I’m sat, eyes closed and tuned in. Not to the background drone of ‘Radio Shitchat FM’ here in my coworking space. I’m focused on something far more animated and relentless – the live 24-hour house party that is my mind.
And as I stand in my cranial foyer, red carpet unfurled, metaphorical guests come and go…
- There’s the gung-ho guest kicking chairs over. They’re keen to just get on and write this article you’re reading right now.
- Then there’s the cautious one, all sombre and diligent. They insist we do this properly: ‘let’s plan first’ they say.
- There’s someone yelling ‘give up’ in time with the music. According to them, ‘no one reads this shit anyway, so why bother? It’s difficult and pointless’.
- And over there, shy in the corner sits the quiet and polite guest. They secretly fantasizing that this could be the breakthrough article that invites a watershed of new followers and enquiries for coaching.
Suddenly, other party-goers get wind of this fantasy and the room erupts.
Everyone wants their say on what really happens next. Drinks get spilt, a fight breaks out, and funky new stains appear on the already pockmarked carpet.
Does your inner world sometimes feel like an illegal rave?
Is there a lot going on up there? Are you living a stream-of-conscious monologue, written while performed in the echo chamber of yourself?
Tune in now to what’s going on inside. Can you sense competing urges, feelings and impulses? Are they noisy, contradicting and sometimes confusing?
This is completely natural, apparently
As Natasha Lythgoe, leader of a recent course in focusing said: “welcome to being human.”
Natasha’s training shared a new model for making sense of this inner world. Rather than a single metaphorical voice dominating the party (which I assumed was just a single, albeit very messy me), it’s possible to discern many voices. A revolving door of characters, loud, quiet and everything in between, all with unique and contradicting motives and messages.
And if you feel carefully enough, apparently, it’s possible to sense real, physical sensations in your body that correlate with those myriad forces within. I believe ‘embodiment’ or ‘befriending’ are other monikers for this so-called art of focusing.
First, a quick disclosure
I’ve only been practising for two months so I’m no expert at this. I’ve meditated for roughly the same number of years so that’s my limited benchmark on matters of the inner world. On that front, I’m fairly spiritually illiterate.
That said, I know the turmoil within intimately. And moving beyond simply coping is what brought me to focusing – not just for me but for the people I coach too.
I also feel compelled to add that, generally, I only do things for utilitarian reasons. It has to work, or otherwise serve some demonstrable, functional purpose. And focusing, so far, seems to deliver on that, with evidence to back it up.
I document my formative experiences here as a signpost for like-minded people looking to experiment with their wellbeing routines. It’s for anyone curious, intrigued by new ways to paddle in the deeper waters of human consciousness.
Welcome to intentionally earthing yourself
As I understand it, the theory goes that by warmly greeting sensations (through focusing), without judging them as good, bad, right or wrong, everyone feels welcome at the mental house party. Restlessness, anger, glee, sadness, lust and the whole spectrum of human feelings are greeted as equals, no questions asked.
Intention seems relevant too. By really really wanting to be present and there for yourself or someone else (we practised as pairs), whoever decides to show up at the party, focusing takes on more significance.
It’s a bit like meditation in that respect: resistance, and wanting things to be different, only cranks up the conflict. So instead, we just sit and welcome it all, as it already is.
Take compulsion and urgency, for example
There’s a part of me forever on-the-go: doing, exercising, building and learning. It feels like a convex tug in my stomach, lurching forwards, as if I’m constantly rising from seated, with restless legs.
It’s not a bad or good thing, just a thing – like all the other urges that come and go.
Focusing suggests that I feel and describe that sensation in my belly. That I greet it with open arms and a warm smile. And like every good host, make sure it (and everyone else) feels right at home.
The premise is that (like a party) no single guest gets to unfairly dominate the evening’s entertainment. And with that you feel more grounded, balanced, centred, or any other number of esoterically mystic states.
I’ve also heard focusing likened to earthing yourself
Now this is a metaphor I can get to grips with, silly blokey human that I am. These thoughts and feelings are like bolts of energy zapping* around us, with nowhere to go.
So by scanning the body and finding out where, physically, the charge is, I give it a point to earth to. Somewhere for the electricity to discharge, safely, without frying anyone.
* = Like all deep inner work, words can elude us, so we’re limited to tenuous analogies and metaphors, the kind littered in this article. I’ve tried to be pragmatic. Give me a break. If you enjoy particularly esoteric descriptions, check out Natasha – the lady who taught me.
Worth having in your toolbox
Focusing is all very well and good when life’s peachy, and you fancy a quick cuddle with yourself. But what happens when you’re triggered? Like when someone breaks your cardinal rule of ‘always do things properly.’ Like turning their car without indicating at a road junction, for example.
It can feel impossible to ignore e.g. Mr/Ms Perfectionist guest. She/He who instantly picks up the cocktail cabinet for a spot of amateur window reglazing, screaming like they’re the only person who matters at the inner party.
Well, I’ve been there, frequently.
It can feel like a betrayal to not indulge the loudest of guests. They’re so loud, after all, so familiar, so they must be right. Maybe they are.
With self-awareness upgraded, I’ve got a new stratagem in my toolbox
Now, I still feel a surge of anger and self-righteousness. But I locate it somewhere physical – in this case, my chest. I recognise whoever turned up, and quietly appreciate what they brought to liven up the party (even if it’s a semi-automatic weapon).
And in welcoming the sensations that manifest physically (tightened jaw, tight belly), I rest assured there’s a worthwhile motive behind the urge. Even if I can’t see it yet. It’s like trying to see the best in a guest, even when they soil your bedsheets.
OK, focusing can be a bit like soothing a toddler sometimes. But perhaps that’s the nature of a particular urge? And respectful, non-judgemental attention is what it needs. Like acknowledging the tantrum, kindly, but not engaging with it.
As an aside, focusing is introducing me to the various characters inside (some of whom I know better than others). I’m discovering more about who they are and gaining clues about who I really am and where to go next.
The hospitality hack
If you’re the type to live life under a microscope (like I do), perhaps you’re intuitively wary of inviting extra introspection into your life, with a practice like focusing.
Yet it seems the knack to focusing is a shift towards being more welcoming and hospitable to the various motives and impulses of our inner word. We don’t scrutinise the party guests, nor endlessly analyse who they (we) are, or feel bad about them (us) being that way.
Everyone’s welcome. That’s the basic premise. And there’s enough jelly and ice cream to go around.
Similarly, perhaps you’ve come across tiresome positive psychology mantras, encouraging you to be more loving to or accepting of yourself?
It’s fairly ubiquitous advice. But it’s quite vague and impractical too, especially when you’re in the midst of another pernicious mental bun fight.
So what I like most about the focusing model is it hacks an ancient expression of generosity and kindness: hospitality towards fellow travellers. There’s something innate and natural about being kind and welcoming to our guests – that’s a model I can work with.
And anchoring those physical sensations in the body gets you out of your head quicker. So you can get on with the very human act of being kinder and gentler to others like you are to yourself.