I had always thought I would be a scholar--and yet, when I came to try to occupy that world it was painful every minute I was there, so that in the end I could not stay. I didn't know then what it was that drove me blindly out those doors. It is only in the last few years, looking back, that I can say: that world was trying to rid me of not-knowing. Blown out of doors by an internal gale, not knowing where I was being blown but unable to resist the force of what was moving me along, I began unknowingly to hone the ability not to know.
These were the early days of IBM PC's and I became a troubleshooting consultant. My clients imagined that what they needed was my knowledge of computer programs, and in a way that was true but in actuality what they bought was my capacity to sit with open attention like a cat sitting idly in the sun, scanning the whole field and suddenly seeing an anomoly, a bit of movement JUST THERE. In that moment I would become utterly focused on tracking that movement, matching it... then pouncing. Now I mark that shift in consciousness in my living room with two little cat sculptures at either end of the room, one lying dozing, the other with ears pricked forward looking intensely--but in those days I just did the job, having no other way to master not knowing except in the doing of it.
Concurrently, I was an artist. There too I practiced not knowing. I was in my early twenties and had been aware since I was three that there was a difference between how my mother drew 'rabbit' --a schematic, a sort of a program for drawing rabbits in general--and THAT rabbit which wasn't sitting up at all, which instead I saw from the side running. How could I draw THAT rabbit?
First of course came comprehending the basic shapes I was seeing right here right now, but also, over time, I started becoming aware that I could slow down while I was drawing, and by seeing or feeling with the whole of my body what my eye was taking in--and by matching and following with my hand on the paper, what my eye (and my whole body in this odd way) was touching, I could discover an infinity of bumps and wiggles, gaps and absences, something that became a greater mystery the longer I drew it--something that was very different indeed from drawing 'a rabbit', or 'a carrot'. People used to say, 'can you draw a carrot?', 'would you draw me a rose?' and I felt caught up short because I couldn't just whip off a rose for them and hand it to them. I first needed a rose to draw IN RELATION TO: that made all the difference. I didn't have to sit down and draw 'a rabbit' the way my mother used to: and, I couldn't.
In the midst of the consulting and the art, I was reading Susanne Langer, and was carrying around a sense of words POINTING TO SOMETHING. I watched endlessly what happened when people talked--and especially when they were using jargon. The minute they started using expert language, then it wasn't pointing to anything any more... not to SOMETHING anyway, not to THAT something. Instead they pointed to a general idea of something, 'A' something. But I was transfixed by THAT sunset, THAT person. I wanted to find a way to express my amazement and delight in THAT, right THERE (which was also right HERE). How could I go further with staying-with THAT--this in-here-out-there THAT--while I was drawing, or writing, or chopping up vegetables for supper? I found part of the answer in one of my childhood experiences.
My father always spoke with long pauses. He would say a few words, and then wait... it was different from anything I ever heard anyone else do. He never said anything about it, but I remember halfway through childhood becoming consciously aware of it, and wondering 'what's going on there?', and touching in myself what it must be.
Now I came back to this, and consciously chose to search for words in the way I had found back then. I again and again became inarticulate, wordless, struggled for words for THAT, looked for a way to express something which wouldn't be a use of words as casual and disconnected from my experience as 'a rabbit' was disconnected from THAT rabbit. I made a conscious decision to stop using already-made ways of talking about things, and chose to look like an idiot...idiot in the sense of not using the proper words, instead pausing and searching even if I'd found a way of saying something there yesterday. Often people helpfully provided me with the term they knew perfectly well went there--the very words I was deliberately avoiding.
Because it wasn't limited only to the finding of words, but was also what I was doing when I was drawing, ultimately I discovered that ANYTHING I did had a different quality--in me as I was doing it, and in the thing itself which resulted from the doing--when I was CONNECTED WITH THAT FELT SOMETHING out-there-in-here, in the midst of doing THIS. Then came the question: 'what IS this something that's in-here-out-there? What is this connection?
The 'something' was the infinite complexity of what I was experiencing... and one aspect of this connectedness was a passionate interest in that complexity--not knowing, exploring, discovering, finding that my articulation was completely inadequate, trying again... Finding that it opened, and opened, and opened again... Discovering that what I cared about above all else was that opening, and making places-for-opening.
Struggling for words, for lines, for colors, for .... which might ... over time I became aware of layers to THAT, within THAT. There is such a difference between that which does not YET have words or has not yet been drawn, and that which CANNOT be defined--which would be lost in that instant of defining.
There is that ..... where if I sit a moment I can find some expression, or it finds me--something oddly precise--and once it's here, it does somehow convey that which, the instant before, had no expression.
But then there is also that which is lost precisely in that instant of defining or expressing--and here the best that I can do is to point in the direction of where someone might experience something LIKE THAT, without ever attempting to say THAT, ITSELF. I have spent my life searching out--or attempting to refine--a kind of defining which is not that kind of defining which traps and kills. I have a horror of what such boxes do to living things.
Like here. What I mean by 'THAT' could perhaps be called 'the ineffable'. But what have I lost in using that word, or any word, here? Doesn't the word 'ineffable' work against itself? And yet, it does have a function. What culture and history bring, here, is very rich. I don't want to lose what comes with 'ineffable'... and yet, 'ineffable' DOES NOT POINT. The word which holds the concept that one can only point, cannot itself point, in the way the word 'THAT' does. 'THAT' gives me room not to know. 'THAT' sends me THERE, to look for myself, and see.
More than thirty years on from my three-year-old self who looked at my mother's rabbits and discovered they weren't THAT rabbit, I encountered Gendlin's philosophy, and Focusing. By now I had started to point to the pointing to THAT--I was beginning to point to this sort of exploration, to show people a sort of thing they could do, rather than only showing others what came from my own such exploring. It was a joy to find that there was someone else who had started with this raw thing right here that insisted on its OWN right-now way of saying it--and even to find, later, that Langer was included explicitly in his work. It changed the problem I faced, from one of saying something about ALL of this, to one of teasing out just what the difference is between the entry into the implicit--which is what Gendlin's philosophy is called--and what might be said about not-knowing (or pointing to) THAT. My THAT... is it the same as what he has meant by the implicit? is it almost the same? is it something on the other side of the implicit? is it something which gives rise to the implicit?... what is the implicit anyway, and what is THAT?
And what is the difference between Focusing, and what I have been doing when I insist on being right-now-in-relation-to that ineffable SOMETHING as I am doing THIS? I can encapsulate the difference in the word FROM. Earlier I mentioned my question from then: 'where is it coming from?' Earlier I explored the first of the questions: what that something IS that's being connected with, and I explored one facet of the second: the nature of the connection. Now I want to come back to this point differently and ask again: what sort of thing is this being-connected-to-something, anyway? What is going on here?
It's a COMING FROM, a touching something that's very DIRECT, and of course IN THE BODY. But my 'in the body' is not the same as 'what's happening in your stomach'. What I mean is WHEREVER IN MY BODY THE SITUATION RIGHT NOW IS HELD. And by the word 'held' I mean something a little different than is meant in Focusing. I mean a bodily held intention aligned with a pattern of points anchored on a line through the trunk, and encompassing eyes-and-ears, hands, often feet--that pattern of points from which THIS intention moves into action. It is an ongoing sense of the intention-action core of the body. Further, it is intention-action as it is held in relation to an ongoing acting-in-this-situation--the body sense had by a body that's moving, and doing. It is not some aura, some out-there-in-front body--it is very definitely THE BODY--and the body as it is experienced when it is in the midst of something.
When I am Focusing, by contrast, and someone asks 'are you in your body?' or 'what is happening in your stomach?' or 'what is happening in your body now?' I experience an invitation to pause, not do anything, just go in and see what's there. But what I am describing here is intimately tied up with DOING. It is DOING-AND-ATTENDING while focusing is STOPPING-AND-ATTENDING. It has to be that way, because it would stop the flow if one paused and asked 'what is happening?' every moment while drawing, or dancing, or singing, or working. This doesn't mean that one cannot stop and attend to one's drawing or singing or working--far from it. But when one does, one is no longer DOING THAT ACTIVITY--one is instead doing stopping-and-attending, which we call Focusing.
What I am talking about is held in the word 'FROM'---that a PROCESS, a MOVEMENT, an EXPRESSION is IN-RELATION-TO, is a DOING-FROM- Focusing is an opportunity to stop and HAVE that 'from' more fully before continuing to DO. BOTH are ways of ARTICULATING-FROM-...... -- ways to be in our bodies, ways to be letting a next step come. But with the doing-from that I am talking about here, the next step comes in a body that is actually moving through that very next step that is right now emerging. Emergence in here, and its playing-out in in this situation right here, are seamlessly joined. This is not true of Focusing, which is something that is done ABOUT something--something one is focusing ON--often a problem or something one feels uneasy about--but something that this body isn't actually DOING right now at all.
Kye Nelson is a watcher, thinker, and collaborative consultant. Find out more about her work at www.workingprocess.com