Focusing Partnership: A Structure for Freedom

by David Shindoll

“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Focusing has been one of the most meaningful and significant undertakings in my life. Learning Focusing is like Luke Skywalker learning that Darth Vader is his father or that the Earth revolves around the sun; knowing that one thing changes the constellation of everything. Through hundreds of hours in Focusing sessions and study, my life has begun to revolve around my senses and what I don’t know instead of identifying with my mind and what I think I know. The Focusing partnership is where I have felt my way into a radically different way of relating to others and myself.

I have had two long-term Focusing partners, both of whom I met at a Treasure Maps retreat in 2011, as well as several shorter-term Focusing partners. Here is what I have learned about Focusing and life through Focusing Partnerships in the last 7 years.


The following quote by Lila Watson captures the spirit of my intention in companioning my partners: “If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together.” I find this internal motivation to learn how to be free in relationship is infinitely richer than my habitual way of approaching life from an idea of what being “good” might look like. If my sole intention is to listen fully to what is, then I begin to build awareness of all the ways that I listen that are not from presence: listening to figure out, fix, advise, be right, commiserate, console, etc. More awareness leads to more choice and inner freedom. Connecting to my intention to listen from presence constitutes a powerful structure that helps my focusing partner and me access a space where we can interact directly and freely with whatever arises in our experience.

An Environment that Reveals

Learning to differentiate when I am in presence and when I become identified with parts subtly masquerading as presence is one of the most important skills I have learned in Focusing partnerships. The companion acts as my auxiliary presence who brings to my awareness when I begin to identify with parts. “So you’re sensing something in you that…”  The capacity to stay in presence creates an internal environment similar to what my Montessori mentor Alice Renton advised me to create when preparing a classroom environment for children, “Create an environment that reveals children instead of one that molds them.”  Just like animals that begin to reveal themselves when one is still and quiet in nature, when our approach to our inner lives is one of stillness, interested curiosity and care, our inner life begins to reveal itself to us. The structure of the Focusing session and clearly defined roles of the Companion and Focuser support this revealing of life.

100% Responsibility

Listening without agenda and judgment implies a trust in the other person’s process as well as my own. I have been developing this trust since my first Level 1 Focusing class when I received the explicit instruction to NOT help the Focuser. The Focuser is 100% responsible for h/her session. How empowering is that statement! It is not a big leap to say, “I am 100% responsible for my life.” For me, who has struggled with authentically stating what I want in relationships, especially when it is something that is not going well for me in the moment (dissatisfaction, frustration, hurt), this aspect of the Focusing partnership has been immensely helpful. Knowing that this is my time and that I could remain in silence for the whole time or say whatever I want in whatever way I want (within the boundaries of basic respect and consideration for my companion of course) frees me from all social constructs around what is a “normal” amount of time to stay silent or a “normal” amount of explanation I need to give something.

The clearly defined roles of “Empowered Focuser” and “Relaxed Companion” also free us from the social constructs of conversations that often detract from presence e.g. asking questions, making personal connections, a focus on staying in connection with the other person, etc. The interactions between the Focuser and Companion are quite different. As the name suggests, The Companion is there to be with / accompany the Focuser in a way that supports presence and inner-relationship with oneself.  The Companion reflects what the Focuser says so that the Focuser can check their experience with their words. The Companion offers suggestions for what might serve to increase connection with whatever is there in the moment. The Focuser is empowered to take or leave the suggestions of the companion.

I am so grateful to my focusing partners because I know how rare it is for anyone to give this type of space and time. There is no one to please in that space, which makes all of my energy available to attend to whatever is arising in my experience. When parts know that they have all the time they need and that there is no agenda, they begin to settle down and reveal what is important to them. The focusing partnership is a structure that supports me in being free to be me.

“Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people; but the moment you feel, you’re nobody but yourself.”

e e cummings

The Focusing partnership provides me with a practice of what it is like to make decisions that are 100% based on what I sense feels right for me in the moment. This has been a radically different way of living for me, having spent the majority of my life identified with my mind.

Structured Time

Putting something in my calendar is a concrete manifestation of my intention to live a connected life. Whatever is happening in my daily life, I feel supported knowing that I have three or more weekly calls where there will be a space to just listen and be. The Focusing partnership serves as a mutual support to Focus. I can easily blow myself off if I put in a time to Focus by myself, but I am much less likely to do so if I have an appointment. This is what a Focusing practice looks like – just like my yoga practice, it is not dependent on whatever feeling I may be having in the present moment. It is the place I go to fully be with whatever I am feeling.

The equal time given to each partner also supports mutuality and reciprocity that often get out of balance in other relationships, which can detract from our ability to be fully present. Reciprocity in the Focusing partnership also occurs when I learn how to be a better companion through my experience as a Focuser and vice-versa. The immense gratitude I have for my Focusing partners’ accompaniment naturally flows into the care I wish to give to them – giving and receiving become a single road to the way of living we both wish to remember.


One of my Focusing partners often ends her Focusing sessions by thanking all of her teachers – a fitting end to a Focusing session and this paper. When I take time at the end of a Focusing session to thank my teachers what often comes is inspiration. I think of Ann’s struggle with addiction and how much it has meant to everyone that she chose to do the inner work to overcome it. I remember one of the most life-altering Focusing sessions I had with Barbara at one of the Treasure Maps retreats in which I gained a deep trust in my inner life that had only been an abstraction before. This entire paper is one big gratitude to your work and contribution to me and others!

Rock on Barbara and Ann!

David Shindoll
January 4, 2018