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Focusing in Afghanistan

by Nina Joy Lawrence, Trainer, USA

From September 18 through October 30, 2003, I taught four Focusing workshops, three in Kabul and one in Ghazni. We titled them Focusing and Resiliency. Dr. Patricia Omidian and I planned them together, and I taught three of them myself because Pat was so busy with her work for UNIFEM. We were very glad to be able to teach the one workshop in Ghazni together.

he support I got to do this work shows how it is valued. Quakers took the work under their care and valued it as peace building. The Afghan organizations I worked with valued Focusing as supportive of psycho-social wellness in workplaces, communities, schools and families. I did the work as an independent volunteer, and my base of operations was with Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA), the Afghan NGO I had worked with in 2001 when they were still in Peshawar, Pakistan. They invited me to Kabul and provided me with office space, materials, transportation, internet access and all that I needed to run workshops. My plane trip was partially paid for by donations from my Quaker Meeting in Corvallis and partially paid for by CHA. My expenses in Afghanistan were met by CHA and Pat and my host Afghan family, with whom Pat lives. Transportation and guards for the trip to Ghazni were paid for by UNIFEM, a United Nations program for the economic betterment of women.

Two mixed gender workshops were taught for the men and women of CHA, with 22 total participants, primarily top and middle management of this large, all-Afghan NGO. One workshop for Afghan Women’s Network was presented for 18 women from all over Kabul. This was a mixed age group of urban women, housewives, some professionals, and students, one as young as 11. The fourth workshop, the one in Ghazni, was for UNIFEM, and included 7 women teachers of different educational levels and two young male translators, who became participants.

To teach Afghans Focusing we use Focusing-like excerpts from Sufi poetry, written by Jelaludin Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, Castle Books, NJ, 1997). Rumi was born in the Balkh Province of Afghanistan 800 years ago. This way the participants don’t feel they are having Western things pushed at them; rather, they are reclaiming something of their own. As a support for ongoing practice, Ann Weiser Cornell’s Student Manual Part One was provided for all CHA participants after the workshop.

Here is the part of the Rumi poem we use to teach Presence:

This we have now is not imagination.
This is not grief or joy.
Not a judging state, nor an elation, nor sadness.
Those come and go.
This is the presence that doesn’t.

And the part of his Guest House poems that point to a process like Focusing, include the lines:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all.
...Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Focusing practices I was able to cover in the Afghan workshops were:

Presence (how to be with what is inside you)
Noticing the Inner Guests (becoming aware of the felt sense that comes in you)
Nurturing the Guests Through Simple Listening (how to partner a Focuser and how to spend time with the felt sense)
Listening and Reflecting (how to say back a bit of what you hear and check it inside with the felt sense)
Focuser’s Guest is the Guide (what happens when you check a reflection with the felt sense)
How to continue Focusing practice

In her work with Afghans, Pat Omidian has found they need other basic information to make the Focusing practice more helpful, so we included basics about resiliency, and biological and psychological stress responses.
I inadvertently found a way of checking whether people were understanding Focusing. To provide a break towards the middle of the second workshop day, I offered participants a chance to draw a picture of what it felt like inside to spend time with the inner guest, the felt sense. As each participant shared about their picture, I found I could tell whether they were understanding how to use Focusing or needed some more help.

Many people felt Focusing would be easy to continue in conjunction with their prayer times. Many were more comfortable doing it by themselves than with someone else, although if the people were already trusted friends, they felt good about being reflective listeners for each other.

Comments participants made showed the value of Focusing for them.
“Focusing is in the history here. It is in the literature, the poems. Mohammad even sat in the cave before becoming the messenger of God doing something like Focusing. So what have we been doing these 1000 and more years? Why doesn’t everybody know this? “
“I’ve been doing this, but I didn’t know how to be with the guests. I thought it was bad to go inside and see these guests. I thought it would make me worse. Now I know the Focusing method, and I find out it is good to be with the guests this way. I’ll tell my mother. She will be glad too.”

“My heart wanted me to be in love with myself after the workshop, and I do feel that I got what my heart wanted.”
“We need to have the plan and the curriculum to pass Focusing to master trainers, to trainers, to clinics, to village health workers, to villagers.” This was said by the head of the government health program in four provinces.

“I listened to my wife for the first time. She was really surprised and pleased.”
“Inside I find sadness, great sadness, that people have spent so much energy on getting things, material goods, capital, instead of learning this kind of practice. Where would we be now if we had spent the last hundreds of years in our society learning and teaching this kind of thing?

“This was the most useful workshop we have ever had. We went home even after the first day and were able to use it immediately to make things better in our families. We need more of this.”
“We can use this everyday in our school classrooms, in our families, and for ourselves.”
“We don’t just need two day workshops, we need three week workshops. Please come back.”
“We need everyone in our society to know how to do Focusing.”
Since this time Pat Omidian has become the country director in Afghanistan for the American Friends Service Society, the social action organization of the Quakers. The Focusing work, translated into Dari, has been included in a training manual for community development and is being used in a variety of settings. We hope this can become a model for use in other countries.

For other articles on Focusing and social issues see A Better World
Other Afganistan articles see: A New Use of Focusing by Afghan Aid Workers

This page was last modified on 09 March 2005