Have you ever set off on a trip with a nagging sense that you have left something important behind; you think hard; nothing comes to mind. It’s as if your body knows but can’t speak. Eventually, halfway to your destination, the item pops into your head. Even if the item was important, along with the feeling of frustration, you’ll probably notice a release of tension in your body. We tend to live in our heads a lot of the time, thinking about plans, people, problems, or past memories and sometimes completely forgetting that we have a body at all. In our heads, we tend to think that all useful processing happens in our brain, yet the whole of our body is interconnected with a complex nervous system. Like many other animals, we have a central nervous system that includes the brain and spinal cord. Although we think of the brain as a separate organ, it’s really a specialized part of the whole nervous system. The spinal cord, which contains over thirteen million neurons, is connected to the limbs and organs by the peripheral nervous system, which extends across the whole of the body.
The felt sense refers to the awareness of what’s going on in our body at a subtle level. Although we notice when our body tells us that we’re hungry, or feeling tired, the felt sense is more about the body holding something unacknowledged and unexplored, about a situation, event, or problem. The felt sense may include feelings that could be released, if only we were more aware of what’s going on inside us and were more able to build a clearer and more compassionate relationship with our body. Another way of understanding felt sense is to bring to mind two people whom you know well and then recall the subtle differences between the felt sense in your body, when you’re with one person and then with the other.
In the early 1960s and 70s Eugene Gendlin, a psychotherapist, and others developed a form of therapy called “Focusing”, which is about connecting with the felt sense of the body as a useful resource for resolving often unacknowledged issues in our lives. The Focusing process works from the bottom-up and uses the natural wisdom of the body, rather than top-down from the mind, to discover answers and resolve held emotions and physical tension. The basic steps include finding out what’s going on inside, letting the felt sense form, describing with words or images, finding a handle word or phrase that resonates with the body, and then asking questions and receiving responses. This process helps to bring clarity to the whole vague and indistinct complexity of the felt sense.
Share on Follow on