Focusing

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This is part 17 of 30 of Ham­mer­time. Click here for the in­tro.

You know how they say we only use 10 per­cent of our brains? I think we only use 10 per­cent of our hearts.

~ Owen Wilson

It is with some trep­i­da­tion that I ven­ture into the “fuzzy Sys­tem 1” side of in­stru­men­tal ra­tio­nal­ity. I worry that these in­tro­spec­tive tech­niques op­ti­mize too much for cathar­tic eu­reka mo­ments, and that the re­sult­ing feel­ings far over­state their true value.

Nev­er­the­less, there is a definite power to these meth­ods. You have sub­con­scious be­liefs, val­ues, and strate­gies that you’re un­aware of, or at least can’t ar­tic­u­late. Gendlin’s Fo­cus­ing is a start­ing point for plumb­ing these hid­den depths.

Day 17: Focusing

Back­ground: “Fo­cus­ing” for skep­tics.

tl;dr: your brain hal­lu­ci­nates sen­sory ex­pe­riences that have no cor­re­spon­dence to re­al­ity. Notic­ing and ar­tic­u­lat­ing these “felt senses” gives you ac­cess to the deep wis­dom of your soul.

I’ll start by ex­plain­ing my most gears-like model for why fo­cus­ing works, and then de­scribe some ex­er­cises to­wards strength­en­ing the Fo­cus­ing mus­cle.

One of the pre­dic­tions of my model is that felt senses are only one piece of the non­ver­bal puz­zle – the pat­terns in our dreams and our tastes for fic­tion and mythol­ogy, for in­stance, serve the same func­tion. This will be the con­tent of a fu­ture post.

Left and Right Brain

This model is de­rived from Jor­dan Peter­son’s lec­tures on psy­chol­ogy, and in par­tic­u­lar this con­ver­sa­tion. I re­serve the right to call ev­ery­thing fake if you try to falsify it.

Hu­man be­ings are both preda­tor and prey. This du­al­ity is so cen­tral to hu­man evolu­tion that the brain is di­vided left and right to serve the two differ­ent pur­poses sep­a­rately.

The left brain is the preda­tor brain, the cen­ter for “ap­proach” mechanisms. It’s built for track­ing a par­tic­u­lar prey an­i­mal, ar­tic­u­lat­ing rules about be­hav­ior, and solv­ing con­crete prob­lems. To fix your at­ten­tion on a tar­get is to ac­ti­vate your left brain and get ready to hunt it down. In the di­rec­tion you look, there is clar­ity and leg­i­bil­ity. Over that di­rec­tion, you gain power and mas­tery.

“Sin” de­rives from the Greek word for miss­ing the mark: hu­man be­ings are aiming crea­tures.

The right brain is the prey brain, the cen­ter for “flight” mechanisms. It’s built for hy­poth­e­siz­ing a ven­omous fog of worst-case sce­nar­ios: snakes in ev­ery tree, traps un­der ev­ery bram­ble. The right brain is con­stantly on edge, search­ing for sub­tle clues of be­ing tracked by a clever preda­tor or failure mode. It op­er­ates on the things you don’t know and can­not see: the space be­hind your head, the shad­ows in dark cor­ners, the places and con­cepts you cir­cum­am­bu­late.

With its higher level of clar­ity and cer­tainty, the left brain is by far the more ver­bal of the two, and most of your ar­tic­u­lated knowl­edge re­sides there. The right brain, on the other hand, may have ac­cess to the most im­por­tant big-pic­ture in­sights about your life. The trou­ble is to com­mu­ni­cate them.

When the right brain has a mes­sage to send that won’t go di­rectly through the cor­pus cal­lo­sum, the mes­sage man­i­fests in other ways. You feel a tight­ness in your chest or a glow in your belly. Un­bid­den images ap­pear to you when you close your eyes. Re­cur­ring night­mares play out the last mo­ments of your likely doom.

Fo­cus­ing is about notic­ing these sub­tle clues and com­plet­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween left and right brain.

Felt Senses

The ba­sic idea of Fo­cus­ing is to no­tice and track your felt senses and learn to ar­tic­u­late them. The most ex­cit­ing thing that hap­pens dur­ing fo­cus­ing is notic­ing a “felt shift,” a re­lief or change, in the sen­sa­tion once you hit upon the right words to frame it. This re­sponse is your right brain con­firm­ing that you got the mes­sage.

I’ll start by list­ing a few felt senses I’ve had re­cently:

  • When I solve a prob­lem in a cre­ative way (e.g. fix pos­ture by turn­ing in the shower), there’s a sen­sa­tion of en­light­en­ment at the back of my head which liter­ally feels like my skull is open­ing up. The words to this feel­ing are “I’ve dis­cov­ered a new di­men­sion!”

  • I some­times sit slouched over in bed for hours at a time brows­ing Face­book or Red­dit, play­ing video games, or binge-watch a sea­son of a TV show. After get­ting up from the slouch, my whole body is en­veloped in a haze of laz­i­ness and de­cay. The zom­bie haze is thick­est in­side my ribs. The words to this pres­sure are “Symp­toms of the spread­ing cor­rup­tion.”

  • A piece of my so­cial anx­iety forms a hard bar­rier that pushes against the cen­ter of my chest. I learned the words to this feel­ing from a post by Zvi: “Con­form! Every time you walk out­side the norm, think about the im­plicit ac­cu­sa­tion you’re mak­ing against ev­ery­one who didn’t try it.”

Here’s Gendlin’s Fo­cus­ing check from CFAR:

1.Say aloud “Every­thing in my life is fine,” or “I’m on track with all of my goals.”
2.Pay at­ten­tion to the sen­sa­tions in your belly, chest, and throat. If you’re like most peo­ple, some­thing will catch or re­act weirdly to the state­ment.
3.Try to get a sense of what the feel­ing “sees,” and write it down.
4.Imag­ine set­ting that thing aside (like putting it next to you on a park bench), and try again: “Apart from that, ev­ery­thing in my life is fine.” See what catches this time.
5.Con­tinue un­til you reach a state­ment that doesn’t pro­duce a re­ac­tion, and in­stead rings true (e.g. “Apart from A, B, C, D, my life is fine right now.”)

Set a Yoda Timer and try the Fo­cus­ing check.

Daily Challenge

Share a felt sense and its True Name.

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