The First European Focusing Association (EFA) Conference:
Facets of Focusing
May 10th-14th 2018
One hundred and thirty delegates came together in the beautiful coastal resort of Loutraki for what turned out to be a magical- and profoundly nurturing- celebration of the life and work of Eugene Gendlin, including his roots in Europe. Gendlin was a native German speaker, born into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1926 and living there until he was twelve, when he and his parents fled to the US.
The aim of the conference was to consider some of the many ‘facets’ of Focusing. Lectures and workshops ran in parallel throughout the conference (for the conference programme see https://efa2018.weebly.com/programme.html), supplemented by panel discussions and interest groups. There were many engaging and truly original presentations, representing the ‘edges’ of European thinking and research on a variety of Focusing-related topics, honouring Gendlin’s roots in European philosophy as well as his embeddedness in the Person Centred Approach. The relevance of ideas from A Process Model to areas such as medicine and music were explored while other presenters re-considered concepts that are taken for granted in the Focusing world such as the ‘felt sense’. Focusing was considered from the perspective of feminist theory, critical theory and new materialism and consideration was also given to how we might move ‘beyond’ Rogers and Gendlin and build on their legacy. Several participants commented on the quality and depth of European thinking, not only on philosophical topics, but also on issues that relate to our view of the person as we seek to find the ‘living forward’ energy in our lives.
The workshops extended exploration of how Focusing can help us to engage with difficult life situations in such a way as to develop ‘resiliency’, deal with our ‘existential demons’, ‘inner critics’- or perhaps cope better with some of the many ‘stoppages’ created within us as a result of our social interactions. Listening to the body’s wisdom and ‘realising the potential of manifesting different realities’ through working with dreams or recognising the ‘wholeness’ of each moment were other ways in which ‘the self as a living process’ might expand itself. Consciously opening up to greater ‘expansion’ brings us to the ‘edge’ of language- how we might better say that which cannot yet be said- as well as to consideration of how Focusing might be used in group processes and community organising.
Participants commented on how their understanding of Focusing has been ‘refreshed’ by the conference, that familiar material was taken much deeper. The conference was regarded as ‘relaxed’ and, with its relatively small size, participants appreciated being in easy and close contact with each other. One participant commented that it was ‘democratic, a conference without borders’.
The EFA dream
The First EFA Conference may be regarded as bringing closer the fulfilment of a dream held by a group of European coordinators who came together in 2009 to plan a Focusing ‘academy’ where those of us in Europe could ‘cross borders’ and learn from each other, ideally working together in a cooperative and non-hierarchical way. This is not easy to achieve. For centuries there have been wars and conflict in Europe and there remain many challenges. We have to struggle to understand each other on a continent where there are 24 official languages and where, despite English being the most commonly used language between nationalities, the vast majority of us are not native English speakers. Our cultural assumptions, our instinctive ways of relating to each other and dealing with difficult situations are very different. Focusing takes us beyond these differences. As one German participant, who has lived his whole life in the shadow of World War II, said of a very moving interaction with one of the Israeli participants: ‘It’s not just about building one bridge but about building many bridges between nations’.
Interest groups and task groups that came together at the conference will continue to meet via Skype and Zoom links so that collaboration within and beyond Europe can continue.
‘The Heart of Greece’
Many of us went on an inspiring trip to the ancient sites of Mycenae (c. 1600-1100 BC; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycenae) and the healing centre of Epidaurus (c. 300 BC; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidaurus). This is what one participant writes about her particularly meaningful experience of Epidaurus:
“Visiting the ancient Epidaurus area, I sat in the ruins of the Abaton for a while, the healing place of Askleipios.
I could sense lines of energy coming together, from everywhere, above and beneath, and then turning the other way, creating a kind of sacred emptiness in the middle.
As if I had been drawn here, to this place, this Conference, this country … to receive love and grace and to spread it out in all directions.
This one moment made me feel like I was forever connected to the source of life itself.
I take it with me as a precious gift of Greece.”
(painting: Hillie van der Weg)
‘Each bit of sensing is a version of the whole life situation’.
(Eugene Gendlin, A Process Model, Chapter 8 A)
For many of us the unobtrusive thoughtfulness of the Greek people, including that of the staff at the hotel that hosted the conference, has been an important part of the ‘good energy’ that has ‘held’ the conference. When thanked in passing for the general kindness of the hotel staff, the receptionist on duty simply commented: ‘We want to make people feel at home’. She then added: ‘And it comes from the heart’. It is this quiet nurturance that has made it possible to allow the deep beauty that we have experienced here- through inspiring music and dance as well as from the presentations and workshops and the beautiful natural surroundings- to nourish and sustain us. As someone observed with perfect accuracy when we were wondering who to thank at the closing of the conference: ‘We need to thank Greece’.
At the General Assembly which took place on the final morning of the conference it was unanimously agreed to put any funds remaining from the conference towards developing the EFA website [insert ref] and to paying the Webmaster. The very beautiful conference website (https://efa2018.weebly.com/) has played a vital role in building up the ‘atmosphere’ of our coming together. Conference presentations and videos of the lectures will be posted on the EFA website in due course and in the future other papers and publications from European colleagues will appear there, free of charge, for all to access.
It was also decided at the General Assembly that we will aim to hold a European conference every two years, with a smaller gathering in between where the annual General Assembly (proposed in the EFA Vision Statement) can take place.