately after the painting session. “Radiance.” As I had come away from the studio, the radiance everywhere was intense. In one sense it dissolved all differences, revealing a deeper unity through the very ordinary miracle of seeing.
On the other hand, the radiance shone – from the inside out – in every leaf, every grass-blade, and even in the buildings about me. The pittosporum as I passed it; the concrete path where I walked; the tangled jasmine in the corner, the rough steps into the house were luminous.
I had intended to write something about ‘regret’: about the harmful things I’ve done, the hurts I’ve caused which I regret the most. Instead, I find myself back at the easel, marvelling at the black with phthalo blue, painted over a green-black underlay — at how the purples peek through, in the afternoon light. And, those tiny, yellow spots in the eucalyptus leaves. The red line around that edge, there.
Seeing is for developing the heart. It would also be strong, my regret, if I arrived at the end of my life without having learnt to sense the wonder of the ordinary. All my learnèd philosophy would have been just empty naming, if I hadn’t embodied it, thus to see the world afresh.
When I look carefully
I see the nazuna blooming
By the hedge!
– Basho, trans. D.T. Suzuki (Japanese ‘nazuna’ could be translated ‘shepherd’s purse.’)
“(T)he thought of death is… a powerful stimulus that brings me back to myself as the unique occasion for the search for the meaning of life, and it makes me recognize the importance of this very moment, as it highlights the real possibilities that are still before me.” – Herbert Guenther.
I want to share some of the gift that contemplating death brings. Here’s how I experience something that seems to resonate with what Guenther wrote, in this passage.
I can be sitting at a my computer, I can be in a cafe, I can be driving my car, or talking to my partner – and a pristine, all-encompassing space opens. The thought of death can bring this opening. The certainty of my death, or the uncertainty about ‘when, where or how’ I will die – or, likewise, the thought of the certainty of the death of my loved ones – these contemplations can bring such openings. These ideas are one kind of “powerful stimulus.”
With the opening of that ‘space,’ my positioned (and positioning) ‘self’ dies, just like that. Dissolves. If I rest into the ‘gap,’ it is another dimension of being. A knowing is purely present, without any seeking or orienting. Acquisitions have ceased. I’m simply aware of the quality of openness itself, with its measureless ‘ing-ing’ (Gendlin’s expression). And, if I don’t scramble – that is, if I don’t make boundlessness a problem – if I relax and trust it, sigh into this unknowing knowing, then there is a meaningfulness that exceeds any of the phrases about it.
(We’ll look later at the designations in this. The ‘self’ dissolves’; so who is resting into the gap? What do ‘I,’ ‘self,’ ‘person,’ and so on, mean? It’s about the process of designation and it’s relationship to experiencing. Well explore it, later.)
Now, Guenther’s “…brings me back to myself as the unique occasion for…” is sweet, because the boundless, empty, still (paradoxical) presence is full of the magic of living. It’s called ‘ordinary mind.’ And this magic unfolds. Hence: “…the importance of this very moment…”
With this invisible matrix informing them, concepts can return, or function, to be a part of the unfolding, a servant of the bigger life, which is full of meaningfulness. This is a matter of ‘not two.’ It’s not about something on one side called the conceptual present which is different from the still, luminous, non-conceptual openness\on the other side. Not at all. The stillness doesn’t reject concepts, and concepts can serve the still field of possibilities.
This won’t make sense right now, but we’ll explore later: how the unfolding happenings (’time’) are never outside (or, never leave) the implicit, the invisible (timeless) womb of reality. (They never fully form, either, into ‘somethings’. In a sense we are experiencing virtual reality, already.) This will make sense of the Buddhist idea of ‘the Deathless’.
But, I’m getting ahead of our content. Returning to Guenther:
“…the real possibilities that are still before me.” So, this moment, purely present as it is, is full of possibilities, unfolding, “out of” this implicate matrix. It’s a poor metaphor, given what I’ve said about ‘not two,’ but refer back to your present, undivided momentary experience, and you’ll get a ‘feel’ for this. This ‘matrix’ concept is difficult to experience directly at first. Just get a holistic feel of it, be experiential about it, and in time it’ll gel. It will be integral to understanding how the Nikāya Buddha can say, “The attentive do not die.”
This no-inside/outside, always-happening unfolding includes the person who is aware, who is “the unique occasion” for the bigger life’s unfolding possibilities. What magic is that! I’m sometimes drunk on the wonder of it. It makes me laugh, and it calls Rumi to mind: “I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way. Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.” (Coleman Barks trans.)
Why have I chosen the word ‘experiencing’ as the most fundamental touchstone for my inquiry? Firstly, I have looked for language that is experience-near. I’ve needed this for my own practice. I have needed to be very concrete in understanding my experience; so, I decided in the mid-seventies that if I was going to examine my experience in the light of the Buddhist teachings, I wanted a language that was precise and which resonated with my life. (And, this word has a special role in the work of Eugene T. Gendlin. So, as a ‘focuser’ it suited me, there.)
Then, to communicate with others, I’ve looked for terms which non-philosophers could – with a little effort – use. For us to dialogue about our everyday experiences, non-jargon is preferable, where possible. The word ‘experience’ suits.
Then, I was moved by Sue Hamilton-Blyth’s understanding of the teachings, in her Early Buddhism: A New Approach: The I of the Beholder, when she said that the focus of the teachings is on this indisputable feature of human existence: “that we all have our own perception of the world of experience, or, more simply, our own experience.”
That resonated with me. Everyone has experiencing going on, whatever the differences between us. For that reason, the focus of the Buddhist teachings is to understand human experiencing, so that human bondage is dealt with appropriately. We need to understand how we function for freedom to be realized. Inappropriate handling of our experiencing is the root of all the violence we have in the world. This makes understanding experiencing central to human flourishing.
Hamilton-Blyth’s understanding of the Nikāya Buddha’s quest echoed the question which had bothered me since childhood (having grown up in a violent culture), too; which was: “Why (is this violence happening)?” I didn’t have the language, but intuitively I knew there was something wrong with experiencing. The question became particularly cogent during the years of the Vietnam War, when I was in danger of being drafted into killing in a wrongful war. “Why is human experience the way it is, and how can I contribute to the change so obviously needed?”
These were reasons to do with our communal life. However, the thing that I particularly love about the word ‘experience’ – despite, or maybe because of the philosophical problems which it can raise – is that experiencing is so fundamental to us as individuals. A useful thing about the word ‘experience’ is that, in most contexts, ‘experience’ is synonymous with ‘knowing.’
It carries the sense that some basic all-encompassing kind of knowing is present in us, a basic knowing which makes us human; by which I mean, there is knowing present in, and relevant to, every possible situation and every possible aspect of oneself and one’s world (loka). This use of ‘experiencing’ is meant to point to something prior to the subject-object, self-other, and inside-outside distinctions. As such, it is not a ‘thing.’
Some might say that if experiencing is not a thing, then it is ‘process’; and, I’m okay with that provisionally. One good thing about the ‘process’ approach is that we can suggest that process can go either way: awake in process (wisdom), or asleep in process (non-wisdom), as I have suggested. So, why provisionally? Process (like experiencing) can’t be found, except upon reflection. It can never be a direct object. Who would be experiencing ‘process,’ after all?
It is in misunderstanding the ‘knowing’ quality of our experience that the hardened, dualistic divisions which limit us arise. The knowing goes astray with the introduction of a fictional entity, the false, thought-based separate-experiencer. That’s “the one inside me that’s in charge of the show” (as I heard someone say recently, when explaining what they meant by the word ‘self’). I call this the ‘false self’ – experiencing gone astray.
There are ego-processes of a healthy kind, and there are the ego-processes contaminated by the clinging to a false version of self. This I refer to as ‘everyday narcissism.’ This is important to understand, in terms of what or who dies; and in order to understand our fear of death.
“In being a process, rather than a static entity, knowledge is always in danger of becoming divided against itself by taking its intentional operations concretely and – even before it glides off into the rigidity of a subject-‘here’ and an object-‘there’ – setting up a counterfeit image of itself which actually is the source of any duality.”
– Tarthang Tulku. Time, Space & Knowledge: A New Vision of Reality
“All relationships, attitudes, and situations can keep us prisoner in a cycle of suffering if we apprehend them unwisely (ayoniso manasikāra). On the other hand, any situation can also act as a springboard toward liberation if it is considered wisely. Thus it is not the people, things, and situations that we get involved with that are responsible for whether we suffer or make progress on the path of liberation. Rather it is the way we deal with them, the way we apprehend them that is responsible.” – Mirko Fryba (1989), The Art of Happiness: Teachings of Buddhist Psychology.
I have been articulating a process understanding of yoniso manasikāra; one which will point us back to our ‘ancestral field,’ back to our present-moment combodied experience.
I first came on the term yoniso manasikāra in Myrko Fryba’s The Art of Happiness: Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. This book is a detailed study of a therapeutic application of mindfulness, presenting Fryba’s ‘Satitherapy’ (literally, Mindfulness Therapy). Fryba was a pioneer of mindfulness-based psychotherapy. (The more recent editions are titled The Practice of Happiness: Exercises and Techniques for Developing Mindfulness Wisdom and Joy.)
We can build on Fryba’s presentation by making the body more central to the vision. So, adopting Blanchard’s and Gombrich’s thinking (that yoniso manasikāra means ‘making in the mind according to origin), but with a slightly different emphasis inspired by Gendlin, I translate yoniso manasikāra as: forming our mind by resonating with the matrix.
This is not as mysterious as it sounds. It means forming out mind by checking with our sense of the whole; thinking from our bodily-felt situation, freshly ground our knowing and our thinking. We can ponder whatever needs to be pondered, by zig-zagging between the old terms and our open, unbounded, bodily-felt sense of the situations (or topics we engage with).
If we think from what is not yet a content, from the ‘interdependent whole,’ the result will be: novel uses for words or phrases; and, where old terms don’t work any longer, entirely new words and phrases. Fresh perspectives can be applied to previous work in the field.
The difficulty with many expositions of the practice of mindfulness and of the way of freedom is that they tell us what is to be done, point us in the direction of the practices, but don’t articulate the ‘how’ precisely enough. I believe that practitioners can be given more concrete support to find the way to a revolution at the base of consciousness, by training attention more precisely.
Mirko Fryba: “Repeated thorough apprehension of situations, repeated direction of the attention onto the pathways that lead out of unpleasant experience, and repeated attentiveness to the good—these are important principles of liberational mind-training in general and of wise apprehension (yoniso manasikāra) in particular. Through repetition we make ourselves familiar with what is worthy of attention and make ourselves better able to penetrate the important aspects of reality.”
Now we can add: “…by attending to the bodily-felt sense of situations.” Practitioners have been trusting their felt sense, in an ad hoc way, for centuries. Not all bodies are alike, though, and only some will be skilled at accessing the felt sense. But, what is wise attention, if we don’t include the bodily-felt root of our contemplating?
Whence does wise pondering arise, but from a ‘felt sense,’ the direct referent of our speaking and thinking? It doesn’t arise in a vacuum. (See Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning).
One day I saw a very experienced Vipassana teacher pause and sense into his body, as he looked for the right words to say what he was experiencing, and what he wanted to convey. I recognised that glance inward, and so I asked him, “What do you call what you did, just then?” His answer was: ‘Wisdom. Paññā.’
Pausing, sensing inwardly, finding the right words, resonating the words against the feel of that place in you, sensing the rightness, and receiving what comes next as a result. All this is yoniso manasikāra – bringing one’s mind into accord with the matrix.
The womb which generates grounded thinking is found in/though/as the experiencing body. This is an important reason why we practice mindfulness of the body – to touch directly the implicit ‘more’ which is found in the changing flow of present moment experience – here we find the matrix for grounded enquiry.
“The energy or the “material” out of which life situations are created is already present, but the frame of reference or “form” in which they are cast is a matter of choice. The frame of reference is determined by the matrix (yoni). The technique of choosing and applying a particular yoni, which is called yoniso manasikāra, or wise apprehension, is the foundation of all liberational strategies.” – Mirko Fryba (1989), The Art of Happiness: Teachings of Buddhist Psychology.
Sometimes Buddhist teachers inaccurately use the phrase ‘felt sense’ – a term which has, in the wake of Gendlin’s work, become popularised over the last thirty years. What is a felt sense?
Not Another Word for Sensation
Sometimes, all the meditation teacher means is: ‘a sensation that you feel closely, or objectively.’ Joseph Goldstein, for instance, in his book on the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, when talking about the ‘four great elements’ (Pāli: mahābhūta) – that is, the earth element, the water element, the fire element and the air element – says:
“This mindful precision helped illuminate the body as the interplay of these four elements. As we free ourselves from the concept of “body” and increasingly experience the direct felt sense of it, the mind becomes less prone to attachment and to the desire, aversion, and conceit that come from it.” – Joseph Goldstein. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (p. 71).
I think that what he means here, and in the several other places in the book, is just ‘directly-experienced sensation.’ A ‘felt sense’ is, of course, a type of sensation– a quite subtle and vague sensation – but it’s a special case of sensation. One which is specifically about meaning.
“A felt sense is a bodily sensation, but it is not merely a physical sensation like a tickle or a pain. Rather, it is a physical sense of something, of meaning, of implicit intricacy. It is a sense of a whole situation or problem or concern, or perhaps a point one wants to convey.”
– Eugene T Gendlin, Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method
Not Another Word for Feelings, or Feeling-Tones
I got a surprise one day, when reading a book by a Buddhist psychotherapist. He was talking about Gendlin’s work, and instructing us about the ‘felt sense’; but, in fact he was explicitly and mistakenly identifying Gendlin’s concept of the ‘felt sense’ with the Buddhist concept ‘vedanā.’
Vedanā one of the five observable, sentient processes. The word refers to the three feeling-tones – three categories of experience, which are: pleasant, unpleasant, and neither pleasant nor neutral; and, which go with any sensation or experience.
A felt sense (as Gendlin means it) is not simply the feeling-tone aspect of some sensation. Naming the feeling-tone of an actual felt sense is often useful, and so it is sometimes part of a Focusing process. Indeed, sometimes when I start checking in to see what a felt sense is telling me, I might say: “Hmm… there’s something here that doesn’t feel so good.”
That can be step. It’s certainly naming feeling-tone, but it may be just an opening, an invitation for the felt sense to show itself some more, to come into view. Or, it might be that a sub-personality ( a part) is speaking, right there; and, I’ll need to say hello to that, first. In these cases, there’ll be more steps follow from the naming of the feeling-tone. In other words, a particular feeling-tone may provide a partial angle on a felt sense – a bit of information about a felt sense – but a felt sense is always more than a feeling-tone.
It might be possible, if you want to use the Buddhist model, to say that all felt senses are going to have some feeling-tone. Of course, that’s true. But, we don’t always have to name it; and, that’s not all a felt sense is.
To give you a sense of the importance of feeling in our intelligent life, I want to communicate something about what it is. Have you ever wondered what a feeling is? To most of us ‘feeling’ means a subjective experience – a sensation (a feeling of being tired, for example), or an emotion (a feeling of being angry), or to have a belief or conviction (“I feel strongly that..”).
Normally we take a feeling as part of a fixed self, part of its make-up – even though they do come and go. The feeling tells me about ‘me,’ and about what kind of person I am. Furthermore, t looks like something of mine that springs up at the end of a chain of some that it is purely internal which is trotted out in reaction. It looks, to the ordinary untrained perception, as though it comes formed in a packet, by itself, in reaction to something separate and ‘over there.’
Let’s look more deeply into it. What if we start, in Gendlin fashion, by saying that our self-organising body is always an interaction with the environment. Indeed, that the environment is an aspect of what we call body. An environment is in a body every bit as much as a body is in an environment. So, the feelings of our subjective world are the bodily-felt aspect of that interaction. Feeling indicates how the body is going on in its situation. Feeling is the body reiterating its experiencing-checking process.
This means that, the felt sense of something is the actual living interaction – it’s the environment as it is in us and it is the body living its situation – not just some end-point package brought forth in reaction to an outside event. This is why it carries/is/feels meaning.
This is important. If we believe (as most of us do) that feelings are only internal reactions, then we miss what they are about – they are interactions; they are of the environment. The bodily life and its self-sensing of its situations are a kind of self-locating, and tell us how our life process is carrying forward.
The ‘felt sense’ is a special case of feeling, then; in that, it is the subtle, vague, yet precise feel of a meaningful inward ‘wholeness’ of the interacting.
The felt sense layer of functioning is at the unfolding edge of awareness. Gendlin says, in Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method:
“General descriptions do not convey focusing. It differs from the usual attention we pay to feelings because it begins with the body and occurs in the zone between the conscious and the unconscious. Most people don’t know that a bodily sense of any topic can be invited to come in that zone, and that one can enter into such a sense. At first it is only a vague discomfort, but soon it becomes a distinct sense with which one can work, and in which one can sort out many strands,” p.9
It’s the feel of the ‘more of the meaningfulness’ that our body knows. It’s the ‘all that about X,’ and it brings the next step forward in our life.
One can sense that it includes many intricacies and strands. It is not uniform like a piece of iron or butter. Rather it is a whole complexity, a multiplicity implicit in a single sense.
– Eugene T Gendlin, Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method, p.33.
The trouble is, once you decide that a felt-sense of something is identical to either a ‘sensation’ or a ‘feeling-tone’ (both have been translations for ‘vedanā’), then you have stopped being open to more steps from inside that vague spot in the middle of you; and, this being so, people then often grasp onto other mental factors which might or might not be in reaction to it – such as the desire for more of what is pleasant, or less of what is unpleasant. Or, some analysis, or opinion, about the feeling.
If we don’t know about the felt sense – don’t know that the murky edge that comes when we check to see how we really are about something may have something to say to us – then we will easily miss the opportunity to facilitate the unfolding of a next step in our process.
So, when you hear a meditation teacher talking about having a ‘felt sense,’ I suggest you ask (yourself or them) what they are actually referring to. It may mean nothing more than having “bare attention” of a sensation or a feeling-tone.
I have encountered a very touching passage this morning, about the awakening of compassion. I was led by the scholar-practitioner in me to read Bhikkhu Anālayo’s latest book Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation. I’m relaxing in a cafe in Balmain, in Sydney, having breakfast, after teaching a workshop for two days, sharing Focusing with nine precious people.
Anālayo’s book is not a beginner’s book; but is valuable for committed meditators (as was his detailed study of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta). And, I’m moved by a passage in which Anālayo quotes the Sakyamuni Buddha of the Chinese Agamas (and he says there is a parallel sutta in the Pāli Anguttara Nikaya. For those of you who love the Pāli Nikayas, it’s at: AN 4.186/AN II 178,27 [translated Bodhi 2012: 555]) The Sakyamuni Buddha is, in this sutta, represented contrasting penetrative wisdom and vast wisdom.
This may not be directly a post about dying. I’ll praise the practice of Focusing and its associated Philosophy of the Implicit, as well as refer to compassion in Buddhist meditation. Focusing and the Philosophy of the Implicit are definitely relevant to any deep exploration of dying and death. And, of course, the qualities of heart fostered in Focusing practice include and result in compassion. So, all this gives some of the context for why I am particularly moved this morning, by the Anālayo passage. The ten of us over the weekend, were exploring being here. We did that for the benefit of each of us there in the workshop, but also for circle upon circle of beings radiating out from our activities. More than one person there spoke of the healing occurring.
It was one of the most satisfying workshop experiences that I have had, from another standpoint, too. I finally – after more than fifteen years of teaching Focusing workshops – I finally taught my own workshop. I’ve been teaching Focusing from a pattern learned from my trainers, which has worked well enough; but this was very different. I think I have absorbed Prof Eugene T. Gendlin’s book A Process Model sufficiently during the last decade, that now I can truly teach Focusing informed by the philosophy that goes with it. It’s curious, how I can teach something developed by another, by Gendlin, and now know I am teaching authentically? How does that work? I can feel the next step would be to invite the love that comes, when I ask that question. However…. that would be another whole post, wouldn’t it? One about authenticity. Worth exploring some day, but now I’m talking about compassion.
I was moved by the courage of my workshop participants, and by their love of what is true and compassionate in this torn world. There was, in us all, a high level of interest in true experiencing and the welfare of the many.
So, now, to the passage that moved me. It mentions ‘dukkha.’ For those of you who don’t know what dukkha means, I suggest that you think of it as ‘skewiffness.’ It’s that quality of human life where you sense that somehow there’s a whole lot of suffering – in everyone’s life – that doesn’t appear to be necessary. It’s not just pain – like, I’m not talking, here, about my disintegrating hip; or, my post-viral chronic illness – but it is, at root, the sense that something in us is out of kilter. If you’ve touched that sense, you’re on track. The feeling is endemic in the species. It’s a form of disharmony that is produced by wrong inner vision. Now, here’s the passage that moved me:
:If … one has heard that “this is dukkha” and through wisdom moreover rightly sees dukkha as it really is; [if] one has heard of “the arising of dukkha”… “the cessation of dukkha”… “the path to the cessation of dukkha”, and with wisdom moreover rightly sees the path to the cessation of dukkha as it really is; then in this way … one is learned with penetrative wisdom …
My understanding of that fourth reality – ‘This is the path leading to cessation – is a little different. I accept this ‘path-to’ translation as useful, but personally, I’ve resolved the Nikaya’s presentation of human freedom a little differently. I propose, instead, that the path and the cessation are not two. I take a ‘path-as’ view. So, for me, there are four ennobling realities, which are:
1) there is disharmony; 2) there is a cause of the disharmony; 3) there is the cessation of the cause of disharmony; and, 4) there is the path which is the cessation of the cause.
So, if one has heard this teaching, and has become involved the tasks that correspond with each of these realities, and has seen the realities rightly, then one is ‘one of penetrative wisdom.’ However, the Agama (Sakyamuni) Buddha goes further, to indicate the possibility of a territory called “vast wisdom”:
If … one does not think of harming oneself, does not think of harming others, does not think of harming both; and instead … one thinks of benefiting oneself and benefiting others, benefiting many people out of compassion for the affliction in the world, seeking what is meaningful and of benefit for devas and humans, seeking their ease and happiness; then in this way … one is bright, intelligent, and with vast wisdom.”
Gendlin’s Focusing (when taught with the Philosophy of the Implicit) is vast wisdom. It is a complete practice of self-knowledge. And it’s a practice of non-harm, and of benefit for all beings. I presented Focusing, over this last weekend, as a full path in its own right, grounded in Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit. It has been created and propagated for the benefit of the world. Focusing doesn’t belong to anyone. It doesn’t belong to psychotherapists, artists, school teachers, architects, or peace-makers – all of whom use it. It is human.
By practising Focusing, “one does not think of harming oneself, does not think of harming others, does not think of harming both; and instead … one thinks of benefiting oneself and benefiting others, benefiting many people out of compassion for the affliction in the world, seeking what is meaningful and of benefit for devas and humans, seeking their ease and happiness.” (Here, we can take ‘devas’ to mean any possible or impossible beings.) It is, indeed, a vast wisdom. Deep bows to Gene Gendlin and all his students. I am moved by these two great paths, actualising vast wisdom.