Focusing In Contemplation

...a distance learning program with Kye Nelson, for people who want to learn to use--or deepen or expand their use of--Focusing in contemplative practice.

[Please note: This page is part of a legacy website which is mostly more than a decade old. Because it provides a sense of both history and possibilities, as well as resources that people continue to tell me they appreciate having, I've left the website up. The small-group distance-learning program described on this page is no longer active. Instead, I have shifted to mentoring my distance-learning students individually, which I find works better than teleconferencing. The philosophy behind my mentoring remains very similar to what is described below. -Kye]

"There's space in a joint, and the blade has no thickness.

Having no thickness, it slips right through.

..Even so, I often come up against a knotty place 

where I stop and study the difficulties.

Growing timid and cautious, I focus my vision, then work slowly

...and suddenly thomp! thomp! things come apart."

--Chuang Tzu

Focusing has long been used in conjunction with spiritual practices.  It helps dissolve blockages, can deepen the capacity for letting go, and can be a source of fresh inspiration and energy during dry periods.  The unique approach to listening used in Focusing helps one to be more fully present with one’s own experience or that of another.  Focusing can also be helpful in bridging the gap between spiritual practice and daily life.

Who is it for?

The Focusing In Contemplation program is appropriate for: 

  • meditation teachers, 
  • teachers of body-based practices with a spiritual dimension such as yoga, taiqi/qigong, aikido and sufi dance, 
  • spiritual directors,
  • ministers,
  • rabbis,
  • transpersonal counselors,
  • anyone else who would like to integrate Focusing into some form of work with other people, which has a strongly spiritual dimension.  

Those who do not formally work with others but who feel a calling to engage in this kind of exploration are also welcome.  If you arrange to participate in the program as a trainer in training, at the end you can be certified as a recognized Focusing teacher or practitioner (if you aren't one already), with a concentration in the use of Focusing in contemplative practice and spiritual life. 

How does it happen?

The training is in 3 phases over 18 months.  

Phase one

The first phase provides a solid foundation in Focusing and in Listening, beginning with an informal discussion of how each person is already using Focusing and Listening in their spiritual life.  In this six-month period, Listening becomes a contemplative practice, as we deepen the capacity to be fully, bodily, present with another.  We also engage in an inquiry into the Focusing process, which, as we turn and look directly at it, becomes an object of contemplation in its own right.  This phase is gentle, and fairly unstructured.  There are some readings assigned, and some experiential exercises are given to work on in partnership.

Phase two

The second phase requires a greater investment of time and energy.  In this phase the shift into being a teacher of Focusing begins.  In keeping with my strong commitment to individualized learning, each person writes a plan for their own learning each month, and begins to keep a notebook.  If someone did not have a daily contemplative practice separate from Focusing before, at this point they begin to establish one.  In the middle 6 months, in addition to continuing to meet as a group, members also work one-on-one with several teachers who work at the interface between Focusing and spirituality. Some have applied Focusing in a specific spiritual tradition, while others do not work in any specific tradition.

The work with each teacher includes conversation about the teacher's own use of Focusing in their practice and how they teach Focusing in the context of spiritual life, as well as an experiential dimension. During this phase members also teach each other what they are learning, as not everyone will work with the same teachers. This gives everyone an opportunity to begin to get comfortable teaching Focusing and its use in contemplation in the protected climate of a small group of now-familiar, close people.

Phase three

The final phase is an integrative one. Having seen a variety of ways that Focusing has been applied across traditions, members further develop their own approach, refining it as they teach it to the others in the group. Each member's work will result in a unique integration, which could be within one spiritual tradition but will not necessarily be.

At this stage in the program, group members also begin to experiment with teaching Focusing outside the group, or integrating it into what they are already offering to others.

Group structure

A group has six to ten members. Once a month the group works by phone for three hours, partly together and partly in pairs. In addition to the monthly meeting, members also partner by phone once a week with one of the other group members--partnerships rotate through the group so that each member has a new partner each month. We meet face-to-face for a weekend retreat twice during the 18 months.

Who is the program founder/director?

Kye Nelson provides cross-disciplinary support for deep listening, emergent thinking, and embodied action.

A Certifying Coordinator for the Focusing Institute, she trains teachers for both Focusing and TAE.  Between 1998 and 2004 she collaborated with University of Chicago philosopher and psychologist Eugene Gendlin, PhD. (the originator, 40 years ago, of the concept of the felt sense and the developer of Focusing) in developing the second practice of Thinking At the Edge (TAE), a method of thinking formally from what is known bodily.  She and Dr. Gendlin continue to work together closely. She has taught in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Europe, and Japan.

She has practiced meditation since the late 1960's and has been on a Daoist path since the mid-1970's.  Her life partner for 20 years was Jewish, and that tradition, which became a deeply felt part of her life during those years, continues to have a place in her life and heart.  As a painter she works in egg tempera, focusing on conveying the luminosity of what is here in the present moment.  She has two grown sons.

Other teachers?

John Amodeo is the author of The Authentic Heart: An Eightfold Path to Midlife Love, as well as other books.  He is a psychotherapist with 30 years immersion in Buddhism and spiritual wisdom.  He is also a Certified Focusing Trainer and has training in Somatic Experience work to heal trauma.

Reva Bernstein is a Certifying Coordinator for the Focusing Institute, and embodies the wisdom of listening to the felt sense in a spiritual life which follows its own path freely, across many traditions.

Anna Christensen is a Focusing-oriented psychotherapist and Certified Focusing Trainer in private practice in New York City, and a dharma heir to Charlotte (Joko) Beck. She has integrated Focusing into her Zen teaching with great care.  She is co-author, together with Jan Bronson, of a paper on Uncovering the Core Belief and Changing the Unchangeable which can be found at  

Elfie Hinterkopf, a psychotherapist, is the author of Integrating Spirituality in Counselling, and a Certifying Coordinator for the Focusing Institute.  She was one of the first Focusing teachers and has taught Focusing, Spirituality, Dream work, and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy around the world.

Nina Joy Lawrence is a Certified Focusing Trainer through the Focusing Institute, and an Inner Relationship Focusing Teacher trained by Ann Weiser Cornell.  For the last four years she's been sharing Focusing with Afghan Moslems using Sufi poetry as the teaching tool.  She also explores the enriching interface of Quaker practice and Focusing.

Susan Lennox is a Certified Focusing Trainer living in the Boston, Massachusetts area.  A doctoral candidate in Human Development, her research interests include the role of cognitive and extracognitive processes--including spirituality and contemplative practices--in personal transformative learning.  She has also researched the phenomenology of the felt sense during deep solo Focusing, and has presented on that subject to the Society for Phenomenology and the Human Sciences.  She works as a personal coach and organizational consultant, and teaches professional effectiveness and leadership at the graduate level.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram is author of Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice.  She has been bringing Focusing into her teaching of preparation practices for holy days and prayer and as part of the re-membering of the meditative dimension of Judaism, which was nearly lost during the Holocaust.

Nancy Saunders is a certified Focusing trainer and a Quaker.  She lives Focusing in many ways, including consulting at Pendle Hill (a Quaker study and retreat center), writing about Quaker spirituality, making art and working as a psychologist.

Astrid Schillings is a clinical psychologist in Cologne, Germany.  She has been meditating since 1978, was given permission to teach by Graf Dürckheim, and has been working with Toni Packer since 1995.  She co-founded the frist house for battered wives and children in FRG, and now runs the "Space for Focusing and Meditating beyond Tradition" in Cologne.  Exploring who and what we are, in and under the waves of culture and tradition, is alive in her. 


The cost of the program is $100 per month plus the cost of the retreats (no more than $500 for each retreat including room and board), any recommended materials participants choose to purchase, and travel and long distance telephone expenses (long distance can be purchased for less than three cents per minute, which makes the phone expense for the program including the weekly partnership approximately $10 per month).

Occasionally it is possible to give a partial scholarship.  Because many people request scholarship assistance, the first priority is to give scholarship help to those who are currently supporting others' contemplative life in some way, and whose integration of Focusing into that work will fill a felt need for them and those they work with.  If you would like to apply, please write a few paragraphs about the work you are doing, and ways Focusing could benefit the people you serve.

What do participants say about what it's like to be in the program?

Here are four different voices:

The supportive, caring, safe environment Kye creates permits me to relate very directly with any issues that arise out of being part of a group or pressure to perform or do something "right". The tone of the class allows progress at a rate that is right for me--to do the work I need to do to become a focusing trainer. 

It is not a formula we are all following, but an open template that accommodates each of us, no matter where we are in relation to focusing and a contemplative practice. Kye's gentleness and ability to vary the pace appropriately allows the process to evolve and flow smoothly. 

This program offers a unique opportunity to build trust and skill in Focusing by directly working with yourself and coming to your own knowing place. It pushes me in ways I could not have anticipated, but does so without aggression.

Whether or not you have the intention to become a Focusing trainer, this program will broaden your use of Focusing and allow you to come to know what Focusing means to you and where you want to go with it.

This program is completely appropriate for anyone who has a contemplative practice or aspires to have a contemplative practice.

The program offers the conditions inherent in effective Focusing Companioning.  Kye’s method of teaching models the Focusing Attitude while bringing that kind of nonjudgmental and exploratory attention to aspects of our understanding that need further development. Participants are encouraged and enabled to let their individual process unfold, while benefiting from the teacher’s and other group members’ learnings and sharing in the group synergy.

This exploratory training brings together Focusing with individual types of contemplative practice in ways that expand and enrich both (all). The conjoining of philosophies and techniques breathes fresh life into both disciplines and makes it possible for something new to emerge as well.

I am aware that what we are doing in this group, “Focusing in Contemplation,” is forging new trails, and the best way for me in this moment to talk about that trail-forging process is to engage it, and to see where it goes. For this is both unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and at the same time completely resonates with the inquisitive mind that I have known since my earliest childhood.

I see that the word “contemplation” has as its root “temple,” which in turn refers to “an open space for observation” (Oxford English Dictionary). To contemplate means, therefore, to bring thoughtful, prolonged attention to an object of inquiry. What we are doing here in this group is to reveal that hidden element in the human capacity for reflection and contemplation. It has been hidden to us not because it is hiding, but because it is so close we have until now failed to see it. We are, in a sense, contemplating contemplation itself, as if looking into our own eyes. We are re-discovering the very wonder of human experience itself.

“Focusing in Contemplation” opens an inquiry into the question of “what we may be” (to borrow psychosynthesist Piero Ferrucci’s phrase). Regardless of one’s spiritual or philosophical tradition, the application of the focusing method of listening deeply to the bodily felt sense enlivens—and opens us more fully into—the beliefs or practices of that tradition. By cultivating that “open space for observation,” focusing truly honors the body itself, that place closest to home, as a “temple” of wisdom.

Since we've begun to talk more about Focusing from a contemplative perspective, I've shifted my focus. Yesterday, I had this experience: I was contemplating -- as I often do -- what it means to live with an awareness that "this is all an illusion" and still get out of bed in the morning and fix coffee and make a living etc. So I decided to Focus on my general confusion around this.

What popped up was "What's the problem?" and my response was "I'm suffering!" And suddenly, all at once there was the Buddhist path laid out before me - The truth of Suffering. The cause of suffering. The possibility of alleviating suffering. And the path itself.  

Not bad for a five minute session!

I'm glad that we started with Focusing from a more therapeutic, ego-based point of view -- because that is important and will continue to be -- but I'm also very excited to bring Focusing right into my experience of practice.

What is important to Kye about the program?

The crux of the capacity we're deepening is a strength and delicacy of presence that allows another to re-connect, bodily, with That (the Infinite, God, Allah, their Buddha-nature, Dao, .....).  I love seeing the luminosity of another person's face, when this happens.

But we're also integrating Focusing in other ways, and as we do it deepens peoples' practice. It enlivens it or wakes it up, takes it another step, makes them understand more about what the whole path they are on is about. They are starting to see things that they didn't see before.

It's deepening something for them that was already important to them. Their paths are becoming something they fully embody. Now that is where it almost brings tears to think about it.

Another thing that is very important to me, is that the program crosses traditions. I think that we need as many places as possible in the world where people can deeply engage with one another from different traditions, and where people are respected fully: respected as "in" traditions and communities which are precious to us (or as not in a tradition but still on a contemplative journey), and also as the unique and irreplaceable beings we each are.

To enter into a program that crosses traditions, does take a willingness to open one's heart more deeply to that which is "other" as well as to that which is "home", knowing that one may be changed in the process. I am changed by it, too--which I think is as it should be.

I care that we are building community 'without borders'.  Modern life is so fragmented.  This program is a movement in the other direction: towards integration--inner and outer integration.  Towards connection. 

Last but not least, I love that this program is about slowing down.  There is such pressure in our world to move faster and faster toward something!  I'm glad this program makes room for infinite minutes in which a person's spirit can breathe, and being is enough.  In a world obsessed with metrics, I think the immeasurable results of slow quiet time are inestimably important.    

What's the process of entering the program?  And how much Focusing do I need to know before I begin?

You do need to have had enough contact with Focusing to know that it has a central interest for you, which can sustain your engagement in an eighteen-month program.  If you want to experience Focusing in an explicitly contemplative setting, David Rome's Deep Listening workshops and retreats are highly recommended (you can reach David at  David has written articles on Focusing and Deep Listening for Shambala Sun magazine, and Parabola. (These articles are easily found online via Google.)

I find that the program works best for those who have something they might call "my spiritual life". But that may take many forms over time, may not feel "official", and at times may mostly feel like it's gone underground or disappeared entirely. Still, there is the sense of being on a journey, even though the path may only be recognizable as a path to the person themselves.

The first step in entering the FIC program (after you've had a chance to digest the material you are reading right now) is to get answers to any other questions you may have,  One way to do this is by calling for a few minutes during Kye's "open door" time on Monday evenings from 7-8pm, Central time.  The number is 210/829-5177.  (When Kye is travelling, or if she is already talking to someone, you will receive her voice mail.  If you leave a message she will call you back.)  Alternatively, you can write to There is no charge for this.  Be aware that occasionally it is not possible to answer a question (such as what to expect week-by-week for the first six months) because it would take many hours, or an answer to the question does not exist.

When you feel ready, the final step is to schedule an hour-long session with Kye.  During this time you will talk about where you are in your journey at present, and how that relates to your interest in Focusing and your possible participation in the program.  This session is not just an interview--it is when you actually begin the process of working together with Kye.  Again, there is no charge, but it is asked that you be mindful of the time that these interviews take, and wait to schedule this hour until you feel that there's a strong likelihood you would be participating in the program.  

At the end of the hour, even if you are ready to commit and Kye agrees that you are ready for the program, you still will be asked to contemplate the decision for a few days.  It is important to the health of each group for as many of the people as possible who begin together, to continue on together to the end of the program--so the decision is one which should be made with that in mind.  The bonding that happens with other group members over time can be deep, and it can be difficult for the others when members must leave (though of course it does happen that people become seriously ill, or other life events occur which mean that a person cannot continue).

Once you are accepted into the program, for the month prior to the first meeting you will introduce yourself and begin to get to know the other participants in your group by email, and will come to consensus with them about meeting times for the group for the first six months.  By the time of the first meeting, you will already have some sense of who is "in the room" with you.   

Other questions? 

Call 210/829-8343, or email 


©2003 - 2010 Kye Nelson.  All rights reserved.