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Paper presented at the 12th  International Focusing Conference, Pforzheim, Germany,

May, 2000.



Talking of parts


Campbell Purton


In focusing, but also more generally when we reflect on our lives and situations, we can

often identify different aspects or parts of ourselves. This is particularly clear when we

have conflicting desires. In such situations it can be natural to say, for example, that

something in me wants to speak out but that another bit wants to avoid making a fool of

myself.  It becomes most natural to speak of 'parts' where the desires involved are

fairly settled aspects of our personality, rather than passing impulses. For example, it

was not just that in that moment something in me wanted to speak out, but that there is

a part of me which consistently wants to speak out in situations like this.  Further, we

often find that our settled dispositions tend to cluster together, so that when the part of

; me that wants to speak out is active, so are certain other parts, such my impatient part,

and my 'not caring what anyone else says' part. These parts together form something

that could be called a 'subpersonality' or 'configuration'.  People often give names to

such configurations, for example 'the rebel', 'the child', 'the critic'.



Two kinds of conflict


Conflict between the parts can be distressing, so that becoming aware of the different

parts and their needs can be the first step towards negotiating a way forward which is

acceptable to all the parts. A natural analogy here is with a democratic state, in which

each person's voice is heard, and a fair balance is worked out. The agreed solution to

the conflict may involve one part having to wait to get what it wants, or another part

accepting a substitute gratification and so on. Often the conflicts between parts are

resolved bL a system of priorities.  Yes, I would like to make more money, but not if

that involves so much stress that my health is going to be damaged. Through clarifying

our priorities we try to arrange our desires and aversions into a reasonably coherent

self. This sort of procedure we could term 'integration' or 'individuation'.


In such integration the different parts are all basically acceptable. Some may be given

a low priority, but that is not because there is anything intrinsically bad about them; it

is just that they are not so important as certain other parts. Were it not for the potential

conflict with other parts, these less important parts would be entirely welcome. A very

simple sort of example would be that where I want to go and see a film but also want to

have a quiet evening at home. Both desires are perfectly acceptable to me; the only

difficulty is that I cannot satisfy them both at once. So there has to be some

compromising or prioritising. If I look inside and sense what I most want it may

become clear what that is, and the matter is settled. Or I may on reflection realise that I

can after all see the film next week, so that the choice is not as stark as I'd thought; that

is, I realise that I can to a large extent have it both ways.


Consider now a different kind of conflict. Examples would be:

' I'm afraid of answering the phone, but I want to get rid of this fear'

I keep wanting to have a cigarette, but I'm holding on to my resolution to conquer this


I wish I didn't have that bit of me that always gets upset when I hear people arguing'

I'd like to be the sort of person who really feels pleased when other people are



I say that these are examples of a different land of conflict because in these cases the

objects of the desires or aversions are of a very special kind. In this kind of example

our desires or aversions are directed towards certain other desires and aversions. I'm

afraid of answering the phone, and I don't like having that fear. I want a cigarette, and

I want not to have that want. My fear of answering the phone is a straightforward

aversion, and it no doubt conflicts with a straightforward desire to answer ringing

phones. But if that were all the conflict amounted to all I would need to do would be to

say, 'Well, since I have both these desires, and they are both perfectly acceptable in

themselves, I'll compromise by answering and not answering on alternate days, so half

the time my wanting to answer will be satisfied, and the other half my not wanting to

answer will be satisfied'. The reason that this does not constitute a satisfactory

resolution of the conflict is that the person's fear and their desire not to be afraid are

not on the same level. The fear of answering the phone is a straightforward fear, a

ground-level fear, as it were, which is directed towards ringing telephones. But the

desire which the person has is directed not at telephones, but at their own fear. The

conflict here is not between two parts of the person, but between the person and a

particular part. A satisfactory resolution of the conflict would lie in the person

overcoming their fear of telephones, rather than in compromising with it. In this sort

of conflict the ideal resolution lies not in prioritisation or compromise, but in removing

the desire or aversion in question. The parson addicted to nicotine wants to get rid of

that craving. The person who gets upset by arguments doesn't want to be like that. The

person who can't feel pleased at the success of others wants his or her desires to be

different from what they currently are.

In short, these are conflicts not between parts, but between the person and a part. The

person wants the part to be different, because then the person will be more fully



Feelings about feelings


Making sense of this requires some reflection on what it is to be a person. I am

inclined to accept the philosopher Harry Frankfurt's (1971) view that a person is just

the sort of being who can reflect upon and take up attitudes towards their own desires

and aversions.' Animals don't do this. A cat may be angry or afraid, and may be

caught in a conflict between these feelings; but then what happens is just that the

stranger feeling wins.  What the cat does not do is wonder about whether it is

appropriate to be angry or afraid in this situation. It can't sit and say to itself I'd

really like to be rid of this stupid fear I have of small dogs; I know that if I stand there

and spit at them they will retreat, but somehow I can't bring myself to do if. The cat

can't reflect like this, I believe, not so much because it lacks language but because it

lacks self-consciousness. It experiences fear, but it isn't aware that it is afraid. It is

because there is no self-consciousness that the cat can't have desires or aversions which

are directed towards its own desires and aversions, and hence cannot have conflicts of

the sort we have when we want to be different from the way we are.

Through having self-consciousness human beings are vulnerable to having a kind of

conflict which animals are not vulnerable to, but human beings also have access to a

means of resolving such conflicts which animals neither have nor need. The human

being w}io is troubled by having feelings which they don't want to have, can stand back

and reflect on those feelings. It is important that such reflection can go beyond simply

getting a feel for priorities and possible compromises. That would just be a

sophisticated human way of sorting out what animals do unselfconsciously, a human

way of sorting out an animal type of problem. The human solution to the human type

of problem doesn't involve prioritising and organising the feelings that are already

there, but transforming them.  The person who is afraid of answering the phone wants

to be different in such a way that he or she will no longer have the fear, or at least no

longer be troubled by it.


What I have said may seem to conflict with a widely-held principle that we should be

accepting of all of our experience. But much here depends on how we understand the

term 'acceptance'.  Consider again the person who is afraid of answering the

telephone.  Such a person might deceive themself about the reality of their fear. They

might say 'Oh, I don't seriously have a fear of telephones. I'm just a bit lazy or

something'. Now if this is a bit of self-deception and they really are afraid of

telephones, then they can be said not to be accepting their fear for -what it is. If on the

other hand they reflect on the situation, perhaps with a sympathetic friend, they may

come to say something like 'Well, if I'm honest I really am scared of answering the

phone - if s irrational, but there it is. I do have this fear'. Such a person has, in an

important sense, accepted their fear. It's there. That' show it is. But acceptance in

this sense is quite different from being happy about having the fear.  Having accepted

that they are afraid, the person may well say something like 1 accept that I have this

fear, but now what I really want is to be rid of it. I hate being afraid like this.  I'm told

there are ways of overcoming such fears; let's see what can be done'.

At this point in the conversation it would seem inappropriate to say: "Maybe you would

like to say 'Hello' to that part of you which wants to be rid of the fear".  The response

to this would probably be "What do you mean? I want to be rid of the fear. I'm caught

in it, I don't want to be caught in it, and I'm going to try my best to overcome it".


Now consider a slightly different scenario: A client in therapy says "I hate being afraid

lpce this" and the therapist says something like "Maybe you'd like just to say 'Hello' to

that feeling of hate".  This time the client replies "Yes, it's there. I really do hate this

fear... .1 didn't realise how hooked into this I am.... Yes, there really is a part of me

that hates the fear part... ..this doesn't feel good... .1 need to get back a bit from the

hating part... get a better feel of it... it's natural enough for it to be there... .it wants to

remove the fear... .but if s not helping... .1 need to get a sense of the whole

situation... .it's a hating-being-afraid situation. ..I really want to get clear about all

this..." At this point I think the therapist would be wise simple to let the process

unfold. But someone really keen on parts talk would be committed to saying

something like "So there's a part of you that really would like to be clear about all

this". To which the client would be justified in replying "What do you mean? I want

to be clear about it. I'm caught in something here, and I want to be clear and free".

In both these little scenarios we come to the same sort of place, the place where the

client naturally rejects the parts talk because they have realised what they really want.

In the first scenario this point is reached earlier than in the second. In the first scenario

the client is caught in the fear, and they (not a part of them) wants to be free of it. They

hate the fear in a wholehearted, constructive way; they know that this is something they

really want to be rid of, and the energy in this will help them to do something about it.

In the second scenario, too, the client is caught in the fear, but caught also in the hatred

of the fear. Hatred of fear can serve a useful function, as in the first scenario, but in

this second scenario it can't serve its function because the client is caught in the hate.

This leads to another strong feeling, the feeling of wanting some clarity about all this.

Desire for clarity is also something we can get hooked into, and that could lead to a

third and even more complex scenario, but in our second scenario there is no need to

push on to a third level. The regress of having feelings about feelings about feelings

can in principle go on for ever, but in practice it soon reaches a natural stopping point.

This is because the higher levels of feeling function essentially as modifiers of the

lower levels. On the lowest level there is, for example, the fear of telephones. But this

fear causes problems in the person's life, so it is natural for them to want to get rid of

it.  The hatred of the fear could function to eliminate the fear, but it isn't effective

because it does not incorporate any real understanding of the fear. So there is

something that needs attention in the hatred. There is a need for clarity, and in our

example that is where the regress stops. This need for clarity is not something the

person is caught in; it is something with which they can fully identify themselves,

something of which they can say 'This is what I really want'. At the lower levels they

can't say this; at the first level they can't wholeheartedly say that they are afaid of

telephones because there is the awareness that they don't need to have that fear. It is

quite different from the fear one might have on encountering a tiger: there the fear is

wholehearted and one rightly runs! At the second level there is the hatred of the fear,

but this is not wholehearted either; there is the awareness that the hatred is in some way

too crude to be effective.  At each place where one senses that a feeling isn't quite

right, that it isn't something one can wholeheartedly be with, another feeling arises

which is directed at the first feeling. But this process doesn't go on forever; it goes on

only until the person finds a feeling whidh they can wholeheartedly identic with.

It may help to emphasise the familiar distinction between what we want and what we

really want. In the first scenario the client wants to be away from telephones, but really

wants to be free of the fear of telephones. The wanting to be away from telephones is a

want in which they are caught or trapped; but the wanting to be free of that fear is not

something in which they are trapped. In the second scenario the client wants to be

away from telephones, and is caught in that want; they also hate the fear and are caught

in that too. It is very tangled: what they really want is to be clear about the whole thing

and be able to do something about it, and that is not something in which they are



Entrapment and 'putting things down'


Some writers on focusing would say that what I am calling entrapment by a feeling is a

matter of having identified with the feeling. I don't think this is quite right. There is

such a thing as identifying with a feeling, and I have already touched on this, but

identification is not at all the same as what I am calling 'entrapment'.  I will come

back to the notion of identifying with a feeling shortly, but first want to say a bit more

about entrapment.


By 'entrapment' I mean to refer to all those cases where we are submerged,

overwhelmed, caught in our feelings; where our feelings are living us rather than we

living our feelings. It is this state of entrapment from which we need to liberate

ourselves if we are to be able to focus on our feelings effectively.  In focusing we

escape from the entrapment by such procedures as 'creating a distance', 'saying hello',

or 'putting things down'.  The escape from entrapment is not necessary in cases where

there is no entrapment. If we are using focusing in trying to solve some intellectual

problem, there is no need to put anything down. For example, Gendlin's "Thinking at

the edge' procedure is recognisably a focusing procedure, but it contains nothing

corresponding to 'putting things down'. However, when we are working on personal

issues there is very often an element of entrapment, and this needs to be worked on

before we can begin to focus.

Now what exactly is involved in 'putting things down' or 'finding a distance'? In her

article 'Relationship = Distance + Connection" Ann Weisser Comell (1995) says

'Finding Distance is a focusing move in which the client finds experiential "distance"

from his felt sense by moving it away from him, or by stepping back from if. Elfie

Hinterkopf (1998) replies that 'it is not the felt sense that is set out. It is the whole

problem along with an overwhelming feeling and often a stuck, frozen separated part

that is set out to allow a felt sense to form '.  This seems basically right: it can't be the

felt sense that is set out because the felt sense is what connects us with the problem.

But it remains theoretically obscure what 'setting out a problem' involves.

Experientially it is not obscure at all. We can visualise the problem as a heavy bundle

which we then set down some distance away from us. We then check in our body

whether this imagined setting-down has in fact brought some relief.

We have done something significant here, but how is it to be described? I would say

that what we have done is to relate to our problem in a different way. We started from

a position where we were living the problem, whereas now we are looking at it or being

aware o/it. We can use the same words in connection with our experiences, yet those

words can work in very different ways. If someone says I'm in pain' this may be an

expression of pain rather than a description of anything.  The words in effect

substitute for other more primitive forms of pain behaviour such as crying out or

moaning. When we say I'm in pain' in that way, we are living our pain in OUT words.

We are in the pain and our words express our being in that condition. But it is very

different if the doctor is quizzing us about our symptoms. 'Would you say you are

actually in pain, or is it more a muscular discomfort?' To which the considered

response might be 'This definitely isn't a muscular discomfort - no. I'm in pain'. In

this situation we are using the words to describe our experience, not to express it.

When in focusing we 'set things out' what we are really doing is to move from being

in the experience, from being in a position where our body and behaviour are

expressing something, to a position where we are trying to describe the experience. As

human beings we can stand back from our experiences and look at them as if from

outside, as if these experiences were the experiences of someone else. Animals by

contrast have the experiences, but they are not aware of having them and hence could

not even begin to describe them. The underlying reasons for the difference lie I believe

in the essentially social nature of human beings. I won't try to elaborate on this here,

but simply emphasise again that there is a big difference between being in a state where

you are expressing a feeling and being in a state where you are trying to see what that

feeling is.


It is only when our bodies are expressing our feelings that we become entrapped, and

then only when the expression is in some way inadequate. If we are responding with

our whole self to a problem or situation, then our behaviour expresses the whole feel of

the situation for us.  But often we are responding with only a bit of ourselves. For

example we are caught up in our anger and all the rest of the complexity of the

situation is lost.  Our body is expressing just the anger, and our saying that we are

angry is just another form of this bodily expression. We are caught in the anger,

tipped by it. What we need to do is to become aware of the anger as afeeling. Rather

than just being angry we need to become aware of our being angry. One way of doing

this is to try to describe the feeling; it is impossible at the same time to be caught in the

anger and to be looking at it and trying describe it. The effort to be aware of the anger

and describe it shifts us out of it. This, I think, is what is happening when in

preparation for focusing we set things out.


Entrapment and identification


I need now to explain why I want to distinguish between entrapment and



I talked above about being 'caught in' a feeling such as fear.  In such situations we are

not fillly ourselves, and it is quite natural to speak of the part of me that is afraid.

When we are caught in an emotion we are passive with regard to that emotion, it is

something that has grabbed us. It is natural here to speak of the emotion as an 'it' to

which / need to relate. Now consider the sort of situation where for some time we

have been pulled two ways. In such a conflict there may come a time when we finally

realise what it is that we really want. For example, suppose someone is torn between

the desire to throw up their job and go round the world, and the fear of what the

consequences of this would be for their family. Such conflicts can go on for a long

time. Sometimes a compromise can be worked out, but not always. After staying with

the felt sense of the whole thing the person may finally come to feel that in spite of all

the attractions of going round the world, it isn't really what they want to do.  The

circumstances are such that they had to decide one way or the other, and they have

made their decision, for good or ill. Prior to the decision the person was torn, was

blown this way and that, was unable to act or live in a wholehearted way. After the

decision the two desires, the two 'pulls' towards the different futures, are likely still to

be there. But now the person has identified himself with one desire and dissociated

himself from the other. He will, if he is wise, not ignore the pain or sadness of the

situation, but the fact that he has such feelings does not imply that he is still divided in

himself. He accepts that those feelings are there; how could they not be? But he has

identified (at least for now) with another part of himself.  Actively identifying with a

part of oneself is quite different from being caught in a part of oneself.  It would be a

completely different case if the divided person had said at the start, without taking time

to get afelt sense of the whole situation, "This going round the world thing is just a

childish fantasy that isn't worth taking seriously. End of story. I'm staying with my

family".  That too would be a decision, but an unwise one.  Unwise because the

person has not gone through the process that would allow him to identify

wholeheartedly with one option or the other.


Gendlin has some helpful comments about decision-making in an early paper 'Values

and the process of experiencing' (1967). There he argues that the decisions we respect

(in ourselves and in others) are those which arise from an experiential process in which

we have stayed with or worked through all the complexities of the situation. Similarly,

in their article on 'Standing It' Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin say "There

is a tendency to say, 1 have to either stay or go. I can't do both. I should just make a

decision and get it over with'. But when the Focuser can persist in simply being with

all that is there, the hard work of Standing It is rewarded with a transformation that

feels magical, because it could not have been predicted by the logical mind." The only

qualification I would want to make is that transformation of one's life isn't something

that just happens.  We open ourselves to the whole complexity of the situation, new

ways of experiencing it emerge, but we are still faced with the choice of what to give

our heart to. If we simply allow the new way of seeing things to take us over, then we

are not really in any better a position than when we started. Suppose that the going-

round-the-world man, at the end of his experiential process says something like "I've

looked at this whole thing and I do feel different now. My need to stay with my family

just is stronger than my need to go round the world. That's how it is."  There is a

change here, but I would not call it a transformation. The old parts are still there; it is

just that one of them has come out on top.  The old parts, left to themselves, are not

going to transform themselves; they will at best reach some sort of homeostatic

balance or compromise. For there to be transformation, something has to be done.

There has to be something of the nature of will or agency, in which the person

identifies themselves with the new way of seeing things.

Such a transformation can be imagined in the case which I have been discussing. The

man's initial state was one of conflict between the desire to go round the world and the

fear of destroying his family. Through staying with this conflict he finally comes to a

new way of seeing things. For instance he might come to see staying with his family as

more of a challenge and adventure than going round the world. (Or he might come to

see leaving his family as liberating for than as well as for him). But if the new view of

things is to be his view he first has to identic with it. For there to be transformation it

is not enough for him to say 'You could look at it this way'; he needs to be able to say

'This is how I now see if.


It is not easy to express what happens when we identify in this way with a point of view

or a possible way of going forward. It seems to be a matter or getting to a point where

we stop raising further questions, or stop letting ourselves be influenced by things we

still could be influenced by.   A simpler sort of example may help here:  I close the door

of my house, but as I walk down the road, I suddenly wonder if it locked. I'm almost

sure it did, and yet... Im uneasy. It's annoying, but Id better go back and check. It

turns our that it was locked, and I pull it shut and set off again. But then the nagging

doubt returns. Did the lock really click the way it usually does? I didn't actually give

the door a good pull... .1 say to myself 'This is just silly!' But the anxiety won't go

away. I think, 1 know I am in a bit of a state at the moment, and I am forgetting things.

Normally I could be sure that the door was locked, but I know I'm not concentrating on

things today, so maybe it really didn't lock. I'd better go back just one more time'. I

go back. The door is locked. I give it a good pull. Now I'm sure... .1 set off confidently

down the street, but to my distress the anxiety comes back yet again. I can't shake it

off. What am I to do?   I stay with the feel of it all. There's that anxiety about the

door. Yes, that's there. And there's the opposing feeling that of course the door is

locked, I've just checked it twice over. I reflect that I am prone to this sort of

obsessional checking, and sense that if I went back and checked again this would not

resolve the problem. I also sense that there is nothing further in my experiencing that is

going to help. What I have now seems to be the whole of it, and the whole of it points

in the direction of walking on and not checking again. But what if I'm wrong and the

door is unlocked and burglars do get in? Well, that that i? a possibility, but I am

feeling now that even if that happened I would still have made the right decision. The

unfortunate outcome would just be bad luck.  The sense of what I need to do has

become clear. I am no longer divided in myself. I can wholeheartedly say that what I

really want is to walk on. But can I do it? The anxious part is still there. Well, lean

try.  I have identified myself with the part that wants to walk on, but this doesn't mean

I have to rage at the part which wants to go back. No, I can be kind towards this part of

myself.  I can say to if I know you're there, and that this is scary. But let's see if we

can move on'.


Once the decision is made the emotional situation is transformed. Before the decision I

was pulled this way and that, I was passive with respect to my feelings. I could identify

wholeheartedly with neither of them. The decision consists in identifying with one of

the parts, but in doing this the whole situation is transformed. My state of mind is no

longer one of being torn. It becomes one in which I know for sure what I'm doing,

even though I may be still be very much aware of the part that pulls against me. But

the parts themselves are now different. The part which I identified with has become a

kind of energy which is helping me to go bravely ahead; it is no longer a part in the

sense of something separate from me. The other part becomes a feeling which I have a

frightened feeling which needs care and attention. Later I-not a part of me - may wish

to spend some time with that frightened feeling.


I think that the same sort of transformation could happen in the case of the man who

wanted to go round the world. Suppose he decides not to go. After this decision the

emotional situation is one of some sadness that he didn't go round the world, together

with happiness that his family is secure. It may look as if one part has dominated the

other, but this is not quite how it is. That is how it looks up to the point of the decision,

but the decision consists in the man identifying with one part and making it's energy

his own.  After the decision the parts are no longer what they were. Where there was

longing and fear, there is now sadness and relief. But is this second state of affairs

better than the first?  Yes, if we believe it is better to live with a sense of freedom

rather than being caught in our emotions. Before the decision was made the man was

caught in both longing and fear, he was pulled both ways and could not freely act.

After the decision he feels both sadness and relief, but he is not caught in either of

these feelings. They are simply feelings he has, which inform his life but do not

control it.


Agency and the will



I have said that something of the nature of Will or Agency is crucial in emotional

transformation. This is not an altogether popular notion today, and for good reasons.

We are very familiar with the destruction which can be caused by the attempt to

achieve things by will-power rather than through letting things unfold naturally. Much

of our culture is imbued with a sense that we need to be in control, that we need to get

things done, that left to itself the world will devolve into chaos. These attitudes are of

course linked with our modem way of seeing the world as a physical system, as

something not different from an intricate machine. But this way of seeing things is a

comparatively recent one. It dates back only to the late seventeenth century. Before

that the world was, on the whole, seen as more like an organic system embodying the

interplay of all sorts of life-forces and powers to which human beings needed to relate.

Today many of us have a longing to get back to that old organic way of being in the

world, but we are in danger of forgetting certain aspects of it: the powerlessness in the

face of demonic forces, the acceptance of organic hierarchies, the disparaging of

individual creativity, liberal education, personal freedom, and so on. The old order had

its bad points, which is of course what led to the Enlightenment.  Now perhaps things

have gone too far the other way. In this situation, it seems to me, the way forward is

not to throw out our modem scientific way of seeing the world and return to the old

organic way. Rather, we need to see the elements of value in both. As human beings

we belong to the organic order, and if we forget this we cause terrible destruction. But

as human beings we also transcend the organic order, in the sense that we can reflect on

ourselves and choose which aspects of our organic selves we wish to cultivate and

which we do not.


Organic metaphors of nurturing, growth, holism, balance, etc are very popular today as

a reaction against the metaphors of mechanism, analysis, control, and so on. And

yet... .if we have a broken leg we don't just let things take their course. We go to the

hospital and have the bones set.  I know a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who returned to

his home after many years, and began to suffer from altitude sickness as they

approached his monastery. One of his students had some pills which can help with

altitude sickness, but hesitated to offer them to the lama, since he felt that this would be

a non-spiritual Western approach to the problem. Instead he offered to chant some

mantras. But the lama said "Never mind the mantras, just give me the pills!" Our

modem way of looking at things has its place; it is helpful in some kinds of

circumstance, though unhelpful in others. What we need, I believe, is not a philosophy

of pure organic unfolding, but a sense of where to let things be and where not to let

things be.


Nietzsche says somewhere that the human soul is like a garden. To create a garden the

gardener has to take into consideration the natural propensities of various plants, the lie of the

land, the climatic conditions and so on. Creating a garden cannot be a forced, mechanical

business. You can't grow just anything anywhere. The organic aspect is crucial. But the

gardener does not just let things grow as they will - that would produce something, but not it

would create a garden. It would not create anything. Creation requires familiarity with the

natural forms and forces at play in a situation, but also a vision that will transform the

situation. Creativity brings something new to the forms that are already there, so that these

forms themselves are changed. A garden is not just a re-arrangement of what was already

there; even with the introduction of no new plants it is a different kind of entity from the

purely organic system which preceded it.


What makes the garden different from a merely organic system is the vision of the

gardener. But rather paradoxically this vision best arises out of the gardener's

familiarity with the natural forces that are at work. To have a vision in advance and

then simply impose it on the landscape is to invite disaster. Instead the inspired

gardener is likely to spend a lot of time wandering around the piece of land, getting the

feel of it. Then he or she sits down and makes some tentative plans, goes back to the

land and tries them out in imagination. Does that feel right? Not entirely. What's

uncomfortable about that? Oh, yes... Slowly a sense of how the garden is to be

emerges. For this garden to be created some trees have to be chopped down. The

gardener likes trees and maybe agonises for some time over whether they do need to

go. And it is important that the answer to this question may be Yes.

In the same way, it seems to me, when we reflect on what we want to be, we need to

take time over seeing what we have, what our resources are. We need to accept that

everything in us is what it is. But through staying with our experiencing we come to

places where we are uncomfortable, where something feels not right. Again, we need

to stay with that discomfort and see what is in it. What will emerge cannot be foreseen,

but whatever it is it is likely to present us with choices about the direction in which we

want to go. If we go one way then some emotional trees may need to be removed, if we

go another way some new rocks will need to be imported. Given all that, there comes

the point where we have to decide, or to put it another way we have to discover among

our many wants, what we really want. What we really want, I have suggested above, is

on a different level from what we just want, but we can't get to it without fully

experiencing all our relevant feelings. We can think of the things that we 'just want' as

parts of us, but what we really want is what we choose to be in the light of our

awareness of all our experience; it is what we believe can wholeheartedly be.

Let me end by saying how I think all this fits into the focusing process. I would say that

focusing in itself is simply the procedure of staying with the whole complexity of a

situation, getting the felt sense of the situation, and then through some probing or

questioning allowing a new view, a new symbolisation, of the situation to emerge.

Focusing is essentially about the relationship between experiencing and our

symbolisation of that experiencing.  It is a way of moving forward in any field in

which progress is not fully determined in advance by fixed categories or forms. But

the application of focusing to personal issues or to therapy brings in two extra

elements which are not present, or at least not so prominent, in other applications of the

procedure. One is the necessity of getting into a position where we can effectively look

at our situation. We can't look property if we are caught up in the feelings which we

need to look at. So first we have to stand back, become aware of our feelings, rather

than simply live them. This gets us to the position where we have some space, some

freedom to begin to focus. The focusing process proper may then lead to new

viewpoints, new ways of seeing and feeling. But now comes the second extra element.

These new ways are so far just possibilities. Yes, we could think, live, feel in that new

way. We hadn't realised such a thing was possible. But equally we could forget about

all this and stay with our old way of living, or we could go on and find some further as

yet unknown way.  In principle there are endless possibilities.  However the

immediate question is whether we are going to let this particular new way which has

emerged become our way (at least for now). We don't have to. Where focusing gets us

to is a place where new possibilities open should we choose to realise them. In Larry

Letich's (1998) delightful phrase it is not like consulting a talking horse and

automatically doing whatever the horse says.


On the other hand, it also needs to be emphasised that the coming of a new way of

experiencing a situation is no small thing. It is only in principle that there are endless

ways of seeing things. For what we need is not just any old way but a way which will

do justice to all that we experience and allow us to move on. Often it is difficult or

seemingly impossible to find even one really adequate way forward. So when a

possible way does emerge this is normally a huge relief. Now I can go on; I don't have

to follow this new path, but it is a path that I could wholeheartedly follow. It is a

genuine way forward, and that is often as much as we can reasonably hope for.



' There is much else in this paper which has been influenced by Frankfurt's (1971,

1976,1987) work.



Comell, AnnWeisser Relationship = distance +connection. Focusing Folio. Summer


Comell, Ann Weiser and Barbara McGavin. Standing it: the alchemy of mixed

feelings.   The Focusing Connection 13, No. 4, July 1996.

Frankfurt, Harry. Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. Journal of

Philosophy, 68 (1971), pp. 5-20

Frankfurt, Harry. Identification and externality. ln A.M.Rorty (ed.) The Identities of

Persons.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. pp.239-251.

Frankfurt, Harry. Identification and wholeheartedness. In Ferdinand Schoeman

Responsibility, Character and the Emotions.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

(1987) pp. 27-45.

Gendlin, Eugene T. Values and the process of experiencing. In A.R.Mahrer The Goals

of Psychotherapy. New York.: Appleton-Century-Crofts (1967), pp. 180-205.

Hinterkopf, Elfie Finding a certain distance: a helpful and even life-saving technique.

The Focusing Connection, 15, No. 6, November 1998.

Letich, Larry. Focusing Discussion List. October 1998.

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