Recently on my counselling psychology course I learned about a procedure known as Focusing, which is sometimes used in the Person-Centred Approach (PCA) to therapy. Focusing is a technique used to bring attention to an internal feeling that is directly experienced, but can’t be as of yet articulated into words. This can make these pre-verbal feelings more tangible and ready for discussion in therapy. I have recently come across a piece of electronic music that for me helps with this process. James Blake’s Klavierwerke EP is a series of four songs that continue to startle me in how they force me to focus on my inner senses that are not yet at a point where they can be verbalised.
Focusing was originally conceptualised by the American philosopher and psychotherapist, Eugene Gendlin, in the 1960s. His procedure for Focusing is based around four main steps:
1) Clearing a space: This involves bringing attention to the centre of one’s body and feeling what concerns are present. These concerns should be held at a suitable distance from our attention, where they are close enough to be felt and examined, but not so close that they are overwhelming.
2) Felt sense: This is where the focuser chooses which of their concerns is of chief importance. Though the problem may be comprised of many aspects, it should be thought of as a whole, in order to give an overall sense of what the concern feels like.
3) Handle: Here the focuser attempts to find a word or phrase that summarises how the concern physically feels. This could be something like ‘heavy’ or ‘fluttering’ or it could be an image like ‘a pan full of simmering water’ or ‘a knot in my chest’. The description is then explored to ensure that the focuser is sure that it accurately represents their concern.
4) Asking: Finally, the focuser asks themselves why the concern feels the way they have described it. Asking this question should result in a feeling of release and a sense of direction in how to proceed.
The reason that I find James Blake’s Klavierwerke EP to be relevant to the Focusing procedure is that his music provides the perfect environment in which to try the technique. ‘I Only Know (What I Know Now)’ works particularly well for the process. This song sounds as though it is coming from the inside of the listener. Part of this feeling I attribute to the lack of comprehensible vocals. No words are articulated, but the sporadic handclaps and breathy moans actually make the track feel more human than most songs filled with lyrics. The contrast of this almost painful, lonely humanity with the deep, intense silences gives the listener an opportunity to calmly examine their concerns. The steady drum beat and the piano and television static noise forces the listener inwards into their own physical core. Here they can concentrate on what the felt sense of their own individual problem is and how it relates to what they are hearing. I think this is the point at which the song is at its most powerful. By providing the listener with the physically human sounds of breathing sighs, heartbeats in handclaps, the steady pounding of blood in the gut, and intense guttural moans, the listener can gain a handle on their own concern. The song’s fragile human physicality allows the listener to catch the physical feel of their problem and in the weighty silences, ask themselves why they feel that way.
Focusing is a difficult topic to write about; as by it’s nature it is the examination of the processes that have not yet surfaced in the verbal areas of the mind. The title of this blog post, ‘Basic Space’ comes from a song by The XX, another artist that explores the physicality of sound in a minimalist way. That particular song seems to almost perfectly describe the first step of the Focusing procedure as, ‘Basic space, Open air. Don’t look away when there’s nothing there’. This clearing of mental space is followed by the intensely physical image of getting into a ‘pool of boiling wax’, the felt sense of the suffocating relationship that is being sung about. I think that music such as ‘I Only Know (What I Know Now)’ and ‘Basic Space’ can help shed light on the Focusing technique and assist in its use. By doing this, we can feel the great release characteristic of truly understanding the emotional effects that our problems are causing, and how they make us physically feel.