It was 1980 and I’d just graduated with a Masters Degree in Social Work from The University of Toronto. Now I wanted to synthesize the western psychology I’d learned at school with what I knew as a yoga practitioner. You see, I believed that since we hold our memories in our bodies, nothing really changes unless change happens in the body. If I wanted to be a mainstream therapist, I needed to find a way that non-yoga people could experience change in the body. (In the 1980’s the current psychologies didn’t talk about the body.)
I was really excited when I heard about Dr. Eugene Gendlin. Dr. Gendlin developed Focusing, a sort of inner yoga that taught people to pay attention to their body’s physical response to life’s situations and problems, thereby gaining a deeper level of awareness than was usually available. In other words, the way in which the body holds a person’s stories is released and new information is available to the person who knows how to Focus. To put it another way, you gain access to your unconscious.
And so I headed for The University of Chicago where Dr. Gendlin was presenting a weekend workshop. I was in search of a new guru to guide me through this new stage of my life. Dressed in my best grey flannel suit and black pumps, I headed for The University of Chicago expecting to find an auditorium filled with a couple of hundred people to hear this genius I’d recently discovered. You can imagine my surprise when I was shown to a sitting room with a circle of a dozen chairs. Suddenly I felt very shy and intimidated. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d be meeting my new guru in such an intimate setting.
I took my seat in the circle and noted a group of men out in the hallway. One of them, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans was smoking (this was the 80’s.) I figured he was the janitor.
Then the janitor entered the room and took a seat. Not only did he take a seat along with us educated folk, he welcomed us to the weekend. This was my new guru?! But he smoked. The rest of the weekend was just as confusing – and – changed my life.
If you’ve read my previous blog you know that the “who am I?” question is a very important one for me. I tried so hard to be a good person, to move toward enlightenment. And now, my new hero, Dr. Gendlin, was telling me that if I just peeled off the layers, if I got closer to whoever I really am, I’d be just fine. We’re born authentic and life forces us to skew our personalities to fit in. By paying attention to my body’s messages, I’d move closer to my true Self, or as Swami Radha called it, my Higher Self.
What about spirituality, I wondered. For Gendlin, the felt sense, the body’s physical response to whatever we’re doing, tells us when we’re on track and when we’re deviating from our right way of being, Uncomfortable body signals tell us something is not right for us. When the body is happy, that’s our signal that life is moving forward as it should.
Who Am I? If I want to access my authentic self, I have to listen to my body. It will guide me in knowing how to go forward. This was a new way of approaching the who am I? question.
What could be more spiritual than Gendlin’s description of the felt sense?
Your physically felt body is part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people – in fact the whole universe.
This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is your body as it is felt from the inside.
All of which just goes to show that you never know where you’ll find your spiritual guide.
My love and gratitude go out to Dr. Gendlin who recently celebrated his 90th birthday.