Focusing, Culture, and Philosophy

…But more deeply, I realised that I want to situate Focusing in the kind of high culture which is so characteristic of Europe at its best: where an educated person would take it for granted that of course one must understand something of biology and Dante and the movies, of Beethoven and Rumi and Picasso, of Ming vases and world history, Basho and Heraclitus, Tiahuanaco, Cordoba and Persepolis, of the history of man and the social structures of oppression…

– where empathy is a wide ability to travel sensitively through time and place, as well as a local ability to enter into the mind and feelings of the lady next door …

The world has possibly known nothing more beautiful, more precious (that is, more essential) than the kind of broad listening culture which is the legacy (in our case) of the vision of the Greeks, and above all of Aristotle. This is a culture which seeks out truth: the truths, equally, of objectivity and of the human heart – it is at the meeting-place of these truths (or perspectives) that Focusing must live; and to the interpretation of which that the restless integrity of soul which we know as “philosophy” is directed.

Philosophy struggles patiently with just those strange conundrums of our human situation which it is the most tempting to avoid – not least because they are frustrating and intractable.

This broad listening culture is a greater thing (I would say) than all the insights of the sages, since it includes them also in its hospitality, weighing their effects in the world with both imagination and detachment.

Truth is everything – yet truth means more than measurement and power over, requiring also subtlety, participation, irony, perspective and compassion.

Where does Focusing fit into this picture? What is the peculiar power or centrality of Focusing, in living forward our human situation? It lies, I judge, where truth and kindness meet: where compassion will not yield to interest; where truth-seeking is implacable in the face of convenience and sentimentality.

Wherever there is a person there is a story. Religion is what occurs when persons long to live life inside a story, not simply to turn aside to stories for comfort in an aching void. Yet – wherever there is a person there is such a story. Each of us is a dweller in myth, most of all the person who denies that, or who is unaware.

The soul is a fabric of dreams. Thus the myths of the would-be-mythless are inchoate – blind and volatile. Just such a myth is prevailing in our time, perhaps. But the time for hubris is surely passing.

Focusing exists at the point where the dawn rises from the sea; where what is without form (and is at the same time more than form) breaks into light and occurrence.

So these three live together: Focusing, philosophy, and the broad listening culture – together open to every story; together constituting both a further story and a meta-story, a story of stories – hospitable to every story, and to whatever reaches beyond familiarity, beyond conflict, incomprehension, blockage and suspicion.

That, I think, is all. It remains only to say a few preliminary words about Gene Gendlin’s book A Process Model. What is important for us about this book?

Well – it both describes how Focusing is possible (what kind of phenomenon we are dealing with, what has to be true about the world, since Focusing can happen); and also it is an instance of what arises from Focusing – of sitting at an edge and allowing a story to form. The process-model story is friendly to all stories, and so renders intelligible the broad listening culture of which I have spoken.

Above all, or so it seems to me, this book is a sustained argument against a central claim upon which the dominant story of our time still rests: that all occurrences are wholly determined by preceding causes. If that is so, then human meaning flees precipitately from the world, since if what happens is wholly the product of causes, we are nothing but pre-programmed fragments of machinery.

In the black world of determinism, nothing ever happens. Therefore, according to that story, Focusing, which precisely is the coming into being of something which has never happened before in the whole history of the world, is precisely impossible.

For this reason, it is urgent that Focusing people should engage with the philosophy of the implicit, since it makes sense of novelty, and in so doing gives back to us our humanity.

It gives us, that is to say, firm ground under our feet as we set out to question oppression, cruelty, hypocrisy, complacency, suffering, ignorance and despair, wherever we may find them – to see what is happening, and what forces lie behind what is happening.

2nd November 2003

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