Recognizing and distinguishing felt senses

There are specific key characteristics of a felt sense: bodily felt, immediate, at first unclear and difficult to articulate, and “of’ a whole situation. In addition, some ways to understand a felt sense process is that it is a) freshly forming, b) emergent, c) a wholistic sense of a situation and d) has a “more than words can say” quality to it.

Felt senses form freshly

A felt sense cannot be the chronic ache in the shoulder or chronic pain in the gut. For a felt sense to form, one needs an intention, a pause, an invitation—even if one doesn’t know what it is. “Let me see ....How am I feeling about what happened?” One of Gendlin’s key insights is that feelings are not simply “discovered” as if they were buried or stored, but they can also form freshly. The person may feel as if something “underneath” is being discovered, but actually something implicit is brought out explicitly, and can now function in a new way.

Felt senses are emergent; they are in a process of forming

A felt sense can’t be understood as an object with a permanent existence. It is a process of experiencing that, even when felt, is in formation. Attending to a felt sense is attending to the place of emergent process, where something new and fresh can occur—as opposed to a recycling of familiar thoughts and emotions. When one begins to feel a felt sense, one has an expectation that it will evolve, and that one’s non-judging attention will facilitate its evolution.

Felt senses are wholistic senses; they are of a whole situation

Like the proverbial picture that is worth a thousand words, a felt sense is an intricate whole that sums up, captures, includes, contains all the aspects of a situation that is lived at once. Those aspects can then be unpacked from the felt sense, and this process brings steps of change in a way that just having emotions or just talking about a problem does not.

Felt senses have a "more than words can say" quality

Because a felt sense contains so much nonverbal information and is so intricate, it takes time to find a description that encompasses it. Often a single word is inadequate, and several words are needed instead, like “jumpy queasy” or “tight constricted.” Metaphors and similes may also be needed, for example: “Like a knotted rope,” or “like a heavy boulder.” Even after a description is found, there is typically a sense that there is more to it than has been articulated.

Has the reader ever had a felt sense? Certainly. The only question is whether you paused and paid attention, whether you found this vague and odd experience worthy of further exploration. For instance, you are preparing for a meeting ... and something doesn’t feel quite right. You have an uneasy feeling in the area of your stomach. You try to think about what it could be—Is it that difficult person? Am I worried I didn’t do enough?—but nothing makes the feeling ease. You can feel it in there ... like “being on edge” ... like “edgy” ... like “tense” ... Each time you find a word to describe it, the feeling gets a little more distinct, but it doesn’t go away. Then an image flashes across your mind. A train wreck ... “Oh! It’s that proposal we’re due to take up today. I’m worried it’s going to be a disaster!”

Now the feeling eases yet the proposal is still up for discussion, and it still could be a disaster. Why? Because the articulation of it allows it to ease and the release (also called a “felt shift") validates the articulation. The body says, “That’s right, you got it” ... and there is more. Even though the felt sense eased, it’s not completely gone ... and you’ll be able to sense into it further with inner questions like, “What is it about the proposal that most concerns me?” As a result, you might even come up with an alternative proposal before the meeting starts. Your felt sense has helped you discover that something concerns you and respond effectively. Well done!

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