A Perspective on the Felt Sense Conference, January 2023
One of the commitments I made when becoming a Focusing Trainer was to continue to learn about Focusing. There are many ways to do that – Focusing partnerships, reading, watching videos, going to Focusing events like workshops, roundtables, highlights, conferences etc. The covid lockdown opened up a world to us – events that were often prohibitively costly in airfare and accommodation are now accessible at a reasonable cost. There are quite a few ways from which to choose.
Every year or two there are several Focusing conferences which one can attend: the Weeklong for Newly Certified and Advanced Focusers; the Gendlin Symposium (on philosophy); the Focusing-Oriented Therapy Conference and the Children and Focusing Conference. In addition, there is the bi-annual International Conference – a general in-person event held at different locations around the world, where Focusers from all over the world convene to share ideas, insights experiences. In this piece I’m going to be looking at the Felt Sense Conference 2023.
Unlike the events listed above the Felt Sense Conference is a very accessible, inclusive online event, open to all, regardless of Focusing experience or background. It is an annual event which began in 2018 to honour the work of Gene Gendlin by exploring the many facets of felt sensing. This conference provides a space where presenters can share the far-reaching effects of Gendlin’s insights and teaching on their own lives and their work. The emphasis, over the course of the conference, is on the benefits and power of bridging or “crossing” areas of life and thought with Focusing. This year’s conference, 2023, was the fourth and the second to be online. This virtual event brought together, 15 presenters from four continents over three days to present on the theme “The Felt Sense and the Murky Edge – Sprituality”. Previous themes were Bridging Philosophy and Practice (2018), Creativity (2019) and Racial Justice (2022).
The three days were filled with opportunities for participants to listen, participate and learn; to connect across the lands and oceans of the planet; to be inspired and enlightened; and overall, to enhance their understanding and experience of Focusing. Space does not permit me to give detailed summaries of each of the 15 presentations. So, of necessity, here are just a few snapshots and hopefully a flavour of what was on offer.
Along with Elaine Goggin who ably supported the presenters, two other members of the Irish Focusing Network presented at the conference; John Keane and Marta Fabregat. John gave his presentation on “BioSpirituality and the Murky Edge - An Exploration of the Role of the Felt Sense in Spirituality”. In his presentation, John drew on such insightful thinkers as Christy Moore, Martin Buber, Karl Rahner and Richard Rohr and the two founders of BioSpiritual Focusing, Ed McMahon and Peter Campbell, through song, videos and quotes. He also drew on his own life experiences to eloquently outline the five phases of a “Foundation for a Global Spirituality” with the Felt Sense at its heart. He offered spaces throughout with prompts to take in what he had been speaking about.
Marta bilingually presented on “Sensed Ecology, the green breath within: How spiritual nature connection can affect change in our everyday focusing practice”. She began by inviting us to attune to our ‘inner habitat’ and our experience of a ‘sensed ecology’ – an experiential relationship with the environment. She, then, invited people to remember their early experiences of nature, to pick one and to invite a felt sense of that moment. With more space for reflection, she invited people to explore what prevented them from engaging with their environment. She pointed to some of principles from Gendlin’s philosophy that support the concept and reality of a sensed ecology.
In another nature-oriented presentation Peter Gill from England presented on "Nature as a doorway to spirit". Over the two hours, weaving poetry, quotes, images and music with experiential exercises, Peter took us on a journey through time and place to unfold our essential relationship with the more-than-human-world. Drawing on insights and inspiration from Gendlin and Robin Wall Kimmerer, he outlined some very doable practices to engage in nature-connection in places close to where we live.
Carla Kreft focused in on the practice of the first movement of Focusing, as developed by Gendlin with her presentation: “Clearing a Space as a path towards Dissolving Identity and Perceiving the Spirit” in which she offered CAS as “a road map to enter transcendental states”. First she clearly outlined some different prompts and approaches to CAS before going on guide some exercises which helped to explore the formulation of the words and questions that bring one to a cleared space and a place of disidentification. At the moment, Carla’s full presentation is freely available and may be viewed on youtube; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY3R2OUUrd8&ab_channel=TheInternationalFocusingInstitute
Other topics and crossings included; Prayer, Zen, Spiritual Companionship, Embodiment and Symbolising. In some ways such intensive experiences of over 30 hours plus through the medium of a screen is perhaps too rich or too much to take in one go. The good news is that one has access to the recordings of these presentations for up to four months afterwards – so there is plenty of time to attend each one and to savour those that were particularly interesting or satisfying. Indeed, one can still purchase access to them – they’re available until the end of April (see below*). For me, it was (and still is) a very rewarding experience - to paraphrase an Elbow song, “one workshop like this a year will see me right”.