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Gendlin, E.T. (1999). Implicit entry and focusing. The Humanistic Psychologist, 27, 1, 80-88. From

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Implicit Entry and Focusing

by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph. D., University of Chicago

Let me begin with a personal story. I have only one degree and it is a Ph.D. in philosophy. Before I finished the degree, I went to Carl Rogers and he thought it would be a great idea to have a philosopher take part in his practicum. Rogers interviewed me as he did other applicants. During the interview he leaned forward very intently and said: "But you're not obtuse about people are you?" This was his concept of a philosopher. I said I thought I wasn't and that people talked to me and I hoped that he might as well!

It is a pleasure to see existential psychoanalysis coming to some sort of rebirth. However, there is still an enormous gap called postmodernism. I want to take us all the way across this gap, and to do this I started a movement called "after postmodernism."

We need to begin with the body. Merleau-Ponty started in this direction but we need to do more (Gendlin, 1992). I propose that he mastered the fact that we are bodies, and that the body is not a philosophical precondition of perception. Bodies are earlier than language.

The next step would be to take Heidegger's understanding of how being is really a "being in." This implies that we are in interaction. For example, the infant emerges, sucking the air, searching for the breast. The breast in turn has to be pumped if there is no infant. Thus, we are inherently interactional. This does not mean, as postmodernism assumes, that there is nobody there. You know there is someone in you and in me. I look at you and I know you are in there. It is an odd culture we live in because very few people know that you are in there.

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And that is very strange!

Sartre understood this very well. He developed a concept that was translated as "the look." Somebody is looking at you. I propose that we make this the fundamental principle of what a human being is: "looking at." Content, structure, and theories of ego and superego simply don't look at you. Whatever looks at you is us — the human being.

The other thing that I want to take from Sartre is that he said: "existence precedes essence." This is a slogan which means that what is sitting there in the chair looking at me is more fundamental and earlier than whatever we are going to say about it.

It took many years, but postmodernists have now arrived at a similar place. However, they haven't quite crossed over from that place. Postmodernists think they have discovered that anything we say is wrong, that any way that we define ourselves is wrong. For example, when you look at science, you often find that the science of ten years earlier is wrong. But let us not fall for this new discovery that anyway we define something is wrong. Rather, let us say that we are done with defining. In its place, I propose that we are living from and speaking from the self, person, body, or actor, all of which I refer to as the (. . .). Philosophy has a long history of either establishing certain formulations as ultimate or else giving up if it turns out you cannot have such formulations. Let us move beyond this. Instead of defining things, let us say that we speak from the (. . .) By taking this step, we introduce a philosophy that exists, a philosophy of experiencing, a philosophy of the implicit, which never explicates the implicit. Rather, it speaks from the implicit, it takes the implicit along with it, and studies the relationship between object or formulation on the one hand and the (. . .) on the other.

If we take this step, then we do not have to give up. By taking this step, we arrive at very interesting patterns. These are concepts that are begging to be formed for the relationship between what happens when you formulate and the (. . .) that you are speaking from. For example, we need a concept like an "undivided multiplicity." When we do not know what to talk about in the old kind of formulation, this kind of concept can be a very helpful. Another concept is the "cross over." [Page 82] When you cross two people, two things, or two cultures, they open each other up and you have more. Whatever we are dealing with has a capacity for more - it is actually an intricacy and not a simple diagram. There are many things of this kind that I am hinting at and that I am currently attempting to work out.

I call the relationship between philosophical formulation, or any formulation, and the (. . .), "carrying forward." It must be remembered that what we formulate or claim is never equivalent to any kind of (. . .). In other words, what we say is never equivalent to what we are talking about. Rather, if we are lucky, it "carries it forward." Thus, we are either developing it into more, or we are probably killing it. Take the example of attending a play with another person. After the play, you start analyzing and discussing it with the person. In some cases, after two or three minutes, you have nothing more to say since you have killed whatever you had taken with you from the play when you left the theatre. As a result, you become stuck and probably wish you hadn't analyzed it. Yet, everyone also has the other experience. In this case you feel an impact from the play, which you express to the other person. He or she not only follows what you say, but expands on what you have said. Soon you are both impressed by how much you have. This is also a valid experience, which I call "carrying forward."

In the case of carrying forward, you already know what it is like to speak from yourself, your (. . .). Speaking from your (. . .) carries it forward and opens and develops it further. We all know the experience when we have a difficulty or problem, or are excited and happy, and search for what to say. When no words can be found, we keep the experience with us until we can express it. When we have a personal problem, we may in fact spend months preferring to stay stuck until we find the language, action, or steps to carry it forward. Logic doesn't work in such instances. On the contrary, it is necessary to experientially feel the connections that will enable us to carry the experience forward. This marks a place where you can enter what I call the "implicit." It is possible to enter what you are and feel, carry with you, or are up against inside. It is possible to enter there and speak from there.

Postmodernism, however, is telling people that there is neither a [Page 83] subject nor a self and that anything we say will be wrong. This is a reactionary stance. What we want to achieve is just the opposite. We want to empower people to speak from there - from where there are not yet any public words. Psychotherapy attempts to do this all the time. Psychotherapy is a kind of "bad poetry" since it requires us to struggle for language. In psychotherapy, we can feel the language being tortured to rearrange itself so that new phrasing can come out and something new can be said. We want to empower people to do just that and, in the process, open up a new territory. There are probably people who do not know this territory. Philosophers claim that they do not know it. That is a professional stance - when you go to lunch with them it changes!

I have lived and worked all these years in precisely this territory. I call this territory "intricacy." It is a place where there are thousands of discriminations and details that do not have a public language. There are some people who are isolated and remote or live in an environment where the problem of finding a public language never appears. However, rather than feeling that they are more developed, they feel crazy and often present reactions like: "you know, my kommisches Zeug - my funny stuff."

I propose that we relate philosophy and psychological theory - both of which violate what I am talking about very heavily - to the territory of intricacy. This is what my philosophy seeks to do. In a public sense, however, this has not happened. To be sure, our public vocabulary has developed enormously as people have begun to talk about interpersonal difficulties and feelings. This is a great step forward, but we need more than that. We need to take a step forward in which this territory is no longer something that everyone carries around alone.

From this point of view, psychological theories that presume to describe a person are false. However, if you use a theory in relation to the person in front of you, then I believe it can help you. To understand another person is anyhow a momentary thing. In the moment when you say something and the other person responds, their eyes light up. You both understand. One moment later, the other person moves from there in a way you could not have imagined. Philosophy says that one person can not understand another, which is only true if to understand means [Page 84] to define the other. If we check each other's understanding moment by moment, then there are moments of true understanding between two people.

Philosophers are often behind the times. Language has become the reason why they are stuck. Heidegger spent thirty years saying that western languages are impossible. You cannot get the old metaphysics out of language and every time you say something you fall into its traps. Heidegger is right, because on this general level there is no way out of the old metaphysics. But if you allow language to come forward in the way I am suggesting, then it is possible to rearrange this mad poetry from the level of the (. . .).

The current fascination with social construction is a terrible mistake. It is mistake to tell people that they are only the products of culture, interaction, or their family. They are not. A human being is the person inside of you and in front of you. The human being, as I have said, is inherently interactional. We become more continuous inside as we become more relational. Let me put it another way. The infant arrives here looking. A person is whatever it is that looks at you. You cannot avoid being looked at. Nothing else does that, not a wall and not a chair. Only a person can look at you.

Being in a state of relation and being an individual human person go together. And isolation and losing touch with yourself inside also go together. It is not true that you are either in relation or an isolated individual. When you are only in relation, and lost from yourself, you are not really relating. The only real relation is when you are in touch with yourself and you can feel that the mysterious other has the power to look at you and find you in a way that is totally unknown to you from moment to moment.

A sentence that starts with "The person is..." cannot be finished. But one thing we can say from where we are is that it is possible to feel a continuity inside just as it is also possible to feel no continuity inside. The point is that continuity is a possibility; it is the relation between what is said or thought and what is there.

For the first time there is a modern academic philosophy that has a practice with it. My philosophy of experiencing generated this practice, which is called focusing (Gendlin, 1981). Focusing starts with a [Page 85] concrete feeling in your body - in your stomach or your chest. It is a kind of inward bodily attention that a few people have naturally, but which most people don't yet know. Focusing is not being in touch with emotions or feelings and it isn't guessing or figuring things out in your head about yourself. It is a way of getting a body sense - I call it a felt sense - of how you are in a particular life situation. There is a way of staying with this feeling and coming back to it over and over again. With practice, there is actually a point at which time slows down. You may think you have stayed with this feeling for an eternity, when in fact only a few seconds on the clock have gone by. And there is also a point at which space changes. You were at first quite literally in your chair and now there is this new space.

Focusing is only one of many types of knowledge we now have. These are knowledges of something more specific and well organized than just the territory of intricacy. One day I am going to issue a call to all these knowledges in the hope of bringing them together to develop a science of people.

Discussion with the Audience

Audience: Much of what you have said in such a suggestive and unusual language resonates with a lot of us both in philosophy and in psychotherapy. I would like to hear more about how your philosophy relates to the question of truth and living authentically.

Gendlin: My postmodern philosophy friends all believe there is no truth. The fact that there is not a single truth, however, does not mean there is no truth. It means there are many truths and truth has many different and very important meanings. We actually have objective measures to study the degree to which a person is in touch with implicit, not yet formulated, experience. Thus we can differentiate the implicit from mere intensity, which relates to Sartre's over dramatization of the arbitrary nature of choice. There is a disillusionment with the notion that authenticity means nothing more than some moment of decision that is totally arbitrary. In fact, we now know that when you stop cognitively deciding what to do, there is something else there, [Page 86] which is more intricate and composed of many strands of your experience. When it then comes to a little step of "Oh, I'm not yet together enough to decide this," further little steps follow in their characteristically funny way that go beyond language. We don't agree with the arbitrariness that Heidegger and Sartre gave to the process of reaching a decision. What we find is a much subtler, very internal and very recognizable process, in which you are going forward with your total organism.

Audience: Are you saying that rather than have people absorb fixed truths you are teaching them how to generate truth more flexibly, elaborate upon the truth; not abandon truth, but work with truth more creatively, more flexibly rather than digest fixed modules of truth?

Gendlin: Well I agree with the fixed modules, but not with the word flexible. There are different kinds of criteria, not just one kind, so an empirically tested proposition is merely more true than an untested one, and more true than one that is tested and failed. Wouldn't you agree? On the other hand, empirical propositions that can be tested come from theories that are doubtful.

Audience: Haven't you said that in the process of carrying something forward, what you're carrying forward is elaborated, creatively transformed? Isn't this what you're proposing we do with truth? That we carry truth forward in such a way that it is elaborated and creatively transformed, and in order to do that one has to be cognizant of and in touch with (�)?

Gendlin: Yes, that is what I am saying. I am in favor of the kind of truth that is carried forward and elaborated. What I would not like is if we made any one kind of truth the only kind. The problem continues to be that there is more than one kind of truth. Yet postmodernists keep saying there isn't any truth. It is as though everybody assumed, without thinking about it, that there is either one kind of truth or no truth. In fact we are standing in this gigantic, open possibility, where almost anything you go into a little ways becomes much more intricate. It [Page 87] would really be so boring if there were only one kind of truth. Whoever wanted that? There are different kinds of truth and I want them all!

Audience: I want to hear more about focusing.

Gendlin: We now have a whole network of people and if you punch in focusing on the internet [] you will get us. What is focusing? It turns out you can teach people to get in touch with a "body sense" of what they're talking about. Some people are very far away, very dissociated from their bodies. Since everybody can feel their bottom on the chair, that's one place you can start from and then move up from there. But most people can at least feel their stomach. What is difficult is to feel that aspect of it that is actually the situation, the past situation or present situation. In a certain way everybody knows this. If I say my belt is too tight, I loosen it. But if it is still too tight after that, then that is the situation. In fact, you can actually get a body sense of most any consideration, even a philosophical problem you're working on.

There is a fast way to try it as a therapist. At some point when your client is talking about something important ask him or her, "What does it make for you here?" and point to the stomach region. About one third of your clients will become quiet and the entire therapy will deepen from that moment on. They will come out of there and they will say "It isn't exactly what I was saying, I see that's not it." This third of your practice will, in effect, be lifted up by the experience. However, when you ask the question of the other two thirds of your clients, they are going to reply "What?" In this case, the wise thing to do is bring them back to where they were, "Well you were telling me that your sister was born in Scotland . . ." This way it doesn't disrupt anything. Some people, in other words, are right there on the edge, and quickly develop knowledge of this body sense. But with most people, it takes between two and four hours of teaching and practice.

Audience: In this so-called moving forward out of the unconscious, or womb of possible meanings, as a therapist what would you do to guarantee the coherence of the experience in the client whom you [Page 88] encourage to do this?

Gendlin: It has its own coherence. It took me a long time to affirm that the experience has its own coherence. It is as though it always comes from this "Ohhh."

Audience: Is it a cognitive coherence or an unconscious coherence?

Gendlin: We need a different vocabulary than conscious, unconscious and memory.

Audience: Do you reject all of them?

Gendlin: How can you reject them? They also carry forward something. Rather, this knowledge is achieved through an experience of  "Ohhh, the way I was doing that."

Audience: Is it self-limiting?

Gendlin: No, it is not self-limiting. It is self-organizing, but in a much more intricate way. To think that we are simply a creation of public space is a joke. Rather, there is a space that you all know which is the intricacy you are living within. With focusing, we discover that we are much more organized from the inside out.


Gendlin, E. (1981). Focusing. New York: Bantam Books.

Gendlin. E. (1992). The primacy of the body, not the primacy of perception. Man and World, 25: 341-353.

Eugene Gendlin is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago.  He is the founder of "Focusing," a psychotherapist in private practice, and author of numerous articles and many books including Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning and Focusing.

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