Focusing Certification Paper

I Found Intimate Connection to the Divine through Focusing

By Leslie Savage

Author Note

All biblical quotations and references have been taken from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson. (2012). THE MESSAGE Study Bible: Capturing the notes and reflections of Eugene H. Peterson. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group.

Written to make the Bible more accessible and understandable to modern readers, The Message (abbreviation, MSG) was translated by Peterson directly from the Greek and Hebrew texts into the idioms, images, and language that people use every day.

Peterson’s work has been thoroughly reviewed and approved by a number of biblical scholars of both the Old and New Testaments.

Chapter 1

I Found Intimate Connection to the Divine through Focusing

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. When you are joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.

John 15:4, 5, MSG

This is my story of freedom: of my transformation and liberation from the confines of small ideas, from the chains of what other people think, from the emotional cages of shame, guilt, and fear, from the prison of inadequacy and doubt, to discover who I truly am through an intimate relationship with Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit – the Divine. Focusing, turning inward to the felt sense of my body connects me to the Divine – a radiant compassion and mercy that I express in tears. These tears are my response to the Divine that swells up from an overflowing sense of gratitude and appreciation for the Divine love and mercy that I feel. No words can really capture the magnitude of what I experience in my body. The felt sense of it seems to be at a molecular level that affects every cell in my body. The Divine is my life source and joined with Christ and him with me, I am connected to warmth, security, and a deep knowing that I am unconditionally loved and that I matter. Just me, foibles and all, who God created, is good. And it is in direct proportion to others, a felt knowing that I am precious and a grain of sand among all who are uniquely precious, no less, no greater.

Chapter 2

The Sunflower

A felt sense analogy of this connection to the Divine came during a Focusing meditation workshop, Landscape of Soul. A sunflower captured it perfectly. Walking through Donna Varnau’s beautiful garden surrounding a labyrinth, I came upon a sole sunflower, so poetic and beautiful in its reverence to the sun. Its solid, firm stem of strength and radiant yellow petals streaming outward from a rich brown center facing directly into sun took my breath away. It seemed to worship its connection to this life source, energy for its existence.

It seemed unabashed, bold, uninhibited, and strong, showing its devotion to God, its creator and life source – reverent, open, and exposed in its worship. The image of the sunflower connected to something so powerful in me that I cannot refute this same connection to the Divine. Like the sunflower that so boldly admits and submits without shame that its alignment and dependence for life is the sun, it spiritually mirrors my inner connection and dependence on the Divine as my life source.

I imagine this same connection and reverence for Christ was within the apostles, as it is written:

Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing, I’ll be completely frank with you – we have nothing to hide. The rulers and leaders, they couldn’t take their eyes off them – Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in Scripture or formal education.

Acts 4:8, 13, MSG

Chapter 3

My Story of Freedom

My story of freedom begins on August 17, 2003 when my life changed significantly. I experienced a spiritual awakening at a thin place in time when the veil between heaven and earth was transparent. I had the privilege of being with my mother in-law when she died, an intimate phase of life that I shared with her husband and daughter. During the hour leading up to her last breath, I sensed the presence of Christ in the room and felt an inexplicable joy and peace in the midst of sorrow and grief. I saw him with my spiritual eyes. Christ had come for her, and my heart leapt with joy at this reunion. If you are familiar with John Ylvisaker’s hymn, I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry there is a lyric that goes like this:

When the evening gently closes in, and you shut your weary eyes, I'll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise.

Little did I know that I would be a witness to Christ’s surprise, invited to see God’s mystery unfold and experientially know from a felt sense the Divine promise of eternal life. In Christ’s words:

There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready? And if I am on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.

John 14: 2-4, MSG

At the time, I could not find the words to describe my experience, as tears would well up and spill out. I can only point to what happened and the different choices I made from that day forward. What unfolded was a deep appreciation and loyalty to Christ to follow him and trust his guidance. My priorities in life changed and my relationship with Christ came first.

I volunteered as a Stephen Minister in my church and walked beside women who were overwhelmed by heavy burdens. In 2005 I left a successful advertising career to become a family service counselor, assisting families in celebrating the lives of their loved ones. A year later, I followed a spiritual nudge to return to school and earn my Master of Science degree in Psychology for Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as my certificate for Medical Family Therapy. Shortly after receiving my license in Marriage & Family Therapy for Washington state I followed another spiritual nudge to enroll in Donna Varnau’s The Inner Relationship of Focusing: Level One workshop, and then in the fall I enrolled in Ann Weiser Cornell’s first level training for Focusing-Oriented therapists. I completed my Focusing Instructor training and certification with Jeffrey Morrison in 2017.

After licensure, my quest was to find a psychotherapy modality that would allow me to integrate my spirituality. I found that it was Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.

Focusing, from the first time I experienced it, allows me to feel from a bodily knowing the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the Divine – as something that lives in me and unites me to God and the universe. It is from this place that the Word of God unfolds into something meaningful and personal, an intimate relationship, like I am being shown the way forward in life. Eugene Gendlin, philosopher and psychologist of experiential psychotherapy and founder of the International Focusing Institute describes the felt sense this way:

Your physically felt body is in fact part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people – in fact the whole universe. This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is the body as felt from the inside.

1981, p. 77

Chapter 4

My Inner Sanctuary

Taking the elevator down from my mind into my body is like leaving the daily responsibilities of life to rest in the presence of Christ, my security, my sanctuary. He is the one to whom I relinquish my life. I surrender all to him because there is a deep knowing that he exists, is real, is my rightful owner, and knows what is best for me.

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

Psalm 23:1-3 MSG

I am gaining the ability through Focusing to trust in the Divine and to rest in this spiritual knowing. Sensing the living me in my body is not a literal experience, like sitting with my organs, visualizing them. It is more like being connected to the living me at a cellular level – I am alive. There is respect for every cell in my body as if it is interconnected to my creator; I am just as he made me. My body feels more like a temple and in my belly is the New Jerusalem. It is expansive, pregnant with appreciation and gratitude. There is a feeling of being satiated and at home with a sense of belonging, purpose, and of being loved that makes my existence on Earth small in comparison. Connecting to my breath, especially the exhale and the pause before an inhale, brings a stillness to just be in Christ’s presence. His presence is the light and warmth of love, mercy, and tenderness that has healed me and has become the foundation of my faith, confidence, and security in him – because he loved me first. As it is written,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places… You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

Isaiah 58:11, MSG

What I am sharing is not foreign to humanity; the native people knew about this and named it the Sacred Space, the space between exhalation and inhalation. The Lakota Prayer points to the Divine, the Great Mystery, and trusting an inner knowing:

Lakota Prayer
Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery,
teach me how to trust
my heart,
my mind,
my intuition,
my inner knowing,
the senses of my body,
the blessings of my spirit.
Teach me to trust these things
so that I may enter my Sacred Space
and love beyond my fear,
and thus Walk in Balance
with the passing of each glorious Sun.

To walk in balance, according to the native people, is to have heaven, our spirituality, and earth, our physicality, in harmony. For me, it is being aligned with the Divine, dwelling in the wellspring of the Sacred Space, to have an inner sense of harmony and peace on earth.

Chapter 5

Focusing, a Palpable Experience of the Divine

My security in the Divine has as its basis an implicit interaction with the Divine. The felt sense is linked to that and resonates a truth that I feel concretely in my body. Robert Sears writes in his forward to Bio Spirituality:

Focusing…touches a deeper cosmic process, but it does so in a way that is unique to each individual in his or her own time and place. We each share this ‘cosmic process’ – the divine Spirit in the world – so that it can heal our isolation and fear and lead us to recognize our participation in a dynamic universal truth.

Campbell, P. A. & McMahon, E. M., 1997, p. viii

I am learning to trust more and more in this, what I feel experientially, and it is leading me toward love and compassion for myself and others. I am attending to the parts that are troubled. At the core, I find God speaking to me, experientially, at the center of my life. Eugene Peterson, pastor and author of the Bible translation The Message, wrote in his spiritual commentary:

He is here to be answered. He is here to be recognized. He is here to be received.

2012, p.1557

Gendlin describes a directional character of the felt sense as

leading to a next step and more steps after that. The felt sense…provides its own interpretation by pointing you in the direction it wants to – toward the next step.

1996, pp. 66-67

Not only is the felt sense directional, but

this process of steps has truth at every step. It is a truth of change and development in the whole mess of experience.

1996, p. 36

My felt sense through Focusing brings me to the foundation of life, to the essence of my being, and it is interrelated with God: a raw, simple truth that I could not exist without his love, mercy, grace, and protection. I am with God and God is with me. Peter Scazzero, founder and senior pastor of the New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and cofounder with his wife Geri, of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, explains it in this way that resonates with my felt sense:

Living and swimming in the river of God’s deep love for us in Christ is at the very heart true spirituality. Soaking in this love enables us to surrender to God’s will, especially when it seems so contrary to what we can see, feel, or figure out ourselves. This experiential knowing of God’s love and acceptance provides the only sure foundation for loving and accepting our true selves. Only the love of God in Christ is capable of bearing the weight of our true identity. God has shaped and crafted us internally – with a unique personality, thoughts, dreams, temperament, feelings, talents, gifts, and desires. He has planted ‘true seeds of self’ inside us. They make up the authentic ‘us.’ We are also deeply loved. We are a treasure.

2006, p.75

My felt sense of the whole mess of the experience is a melting together of me and the Divine. A sense of peace and serenity fills me and overflows into compassion for others. I believe that what Peter explains above is the filling in of a positive regard for my own inner being that was first initiated by the Divine, an unconditional love and acceptance. There is another aspect of the filling in of positive regard that Eugene explains this way, which resonates with my felt sense:

When a person’s central core or inward self-expands (i.e., in a direction) it strengthens and develops, the ‘I’ becomes stronger. One develops when the desire to live and do things stirs deep down, when one’s hopes and desires stir, when one’s own perceptions and evaluations carry a new sureness, when the capacity to stand one’s separate existence solidly enough to want to be close to others as they really are.

Gendlin, 1996, p.21

I believe this to be true. It resonates with my felt sense that as I experientially feel the Divine’s love for me, I can appreciate who I am now and am becoming in relationship with God, a separate existence willing to be with others just as they are.

Finding the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.

Scazzero, 2006, p. 80

This quote by John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, seems to describe the work of the felt sense; to know something beyond the rational mind that is connected to a global, universal knowledge, beyond intellect and analysis. The Word, Christ, becomes alive, real, and personal to me.

It is a deep knowing at the core of my being that my life is built on a solid foundation of love, acceptance, grace, justice, and faith that I can surrender to Christ and let him guide me because he knows me beyond my own comprehension. The felt sense is linked to this global knowing and my true being brims over into true words and a next step when life’s energy flows in a new way. When the Word, Christ, is trusted and abided,

Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.

Luke 4:45, MSG

When the storms of life come crashing upon me, things that happen beyond my control, I am anchored in this foundation in Christ, grounded in this knowing that I am loved and accepted so I am not swept away, lost, or disintegrating into nothing. My inner world is held together in God’s hands, Divine presence. It is written, Christ’s words:

The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me – that’s the only way you’ll ever come. Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End. This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’ Anyone who has spent time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally – to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father.

John 6:43-45, MSG

My journey of freedom has not been an easy and smooth road; in fact, it has been quite the opposite, with internal struggles and tension between my humanity and the Divine. Focusing offers a way to be present and attend to the parts of me that are hurt, worried, confused, disappointed, and frustrated. Through presence there is felt connection to the Divine. I am open, raw, and honest as space is given to the parts of me that want and need to speak out and just be without any agenda to fix them or change them. It is written:

God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him.

Samuel 22:25, MSG

I find this to be true; the Divine is there and responds with empathy and compassion.

Peterson wrote this spiritual commentary on Romans 5:

The same is true of the world inside you. Adam (humanity) is there, in that inner world. But so is Christ. He’s there as the Source of all that’s good and true and beautiful.

2012, p. 1746

In one sense, the seed of God is in us as a source of all that is good, true, and beautiful and he planned for the true seeds of self to grow in Divine presence. Somehow that was lost in our humanity.

Chapter 6

The Felt Sense as a Visual Image

During one of my companioned Focusing practices, I had the felt sense of being at an impasse in my career as a therapist. There was a sense of hopelessness, deep sadness, and a yearning for the healing of others. As my relationship with the Divine deepens, and my faith and trust in Christ as the foundation of life and creation grows, I feel the fruition of this relationship experientially in my daily life. It is a gift that I want for everyone – to experience a profound sense of safety, security, and belonging that fills in and comforts the pain in life and relationships through Divine presence. The therapist part of me was concerned and apprehensive that I might be perceived as preaching the gospel to my clients. I listened and validated its concern that that is not my role as a therapist. The questions that rose from this impasse were: Am I in the wrong career? Do I need to make a change? I made space to feel this impasse and acknowledged it as I carried it with me with an open, curious pondering.

As I went about my daily spiritual practices, including Focusing with partners, I was led to a phrase that resonated deeply, stirring something deep inside – it was the sovereignty of God. Something within me shifted with that phrase, and it related to the impasse I was sitting with. Now both were there. I pondered the meaning of the sovereignty of God, which was linked to the impasse in a way that my analytical mind did not comprehend. I stayed present with my bodily felt sense, the deep stirring within my whole being. For two and a half days I exhaled through something that was incomprehensible to my mind. There were no words, only deep exhales as I was present to the felt sense of understanding the meaning of God’s sovereignty over creation, including me. Then on the afternoon of the third day, something was released and I was filled with great joy that bubbled over. I could not contain it. It was like every living cell in my body was celebrating this sense of liberation. The pain and hopelessness were gone. The impasse was gone. The need to change my career dissolved into the knowledge that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

The liberation seemed to come from a deeply seeded sense of burden I was carrying, that somehow I was the one responsible for my clients’ healing. Although I long for the healing of my clients, I had a profound sense of awareness that it is not my domain or responsibility to heal them. What came was a sense of my place in the universe. My part is to offer my clients a safe place of warmth and acceptance to be with their pain and allow Divine presence to be there, to facilitate the sacred space between me and my clients.

In Scazzero’s book Emotional Healthy Spirituality, he talks about the central tenet of Martin Buber’s work, the I-Thou relationship. When people are able to recognize the uniqueness and separateness of every other person, the relationship between persons intimately reflects the I-Thou relationship humans have with God:

Genuine relationship with any Thou shows traces of the ‘eternal Thou.’ For this reason, when we love someone well as emotional adults, treating them as a Thou, not an It, it is such a powerful experience. When genuine love is released in a relationship, God’s presence is manifest. The separate space between us becomes sacred space.

2006, pg. 183

Gendlin points to this as well; it is a central tenant of Focusing-Oriented psychotherapy:

Every organism is carried forward by being loved or cared for. The body will take a carrying-forward step if it can happen in the interaction [with the therapist].

1996, p. 281

This was a gift I received from God, an understanding that transcended my mental capacity, to experientially know that I am connected to a sovereign God who is at work in all creation, including the sacred space between me and my clients. Despite my strenuous work, I cannot do for my clients what God has done for me. According to Peterson, Christ

does for us what we, for all our strenuous effort, cannot do for ourselves.

2012, p. 1649

The awakening was similar to the day my mother in-law died on August 17, 2003. Every cell in my body was celebrating and at that time I was shocked, surprised, and hid the experience – now I could not contain it, it was there. Even my women’s therapy group commented: What is up with you? You are way too happy.

During another companioned Focusing practice, a visual image came to me. It was the cirque at the alpine Lake Annette in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. To go forward was like traversing the steep mountainside holding the lake, the deep stirring and exhale was the Holy Spirit working through an understanding of the meaning of God’s sovereignty. The liberation and celebration were making it to the top, aware of something greater and more beautiful that could be seen from this new plateau – knowing spiritually a tiny bit more of God’s mystery, wonder, power, and majesty. The gratitude that filled my heart was for the Divine gift of revelation, what he did for me. According to Gendlin, an image that comes can be accompanied by a physical sense, an aura.

There will also be an inward understanding that is not conceptual and cannot be spoken. The image can lead to its own direct sense of significance. This sense is always much richer than what one says in words, and one cannot know all that it is or could be in it.

1996, p.17

Chapter 7

Unity with the Divine

The felt sense, my process unfolding, brings understanding and wholeness which carries forward to a spiritual connection to the Divine. I believe there is a universal longing deep within us that desires and longs for love, acceptance, and a sense of belonging – but to what? Gendlin says the felt sense is experienced as an intricate whole:

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, multiplicity implicit in a single sense. With the emergence of such a single bodily sense comes relief, as if the body is grateful for being allowed to form its way of being as a whole.

1996, p. 20

In this relief, there is a shift or step whereby one senses oneself differently:

As one comes to have a sense of this whole as an object there comes to be a difference between oneself and that sense. ‘It is there, I am here.’ When one has a felt sense, one becomes more deeply oneself.

Gendlin, 1996, p. 21

For me, the felt sense is linked to an intimate relationship with the Divine where there is an understanding and wholeness in finding that I am God-created. In a sense my lack of wholeness is me groping around in the dark, lost, unsure, seeking affirmation, acceptance, and love; not knowing my true self as God-created. In finding my wholeness, I find the Divine, there too, separate from me, yet near me and in me, bodily felt. For it is written:

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we can seek God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him. One of our poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.'

Acts 17: 25-28, MSG

Peterson’s spiritual reflection of Apostle Paul’s words above is:

Christ brings our needs and our knowledge into a unity and calls us to accept him into our lives so that our passions and perceptions can be integrated into a whole life.

2012, p. 1715

To me this intimate connection to the Divine is a part of the intricacies and strands of the felt sense that is implicit in a single sense. The inter-linking of this strand forms a unity with the Divine so our experience of wholeness is a step closer to finding the Divine – a sense of love, acceptance, and belonging that is already in us, the true seeds of self that God planted even before we were born. As it is written,

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth: all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.

Psalms 139:13, 16

According to Robert Sears in his forward to Bio-Spirituality: Focusing as a way to grow:

Faith is grounded not in formulated beliefs but in the experience of the unfolding process itself. The very process of believing gives us an analogous way of understanding its deepest ground, the triune God. “I” focus on a “felt sense” which “unfolds” into who I am in the process of becoming. Analogously, the Father (I) forms his perfect image (felt sense) which gives rise to an unfolding process of integration and self-transcendence (Holy Spirit). Focusing does not cause this redemptive contact with the Spirit. It opens the way. The transforming event itself is always perceived as gift – as grace – and a growing gratitude and reverence emerge in one who lives out this spiritual type of Focusing.

1997, p. x

Chapter 8

The Treasure Within

As I reflect on Sears’ understanding, I wonder, where is Christ in this unfolding process? My felt sense in coming down into my body is that when I am present, I am linked to the presence of Christ, there with me. I am not alone. It is leaving my mind, coming into my body and resting in the stillness, solitude, peace, and serenity that is there in being present, aware of my breath and my inner world, my humanity and the presence of Christ. Christ is the emotional and spiritual nest of safety, security, love, and acceptance that holds me to be present to the unfolding process itself.

During a Focusing meditation, I pondered the contrast of life and death. Going back to my experience with my mother-in-law, what Christ had come for, and how in her last breath, she was gone, her body vacant, empty, and lifeless. She was no longer there. My attention stayed with this curious pondering of what is this living thing and where does it dwell. In staying with it, what unfolded was a felt sense of the living me there, placed deep within my rib cage, near my lungs, the Oh my God, it is me there, something real, palpable, alive, and precious, like a treasure there that is me. The dwelling point of this aliveness, this treasure, seems to be in my heart. The felt sense that continued to unfold was that it needs to be protected, nurtured, and guarded, the God-created me. For it is written:

Keep watch over your heart; 'that’s' where life starts.

Proverbs 4.23, MSG

The essence of the felt sense is like the chest made in Exodus, the place of God amidst his people, the God dwelling in me. I am his creation and it needs to be guarded, protected; it is something sacred.

In an embodied presence Focusing practice with Donna Varnau, she companioned me to explore the edge of the living me. The felt sense of the living me shifted into a deeper sense of finding God there too, like God and I are one, interchangeable. The gift and revelation that came was a spiritual understanding of death, a reassurance that Christ is preparing a room for me and will come for me, that I know where I am going. This experiential understanding was linked to the found treasure, me and the Divine, eternal. I felt that the knowledge of this as the most important thing about life and, compared to anything else, nothing came close or mattered. As it is written,

Drinking from the beautiful chalice of knowledge is better than adorning oneself with gold and rare gems.

Proverbs 20:15, MSG

In companioning me, Donna’s felt sense led her to a deeper understanding of the first verse of the Syriac Aramaic version of The Lord’s Prayer:

O thou, the Breath, the Light of All, Let this Light create a heart-shrine within.

The felt shift within was seeing things from a different perspective. There was a stronger alignment with God, and what followed was the gift of being present to my clients, a more solid zone of presence that they could sense. In finding this treasure, I found God, the place in me where he dwells.

In going deeper from this dwelling point in my heart, the treasure of the living, God-created me and God, what unfolded is the felt sense that from this point every cell in my body was infused, aligned, and united in being with God. What came was a greater sense of appreciation for the body as a living organism, an instrument that can sense and attune to this dwelling place of God within us. What flowed from this was a greater sensitivity to nature, to the world, to life, and to others. From the dwelling point in my heart, there was a connection to an expansion in my pelvic bowl, a community of others, much more than me. The felt sense of it was that it encompassed God’s creation and the holding of his community of saints. How precious it is, God’s creation, God’s kingdom. In moving forward, the next step revealed that this dwelling point is so precious that there is a desire to protect it, to hold it with honor and respect within me and in the community. Like this is mine to be watchful of, to attend and care for it, and that it would be wrong if I gave it to someone else. That it belongs to me, it is that precious, it is mine to safeguard along with God, because that is where life starts. Then we can be gifts to each other. Donna named it walking temples of God.

There is a process of stepping out in faith to trust this bodily knowing and the shifts from the felt sense, to believe them as real and true. According to Peterson, the writer of the book of Hebrews provides a working definition of faith:

It’s as if the writer were saying that in order for faith to be faith, it must be lived faith. Something visible, tangible, palpable. It must be walked out, a step at a time, a day at a time.

2008, p. 1902

I would even add moment to moment. For me this is what the felt sense in Focusing provides – something experientially felt in the body that is tangible and palpable.

The felt sense is like a handle on what I cannot see, the invisible God, the Trinity, and yet it brings me to a fundamental truth that he exists. As it is written,

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.

Hebrews 11:1, MSG

I see the truth in scripture, that when we know this more concretely, not in our mind but through our hearts, a bodily knowing, then we can become walking temples of God.

Anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6, MSG

The Life-Light and the Word of God (Christ) existed before life was created:

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

John 1:1-5, MSG

Even before Christianity as a religion, this Life-Light was felt and known in the hearts of some people:

An Indian Prayer
O GREAT SPIRIT
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all in the world,
hear me! I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
LET ME WALK IN BEAUTY,
and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
MAKE MY HANDS
respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
MAKE ME WISE
so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
LET ME LEARN
the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I SEEK STRENGTH,
not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.
MAKE ME ALWAYS READY
to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
SO WHEN LIFE FADES,
as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

Chapter 9

The Shame Undone

I have found through Focusing that only the love of God in Christ is capable of bearing the weight of my true identity. I am the eldest of five children, and both my parents were the only children in their families. I was the responsible one, the example for my siblings to follow and it seemed to me that not only was I responsible for myself, I was responsible for my siblings, too. I have specific memories of being blamed and punished for my siblings’ choices and actions.

Both my father and mother were extremely competitive and we all learned that being first won their approval. As siblings we were competitive with each other and with competition there was no tolerance for weakness. Emotions were a sign of weakness. When I went to college, I learned through my classmates the tender or softer side of life.

I remember coming home for the holidays and realizing the world is kinder to me than my own family was. The underlying belief I had about myself was that I was not good enough. I felt that I had failed as a daughter and sister; it seemed I never measured up to my parents’ expectations, especially my mom’s. My siblings saw me as another parent, too obedient in following the rules, no fun to be with, and not bad enough. It seems I spent most of my life, 56 years, trying to prove to myself and others that I was good enough, and failing to measure up, especially to myself. I had an inner critic that was harder on me than others. I had a lot of shame that prevented me from seeing my own inner beauty, the seed of God’s creation and beauty within, the treasure that I am in Christ.

I am reminded of a quote by Shirley Turcotte that Jeffrey Morrison shared in my second year of training for Focusing-Oriented Therapy and Complex Trauma:

It is an indigenous belief that we are whole and complete right from the start. We are all responsible and capable for our community and our people. We all have jobs to do, in helping to carry our community forward. We are all connected and there is a functioning place for everyone. Family and community survival come before self. Even children are at community work right away.

I find truth in this. It resonates with a spiritual knowing that we are complete when we are born, a child of God, and then we seem lose this connection to God as we grow and develop into adults. Something is lost when we develop and strengthen our ego for survival through refinement of control. I remember my grandmother saying that children should be seen but not heard. The impression I had growing up is that I was empty, blank, dumb, and had to be taught what was right for me, first by my parents and then by my teachers in school. I learned that they were the judges of what was right and wrong for me. In essence, it was living by the rules – family and societal rules – like the story of people in the old testament of the bible.

According to Peter Campbell and Edwin McMahon, cofounders of the Institute for Bio-Spirituality Research,

The perspective of ego is narrow. It lacks depth; human depth. The approach to everything is so limited. Always seeing from the outside. Calculating. Manipulating. Predicting. Controlling.

1997, p. 80

The ego is absolutely necessary for our survival, but when our identity is this narrow perspective, it confines our life. The Old Testament is living that entire rule-dominated way of life,

For as long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious.

Romans 7:5, MSG

Focusing is the doorway to my transformation and liberation from the confines of small ideas, from the chains of what other people think, from the emotional cages of shame, guilt, and fear, from the prison of inadequacy and doubt, to discover who I truly am through an intimate relationship with Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit – the Divine. Focusing leads me to my bodily resurrection, the letting go of security associated with what I already know that is too painful to face.

Initially, I was resistant to the challenge of believing. Over time I learned to trust and have faith in a process that is more integral, lasting, unfolding, and evolving, accepting the gift of the Divine: presence, revelation, and grace that is given to me through the felt sense.

Being drawn beyond the ego is not something that is wrested from the universe like some prized mineral arduously dug from the earth. Rather, it is given to us, as butterfly wings emerge from the caterpillar when the time is ripe.

Campbell, P. A. & McMahon, E. M., 1997, p. 82

The fruits of Focusing are a gift that I experience as grace. It is not forced by effort or striving, it is through the process of letting go, surrendering to an unfolding of my own deeper story, having faith to remain in the process of not knowing, and trusting in my own inner sense of self, connected to the Divine dwelling within. The wisdom given to me is that there is an enduring Presence within that holds a greater truth about us than what our ego can understand.

Chapter 10

Exodus, a Story of Our Inner Journey to Wholeness

The Old Testament story of Exodus seems to parallel the internal process of Focusing. Exodus is an external story of the Hebrew people wandering in the untamed desert of Sinai. It was an historical account of the Israelites’ journey lived out physically in adverse conditions that could have killed them all. To survive the wilderness, they had to learn to trust that Yahweh would provide protection, water, food, clothing, shelter, warmth, and companionship if they surrendered control and trusted his teaching and promise. They carried the Chest and burning incense as a daily reminder; it was a symbol of Yahweh’s dwelling Presence among them.

The Cloud of God was over The Dwelling during the day and the fire was in it at night, visible to all the Israelites in all their travels [in the untamed wilderness].

Exodus 40:38, MSG

The story of Exodus symbolizes my inner journey to freedom and liberation. As I look back over my life, I was living in a confined space defined by the pieces of me that were acceptable and worthy of love by others. The rest of me was exiled in the wilderness; shamed, denied, forgotten, and buried because those parts had been deemed unworthy of acceptance and love by others and me. To face my shame was a journey into darkness, a barren, scornful land. To face the darkness and take that first step into the darkness was a step of faith. In doing so, I was surprisingly greeted by the Light, the living Presence of Christ in me. For it is written as God speaking:

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end – because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior. I want [you] back, every last one who bears my name, every man, woman, and child whom I created for my glory, yes, personally formed and made.

Isaiah 43: 2-3,7, MSG

There is a natural resistance to trust beyond our ego; there is fear that things will be so out of control that we could die. Most of us believe if we enter into this wilderness we will drown in the rough waters or fall into a dead end and never find our way back. Fathers Peter Campbell and Edwin McMahon drew a similar analogy with Exodus and explain it beautifully with the work of Focusing and the felt sense:

The felt sense can be a place of fire and flood, confusion, turbulence, and pain. It is beyond control, beyond the crafted security that ego can provide.

A call into the desert drew the Hebrews from their Egyptian landscape into the untamed wilderness of Sinai. What they lived as an external, historical event we experience today in the unfolding of our own inner sense of self. Focusing provides an Exodus content for each of us. It places us in the wilderness area of our own open-ended journey, our pilgrimage, our wandering in the realm of evolutionary surprise.

This is a desert place for most of us because we usually come to know ourselves as ego, as the ones who strive for control. Yet here, control must be abandoned in a new way of being.

Two vital experiences happened to the Israelites during their Exodus wandering, two experiences that radically transformed their sense of themselves. They discovered a new identity, and in it they were touched by the saving power of God.

The desert was beyond all control, yet out of this strange wilderness came wonders and surprise. Water gushed forth from a rock. Manna fell from above. They were given a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them.

The Israelites heard a voice that spoke to them in this wilderness, a voice from beyond the habitual, the familiar, the secure. The protective shell of their hardened ego was blistered by the desert sun – cracked, broken, and eventually transformed. Exodus for the Israelites was a time of conversion. Beyond all their resistance a new identity lay awaiting to be born. They were to discover themselves as gifted, graced. They would find within the limitations of their own flesh the seed of God.

1997, p. 83-94

I am sharing my Exodus story, my inner landscape of the felt sense through Focusing, my transformation, my inner story unfolding, and my journey through the desert to find wonders and surprise beyond control. In abandoning control to trust in the unfolding process of my own deeper story, I allow an evolving process to go forward. I have discovered through trusting this process, the seed of God within me, the treasure that I am, a child of God, and a willingness to embrace the Divine and receive the blessings, the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This is living out the New Testament, the good news that there are deeper waters of identity in the Trinity – God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit – that open me to a greater depth of humanness than my ego does for survival:

Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them – living and breathing God! Attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. When God lives and breathes in you, you are delivered from that dead life. God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are, Father and children.

Romans 8:6, 11, 16, MSG

Through Focusing and the felt sense, the leading of the Holy Spirit, I have gone to the places where pieces of me have been exiled and through the embodied Presence of Christ and have claimed those pieces as mine. Through that process I am being made whole, evolving into the child of God; what God intended for me from the outset. Peterson’s reflection of Exodus speaks of this:

The Spirit of God invades our lives with healing, forgiving, saving, renewing love. Grace is released, knowledge is given, peace is realized, hope is recovered. All life, real life, has this deep, rhythmic movement; our work before God, God’s work among us. We build a life, and God fills that. That is who he is. That is what he does. He gives us the blueprints with which to build, he stirs us to build, then he fills what we build with his glory.

2008, p.151

Focusing is the doorway and the felt sense leads us to the blueprint we follow in faith to find wholeness with the Divine, the triune God.

The very steps we take come from God; otherwise how would we know where we’re going?

Proverbs 20:24, MSG

Early in my training, Jeffrey Morrison shared a quote from Wayne Muller, author of Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood that resonates with the Exodus story:

I realize that it requires a tremendous leap of faith to imagine that your own childhood – punctuated with pain, loss, and hurt – may, in fact, be a gift…it did not irrevocably shape your destiny… Your challenge is not to keep trying to repair what was damaged; your practice instead is to reawaken what is already wise, strong, and whole within you.

Is that wholeness already there, already written in our hearts by the Divine, awaiting discovery? As it is written,

The Holy Spirit confirms this: this time I am writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts

Hebrews 10:18, MSG

The blueprint of our lives, the true seeds of self, waiting to be discovered and lived, evolved in the wandering beyond the rational control of ego. It is about trusting in something beyond, to what I call the Divine, for guidance in following the blueprint of our lives, already planned and planted before we were born.

Chapter 11

My Focusing Companion, a Witness to my Inner Story Unfolding

The congratulatory letter I received from Peggy, my Focusing companion of five years, when I received my Focusing certification from Jeffrey Morrison.

It is an honor and pleasure to be Leslie’s Focusing companion. I am happy to describe what I sense and feel and hear as her companion. As she describes so eloquently in this paper, her process goes deep within her body and soul. She may start with describing a situation or exploring a sensation in her body or an emotion that is arising. Wherever she starts, she follows the thread of her experience deeper into her body – often the heart or belly – and then holds space for whatever the next step is that shows up – the next shift, or opening, or emotion, or sensation, or part.

She most often doesn’t seem to have a preconceived idea about where the session is going. Afterwards she will often say “I didn’t know that was there.” She will often acknowledge the Divine Presence of Christ as she stays with the unfolding of her process. She doesn’t rush. She stays present, infused by the Divine, as she follows the impulses from her body, heart, or belly. Her process unfolds gently and surely as she surrenders to what wants to happen next. Tears of release and awe are most often a by-product of her exploration.

As her companion, I say very little, as it is clear she is in touch with her own inner guidance and the unfolding of her process is a wonder to be present for. I feel blessed to be part of her journey. Each new Focusing session feels like an exploration into the heart and mystery of life – each time fresh and new and alive. I am so grateful to have a companion from whom I have learned so much about being present in the body, surrendering to the moment, and resting in Divine Presence. Congratulations and blessings to you, Leslie on receiving your certification.

Chapter 12

Conclusion and Thanksgiving

For me, Focusing is a prayer, coming to the Divine in a whole body experience and saying what is true. I am connected to my soul to acknowledge my needs, my desires, my emotions, my pain, and what is unjust and not right. I am connected to the Divine to experience mercy, grace, healing, forgiveness, acceptance, warmth, security, belonging, gratitude, appreciation, and compassion. It is a unitive experience, where I personally experience Divine love and justice that brings into focus something that is not yet formed. It resonates in my body as the right way forward, extremely precise and exact to my circumstance.

When Focusing and embodied with the presence of Divine love, I experience a deep sense of well-being and connectedness. My body is open, calm, and alive with vitality; my heart is filled with gratitude and appreciation. My desires and needs are met, there is transformation and completeness. According to Edwin McMahon and Peter Campbell, Focusing is the bridge into the body of the whole Christ that ties us to the life of spirit, God. The truth frees us; there is a conversion process. When we embrace the truth of ourselves, we connect with this larger body of energy, a life-force called grace. When we trust plugging in, a consciousness comes of harmony and connection to all things, a revelation. Our teacher is within us – the Holy Spirit.

According to Peterson,

What we really are cannot, in the end, be hidden. When we pretend to be better than we are, we become worse. But when we face the worst that is in us, something marvelously happens: We become better than we are; better in fact than we ever hoped to be

2012, p. 982

According to Apostle Paul,

The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple.

1 Colossians 1:28, MSG

Focusing has been a gift to me and my gratitude goes out to Eugene Gendlin for discovering this process. In the practice of Focusing I meet God and personally experience heaven on earth. In finding God, I find myself and in finding myself, I find God. I find a connection to his creation and awe, and to my goodness, preciousness, and uniqueness, no better and no less than others.

Simply, I want to pass this on to others so they may know and access the Living Water that is within us. I know that it is dependent on each person’s timing and willingness to start their pilgrimage of self-discovery into the wilderness to find the true seeds of self that will automatically link to a cosmic, universal connection to something more than who they are.

It will flow to an expansion, where the "I" becomes stronger, more liberated and freer to evolve and embrace one’s separate existence solidly enough to appreciate others as they are. I know this as the work of the Divine and it will happen according to Divine plan, unique to each individual in their own time and place. Linked to the Divine Spirit in the world, each person will discover their participation in a dynamic universal truth if they trust and stay with this unfolding process.

In trusting this, as a Focusing-Oriented therapist I can let go of control and be present to the inner process of the felt sense unfolding. I trust the interconnection to the one I am holding and tentatively guiding. I allow the Divine to fill the space within me and between and within the person I am counseling, where a new identity lies awaiting to be born. This unfolding process is a sacred place to be, where one discovers oneself as gifted and graced, and finds within the limitation of one’s humanity the seed of God, one’s true seeds of self. There is no other place I would rather be than in the presence of the Divine, witnessing one’s wonder and surprise when they are touched by a saving grace and find themselves a step closer to a new identity.

To be a part of this is truly a privilege and a gift. This is what I want and long for, to assist and guide people to what the Divine has already written in their hearts. I conclude with Apostle Paul’s words:

And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. Instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were absorbed in their 'God projects' that they didn’t even notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together:

'Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can’t get around. But the stone is me! If you are looking for me, you’ll find me on the way, not in the way.'

Romans 9:32-33, MSG

When we step into the wilderness area of our own open-ended journey, our pilgrimage, our wandering in the realm of evolutionary surprise, we find the Divine on the way. I trust in this.

References

Campbell, P. A. & McMahon, E. M. (1997). Bio-Spirituality: Focusing as a way to grow (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: Loyola Press.

Gendlin, E. T. (1996). Focusing-Oriented psychotherapy: A manual of the experiential method. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, a division of Guilford Publications, Inc.

Muller, Wayne (1993). Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood.(Kindle DX version). Retrieved from Amazon.com

Peterson, E. H. (2012). THE MESSAGE Study Bible: Capturing the notes and reflections of Eugene H. Peterson. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group.

Scazzero, P. (2006). Emotionally healthy spirituality: Unleash a revolution in your life in Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Keller, W. P. (1970). A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.