September 06, 2011

Focusing: An interview with Eugene Gendlin

In the current issue of Tricycle, Eugene Gendlin, founder of an innovative self-actualization technique called Focusing, is interviewed by Linda Heuman. In her introduction to the interview, Heuman writes about the difficulty she had grasping exactly what Gendlin meant when he responded to her questions.

During my three-hour conversation with Gendlin, I pitched him what I thought were straightforward questions. Again and again, his replies left me mystified. We seemed to be communicating, but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying: his words were in English, but at times it seemed he was speaking another language. Trying to nail down Gendlin’s ideas turned out to be like sitting by a goldfish pond and willing the fish to stay at the top. I would toss him a question and our conversation momentarily surfaced in shared understanding. But before I could pin him down, get him to define his terms, or resolve a lingering doubt, Gendlin dropped out of view. There would be a meaningful flurry of fins below the surface, and up he would pop—over there—with another idea that made perfect sense, for a moment. But as soon as I would try to follow him to that place, down he would go again.

Eventually Heuman got the hang of it and was able to conduct a fruitful interview with Gendlin. However, the first question gives a glimpse of the roller-coaster that was to follow.

When I first learned Focusing, I made sense of it by relating it to my Buddhist practice. But then I read articles on your website by other Buddhists. They too interpreted Focusing in terms of whatever Buddhist tradition they practiced. But the interpretations were all different. Is this a problem?
It is natural to say this new thing is that old thing. People make sense of what they learn in terms of what they already know. You cannot immediately tell people what Focusing is. You don’t immediately explain to people what meditation is either. You tell them what it does for them, but you don’t tell them what it is. If you use ordinary language to say what meditation is, they will say, “Oh yeah, I do that all the time. That’s what I do when I take a break.” [Laughs]

Read the rest here.


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