Addie and Kevin on Gendlin’s Foundational Contribution to WBF

We have a new series of videos that provide insights to Wholebody Focusing through a Heartfelt Conversation between Addie van der Kooy and Kevin McEvenue. Their purpose is to deepen their understanding of how the theories of Gene Gendlin, founder of Focusing, is still relevant to Wholebody. They also explore the new edge of the work of Addie van der Kooy in deepening our understanding of the power of Wholebody focusing that also draws from van der Kooy’s experience of working with clients and his own transformation using WBF.

The first benefit of watching this video is that it is a great pleasure to observe these long-time collaborators and friends approach the topic as a Heartfelt Conversation. What comes is from a state of grounded presence. One can see Heartfelt conversation in action and sense into the results of this kind of conversation.

The second benefit is to hear anew how essential the foundation of Gendlin’s work is to Wholebody Focusing. Addie directs us to connect to some parts of what Gendlin proposes into our WBF practice. He also points us to the simplicity and precision of the six core Focusing movements that Gendlin introduces in the Focusing book. Particularly, sensing into Finding a Handle and Resonating the Handle with the Felt Sense.

In future videos, we will present how those foundational concepts are part and parcel to how Wholebody Focusing developed to include the role of the bodily felt sense in a new way.

This post includes the video of this conversation. It also has the transcript of the video so that those who speak other languages can use the translation app attached to this blog as a way to translate the content of the video.  Transcript of Van der Kooy, McEvenue, and Gendlin

We invite you to enjoy, like, and comment on this conversation. We also encourage your anticipation of the videos of the rest of the conversation

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Focusing with One’s Body

Photo Credit: Michael Lux The Creative Little Garden NYC

As part of our Trainers’ Corner, we are offering a series of short training videos. The videos demonstrate what happens in a Wholebody Focusing session.

This first clip is from a session between Kevin McEvenue and Diana Scalera. It is from the end of a meeting whose theme was of being with what is new in our lives while honoring what was there before. What you will see in this video is how this situation lives in Diana’s body and how Kevin supports the forward movement of how these challenges live in her body.

Please consider sharing what you notice about the session, what you learned, or maybe that which you want to know more. Use the link below to send your comments, and we will respond.

In the week after this session, my right shoulder pain that would show up after a night’s sleep in the same position disappeared. There is still pain on the left side. What did change in a big way was that I have a broader capacity to face challenges with more confidence and clarity.

Let’s see what happens when my left arm has a chance to be fully heard and becomes more aware of itself.

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How to Start Wholebody Focusing with a Partner

Photo Credit: Diana Scalera

When I attended the Scambi 2019 in Albano Terme, Italy this past summer, I presented my workshop Focusing Around the Dinner Table using mostly Wholebody Focusing as the vehicle to access this theme in our bodies. Since then, some focusers have been asking for help to learn Wholebody Focusing. I have begun working with some of the Italian focusers and have come up with a way for them to get started on their path to incorporating Wholebody Focusing into their Focusing practice. Below is a description of the steps of a session with Cristina Griggio via Skype. It can be a starting point for focusers who would like to add some Wholebody sensibility to their practice. 

  1. Both partners need to be willing let go of the need to have an agenda for their session and actively hold space to what your body prioritizes. Each partner can take a turn being the person who is focusing, and the other person is mostly silently holding energetic space for their partner while noticeing how what happens to your partner impacts your body.  
  2. Establish your energetic connection with your partner. If you are in person, make sure you have a sense of each other’s energy. If you are working via the internet, find your way to connect in this situation.  
  3. The Focuser asks her body a simple question “Where does my body need attention now?” Let your body choose what it needs. Let go of any narrative and your thoughts about what is necessary in this moment. Your body might have a different point of view.
  4. Wait and hold space for whatever comes. 
    1. Acknowledge the body’s sense of what is there without adding a narrative. Stay with the bodily sensation.
    2. Let what is there know that it can be just the way it is and has all the time it needs to be present to itself.
    3. Give your body permission to move, especially your hands, which may be able to support parts that are struggling.  
  5. Stay with whatever comes. Ask for help from other parts of your body, from the earth below you, the sky above, the air you breathe, or the chair in which you sit. 
  6. Let your body indicate when it has found a resting place (or ask your body to find a resting place).
  7. When the Focuser has come to a resting place, the partner can share how that experience with her partner impacted her body. The Focuser can also share more if they choose with their partner about their experience.  
  8. After the session, both Focuser and Listener should pay attention to whatever comes that relates to what happened in the session. According to Addie van der Kooy, each opportunity we take to spend time with our bodies in grounded presence causes changes (from minor to monumental). Our lived experiences after our sessions let us know what has changed.  

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Heartfelt Conversation Explained

Photo Credit: Image by splongo from Pixabay

We have a special podcast from Kevin McEvenue in which he explains what makes Heartfelt Conversation so unique. He points to it as a way of caring for one another as we care for ourselves. As we give ourselves a chance to be with ourselves uncritically, we also find a way to be with another uncritically. It is a mutual agreement that our ability and willingness to be fully present to each other is unconditional and supportive.

Sometimes, as focusers, we find ourselves in Heartfelt Conversations as a natural outcome of our interaction with our partners. This podcast helps us appreciate, to a higher degree, what is happening. Kevin also provides some guidance on how to consciously create a situation in which Heartfelt Conversation emerges and supports both parties at the same time.

These specific steps can be used as a guide to help us learn Heartfelt Conversation. They can also serve to deepen our experience by bringing to our consciousness how Heartfelt Conversation is different from talking to someone.

We invite you to enjoy this groundbreaking podcast and share your own experiences of Heartfelt Conversation by submitting your own posts or comments.

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Noticing When Something New is Here

Photo Credit: Selfie of Cristina, Diana and Deni

Wholebody Focusing can be very subtle. For me, especially during a session, sometimes only a movement comes, or pain in a part of my body without words or a “felt sense.” Sometimes I spend a long time with these movements or sensations. It begs the question, “how do we know that Wholebody focusing works at all?” It is in noticing that something new is showing up in one’s life or that something is showing up more than it did before.

We’ve been writing about “holding both with equal regard.” By holding space for all our parts, we recognize that our process is supporting healthy changes in how we live our lives. Because we have new options for dealing with our challenges doesn’t mean; however, that these parts of us that struggle no longer have life in them.

What Was There Before

I grew up with a narcissistic mother who would become angry if I asked for help. I learned never to ask for help and that the outcome of any situation depended on me not showing any need or reaction. Also, I attended a Catholic school that prioritized fear-mongering and punishment over the existence of a loving God. I developed a severe form of anxiety disorder that included both a chronic state of fear, along with spikes of disabling panic attacks.

Psychotherapy, drugs, acupuncture, and homeopathy helped me manage my learned responses to stressful situations. Reiki and Wholebody Focusing have enabled me to live in a new way.

Learning to Open to New Ways of Being

Reiki teaches that we can ask for help from the Universal Life Force, which is available to all sentient beings. It is without judgment and the need to meet some threshold of certain kinds of behavior. One needs only to ask for help to receive it. I primarily use what is called “situational” Reiki in which one asks for support with a particular situation.

I started using this when I began cancer treatments because I needed to meet with doctors. My natural inclination was to believe that the meetings would be harmful or that there would be no help, support, or kindness available to me. To find a new way to be, I would establish my connection to the Universal Life Force. I asked that my highest and greatest good be served along with the highest and greatest good of those who were supporting me. I found time after time that the outcome was so much better than what I would have automatically created. The high levels of fear were still there, but now there was also the belief that Reiki was available to me to support my next step.

I’ve come to rely on situation Reiki throughout my day, not just when I felt my life was in danger. What I am noticing is that before I form all sorts of disaster scenarios, it occurs to me to connect to the Reiki energy to ask for help. I don’t need to be in mortal danger to use this process. I can use it to help me get through a typical day with everyday challenges. It is a far cry from my chronic state of panic that was punctuated by panic attacks. What comes for me now is how automatic and sure I feel about asking for help. No more angry mother to cause me to worry. There is no more punishing God who only helps if you are good enough.

Notice When You Feel the Shift

My trip to Italy helped me clarify my relationship with situational Reiki. I went there to improve my Italian and to attend and present at a focusing conference. I took two weeks of Italian lessons. I also hired a tutor to help me create the transcript that I would read during the workshop I would present. I also had someone who offered to translate whenever necessary.

It was about a half-hour before the participants were set to show up. A mosquito flew toward me, and in an automatic reaction to my fear of mosquitos, my hand hit the iPad screen and deleted the transcript of the workshop. I had an old version that I did quick edits to, but it was not the same. In the face of the outcome of the next few hours being entirely out of my control, I asked Reiki to support the participants’ highest and greatest good as well as my own. As I did this, I could feel powerful energy surrounding me.

Somehow I had the language I needed and was able to understand the participants well enough to meet their needs. The participants were appreciative and enthusiastic, and I felt supported by the Reiki energy, the group, and my colleagues who had gotten me there in the first place. I noticed how new this was for me to feel so much support.

A few days later, I was staying with a family who had two dogs. It was evening, and a strong thunderstorm was floating in. I noticed the dogs were quite upset. I called one to my side and asked Reiki energy to support him in being with the storm. He calmed down and stayed at my side even when I went out on the balcony to watch the storm. The second dog, who had gone into hiding came close to me, and I offered Reiki to this dog. She also calmed down and stayed near. My friend told me usually the dogs run wildly around the house during thunderstorms.

As I have more experiences with the idea that by opening to my own highest and greatest good, the support that I need is there without fail. Even when I ask for help, and the outcome is not what I expect, I can ponder what about this outcome is in my highest and greatest good?

What Is Needed to Experience the New Parts of Us that Emerge

It is in noticing not only that there is space to have new beliefs like there is help available to everyone just the way we are. It is also essential to recognize that those parts of us that don’t think this way may still need support and love. When I was in session with Kevin, and I spoke about my newfound faith in something outside of myself, I noticed how my abdomen was having a spasm. Both are there. I can believe that support and loving-kindness are always available to me, even though my gut goes into spasm when I openly acknowledge the existence of this support.

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Open Hearts as a Door to Social Justice

Photo Credit: Ellen Korman Mains – Broken Heart Monument at the site of a former children’s camp in Lodz, Poland

Addie van der Kooy’s Wholebody Focusing concept of “holding both with equal regard”  can help us open our hearts and sense our personal role in promoting social justice and perceiving bias. It can also be a guiding principle in developing ways to support social justice in the broader society. As white supremacy roils the U.S. and I prepare to attend an important Holocaust commemoration in Poland, while Diana tends to her own ancestral legacy in Italy, here is another segment from our conversation that touches these issues. It also touches on the inherent vulnerability and truth of the human heart that flies beyond bias and sees basic goodness and equal regard as fundamental to reality, not just a technique we do.

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Holding Space for a Heart’s Desire

Sampler by: Grandma Luigia, Italy 1897

I am in a steady relationship lately with my heart’s desire. A body sense of how speaking Italian was a heart’s desire came to me in a Wholebody focusing session with my partner. It let me know that learning Italian would be something that would change my life for the better. This awareness happened soon after I filmed Bruna Blandino and Rosa Catoio, two Italian Wholebody Focusers, (Being Ourselves) for the blog.

Living a Heart’s Desire

What I also began to understand that day was that learning Italian was not something that I had to “do.” It was something that lives in me. This experience started me on a journey to give this body sense all the time and space it needed. (My Heart’s Desire).

I began attending focusing workshops for Italian focusers through The International Focusing Institute and partnering with some of the participants. These experiences led me to decide to go to Italy to study in a language immersion program and attend a focusing conference there.

I am experiencing what it is like to come in contact more deeply with my maternal language. A few days ago, as I was reading some straightforward, known Italian phrases, I found my mouth would not cooperate. I had an excessive amount of trouble pronouncing the words. I paused and asked my body to show me what was needed. My hands went to either side of my face and held those muscles gently. Then I began to reread the phrases slowly. There was still difficulty pronouncing the words but less so this time.  What was showing up was the flip side of a heart’s desire.

What Happens When a Language is Lost?

For 26 years, I taught or administered language programs to train Spanish-speaking students in NYC to fully develop their relationship with their mother tongue. NYC schools had a policy of supporting the home languages only until the student became fluent enough in English. The lack of continued instruction in the mother language left many students with interrupted literacy in both English and Spanish and low confidence in their Spanish-speaking ability. In high school, students were mandated to learn another language. I was part of a team of teachers and administrators who designed and piloted high school programs to bring these students to full academic literacy in their home language.

In this process, I learned how much trauma having one’s maternal language suppressed caused and how it often relegated these students to the category of “at-risk student.” When students studied their home language for at least three years at the high school level, however, they often became the top students in their schools.

Holding Both with Equal Regard

The felt sense in the muscles of my mouth reminded me of the trauma my students experienced. I embodied the experience of the loss of my mother tongue by becoming a language educator and advocating for immigrant students’ linguistic rights. For me, Italian was spoken in my home as a child by the adults around me. My parents, however, feared that if I learned Italian, I would suffer the same prejudice and academic challenges that they had faced in school as children. Because of my family’s experience, I worked at my profession with great passion. I became a national leader of this movement to support language rights for immigrants in schools. (You can view some of my work at Scalera on Vimeo.)

Now that I am retired, my body is telling me it is time to do this for me. I already speak Spanish. Italian seeps out of my mouth when I am in an Italian speaking atmosphere—like the filming session with Bruna and Rosa or on the streets of Rome. It has not been a conscious experience. I did not have a measurable fluency in Italian, just a few magical moments when I found myself speaking Italian. It was not something I could consciously conjure up at will.

When I experienced difficulty pronouncing simple Italian words, I realized it was a felt sense. I also became aware that following a heart’s desire is not just a joyous forward movement. It may include holding space for what prevented me from naturally speaking my family’s language. Something might show up as a heart’s desire because it has not  fully manifested in one’s life.

There is a lot of not knowing around how speaking Italian will benefit me, however, in subsequent focusing sessions, some valuable bodily experiences emerged. A burning sensation in my left hand helped me feel how the loneliness of exclusion from family discussions affected me. The adults around me had a secret language which they prohibited me from learning. It enhanced the feeling that I was not entirely a member of my family. As I wrote this sentence, a full-body sense came over me—a combination of nausea, fear, and breathlessness. I stood and allowed these sensations time to process. They eventually diminished. I expect more felt senses will emerge as I continue to hold space for learning more Italian and now, for not learning Italian.

When I embarked on this journey of my heart’s desire, I didn’t expect to meet its doppelgänger. It is, however, not surprising that both are there—the heart’s desire to speak Italian and the prohibition to speak it. My body has been screaming with all sorts of symptoms lately—nausea, breathlessness, aching joints, burning hands, and the inability to control the actions of my mouth.

How to Move Forward

The more time I give my body to experience itself in grounded presence, the more this bodily sense will emerge. I stand and let my body move in its own way.  I call in spiritual help from my ancestors. I ask this part that is suffering from speaking Italian to become aware of itself. My hands respond to my request for my body to comfort the suffering part. My right hand gently holds my left hand while I lie down. It is very soothing for my whole body. This position softens the bodily discord I experience.

I have become aware of this background “felt sense.” My ability to learn a language by listening to my caretakers, a natural part of one’s earliest human experience, was stopped cold. Both parts of me, to speak or not to speak Italian need my attention, compassion, and regard.

In two weeks, I will be in Italy for 18 days in a situation that will require me to speak Italian most of the time.  I am and will be holding space with equal regard for both my suffering self and my heart’s desire. This is what I was promised—that my life would change for the better as I live this experience.
https://code.responsivevoice.org/responsivevoice.js?key=QZ6OEIVG

N.B. The phrases mother language, mother tongue, and home language are used interchangeably.  They refer to the language spoken by the parents or guardians of a young child.

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Holding Our Strengths and “Little Monsters” with Equal Regard

Illustration of a Neanderthal Woman:  John Sibbick (with permission from the artist)

Ellen Korman Mains came up with this title as she reflected on her week and how she’d been relating with a disturbing part of herself. Diana Scalera and Ellen engaged in a conversation about being with difficult experiences of ourselves with the help of our spiritual and focusing practices.

Diana Scalera went to Catholic school until the 8th grade when she gave up on Catholicism and organized religion in general as a spiritual practice because most of what she experienced from her Catholic education was demeaning treatment, punishment, and fear. It was not until she began focusing that her connection to spirit emerged.  In one of her first sessions with Kevin McEvenue, a Neanderthal woman became present in her body to support her in a situation in which she felt weak and powerless. Diana was able to sense into how strong these bones were and how they were being offered as a gift to guide her. From that point on, Diana let go of a traditional idea of spirituality and became open to her own innate connection to spirit.

Ellen Korman Mains grew up in a Jewish home of Holocaust survivors where ties to previous generations seemed completely cut. At the age of 19, she met a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who emphasized trusting direct experience over dogma or wishful thinking, and this began her spiritual journey. Twenty years later, illness and energy work broadened her sense of connection to the invisible world and to the “larger system” that Gene Gendlin referred to. Later still, traveling to Poland to embrace her family’s past led to extraordinary openings described in her book, Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust, as ancestors began showing up to support her. Since 2011, both Focusing and meditation have been important venues for trusting her direction and spiritual connection, and helping others to trust theirs.

In the video below, Diana and Ellen discuss how both spirituality and focusing live in their bodies and how they support their struggles with the “Little Monsters” with a sense of befriending what’s there by holding both with equal regard.

Thank you to John Sibbick for allowing us to use his wonderful drawing of a Neanderthal woman.

We hope you enjoy this conversation about how two individuals find their way.

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