THE CUMBRAE EXPERIENCE : FOCUSING AND THE POWER OF PHILOSOPHY

I thought it was time to write a few words about our experience in Cumbrae.

One needs so much faith, in the early times of a new venture.

Before our week in Cumbrae, a good friend phoned me from Canada to say this. She said (in effect) that it takes people time to take you into their landscape. Time to know you are there, and that something valuable is really happening, and not just an interesting green shoot, which might be nothing but a weed. She pressed me to nourish a faith in our venture, to trust that it will gather its own energy and forward momentum.

I'm going to write a little here about the venture and the experience.

At the beginning of September a party of about twenty Focusing people from seven countries gathered at the cathedral buildings on the little Scottish island of Cumbrae to spend a week exploring "Focusing and the Power of Philosophy". The precincts were beautiful, the hills and the sea all around were breathtaking, and the library in which we met was lived in and comfortable, like the common room in an old college.

Each morning and evening Barbara would bring us gently into the present moment, into the experience of being quietly in our bodies.

We read passages from five philosophers, Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant and Wittgenstein. There's nothing original about that! But then we found ways to explore what these writings and insights stirred up in the felt sense. These philosophers were bringing insights into the world from deep inside themselves, about matters which touched them urgently. We wanted to hear and feel that urgency, and to focus on what it might bring forward urgently in ourselves.

I will give two examples, chosen because they are relatively easy to convey.

The great Scottish philosopher David Hume discovered that - "For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble upon some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch MYSELF at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception."

Who am I? - if I can never find or experience myself in any way whatsoever! Is that truly so? Why not spend a Focusing session searching for your SELF, just as Hume did?

Notice that what Hume is pointing to is not an intellectual speculation but an experiential enquiry. He stumbles upon sensations, emotions, happenings of a bodily nature. So here is a natural opening for Focusing. Some of us found that in sincerely looking for something tangible, perceivable, that could be called "myself", strange and disturbing things happened in our Focusing: at first disconcerting .... but finally liberating.

The exploration led to a new kind of Focusing experience, with powerful effects.

Later in the week we talked about solipsism. Briefly, solipsism is a question: How do I KNOW there is any living being in the world except myself? Well, you might say, "Of course I know! What a stupid, irrelevant question!"

But because we had been living in these ideas for some days, when we were reflecting on this idea, that perhaps I am all alone in the world, there was a manifest tension in the room, a real discomfort .... : a felt sense, troubled, unclear, unresolved and disquieted. It was as if people felt cornered, edgy, trapped and vulnerable ....

The relief was palpable, the next morning, when Campbell showed us a way out of this impasse: that it arises out of a misunderstanding of what language is. So then we were open to seeing more of how language does function in our lives: and that of course has immediate practical bearings upon Focusing, which is all about sensing into a felt unknown, so that new language, symbols and acts can come from it.

I notice that if I imagine myself in the space at Cumbrae - in the library, or the cloister; looking out toward the hills of Arran, or walking late at night by the sea with Kye, talking the day over - the life of the experience comes back into me: I feel myself back in the presence of the wonderful people who were there - thoughts and emotions bubbling up once more.

Even the press of world events has not broken the Cumbrae spell. People are staying in touch, because we had together an experience which many of us may never have had before in our whole lives: of our minds and feelings working together in harmony. When I was at school and university, I had to leave my feeling life at home. It was very unsafe for it to be there at all - and especially unsafe for feeling to participate in the intellectual process.

Because we found a space in which true thinking of the heart was possible, we felt welcome as whole persons. So it is not surprising (but it is delightful) that the magic of this little community is continuing. I feel happy, in the presence of this ongoing living of our group ....

Now let me say a few words about the course in Cumbrae next year.

People in the Focusing world really do not know that this whole Focusing thing grows out of EXPERIENCING AND THE CREATION OF MEANING. (ECM for short). We have to discover this! We are (many of us) well aware by now that there is this big writing called A PROCESS MODEL. Mary Gendlin has made a huge effort to introduce this book to people, and it is carried forward in the world by her devoted advocacy.

But of ECM, if we are aware of it at all, I guess we mostly just think, "That's some little philosophy thing for philosophers that Gene wrote when he was young, and it's got nothing to do with me".

But in my judgment, ECM is truly where it all happened.

Everything else, Focusing and the worldwide community and Focusing-oriented psychotherapy and A PROCESS MODEL and all Gene's psychological and philosophical and psychotherapeutic papers and our project and Gene's lifelong work on Aristotle, now at last bearing fruit: all of this is the outgrowth of ECM.

I mean this in exactly the sense in which Freud said of his book THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS: "Insight like this does not come more than once in a lifetime".

ECM explores the whole of what it means to have experiencing. That means that it describes what it is to be a person. It describes human being as a sensing-and-forming, an unfolding, a becoming.

This book, when I first read it, really helped me to understand something new about Focusing, about living, and about what it means to be a human being. It challenged my concept of Focusing as "a technique", and forced me to see experiencing in a vast and global way.

For these reasons I'm thankful that I read ECM right at the beginning of my relationships both with Focusing and philosophy. It has coloured both, more than I ever realised until I said it one day on Cumbrae this September.

Also in ECM I loved the descriptions of Focusing process and of psychotherapy, which were written when Gene was still closely in touch with Carl Rogers, and sit at the boundary between (early) Focusing and (earlyish) Person-Centred Therapy.

That's all I find wanting to be said at present. I hope it gives readers some flavour of our happy island week, and will bring to your imaginations a lively sense of what we are planning for next September in Scotland.

I send my love to all readers, and heartfelt thanks to the many people who have encouraged us in this venture.

28th November 2001

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Details of the 2002 Focusing on Philosophy at Cumbrae are here.