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The Habit of Sensing

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by Rev. Ed McMahon, Ph.D., Co-founder with Rev. Peter Campbell, Ph.D. of Biospirituality Focusing

Ed McMahon outside his home office in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

Sooner or later most people I know want to experience living more consciously in what they may call "God" or a "living presence" that continues beyond the mortality of everything around them. Things happen as we grow older that jar us into recognizing that we spend much of life splashing around on the surface of awareness. Wealth can go, health as well, along with dear friends and family. Life is fragile. We start feeling there must be more than all this busyness. Then we start carrying the question:

How do I live each day so that a felt consciousness of living in a Presence can grow and deepen right within the experiences of daily life? Many Focusers want to grow into this but don't know how and become sidetracked into too much thinking and talking rather than nurturing what I call the "habit of felt sensing."

When Gendlin's early writing came across my desk, and I had worked through all the jargon, verifying it in my own experience, I committed myself to living Focusing as a way of life, not just as a therapeutic tool. (Later, I would insert caring-feeling-presence into Gene's steps of Focusing.) So, every morning as we finished breakfast, Pete and I would spend time as Focusing companions. Then we added certain evenings each week, plus our own private Focusing as needed during the day. This we faithfully kept up for at least 15 years.

But as time went on I began to feel unnourished and burdened by all this therapeutic structure. Only once in a great while did I really feel the need of a partner. The rest felt like it was more a hindrance than a help. My life felt stuck at a kind of plateau even by the Focusing Steps themselves as I had adapted them.

Then one day I was Focusing and the words came, "You are barking up the wrong tree," which felt right. But at the same time it didn't feel like a rejection of Focusing. It felt on target, but still unclear. Continuing to Focus later came these words: "Go back and sit with what you felt in Gene's work was so right for you. Let it lead you where it will." So, I did.

What came about a week later was: "The felt sense is the key," and more holding the feel of that phrase: noticing and nurturing it until the symbol connected. "That feels like the body bridge into the transcendant that I have been searching for. Let go of all the organized Focusing unless you know you need it at times. Just grow into noticing and nurturing whatever has that edge of, 'There's more to it.' Make time to notice and nurture." So, I began and immediately realized that I had feelings about all kinds of interactions I wasn't paying attention to because they weren't necessarily between me and feeling OK. After that, I let go of all the formal stuff that felt like it was in the way and just took time to:

-- Notice how often I had feelings about so many things.

-- Pause to check them out in order to see whether any have that edge of the more to them.

-- For those that are really felt senses, make time to nurture them , take care of them.

The Habit of Felt Sensing and Caring-Feeling-Presence:

The habit of felt sensing rests on at least an implicit understanding that a felt sense is the body's way of inviting us to let "the more" of a story unfold. This unfolding doesn't happen unless the prior habit of what I have called caring-feeling-presence (CFP) has developed.

CFP as I created and taught it is that our body must communicate to a felt sense, welcoming, prizing, openness, caring, safety, affection in a physically felt way so that the felt sense can feel it. It is not effectively communicated by intention in the mind. It's like an intra body to body hug that says, "I'm here with you, and I care." You can't fool a felt sense involving fear, betrayal, abandonment, low self esteem, with just the intention in your mind of being caring. You have to put your body where your good intentions are. I have found that deeply habit protected places stay protected, and you can't really let go into the vulnerability of being in such a felt sense unless your body experiences you being caring with all your felt senses. Without this constancy there is a kind of deception toward a precious part of you that wants to trust your presence but can't .

The habit of felt sensing and the habit of CFP go together. CFP is not something you do just to help you hold a scary, threatening felt sense. It is an habitual body stance that you grow into in relationship to all felt senses. It grows out of a deep reverence and affection and awe for all felt senses and their potential to open your right next step into this world of gift. All your felt senses begin to get VIP treatment, and when the habit is consistent, then I found to my surprise a most exciting breakthrough occurs.

The body is the bridge to immortality

The habit of felt sensing is a practical, physical way to open my body's consciousness to the transcendent giftedness of everything, including events that threaten biological life. Living itself can be prayer. Our body itself, which we so identify with mortality, is meant to be our conscious bridge into immortality. It is the body process that creates an experiential faith. The habit of felt sensing gives us the body-feel for how in the practical order we can live connected in this world of gift, no matter what happens to us.

Protected Places Surface

After about a year, I began to find in the midst of nurturing some felt sense, another felt sense totally unrelated would suddenly surface and shift. One example that left me weak in the knees was a realization that despite all my conscious intentions, I had been Focusing to fix or gain control according to my preconceived definition of what is OK and what is not OK. It seems that when the habitually protected places can rely on the consistency of caring feeling presence and habitual felt sensing, as the way they will be treated by my body, then these protected places surface and tell their story, because I am no longer unconsciously using Focusing to fix them.

If what I am experiencing is verified by other people, this will be one of the most significant forward steps ever taken showing the vital role of BioSpiritual or Contemplative Focusing, using the habit of felt sensing as a step beyond the therapeutic model. The therapy box or framework alone becomes too narrow once one is ready to move beyond it. I'm ready to journey on, filled with gratitude for the solid launching pad. It's not abandonment of that helpful support and its structures without which I wouldn't have been ready to graduate. So, once again I can renew my commitment to Focusing as a way of life through the "habit of felt sensing."

To develop the habit of felt sensing, I have found that one can't fill up every minute with reading, thinking, TV, radio, chat rooms, email, music, talking, planning, analyzing, worrying, etc.. We must leave ourselves space even to notice our world of felt senses, let alone nurture them. That means we need to grow comfortable with silence several times a day, just being inside whatever is real. This does take a bit of discipline and attention. But, if my experience beckons any who read this, you will not regret the effort involved as a depth and breadth of connecting, hope, and peace flows into your life.

For resources and information contact the Institute for Biospiritual Research, P.O. Box 741137, Arvada, CO 80006-1137 Tel/Fax: 303-427-5311, email:, website:


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This page was last modified on 11 November 2003