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Biospiritual focusing is a practice that has some similarities to the Welcoming Prayer in that it encourages noticing and embracing emotions and bodily sensations. An element that Biospiritual Focusing adds, however, and which not all body-centred practices emphasize, is focusing on emotions or sensations in the body not only to let them be, and in order to “be with them” compassionately – which are also very important elements! – but also, through that compassionate presence, to listen to the unheard story that the body is trying to tell us. It could therefore be called a WISDOM body practice, as it seeks to listen to and learn from what we feel or sense, which can then lead to greater INTEGRATION within us as we listen to that unheard story.

Focusing as a therapeutic practice originated from the research and insight of Dr. Eugene Gendlin in the 60s, who, in collaboration with Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago, was interested in why some people benefit from psychotherapy and some do not.  He found that he and his students could predict from the first sessions which clients would experience success (change, breakthrough etc.) in the end, based not on the therapist but on the behaviour of the clients themselves. So what exactly were the “successful” clients doing? They paused more often. They might stop in the middle of a sentence to sense what they had said or to sit with some uncertainty. They seemed willing to deal with unclear aspects of their experience. They were listening to or sensing some totality of their inner experience that was vague and difficult to describe, and allowing more insight and clarity about it to emerge. These ideas led to a therapeutic technique called Focusing in which the therapist helped the client “focus” on a vague sensation they became aware of, giving it attention and respect, and as they did allowing the inner experience to become clearer and a space to open up for new insights and unexpected possibilities. In the end the “felt sense” of the situation often changed and that change felt good. The shift in their bodily-felt experience often led to changes in behavior that were sustainable.

Then, in the early 1970’s, Dr. Peter A. Campbell and Dr. Edwin M. McMahon – who were Jesuit priests and psychologists of religion – began to explore the link between Focusing and spirituality. Body meaning or knowing, they felt, comes as a spontaneous gift or surprise. It is not a by-product of logic and reason and cannot be predicted or controlled. They felt there was a transcendent or “graced” quality to meaning in the body. So Drs. McMahon and Campbell worked with Gendlin to widen Focusing to emphasize this gift dimension, linking the mind-knowing of our information-based culture with spirit-based wisdom, and this is how BioSpiritual Focusing was born.

The metaphor of a phone ringing can be a helpful one here to understand Biospiritual Focusing (BSF). When the phone rings it is not ringing to disturb me, but rather because there is someone on the other end with a message for me. Feelings, emotions, and physical sensations are like the phone ringing; they can feel like disturbances that make us feel bad or “too much,” or disrupt our efficiency and comfort in life! But they are there for a reason and they tell a story – perhaps a pretty immediate story of, say, tension stored in the shoulders from driving for a day, but also maybe an older story with chains of felt meaning that can unfold if we will listen, like intense anxiety that gets triggered by a particular circumstance. When the telephone rings, you don’t necessarily know yet who or what is on the other end of the line; you still have to lift the receiver (or, these days, press the little green button!) to discover that. This illustrates the importance in BSF of being able to notice and focus on VAGUE sensations as well as ones that are more easily recognized and identified. Just because I don’t know what this sensation is about, doesn’t mean there’s no point being with it; in fact, we could even say that those vague feelings or sensations are the most important to listen to, as they represent the tip of an iceberg that we haven’t yet seen the rest of. But that tip is a doorway or a pathway inward if we will follow it, by moving INTO and THROUGH our feelings, emotions and physical sensations rather than away from them, until we become aware of a deeper “felt sense” of something.

In the process of BSF, creating an inner atmosphere of compassion is vital – giving loving, caring attention to parts of ourselves with a “felt sense” of “something more.” Through this practice we experience first-hand the truth that ignoring or judging always hardens and tightens things inside us (although these are go-to responses for most of us!), whereas compassion towards ourselves and “all our parts” softens and loosens things, allowing a felt shift, change, and evolution to occur. A phrase that is often used to describe this posture and reality in BSF is “Notice and Nurture.” As we notice and nurture something, we are learning to speak/ understand the language of the body, when we are mostly so fluent only in the language of our rational minds, allowing communication and meaning to unfold in new or different ways. Can we describe a physical sensation, for example, in terms of shape, texture, colour and so on? Do symbols or images come to mind from we know not where? Perhaps a memory will spring up, or words that resonate somehow with what we are sensing. All of these are examples of how meaning can unfold when noticing and nurturing a sensation in the body and letting its story be told.

In the practice of BSF, whether alone or often with the compassionate support of a companion, there is often a sense of grace, of being led somewhere by Love that is good, that is healing, that is more truly, deeply, wholly “me.” Another surprising gift of the practice can be a growing sense of my connection to oneself, to Love /God, to the Bigger Whole, as a different relationship is developed with the body, what it is and what it knows.

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