Gendlin's book was practical. His method gave me questions to approach the nightmares. But it wasn't only the questions that helped; it was his description of Focusing: the body's affirmation though a buzzy, shifting feeling when I'd found the right interpretation. My body was willing to reveal the riddle that the unconscious hid. Whenever I named it (Rumpelstiltskin!) a surge of energy surged forth. Many years later, Gendlin promotes "Thinking at the Edge" through his Focusing Institute. "Focusing is the murky edge…" he says here. It's worth a look. That murky edge is the limit situation, the place in ourselves that is inchoate. Our ability to focus helps us slog into the mud of our murk with a confidence that our intuition has its own GPS.
Which leads me to Flow. The wild red-haired Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, taught in our Common Core. You'd think I majored in psych. No. Betrothed to Anthropology. The impossible-to-spell genius was testing well being at that school where "fun goes to die." Flow, he says in this Ted talk, is a mode of self absorption that draws you into action and creativity. It strikes me as similar to the mindfulness that Ellen Langer has theorized about for several decades now. Mindfulness and flow restore the body-mind divide through the intuition and imagination to give us a more expansive way of being past our social instrumentality. They free us from the lock-down of our routinized life.
This growth of positive psychology is enlightening in an advanced capitalist society mired in debt, depression, and over-consumption, and now finally addressing its inequality. These vehicles for the royal road to well being might help us navigate past the old sign posts. Perhaps they can help us read the new ones. Because it feels, even from my sleepy chair on Almond drive, that we are on the juggernaut towards accelerating social change, economic stress, personal hardship, conflict, disaster, collapse.
One might wonder if focusing, flow and (let's add to this Seligman's flourishing) can teach us resilience.
As the Positive Psychology Center at Penn proposes:
Central to PRP is Ellis' Adversity-Consequences-Beliefs (ABC) model, the notion that our beliefs about events mediate their impact on our emotions and behavior. Through this model, students learn to detect inaccurate thoughts, to evaluate the accuracy of those thoughts, and to challenge negative beliefs by considering alternative interpretations. PRP also teaches a variety of strategies that can be used for solving problems and coping with difficult situations and emotions.
This is an elasticity we need with ever-increasing urgency. Avenues that encourage the expressive imagination, critical thought, and the ability to sustain deep reflection are worthy of our scattered attention.