am i my body? my feelings? musings on identity and focusing

lately, my three-year-old grandson is quite interested in the whole concept of identity and relationships.

“what’s your mom’s name?” “mommy!”

“who’s that?” “that’s callan. he’s my sister. jaden is my friend.”

“grandma, who’s that in the picture?” “the father.” “what’s his name?” “i don’t know. jack, maybe?” “no, that’s not jack.” “michael?” “no, not michael.” “is his name gordon?” “noooo! not gordon!” (that went on for 10 minutes, to ever-increasing amusement)

and the most interesting one:

i poke him in the belly. he giggles.
me: “who’s that?”
him: “that’s my belly!”
me: “that’s fabian!”
him: “no, that’s not fabian. i’m fabian!”

he’s not his belly. that’s something i’ve been thinking about quite a bit these last few months. to what degree am i my body? my mind? my soul? my ideal version is that it’s all me. i am my mind and my toenail. but it’s so easy to split it all off, and especially from the body. when i say “my feelings” there is a different connotation, a different implication, a different understanding from when i say “my knee”. there is a tacit understanding, often, that i am indeed my feelings but my knee is something that is owned by me, subservient to me. which of course raises the question of who “me” is (that’s material for another post; suffice to say that i quite like what matthew says here, informed by buddhist thich nhat hanh).

these thoughts about identity come to the fore even more now that i am taking a course in focusing. part of this is to go inside and acknowledge/describe a “felt sense” – processes, feelings or sensations that are experienced in the body. a suggestion in focusing is to describe such a sense like in this example:

i notice there is something that feels sad.

what’s curious is how my body reacted to that distancing. there are a number of layers: “i notice”, “there”, “something that …”; even “feels.” it is very different from

i am sad.

my body didn’t like the distancing.  the challenge i see before me is to use the various distances, rather than judge them. i know how very useful it can be for my clients to distance themselves from their feelings, to contemplate the possibility that they are not their feelings, and/or that they are not dominated by their feelings. if that can be useful for them, then clearly i might find some use for it as well.

fortunately, one of the core philosophies of focusing is that wherever the focusser wants to go is right. so there is not party line for me to tow; i don’t HAVE to use the distancing, i CAN use it. that makes me much more amenable to playing with it …


  1. I love that you illustrated your point using your grandson, so cute!

    We can learn from Children if we are willing to listen because they tell it like it is.

  2. I find these fascinating questions. The parts and the whole and their relationship(s).

    It’s fascinating me recently to see my partner go through re-evaluating her past – stuff comes up without conscious intention (in fact she’d rather it didn’t – or that she could slow down how quickly it comes up. Yet it is certainly part of becoming more herself. I guess you see this lots with clients).

    Using distancing positively is interesting. I guess it’s especially useful when people are feeling overwhelmed or that they have no choice but just react.

    One thing I’ve contemplated, but never seriously (because I’ve never been around a young child for long) is to watch the issues they go through as they grow. For instance learning the difference between inside and outside when they continually put things in and out of a saucepan and watch it disappear and reappear.

    Thanks for a very interesting post. I’ll be very interested if you have more to say about it.

  3. fascinating… thanks for this! i love focusing and am leading a focusing workshop myself soon. my body likes the precision of ‘there is something in you that feels sad’… the non-identification feels deep down true. as in meditation. there is this… and there is that too… i find it brings me closer rather than distancing me. unless of course i am overwhelmed with one emotion, in which case it pisses me off to say ‘there is something in me…’!

  4. exceptional analogy using your grandson, well I found it cute at first, but reading along made me realized how profound it is. focus is the real key to getting results, and if you can’t focus then divert your attention to something that will still make you do productive things that will help you achieve your objective, may it not be relevant at least you get to learn. As for me, motivation is the hardest part to attain, since once you have it, focus is just an inch from you.

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