Cooking Together: The Wonders of Being Affected By Another Person's Experiences

Cooking Together: The Wonders of Being Affected By Another Person's Experiences

(GETTING AN EXPRESSION OF INTEREST)

The moment I closed the door, Lester’s (pseudonym) façade of nonchalance fell off his face, revealing a palpable fluster. He sat with an arm draped against the sofa while his other hand nervously scrolled his phone where he had a prepared list of topics that he wanted to talk to me about.

It felt like he was trying to set structure and contain his difficult experiences by putting them down as words, and then pinning them down with bullet points. Yet, there was a palpable sense of straining panic that came from behind the muted and measured tones of his voice. There was as I came to know, more than one layer to the façade that he had come to carry with him in his day-to-day life.

As he detailed what was on his mind, I began to struggle with making sense of what was going on for him. I also began to feel flustered and lost. I know that I am by nature (or nurture or both) an anxious person and now the undercurrents of emotions between us was sizzling and passing onto me. There was a strong urge within to contain the turbulence of feelings. A strong desire to interrupt his teeth-achingly measured narrative as he droned from his phone. An urge to ask him to slow down so that I could understand, or even just to keep up. I confess that I felt more and more disoriented and discomforted by his narrative.

Or perhaps it was not his narrative that mattered, it was something else that was came directly from what he was feeling at the moment, hitting me in my emotional core. Perhaps he was showing (not just telling) me what was happening for him RIGHT NOW. Strangely this realization and the wondering that came unbidden to my mind helped me to calm down significantly and quickly.

What, I wondered, happened if I were to listen deeply to MORE THAN what Lester was saying? What if I allowed myself to immerse in the emotions that came forth in our interaction together, instead of trying to contain (and inevitably foreclose and shut down) Lester’s emotions? What if I focused (or Focused) on JUST the emotions and not what he was saying?

As I listened to his explanation of his experience of deep emptiness within and the many questions around different areas of his life that ended with “what should I do?” and as I allowed my mind to settle into a somewhat calm and meditative state noticing both his emotions and my own felt sense to our interaction, a strange sense of calmness that was in opposition to Lester’s fluster emerged. I kept listening, sensing and wondering why this was so and noticing my own reactions to his emotional narrating and I could not help sensing that perhaps underlying all this emptiness and bewilderment was a sense of…calm. Why it was there was yet unknown to me and I resisted the urge to hypothesize about it.

“Lester, perhaps you and I can slow down a little and sit and observe what is going on inside of you? What that experience of emptiness is like for you? I am trying to immerse myself into your experiences as they occur. So you notice what is going on inside of you and I will notice what is going on inside of me, as I try to sense what you are feeling.”

Perhaps not my most elegant explanation or urging of any client, but it seemed to slow him down a little as he started to search inwardly. I stared at the huge trees swaying in the early spring breeze outside the window behind him so that I don’t stare intently at his face (this I assure you would be most uncomfortable to both him and myself).

“It’s like a field,” he said after a long searching pause.

“Yes,” I said. The image of a field emerged in my mind, all green and wistful and slow.

“It’s very still,” he added after another pause.

“I don’t feel like moving from it,” I blurted, as if we were talking about the same field. This came out of me before I could check myself.

“Yes,” he said quietly, “it’s all rather peaceful and wistful.

Wistful. The same word that popped up in my own mind as I wondered about his internal exploration of his experience. I decided to share with him the image in my mind.

“Strangely, the image of the field in my mind is slow, and vast, quiet with gentle stirrings of the leaves and grass as the wind blows through them.”

“Yes,” he said, “that is the image in my mind too. There are my hills and valleys in the distant that need exploring. But not now.”

“Not now,” I smiled and nodded, agreeing for I too felt more like staying in the field as it is before moving on. I shared this feeling within myself with him too.

“Strange,” he said, smiling, this time I felt that his smile truly matched what he was feeling, “it’s as if you were reading my mind about the field?”

“Perhaps the image came to both our minds in our joint effort to listen to your experiences?” I said.

We sat in silence a little longer before I signaled that it was almost time to end the session for the day.

“It’s alright,” he said, “I’ve gotten what I needed today. Thank you.”

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What Lester did was Focusing – our favourite avenue to self-understanding and processing (difficult) emotions as they arise. What was different this time round was my own active Focusing where I allowed myself to be somewhat carried away by his emotions and whatever arose in his Focusing.

It was a session that moved me and moved him as we sat together without resorting to too much words and structures. Instead, he Focused in my presence, as I Focused on how whatever came up for him affected me. I knew too that when I experienced a shift in my own experience through my in-the-moment Focusing, that he would feel my emotional changes (as I have been affected by his). This way of experiencing my emotions would then feed into his understanding of what was going on within himself.

It was like that was this Space between us as we Focused together; a Space in which we were both taking apart and co-creating experiences as they emerged. This co-creating space was what contributed to a deep transformation in Lester’s emotions for that session (and also mine!)

We were truly, deeply connected.

This is a process called the Focusing Partnership.

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We find that Focusing Partnerships of this type are the best ways to learn Focusing and to integrate this method into your life, so that you can get your feelings to work for you, instead of against you.

Because it is an alive and creative process (like cooking or gardening or making art), it is best learnt through direct experience. Because of this, we also call Focusing Partnerships “Focusing apprenticeships”.

In the coming months, Eric and I would be keen to start up some Focusing partnerships and hope to be help people make sense of their (difficult / bewildering / confusing) experiences together. We can make it as structured or as flexible as you need.

We would like to get an indication of your interest if we were to do something like this. Better yet, help spread the word!

Hope to see you there!

Sam.

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Empathy Starts From Within

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