Q & A: How are mindfulness and Focusing similar and different?

Mindfulness and Focusing share the characteristics of observing our experiencing in the present moment, having a somatic grounding, and requiring a certain quality of presence that I might call dis-identification. Dis-identification is the awareness that I am not my “stuff.”  My stuff might be past experiences, present problems, worries, strong emotions, daydreams, etc.

In mindfulness practices, I observe all of that “stuff” and let it go by as I sit. When I become aware that I’m thinking of things again, I use the simple tools of Sound, Ground and Breath to gently return to the present moment. Another way to picture this is: I let my experience go by like clouds floating across the sky. I am not my clouds, but I have clouds. I do this for 30 minutes each morning and sometimes with clients in my office.

Focusing begins with grounding in the physical body as mentioned above. In Focusing, dis-identification is realizing I am an “I” with no content, or again “I” am not my stuff. Up to here it is quite similar, we can say Focusing is mindfulness —and it is something more! In Focusing we become interested in our stuff. Not all of the clouds or worries but one, which will tug on us until we turn toward it with interested curiosity. I like to use a phrase borrowed from my friend and Focusing teacher Ann Weiser Cornell, “I’m sensing something in me that feels…” (has a certain fuzzy but noticeable felt quality to it). Then I describe it and say, “Hello” to it. In other words, my experiencing becomes relational. I am with an “it” or a “something” that is emerging freshly from my implicit awareness.

All mindfulness activities are a process of orienting our awareness to our implicit right hemisphere. It is present moment engagement with the world, through the body. We take time to let our left hemisphere (concrete) awareness take a break. It often doesn’t like this and is referred to as “monkey mind” in its repeated angling for our attention. In meditation we keep coming back to the body and our breathing because they are in the present moment. Thoughts and feelings (left brain) and murky implicit felt qualities (right brain) are just noticed and let go of.

In Focusing, implicit awareness is the royal road of emerging experience: it is where new fresh information comes from. Here, we drop below what is explicit and known, below thoughts and feelings that we are identified with. Here, is how “that whole thing you are worried about” feels in your chest and quivers in your throat. Here, is mind-body knowing before the split. As we sit with this “cloud” we listen to it and let it show us what it needs to let go and move on. This happens as we let the left hemisphere bring symbols that capture the felt quality of the whole. Symbols can be words, images, somatic sensations, memories, gestures, movement and more. Focusing is a weaving back and forth between body-sensing and mindful-symbolizing of our experience. When this happens the stuck place or problem unwinds and releases in a forward direction of new possibilities and growth.

I have two Focusing partners who I exchange Focusing turns with. It is free therapy and can change the world. If you enjoyed this, you might also like: Searching for the Truth that is Far Below the Search.