Some Notes on Language

By Ann Weiser Cornell, PhD

This article originally appeared in the January 1994 issue of The Focusing Connection

There are certain words which seem to facilitate the Focusing experience more than others. As someone trained in linguistics, I have been noticing these words and collecting them. I offer them here to enhance your experience of guiding others and also your experience of guiding yourself in your own Focusing.

Have you ever thought about the difference between “anything” and “something”? Linguists have noted that in English, “anything” is negative and “something” is positive. We would never say, “I have anything.” The common usage is “I have something,” and “I don’t have anything.” The word “anything” carries a negative expectation. “Look in the sky, do you see something?” is what you would say if you expect that the person will see something. “Look in the sky, do you see anything?” is what you would say if you expect that the person will not see anything.

Knowing that, notice the difference between saying to a focuser, “Let your awareness come into your body and notice if you feel anything,” versus “Let your awareness come into your body and notice if you feel something.” The word “something” creates a positive expectation that something will be there. This becomes an invitation for the focuser to notice what is there.

The difference between “if” and “when” is quite similar and probably easier to understand. Notice whether you’d want to say to a focuser, “If you become aware of something, let me know,” or “When you become aware of something, let me know.” In this case it is “when” that carries the positive expectation.

Another pair of words is “else” and “more.” Notice the difference between saying, “Take some time to sense when you feel something else,” and “Take some time to sense when you feel something more.” The word “else” implies a different location. It moves the focuser’s awareness away from the place she had been sensing. The focuser may say, “You want something else besides the ache in my heart? Well, my arm is itching.” “More,” on the other hand, implies greater depth in the same location. So “more” about the ache in the heart might be: “It aches and it’s also sad.”

So when you find yourself saying “if you feel anything else,” try saying instead, “when you feel something more,” and just notice the difference. I’ve rarely if ever seen it to be useful for the guide to use the word “think” in a Focusing session. Try substituting “sense” or “feel,” even if the focuser said “think.”

Another word I wouldn’t repeat, even if the focuser used it, is “resistance.” This is such a pejorative word, not to mention being analytical, that I don’t know of any way to use it with loving acceptance toward one’s process. Try just translating the word “resistance” into “doesn’t want to.” When the focuser says, “I’m feeling resistance,” maybe you could reflect, “Something in you doesn’t want to.” Notice how much easier it is to be accepting toward that “something.”

Watch out for the word “try”; it implies inability. “Try to bring your awareness into your body” makes it sound like a big effort and maybe impossible!

Time words are powerful also. We want to make sure the focuser has enough time. Which of these expressions gives you a feeling of having lots of time? “Take some time…” “Take a few minutes…” “Take a minute…” “Take a few moments…” “Take a moment…” “Take a few seconds…” Which is longer, a “minute” or a “moment”?

I recommend never using the terms “felt sense” or “handle” or “felt shift” when guiding a focuser, no matter how experienced. Focusing ought to be a time of inner sensing, not of remembering what words mean. If you paraphrase instead, you’ll be much more helpful. Instead of “handle,” say “the word or image that fits how that feels.” And so on. When you use jargon or a technical word, the focuser has to leave the place of inner sensing and go into the head to the place where we look up words we’ve learned after childhood. A useful rule of thumb is to never use a word in guiding that is too complex for a ten-year-old to understand.

I can recommend being alert to certain words, but for every individual focuser, there will be words that have unique meanings and unique impacts. The only way to discover this is to pay close attention to the focuser–and listen to your own language. If you can always replay in your head the guiding suggestion or listening response you just made, you will be ready to understand if the focuser reacts in a way that surprises you.

One more word that matters: “focus.” Does this sentence sound as strange to you as it does to me? “I focused her last night.” Can you ever “focus” someone else? Personally, my skin crawls! Let’s only use the verb “to focus” to refer to the action of bringing awareness inside one’s own body and paying attention to one’s own process. So I might say, “I focused last night and Bonnie guided me,” or “I focused alone,” or “I like to focus when someone listens to me.” But I would never say, “Let me focus you.”

So the “focuser” is the one who is doing “Focusing,” that is, attending inwardly to their own inner process. The companion to that person is the “listener” or “guide,” and is doing “listening” or “guiding.”