The Focusing Institute Presents The Gendlin Online Gendlin Online Library Banner

Gendlin, E.T. (2004). Five philosophical talking points to communicate with colleagues who don't yet know focusing. Staying in Focus. The Focusing Institute Newsletter, 4 (1), 5-8. From


By Gene Gendlin, Ph.D.

Photo of Gene Gendlin

It is hard to tell our colleagues about Focusing and our overall approach to living, because there are no terms in the shared language that can speak of these new things. The usual use of language has assumptions built into it which prevent us from communicating with our colleagues about how we think and practice.

People who know Focusing will probably just say "of course" to the five points which I have written here. They are all familiar to Focusing people; but, friends, what is experience, what is language, what is the body, what are values such that Focusing is even possible?

You might feel no need to ask and think about this, but we need to talk to the wider world. to move toward changing values. This affects how human beings are understood and treated in every setting, personal, business, political and economic, and that makes the world better.

To think and talk about experience, language, the body, values and thinking is philosophy. The five points are philosophy. I make no claim that any of it is clear or accessible or the best way of saying something. Find any way you can to communicate.



Most of the world thinks and acts in terms of formed things, patterns, units, entities. What is not formed is considered disorder, "excess," flux, or at best a whole that allows no precision. We claim, instead, that what is not already formed is a greater order, more finely differentiated than any forms and concepts, and yet also unfinished. But "more ordered and yet unfinished" is a very new concept, hard to grasp and credit.

Every situation and topic has a more intricate but unfinished order with which we usually think and act. We can point out that this unfinished intricacy is not at all arbitrary, by reminding our colleagues that much of what we do, say, or think turns out to be wrong. This wouldn't be the case if there were only disorder beyond what is already determined. If the intricacy were only disorder, there would be nothing "saying back" that what we just thought was wrong. It is difficult to find a next step that won't produce something unwanted, or nothing at all. This leads us to say that what is not formed is very demandingly ordered although unfinished in regard to being formed. It is unfinished but it gives very precise feedback and produces new steps. It is hard work to devise that special conception and operation which advances into what has seemed puzzling and contradictory. This hard work is what happens when science builds equipment and makes predictions. These inventions are our "constructions," but certainly are not arbitrary.

To most people what is not yet formed and known seems to be a blank. But from Focusing one is familiar with something that is neither known nor just unknown and also not something in between, rather something different. There is a thick directly-sensed experiencing under or behind whatever formed forms and things we think and perceive. The "more ordered and yet unfinished" experiencing can be sensed directly.

People differ greatly as to whether this dimension is familiar, so that all day they tap into it, or whether it sounds mysterious, merely posited, far from where they live inside themselves. Those who use Focusing (or this kind of bodily attention by whatever name) find that this kind of experiencing is precisely and demandingly ordered, and yet it demands a further step that does not yet exist. This kind of experiencing will move on, but only if what one says, thinks or does is "exactly right;" although what is right does not yet exist, nor can one know exactly what "right" means in each case. As Focusers we know about this "moving on" and this "rightness," but this can sound absurd to many people. We need to explain how it is possible!

Before a felt sense "opens" we typically propose lots of hypothetical ideas that we think it "might" mean. We have to tell people that there is an utterly recognizable difference between these and what actually comes from a felt sense. Entering the felt sense consists in a conversation, a back-and-forth, a "zig-zag" between this directly-sensed order on the one hand, and ones deliberate attending and speech-thinking on the other hand. When a newly-formed step of thought or action comes, people commonly say that it "fits" or "matches" the implying that one had up to that point, but this is obviously a wrong description! There is a certain very characteristic relation between the new step and what one had up to that point, but the newly-formed step was not there before, waiting to be found. It is not as if it had already been there but hidden or covered over. The step—what we say or do—is not a picture or a representation of the implying that was there before. It is not like the way a pre-formed puzzle piece fits the missing bit of a jigsaw. Implying is always more than any form but also not yet the demanded form.What then shall we call this "fitting" relation? The experiencing is not copied, not represented, but "carried forward." Once we explain this new term, people begin to use it because it lets them say something they know.

Intellectuals are trained to put themselves aside ("Those are only personal matters.") so as to operate freely with their already-known concepts. But the concepts they care about have an experienced intricacy that comes with them. If we refer to that intricacy, we can find out more precisely how a given concept or assertion is working just now, in this context, in this conversation. It's in the specific way it is used that we can find just what it is that matters, just what it is that we need the concept or assertion for, why we defend it, how we intend it to work. We can also sort out all of what came with the concept which we don't mean. Going into the intricacy shows that what we really mean when we use a known concept is not a "personal matter" but of shared value because it exists in the same world in which the others live. If it is new, it cannot help but be important to them.

What is usually meant by "shared meanings" are generalities. What you mean gets misunderstood when you say it in general terms, and you are helpless to defend what you meant unless you can speak from your experiential intricacy. From general meanings one can only go on in one or another of the well-known pre-existing tracks, saying the next thing one usually says, if one knows the discursive context of your group. General statements can be vital and powerful, but only if one enters into the experienced difference that they make in the context. Then they open avenues to pursue into depth and new precision, so that we can speak with new statements and concepts. Using Focusing in this way in our discussions with others can invite them to enter into their experienced meaning which is always there along with those general known terms.


A felt sense can stay stuck and closed when we say or think what it probably means. Then we try another statement and another, until one is corroborated by the felt sense. From Focusing we discover that there is an inner continuity between the felt sense and words and sentences. Even more surprising is the fact that what we experience as corroboration has an effect on the felt sense. Just as one says what is or has been true, it may change, but not in just any old way. A corroborated statement changes the felt sense in a way that the felt sense had demanded and implied. A felt sense implies language.

Language is rooted in the human body. Little children growing up with simple patois create complex syntax. History, culture, and language are inherent in all human experiencing and situations. Because all experiencing has language implicit in it, therefore new experiencing changes the implicit language so that new phrasings can come. And if they come, they may carry forward this new experiencing.

When we seem to experience something "without" words, it is only that there are not yet established words, phrases and sentences to carry it forward. If there are no established words we can give newly metaphoric linguistic vehicles a chance to come. With Focusing and Thinking at the Edge (tae) we can show how one can do this.

Here is one part of tae, in short. Recognize that in the public contexts your main word doesn't say what you mean because it has a different already established meaning. Find two alternative words. Recognize that they don't say what you mean either, for the same reason. Then—separately for each of the three words—ask yourself: "What did you want this word to mean?" New fresh colorful metaphorical sentences can come in response to asking this question in a Focusing way with each of the three words. New phrases come in which there are new and odd relations between the main words. Don't lose those. Avoid assuming the usual kind of relationships between the main words. Instead, ask yourself to articulate the new pattern which is implicit between the new terms. To do this, you enter the experiential intricacy. And when you listen to others you can invite them to enter it in the same way. There you have the gist of our new practice, tae, in one paragraph.
But do we really need such new forms of language? Yes!!! My plea is, don't try to say something new without letting the words work in new phrases and sentences. With the old phrases one can only fall into old tracks. From the old phrases one cannot grasp, find, or go further from what is new in what you mean.

Let me give some examples of how the words will say what you probably don't want to say if you leave the words in their usual phrases:

When you use the word "subjective" or "intersubjective," the public meaning you are conveying is that our experienced meanings are not realistic. The word "subjective" surrenders reality to the so-called "objective."

The word "consciousness" conveys something unnecessary, an inner observer without whom everything COULD go on just the same. One would need phrasings such as "the animal sentience which generates how we move," or "the human self-consciousness of things." Only some odd phrasing will convey that nothing is the same without consciousness, as with it.

"Values" seem to be something one adds to facts, as if facts were value-free. Then it seems that "values" are unreal leftovers, and that they have to be added on, brought to facts that already exist without them.

The issue is not about words as such. We have always only the same old words of the language. But words bring THEIR OWN general meanings along – unless we make phrases and stories that enable a word to bring its usual context into our new context – "crossing" old and new so as to make our new meaning. (Of course "crossing" is an English word, here acquiring new meaning.)


Much vitally important knowledge comes from studying the living body as if it were a machine. But other approaches reveal other dimensions of the body.

There is a bodily version of every situation and relationship in which we live. With Focusing we can form a felt sense of any facet of our situation from this bodily version. This felt sense is an experiential intricacy.

What is a living body such that it has the intricacy of our situations? How is Focusing even possible? If one has only the usual understanding of "the body," Focusing has to be some kind of delusion. With the old concepts, people might say that Focusing is "subjective." But clearly, if the situation is carried in the body, then a felt sense is not subjective. Objective then? No, also not, since "objective" means the units and patterns to which science limits anything it studies. We could fashion a new sentence that is neither subjective, nor objective, nor both: The body IS an interaction process with the environment, and therefore the body IS its situations. The body isn't just a sealed thing here, with an external situation over there, which it merely interprets. Rather, even before we think and speak, the living body is already one interaction process with its situation. The situation is not out there, nor inside. The external "things" and the subjective "entities" are derived from one single life-interaction process (which they always bring along with them).

We have to change the inner assumptions of our basic concepts. The entities with which we begin need to be both body and environment as single events rather than today's usual concepts that present them as separate. And they need to be not only what plain "is," but also that more finely organized but unfinished kind of order which I call "implying." Every bit of body is its environment and implies its next further eventing. Our concepts need to be restructured so that what is, is always also an implying.

If we want to think and talk about the body as we find it in Focusing, we cannot use the old concepts and phrases which divide everything. We can't speak about the body over here inside the skin envelope, using five separated senses to perceive something over there, and then interpreting that, and then doing something. We need to tell our colleagues that the physical body IS always already a doing-with others, and therefore it can generate next steps of tissue process, of behavior, and of human action and speech.


We need to describe how human beings unfold and become very beautiful when listened to. Listening shows that the nature of human beings is nothing like socialized content. It is a depth of richness that needs only interactive reception to open out, step by step, into a creative self-correcting development with freshly discovered wanting, personal ethics, and unique work in the world. What new phrases and sentences can we fashion to talk about this human nature? The very process of finding certain things brings a sense of rightness or wrongness, not just what feels good, but often new and difficult steps in a life forward direction.

There is no universal human content across cultures or individuals. In interaction we "cross" and create new meanings in each other. When we speak, experiencing is "carried forward." The words are "implicitly rearranged" in the body so that new sentences "come." The crude socially-shared meanings do not create human nature, although they do give us essential dimensions such as language and cultural patterns. Real interactions are more intricate. Their intricacy is implicitly lived with our bodies. Concern for others does not need to be taught into us; it is implicit in our very being. The others and the world are already implicit in our bodily-sensed experiencing, as we discover when we enter into it, and think with it. Then ways of relating and acting arise which are far preferable to the crude and largely artificial routines and action patterns which the cultures still teach


There is a greater order beyond the alternatives of formed forms or disorder. We can shift the basis of human thought to the point of emergence, where new terms arise in the interaction (the "zig-zag," the conversation, the back and forth ..... ) between what we say and the response we find in implicit intricacy.

To make this shift, people do not need to give up the concepts and approaches they now hold. Every concept that anyone found any reason to use becomes more insightful and useful if one enters into the intricacy in which the concept actually functions. As we said earlier, from this intricacy one can articulate what the concept is doing that one cares about, which of its many effects one actually wants, and one can generate new terms to enable others to find just this.

Doing this also enables one to wonder and be open to discover what the seemingly contradictory concepts of others are actually doing, what they enable the others to find in intricate experiencing. As formed, concepts can contradict each other, but their concrete effects in experiencing are never contradictory and lead rather to further implications and openings. One becomes motivated to discover the intricate experiential reasons why one's opponents can hold their positions and still feel good about themselves, if only they can find, articulate, and show them to us. In such a process they and we could discover aspects of life and the world that would be important to all of us, as well as further steps. Aren't all my statements up to this point formed "positions?" They could be so taken, but please don't take them only as formed positions. Take them as productions which emerge from intricacy. Let them lead you into the unfinished intricacy that they point to or speak from. There you may also find more than I have found. You may find how to change or augment them. The discovery of the implicit intricacy of one's own thinking is exciting – to everyone!

From what we have been talking about we can fashion new terms which are capable of the power of logic, but also always capable of leading directly back into intricacy, where it comes from and where it actually functions. It is a new kind of logic, requiring a new kind of term.

I hope you will try out something from any of these points on a few people and let us know what happens, by sending an Email to: [email protected]

´┐ŻEugene T. Gendlin

Note to Readers:
Document #2187 version 070601 build 071008