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“It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.” – Br. David Steindl Rast

A Legacy of Listening

A note from Carl,

A quick note to begin:  Our schedule of summer offerings is about to burst like the glory of all the tulips and roses around town. Tai Chi in The Park registration opens today, The Art Of Sitting (which you can still join!) begins May 15th, and we have retreats  Boulder, UT (Aug 11-13) and Santa Fe (Sept 21-24) coming up. Details are below. We have some other, shorter courses and workshops planned and will share details soon.

On May 1st, Gene Gendlin passed away at the age of 90. Gene was the originator of the practice of Focusing,and he had a far-reaching influence, particularly in the worlds of psychotherapy, philosophy, and embodiment.  When I think of how Gene’s work has impacted my life, I think of the Hafiz poem:


Gene’s legacy in one of listening; it is the encouragement of light. 

Focusing is essentially an awareness practice. It helps us learn a way of being with our sensations, thoughts, and feelings that leads to greater intimacy, insight and access to the deep knowing and intelligence that lives in our own body-mind.

I was first introduced to Focusing over twenty years ago by my first meditation teacher. While I found the practice quite powerful, it also remained somewhat technical for me; step 1, step 2… Some part of me was taking myself through a structured practice. When I began to work with Russell Delman, who was a close friend of Gene’s, and experienced Focusing as it shines through Embodied Life work, it really came alive for me as way of being, as an attitude toward life.  It became an organic process that was at once so natural and familiar, and so far from how most of us have learned to be in our lives.

In Focusing teacher Ann Weiser Cornell’s wonderful book, The Radical Acceptance Of Everything, she asks:

“When was the last time you sat down and let yourself become quiet and then brought a listening, getting-to-know-what’s there type awareness to your own inner-self?”

Not trying to fix, to analyze, to improve, to advise, to figure out.

To pause, to listen…to have a warm,  getting-to-know-what’s there.   This is the encouragement of light.

You can expand the question and ask when was the last time you brought that quality of listening to a spouse, a child, an illness, a challenging situation in your life?

A line that feels essential, and that I can hear in both Gene’s and in Russell’s voice, along with many, many times in my own voice, “Oh, hello in there.”  I can offer a warm greeting to whatever is alive in me. 
That part of me that worries about money…That part of me that feels too busy…That part of me that wants my knee to get better so I can hike and play basketball this summer…That part of me that is enraged about healthcare and public land….That part of me that is so full of delight and wonder at the miracle of our growing boy… Hello in there.  I’m with you, I hear you.

So often in our inner life, in our challenging situations, in our injuries, in our relationships, we will do anything but pause and have this quality of  “Hello, I know you’re here. I hear you, I’m with you.”

I could go on and on with praise and appreciation for Gene, and the influence his work has had in my life. There is a biography and tribute on his website here.

I’ll leave you with this Felt Sense prayer that to me, expresses a flavor of what Gene has left as his legacy. Gene coined the term “felt sense,” and this poem, written by an unknown Chinese doctor, points to a having a Focusing attitude toward our life.

Felt Sense Prayer

I am the pain in your head, the knot in your stomach, the unspoken grief in your smile.
I am your high blood sugar, your elevated blood pressure, your fear of challenge, your lack of trust.
I am your hot flashes, your cold hands and feet, your agitation and your fatigue.
I am your shortness of breath, your fragile low back, the cramp in your neck, the despair in your sigh.
I am the pressure on your heart, the pain down your arm, your bloated abdomen, your constant hunger.
I am where you hurt, the fear that persists, your sadness of dreams unfulfilled.
I am your symptoms, the causes of your concern, the signs of imbalance, your condition of dis-ease.
You tend to disown me, suppress me, ignore me, inflate me, coddle me, condemn me.
I am not coming forth for myself as I am not separate from all that is you.
I come to garner your attention, to enjoin your embrace so I can reveal my secrets.
I have only your best interests at heart as I seek health and wholeness by simply announcing myself.

You usually want me to go away immediately, to disappear, to slink back into obscurity.
You mostly are irritated or frightened and many times shocked by my arrival.
From this stance you medicate in order to eradicate me.
Ignoring me, not exploring me, is your preferred response.

More times than not I am only the most recent notes of a long symphony, the most evident branches of roots that have been challenged for seasons.
So I implore you, I am a messenger with good news, as disturbing as I can be at times.
I am wanting to guide you back to those tender places in yourself, the place where you can hold yourself with compassion and honesty.
If you look beyond my appearance you may find that I am a voice from your soul.
Calling to you from places deep within that seek your conscious alignment.

I may ask you to alter your diet, get more sleep, exercise regularly, breathe more consciously.
I might encourage you to see a vaster reality and worry less about the day to day fluctuations of life.
I may ask you to explore the bonds and the wounds of your relationships.
I may remind you to be more generous and expansive or to attend to protecting your heart from insult.
I might have you laugh more, spend more time in nature, eat when you are hungry and less when pained or bored, spend time every day, if only for a few minutes, being still.
Wherever I lead you, my hope is that you will realize that success will not be measured by my eradication, but by the shift in the internal landscape from which I emerge.
I am your friend, not your enemy. I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life.
I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges.
I desire is for you to allow me to speak to you in a way that enlivens your higher instincts for self-care.
My charge is to energize you to listen to me with the sensitive ear and heart of a mother attending to her precious baby.
You are a being so vast, so complex, with amazing capacities for self-regulation and healing.
Let me be one of the harbingers that lead you to the mysterious core of your being where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.

On another note, we’re so thrilled to offer a weekend retreat in one of our favorite wilderness areas, in Boulder, Utah, just outside of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (one of the National Moneuments newly under threat.) Save the date for a powerful weekend exploring the Wilderness of The Body with us at Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch, August 11-13th. We’ll have more details and registration open next week. One day in Boulder is worth 3 days in a city – time expands in this spacious place. We hope you’ll consider joining us! f

If you’re interested in supporting wilderness and the availability of the peace of wild things for ourselves and future generations, please consider calling, faxing, and writing your representatives, as well as the Department of the Interior, and invite your friends to do the same. More on this issue can be found many places, including here and here. Local friends, we look forward to seeing you at the rally on Capitol Hill this Saturday!

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