Experiential Focusing

The bloom of the present moment

We tend to spend a lot of time either preoccupied with thinking to the exclusion of feelings or getting too immersed in and buffeted and driven by difficult emotions and thoughts. Mindful experiencing provides an alternative, coming alive in a spacious, grounded way to the implicit, embodied feel of what is happening, what Jon Kabat-Zinn has referred to as “the bloom of the present moment.” This creates optimal conditions for reflecting on and making sense of feelings in order to better navigate and appreciate our lives, but, as I described in my paper (Gayner, 2019), mainstream clinical mindfulness does not specify or encourage this. In contrast, emotion-focused mindfulness therapy makes use of these optimal conditions to facilitate experiential and emotional processing. The heart of this is experiential focusing, developed by Eugene Gendlin in collaboration with Carl Rogers in the mid-twentieth century and subsequently integrated into emotion-focused therapy. Experiential focusing is a way of deepening our experiencing by coming alive to and making sense of implicit feelings and carrying forward their empowering implications into the rest of our life.

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How we learned to suppress feelings

Softening and opening with kindness and gentle curiosity towards our inner vulnerabilities and pain is unfamiliar territory for many of us, because we didn’t learn how to do this growing up. Many of us had parents who didn’t know how to calm themselves down, let alone how to calm us down. Our parents may not have known how to identify their own emotions, let alone help us identify, express and sort through our feelings in productive ways. Just this, let alone add emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect at home or elsewhere, and, rather than learning to identify and make sense of their feelings, kids learn to suppress them by tightening up their muscles, holding their breath and coming up into their heads.

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Integrating Self-Compassion into Your Mindfulness Practice

Photo by Bill Gayner

If you find yourself struggling or beating yourself up in meditation, it can be helpful to remember to cultivate self-compassion. In my post, Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Meditation, I described how Kristin Neff highlights three factors in cultivating self-compassion: trying to be kind to yourself; remembering our common humanity (that whatever you are struggling with, many other people struggle with it as well); and cultivating mindfulness of your body, feelings and thoughts.

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Thoughtful Response to My Paper

I appreciate the warm way Bob Maunder, MD FRCPC, recently welcomed my paper. As Head of Psychiatry Research, Sinai Health System, Bob regularly sends out papers published by staff in our department to the rest of the department, accompanied by a short, thoughtful introduction. Bob is also Chair in Health and Behaviour and Deputy Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Sinai Health System, and Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto. 

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Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Meditation

Photo by Bill Gayner

This style of meditation emphasizes cultivating a gentle, participatory curiosity toward all the processes that weave consciousness and deepen experiencing, including bodily sensations and other senses, feelings, thinking, imagery, and needs. You are welcome to plan, remember and reflect on your experience.

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My Paper on EFMT Published

My paper, the first on emotion-focused mindfulness therapy, has been published by Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies:

Gayner, B. (2019). Emotion-focused mindfulness therapy. Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies, Vol. 18, Issue 1, pages 98-120.

The journal allows me, as the author, to post a preprint on my website that you can download, which includes all the edits but without the journal’s formatting. Click on the buttons at the bottom of the page to download that version.

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