How to Practice Focus Meditation

As meditators, we spend a lot of time on the cushion developing mindfulness, awareness, benevolence, and other contemplative faculties. Focusing, a complementary contemplative practice, allows us to build a bridge between what we do in our sitting practice and what happens in the rest of our lives.

This is due to the fact Focus works directly with the wisdom of the body and more particularly the quality called the bodily sense. The bodily sense is a subtle level of experience that is not conceptual.

If someone steps on our toes or spills hot coffee on us, there is an immediate strong physical sensation. The bodily sense is more vague or unclear. It is about something more than mere sensation itself. But often it’s not clear what it’s really about until we really spend time with it in a gentle, welcoming way.

Eugene Gendlin, the founder of the practice of Focusing, refers to the “philosophy of the implicit” to describe feeling. The implicit is a level of experience that has not yet taken shape or has not yet taken shape, but which constantly gives rise to newness, new forms, new models, new experiences.

When we invite the bodily sense to focus, it can give us a lot of wisdom and intuitive insight, helping us overcome problems and challenges, release blockages, and discover new energy to move forward in a positive way.

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What we call the ‘attitude of focusing’ is the intention or attitude with which we approach the bodily sense. Quite similar to the attitude of mindfulness, it is gentle, patient, welcoming and non-reactive. It is a friendly presence towards whatever may arise.

Often there are aspects of ourselves that we don’t like. There is a certain inner voice that most of us have, which can be called the inner critic. It’s the voice that says, “You’re bad, you’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re incompetent, you’re fake,” and so on.

In Focusing we try to invite all that wants to show up, but we don’t want to submit to the judgments of that inner critic. You don’t have to dismiss it, but understand that it’s just a certain aspect of yourself, but it’s in no way who you really are. When we hear this critical voice, it is normal to recognize it and set it aside.

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Encountering feelings: an introductory practice

Come back to your body, your posture, the feeling of being present, as much as you can, letting go of the thought. Begin by noticing physical sensations that are simply physical sensations. We can start by noticing the sensation of where our body makes contact with the chair, cushion, or floor.

Then move your attention around the body and notice all the other places where there are physical sensations. Notice and perhaps briefly name these physical sensations, but don’t dwell on them.

Bring your awareness more into the core region of the body, from the neck down, and really try to feel the inner space there. It is a three-dimensional and very sensitive space.

You can find purely physical sensations in this space, like having a stomach ache or a backache. Now try changing the quality of your attention so that it is more sensitive to the subtle texture of your lived experience as it unfolds in your body.

There can be different senses felt in different places. The chest, the region of the heart and the breath contain a lot of sensations about what is happening to us, just like the stomach and the intestine. Explore around and see all that is there for you right now.

After sitting with the body sense and keeping it company for a while, find a word, phrase, or image that seems to match the quality of that body sense. Imagine it as a kind of landscape. How would you describe the landscape that has the quality of who you are right now? You can use descriptive words like hard, soft, jittery, hot, cold, round, pointy, falling, floating.

What is interesting is that when we try different words, the bodily sense, just like a person, knows what his own name is. If we try a description and it doesn’t quite fit, then the bodily sense doesn’t feel comfortable with it. It’s always the sense of touch that is paramount, so we can adjust the descriptive phrase, or as Gendlin calls it, the “handle.” Gendlin calls this adjustment process “resonant.” It is a sort of back and forth between the verbal conceptual domain and the non-verbal bodily sense. Through this process of naming, labeling and taking hold, the bodily sense will respond and become more present.

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When you feel comfortable with this practice and the body sense is more stable, vivid and present in your awareness, you can enter into a continuous dialogue with the body sense. You can ask him questions. When you ask a question, you want to stay with the sense of feeling and not answer it with your head or what you already know.

If the bodily sense has to do with a problem or situation, you can ask what is in that problem or situation that brings that quality. You can use the handle here. Maybe it’s that nervous quality. What makes him nervous? And you wait.

There are lots of different questions you can ask, any questions you can think of. But once you are with the bodily sense, a very good set of questions is: what do you want? Or what don’t you want? What don’t you want to happen? Many of our bodily senses have a protective function. But when we can directly experience what we don’t want or part of us doesn’t want, then that gives us a lot of room to say either, “Yeah, that’s right, I really don’t want that,” or, “That’s kind of old news. Maybe it’s something from earlier in my life.”

Sometimes you can have a little flash of insight, something new popping up there. When this happens, there is actually a subtle change in the bodily sense itself. It is as if something that had been blocked could move a little. This is the quality of intuitive insight.

Adapted from David Rome’s Dharma Talk”Focusing for meditators: Accessing the wisdom of feeling

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