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Teaching Focusing in War Zones

Teaching Focusing in War Zones

By Lyly Rojas De Knaus, Ph.D., psychotherapist, writer, cross-cultural communications specialist, and U.N. consultant

When people hear that I teach Focusing in War Zones such as Kosovo, they usually ask me how I present it. My answer is simple: I teach Focusing to victims of torture and war crimes (like rape and other heinous assaults), as well as to international diplomats, the way I would instruct anyone else, under any other circumstances. I guide them to pay attention to their bodily sense of inner wisdom and to receive the gifts of Focusing when something in them shifts and moves toward growth and wholeness.

"There is no way that one can work in the international peace arena and not be intimately embroiled in politics.

My work is a daily lesson in humility."

It is not the way I teach Focusing that makes the difference. For me, the difference is in where. Focusing is something I do in a uniquely political context. There is no way one can work in the international peace arena and not be intimately embroiled in politics.

I teach mediation and negotiation skills as part of my work. As an independent consultant to many U.N. agencies, I am responsible for instructing diplomats from 142 countries in conflict-resolution techniques. Focusing and meditation -- the soulful aspects of peace work -- I cannot teach as openly. Due to intense political, cross-national, religious and other biases, I cannot look like I am promoting anything that might smack of any ideology, theology, cosmology or pedagogy. Focusing must not look like something associated with any specific culture.

Truly, Focusing is broader than any country's borders. This inherently human process is the way a human being's body and spirit communicates in whatever culture she lives.

I share this soulful way to bodily healing with 1) the diplomats or 2) the victims (of genocide and other deplorable acts of inhumanity). Of course, many victims are concerned with primal issues of safety, staying alive and sanity, not with spirituality and psychological development. Sometimes, these victims are not able to go inside and listen to their body because they feel their bodies have betrayed them. I have to work very gently here. I provide a Focusing-attitude listening environment and model the compassionate, accepting way of "being" Focusing, rather than "teaching" Focusing.

When I am companioning someone through his personal tale of Hades, I do what I describe as a "Focusing melody" where I continually pay attention to my body (undertone) as I listen to the story of horror (overtone). I scan my emotions, feelings, thoughts and sensations, becoming keenly aware of, but not dwelling on, myself. Because of this Focusing melody, I am able to place my reactions secondary and be there fully for the victim. There is no formula that I could recommend. It is always individualistic because each person is unique and because the situation in which I work is extremely political.

I believe it is always useful to live and model Focusing, a rich process that helps me and those I teach to be more present in the world moment by moment. Through my work, I am able to bring minuscule bits of peace to a world that is full past the brim with violence. In war and in peace, doing whatever works best to bring about healing is the humble road. Focusing is my companion on this journey. My work is a daily lesson in humility.