Focusing in Nature

Put simply, Focusing is a means of opening our awareness to the “bodily sensed knowledge” which Eugene Gendlin calls the “felt sense” (Gendlin, 1981). The term ‘felt sense’ describes those fuzzy feelings that we don’t usually pay much attention to – those vague ‘gut feelings’. As you become more aware of a felt sense it will often open like a bud, revealing an otherwise hidden embodied knowing. I discovered Focusing when I was doing my PhD research and it’s become central to my spiritual practice and personal wellbeing. I’ll soon begin to integrate it into my psychotherapy, as my training as a Focusing Oriented Therapist starts this month.

Focusing is usually done indoors, but it occurred to me that it would be interesting to see what happened if I tried it in nature. It’s an obvious step and  it came as no surprise that other people were already doing it. What did surprise me was how powerful it could be. My first experiments were a revelation:  Focusing in nature quickly softened the perceived barrier between ‘me’ and ‘the world’, enabling a much more intimate relationship to place.

A boat sits on a still Loch at dawn

This was amazing! In minutes I could get a deep sense of connection to the natural world. Was it just me? I read about other peoples experiences and did some interviews. Although different people had different experiences, that sense of profound connection came up again and again.

As Deep Ecology has noted, that connection is fundamental to changing our environmental behavior. Herbert Schroeder, an environmental psychologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service found that Focusing in nature “was a first step toward articulating the ineffable, experiential value that natural environments have for me” (Schroeder, 2012: 141).

There’s much more to be said and done: My article on this subject will be published in the Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies journal this autumn; meanwhile I’ll be facilitating Focusing in Nature sessions from May onwards.

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13 Responses to Focusing in Nature

  1. Ruth says:

    Could you please say/post more about this topic? I am working with focusing more and more myself and would love to hear more about your experience doing this outdoors.

  2. Administrator says:

    There’s lots more to be said and more research to be done too. I’ve just submitted the revised version of my journal article to the editors. Once I get the thumbs up that it’s ready to publish, I can email you a copy. Would that help? Do you live anywhere near London? I’m starting Focusing in nature sessions soon and that would be a good place find out more.

  3. Ruth says:

    Sure! I would be very interested in reading it. That would be great. Would love to take part in your experiential sessions, but I’m very far from London. I’m in Colorado (USA).

  4. Elizabeth R says:

    Does Dr. Gendlin have a new article or training about the effects of how we use words?

    Thanks,
    ER

  5. Elizabeth R says:

    Does Dr. Gendlin have a new approach about how we use words and how powerful our use of words is?

  6. Administrator says:

    Hi Elizabeth, Gendlin is interested in how the words we use sometimes emerges from an embodied felt sense. In that sense, yes, he does have a new approach to how we use words. I don’t think he’s written much on the effects of our words on those that hear them, but I may be wrong as he has written an enormous amount! The Gendlin On-line Library has an excellent selection, and access is free:
    http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/

    I suggest you start with his book ‘Focusing’. There is a sample on-line:
    http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2176.html
    You can buy it very cheaply second hand on Amazon.

    Cheers!
    Adrian

  7. Administrator says:

    My journal article about Focusing in nature has just been published in ‘Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies’.

    Full ref: Gendlin and ecopsychology: focusing in nature, ‘. Volume 12, Issue 4, 2013. (Special Issue: Ecology and person-centered and experiential psychotherapies). On-line:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14779757.2013.855135#.UtBoMTNbJrN

  8. Imogen says:

    Hi. I’m a trainee integrative counsellor with a personal interest in ecotherapy/-psychology, and as it happens I have tried focusing whilst in the great outdoors and found it an awesomely powerful experience – very different and more intense than the focusing I have done at home … I could almost call it mystical or visionary for want of better words. I would be happy to tell you in more detail if you are still collecting material.

  9. Adrian says:

    Hi Imogen,
    Some of my experiences of focusing in nature have also felt mystical. See my blog post about how it felt when I was focusing while walking through a ploughed field on Imbolc last year (Imbolc: The Pulse of the Seasons ). Those I interviewed for the article have had similar experiences. Cathy talked about how on one occasion she got a felt sense of being “Both in time and out of time. Both. History, the context of history and the time to come but also out of that altogether – just a drop in time and space”.

    I think this happens because focusing allows our everyday awareness to deepen and open out to connect with what lies beyond the little self.

  10. Imogen says:

    Yes. I have been wondering about why it is that this kind of inward sensing is different compared to indoors or outdoors in a built-up area – especially given that I usually shut my eyes! I think that in urban area I am quite inwardly defensive – maybe that is what our individualistic culture gives us in this context – a defence against the other? – and so much more tightly enclosed in “myself”. At home, my four walls are a cocoon that makes me safe but also shuts me off from the living world. But out in nature, the world is alive but also (to me) non-threatening so perhaps that makes it possible to open up to that connection?

  11. Ruth says:

    I read your paper on focusing in nature and really enjoyed it. I’ve been working with this practice ever since I first read this post last year, and was fascinated to read about the experiences you shared from your research participants. I understand focusing as a process of using the felt sense to bring unconscious parts of myself into awareness and to find symbols for them. For me how this unfolds in nature is:

    • Unconscious (to me anyway) aspects of the larger inter-subjective field emerge, not just the small “me.” No clear boundary, which creates a deep sense of connection.

    • Nature facilitates my experiencing by holding me in a way that’s totally safe, calming, expansive, unconditional. What Andy Fisher would describe as “good contact.” Because my need for security is met, there is a loosening of Ego and the sense of separation and isolation that I normally live in falls away. Because of this safe holding, a space opens up for my process to unfold without contraction.

    • Symbols arise in nature: a) where there’s a mirroring of my process, but also, b) where nature’s process seems to be captured in my symbolizing – i.e. I’m the companion.

    This last point to me is perhaps the most fascinating, and I loved how one of your respondents talked about being the companion to nature. I feel that too, and I believe that this is a big part of our role as humans. We are here to witness the more-than-human world and celebrate and mirror it with our symbols. I believe this spiritual/cosmological aspect of focusing in nature is absolutely vital.

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