The Interactive Lead In: Exploring an alternative Lead In for Inner Relationship Focusing
Focusing Project Report
Focusing Certification Training 2020-2022 by Ann Weiser and Barbara McGavin
August 2022, Wetzikon, Switzerland
In an Inner Relationship Focusing partnership, the Focuser and the Companion usually have little contact. Most of the time, the Focuser has his eyes closed and focuses his attention mainly inward. However, when I watch Eugen Gendlin’s Focusing sessions on YouTube, I see that there is a lot of exchange in the form of conversation and eye contact. The emotional quality I see in this exchange is empathy. This observation sparked my interest in creating a structure that invites more contact between Focuser and Companion than is common in Inner Relationship Focusing. I think more contact in the outer relationship (between Focuser and Companion) will invite more empathy into this relationship and as a consequence there can arise more empathy in the inner relationships the focuser has with parts, felt senses or any other inner experience. In my view, the outward and inward relationships are organised through the same system, the social engagement system.
In connection with my profession as a mindfulness teacher, I have been following with great interest scientific findings about the functioning of our brain for many years. The work of Alan Schore, an important author in the field of neurobiology, occupies a special place. Alan Schore uses neuroscientific findings to better understand what is happening in a therapeutic relationship beyond the spoken content between client and therapist in terms of healing. Ultimately, these insights are relevant to any interpersonal relationship that is about inner growth, or simply being human. Perhaps these insights could also give new impulses for structuring a Focusing partnership. Among other things, these findings describe the channels through which essential relationship information flows in an empathic relationship and where in the brain this information is processed.
Neuroscience has made significant progress in recent years. New apparatuses make it possible to explore how two brains work together. It turns out that our brain is a social organ. Its function is not revealed to us if we only want to understand it intrapersonally. The brain is a master at connecting with another (or more) brain and forming a kind of collaboration. This interconnection increases the regulatory capacity of the brains in this network. (As an example, consider the healing of trauma: With an empathic and knowledgeable companion, a person is much more likely to resolve a trauma that he or she cannot possibly overcome alone). Subsequent to this being connected to another brain, the brain (that person) is better able to regulate itself on its own. In Inner Relationship Focusing language we could also say that the person’s capacity for Self in
Presence in challenging situations has increased. In the context of this research, as Alan Schore points out, the paramount importance of the right brain for :
• first, the intrapersonal regulation of the internal milieu (the physiology) and the emotions
• second, for interpersonal contact, the „attunement“ to another person.
This can be demonstrated most clearly by the mother-baby relationship: a baby can regulate its physiological and emotional state only insufficiently on its own, its nervous system is not yet formed for this. An adult can do a solo regulation much better because the adult brain is better wired for that. A baby needs for its regulation a reference person, here called mother. In the first 2 years of life, it is to a large extent the right brain that develops. The development of the left brain lags behind and only really starts with the beginning of speech in the second year of life. The right brain of the baby is responsible for the regulation of its emotional state and and its internal environment, its physiology. The right brain of the baby can provide this regulation however very insufficiently well alone, as already mentioned. It depends on the help (of the right brain) of the mother. It is important to know that the baby’s right brain is extremely good at making contact with another person (her right brain). The baby’s emotional and physiological state is expressed and communicated from millisecond to millisecond through his facial expressions (facial nerf), gestures and movements, and through the melody of his voice (ventral vagus nerf). The mother’s right brain can perceive this from millisecond to millisecond. Her right brain „sees“ the stress in the baby’s face and in his movements, she „hears“ in the melody of the baby’s voice his internal state. The mother „understands“ the baby through her right brain, she feels it in her body. This „understanding“ is visible on the mother’s face within milliseconds. The baby (its right brain) can „read“ this „mother understands baby“ in the mother’s face, it hears it in the tone of voice, it feels it in the mother’s touch qualities. It knows that it is understood. This feeling of being understood gives a sense of security, and the mother’s actions, guided by her feeling of what the baby needs, lead to a regulation of the baby’s emotional and physiological state. Again, both right brains communicate with each other in millisecond intervals. This can be understood as interaction as we know it from Eugene Genlin’s book “a process model“. Both brains are interconnected, functioning as a single unit.
The right brain is more connected to the body than the left, even in our later life. The interpersonal regulatory possibility between mother and baby described above exists throughout life. Even an adult person, in a situation of overwhelm, who cannot regulate his or her internal milieu (e.g., racing heart, adrenaline release accompanied by great anxiety, or a state of frozen-ness) on his or her own can do so to a much greater extent with the help of a person who forms an emphatic right brain to right brain connection with him or her. Many people who come to Inner Relationship Focusing are stuck in something, frozen in some area of life. This stuckness is to be understood as a pattern that in the past was the best solution to survive. Humans are built in such a way that this stuckness is not irrevocable. There is a mechanism built into us that allows our system to create new and more appropriate patterns of behavior that lead out of stuckness. I believe that this mechanism is, at its core, this emphatic attunement of two right brains.
A term much used today for this kind of „stuckness“ is trauma. An Weiser, in her course „Beyond Trauma“, defines trauma as follows: „Trauma is the ongoing impact of the lack of something that we needed, when there was no repair or healing at the time.“ I assume that this something that was missing then and is still missing today for a repair is exactly this emphatic Right Brain to Right Brain attunement.
I have been teaching the gold standard mindfulness courses for many years: MBSR, MSC and IMP. The Lead In in Inner Relationship Focusing can be understood as a form of quick body scan, one of the core meditations in MBR and MSC. In MBSR and MSC the body scan is used to allow the mind to become quieter and more present and to bring awareness into the body. The IMP course, (Interpersonal Mindfulness Program) aims to bring mindfulness into the interpersonal realm, into our relationships. IMP is a secular version of the Buddhist meditation form „Insight Dialogue“ developed by Gregory Kramer. Insight Dialogue is a form of meditation practiced with a partner or in a group. The meditators make eye contact and relate to each other in the form of a dialogue. Sitting facing each other with eye contact, the meditators contemplate themes from the Buddhist thought system. This form of meditation is extremely powerful, a great mindfulness, interest, deep concentration of the mind, compassion and serenity with oneself and one’s partner easily arise. A structure in the IMP course (and in ID) looks like this: two partners sit facing each other and have eye contact, both partners describe alternately over a period of about 3 minutes what they feel in the body from moment to moment. This structure can allow states of mind of Self in Presence to emerge to a strong degree: Calmness, Connectedness, Curiosity, Embodyment, Kindness, Concentration, Serenity, Joy etc. This structure results in body-mind states, which enable deep exploration and contemplation of topics. In my understanding, this IMP structure works so strongly because it invites both right brains to attune to each other. Sensing in the body activates the right brain, as does involuntarily reading the facial expression of the other person, hearing the voice, seeing the posture and movement of the other person.
The Right Brain of one partner lets the Right Brain of the other Partner know how it feels trough : its facial expression, its tone of voice, its movements and postures.
The Right Brain of one partner knows how the Right Brain of the other partner is doing by seeing: its facial expression, hearing the tone of voice, seeing its movements and postures.
I wondered if this IMP structure or a similar structure could be used in a Focusing partnership to promote this Right Brain attunement.
I wondered if the Lead In as used in Inner Relationship Focusing could be designed in a new way to create a possibility for more attunement between Companion and Focuser, between their right brains.
In what follows, the Lead In as currently used in Inner Relationship Focusing will be referred to as the Classical Lead In. A newly created Lead In will be called Interactive Lead In.
In a first step I wanted to try out the IMP structure described above with Focusing partners from my certification program: Focuser and Companion are in eye contact and listening contact and take turns telling the partner what is felt in the body. However, I found that just describing this structure caused anxiety and an unwillingness to even try it among my fellow certification students. I explain this with the great sensitivity that Focusing practitioners have with their experiences and inner parts. When we are present and make conscious and prolonged eye contact with a another person and feel in the body, thus less immersed in ruminative thinking and content, then what has been locked away, is fearful, doubtful, ashamed, feeling rejected, angry, judged, etc. easily comes to the surface. Quickly we can then lose Self in Presence and be identified with these states. The Focusing partnership would then become unsafe. In an IMP course it is different because this structure is prepared with other exercises. In mindfulness courses students are trained to first move their attention from what is difficult by taking breath sensations and body sensations into the center of awareness. Emotions, inner impulses and meanings are thus placed on the periphery of awareness. Easily there arises the
counterproductive tendency to exile challenging phenomena and thereby achieve a certain degree of stability and security.
From these first experiments, I drew up the following list of requirements for my new structure, the Interactive Lead In:
- It should be safe, i.e. it should not overly arouse negative emotions such as fear, doubt, anger, neither in the Focuser nor in the Companion, in the best case the feeling of safety should increase.
- The structure should be easy to learn for Inner Relationship Focusing practitioners and should be based on the Lead In as taught in Ann Weiser’s courses, with only small changes.
- The Interactive Lead In should enable more Right-Brain communications between the partners than the Classical Lead In.
A short Description of the Interactive Lead In
As in Classical Lead In:
• The Focuser has his eyes closed, the Companion is in eye contact with the Focuser. • The Companion gives the invitation phrases as they are used in the Classical Lead In.
New in Interactive Lead In
• The Focuser speaks what he feels in the body, what arises in consciousness. • The Companion speaks back what the Focuser speaks.
I think this structure allows more Right Brain attunement between the partners than the Classical Lead In. Both partners can hear each others voice. Both partners can attune to each others rhythm, tone and timing. With only one way eye contact from the companion to the focuser there I expect it to be safe.
Below is a detailed description of the Interactive Lead-In
This description can be used as a protocol for somebody who likes to learn it.
The interactive Lead In
The Interactive Lead In is a variation of the lead-in that is used in Inner Relationship Focusing. The short , medium and long form of the leading in that is used in courses like Path1, Path 2 or Getting Free will be called the Classical Lead In in this text.
The Interactive Lead In is very easy to learn for someone who can „do“ a Classical Lead In, because they know all the elements and possess all the skills necessary to do it. The companion can use the same prompts as in the short, medium or long form of the Classical Lead In. The companion can also use an own personal variation of the Classical Lead-In. The main difference is that in the Interactive Lead In the Focuser and the Companion already engage in a dialogue.
Here is the basic structure of the Interactive Lead-In:
- – The companion suggest to feel a place in the body: „You might bring awareness to your hands“
- – The Focuser speaks what he is experiencing in the body: „I am sensing something tight there“
- – The Companion reflects this back to the Focuser: „You are sensing something tight there“
- – The Focuser gives a sign when he is ready for the next prompt, with a „yes“, „ok“, a „nodd“ or other „sign“
- – The Companion gives a next prompt: „Let awareness come to your face“
Here is an example of a Interactive Lead-In:
(the prompts are from The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual Part One, Appendix A-7, short form)
Companion: „Let awareness come to your body…..“ AND THEN ADDS: and you might sense and describe what you notice when you do this. I will reflect it back to you so you can check, resonate, and receive, and then you might let me know when you are ready for the next lead-in invitation.”
Focuser: „I am sensing a tiredness in my neck“
Companion: „You are sensing a tiredness in your neck“
Companion: „your arms and hands…..“
Focuser: „I feel a strong tingling there“
Companion: „you feel a strong tingling there in your arms and hands“
Companion: „your legs and feet……“
Focuser: „I am aware of a stream of energy“
Companion: „You are aware of a stream of energy“
Companion: „and the contact of your body on what you’re sitting on…..“
Focuser: „I am sensing a burning where my sitting bones are“
(The ending of the Interactive Lead-In)
Companion: „And let your awareness come inward…throat, chest, stomach, belly”. AND THEN ADDS: „And you can stay quiet and not speak for the next moments as you rest in the inner area of your body“
Companion: „And remembering your starting place………………“
Some important points
The purpose of the Interactive Lead In is to foster a strong attunement between the Focuser and the Companion right from the start. The Focuser will speak short sentences that are easy to reflect for the companion. The Companion is not pulled into the thinking mind a lot and will have capacity to attune to the melody of the Focusers voice and the mimics and gestures of the Focuser. After the Companion reflects back, the companion has to be attuned to the Focusers signal before giving the next prompt. The Focuser is supported to sense and stay in the body because she/he has to name what is felt there. The finding a name for what is felt will increase curiosity.
It is important to be aware of the interaction component of the Interactive Lead In:
companion: invitation > focuser:sense > f:symbolize > c:reflect > f: check/resonate > f: receive > f:indicate ready for next invitation > repeat
The Interactive Lead In, even a short form, takes more time than the Classical Lead-In. It is important to be aware of that and not get concerned when you try it out the first times.
Of course as companion you may want to use your own wording of leading a body-awareness, feel free to do so.
When the Focuser speaks a positive Feeling, the Companion can after the reflection add something like: „….and you might take a moment to really enjoy and savor that feeling of _______“
The phase of testing the Interactive Lead In
I did the Interactive Lead In in a Focusing partnership 14 times with 14 different partners, 7 from my Focusing certification program, 6 from the Getting Free – a year of untangling course and one person from a Path 1 Course. Each was in the role of the companion first and then as the focuser second in the same session.
After the Focusing session I discussed the following points with the partners in a relaxed conversation:
Questions to explore:
In the role of the Focuser
• What is your overall sense of how the Interactive Lead-In went?
• How did it influence your relationship with your Companion?
• How did it influence the whole focusing process that comes after the Interactive Lead-In?
In the role of the Companion
• What is your overall sense of how the Interactive Lead-In went? • How did it influence your relationship with the Focuser?
In the following, I have summarized statements made by my partners in response to the above questions. These are statements that seemed significant to me. They are also statements that mostly were made more than once.
From the side of the Focuser
What is your overall sense of how the Interactive Lead-In went?
• Loved it, liked it, enjoyed it
• Gives confidence in partnership
• enormous safety, all parts came to trust, safety for being with a Small One,
• Focuser is empowered from the start
• More curiosity
• The Interactive Lead In does not just pass by like a gale of wind, I do not drift off • Can guide the Companion by saying when I want next prompt
• Really ending up in the body
• Sense of encouragement to be in the body
• Starting place comes easily
• Melody of Companions voice gave safety, joy
• Importance of having unpleasant experience spoken back
How did it influence your relationship with your Companion?
• I can rely on the Companion • trust in Companion
• Playfulness and joyfulness
• Strong connection to Companion • More resonance
How did it influence the whole focusing process that comes after the Interactive Lead-In?
This question could not be answered in a convincing way, the focusers noted that they could not know wether the process was different with a Classical Lead In
From the side of the Companion
What is your overall sense of how the Interactive Lead-In went?
• really liked it, loved it, it is like gold
• More ease in guiding the process after
• Quicker connected, quicker feeling being a Companion • Simplicity of reflecting
• More connection with inner experience of Focuser
• Slowed process down
• More time, more space, more resonating
How did it influence your relationship with the Focuser?
• Strong heart connection
• Feeling Grateful to be Companion • Gives Confidence in Partnership
Easy to learn
As I anticipated the Interactive Lead In was easy to do for all subjects in the role of the companion and the focuser. I noted a bit of reluctance to try the Interactive Lead In in the subjects from my certification training, however once they did it, they gave very positive feedbacks. The subjects from the Getting Free class took the Interactive Lead In up very easily in the role of the companion, once they had experienced it from that perspective, they were curious to try it in the role of the focuser.
I found a very simple way to teach the Interactive Lead In to my Focusing Partners. I first briefly explained that I was developing a new form of Lead In, an Interactive Lead In. I then asked my Companion to start with a Classical Lead In and then invited my Companion in the process to speak back what I was feeling, experiencing. After a short pause I then said: can you now give me the next Invitation. My companions thus learned the Interactive Lead In on the go.
The Interactive Lead lets both companion and focuser experience greater safety and trust in the relationship and in the Focusing process itself.
Some points where the Interactive Lead In could bring an added value compared to the Classical Lead In
In the role of the Focuser:
Perhaps the most important point is that the Focuser enjoys the Interactive Lead In more and that a playfulness can emerge. Compared to the Classical Lead In, the Focuser is more empowered by being able to co-determine the pace in the Interactive Lead In. This brings more trust and security in the partnership. Since the Focuser is looking for words for what he experiences and then shares them, his interest is awakened. He drifts less into mind wandering. The Focuser ends up more in his body. A strong heart connection to the companion easier develops.
In the role of the Companion
Again, the most important point seems to me that the Companion loves the Interactive Lead In. The Companion feels connected to the Focuser faster than in the Classical Lead In, a heart connection can develop easier. Because reflecting is so easy in the Interactive Lead In, the Companion has more time and space to attune to the Focuser. The Companion gets more of the Focuser’s inner experience. Since the Companion and the Focuser are already tuned in at the end of the Interactive Lead In, the Companion has an easier time companioning the Focuser’s process that follows.
Something from my own experience with the Interactive Lead In
I have found that for me in the role of Focuser, listening to the melody of my partner’s voice is an efficient way to become more present. When I bring some of my attention to the qualities of the voice, I become more energized, more joyful, and then feel more connected to my Companion and can then go „deeper.“ See the post below on awakening factors.
Depending on the Partner, I have experienced great differences in doing the Interactive Lead In. In the role of the Focuser, with some partners, the Interactive Lead In took me to a place, into bodymindstates, where I was extraordinarily open, flowing and alive. Qualities that for me belong to Self in Presence – so an excellent starting point for the following Focusing Process. I wondered what might have led to these extraordinary bodymindstates.
I had videotaped an Interactive Lead In for demonstration purposes. I remembered Interactive Lead In as being an outstandingly intense one. As I watched this video, I saw myself going through a series of mental states that I knew from another context. I noticed that I became very mindful very quickly in the Interactive Lead In, that looking for words to describe what I was feeling made me very curious, I saw how awake and energized I became, then I saw how I began to rejoice, to laugh, and then I saw how calm and very absorbed I became. This sequence of mental events is very familiar to me from the Buddhist meditation „Insight Dialogue“. These mental events are called „the seven factors of awakening“, they are: Mindfulness (sati), Curiosity (dhamma vicaya), Energy (viriya),Joy (pity),Tranquility (passaddhi), Absorption (samadhi), Equanimity (upekkha). These factors are highly appreciated in Insight Dialogue, explored and applied in contemplations. Each of these factors, when conscious, can awaken and strengthen the next one in that sequence. For those who can master and balance these factors, the ancient scriptures say nirvana to be not far away. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to pay attention to these seven factors, worthwhile in the sense that Self in Presence would be promoted and the Focusing Process would go deeper?
Already in the Classical Lead In the Focuser is invited to search for phenomena that are qualities of Self in Presence. The following phrase is used: „As you bring your awareness in, notice what already feels open, flowing, alive, even just a bit… and acknowledge whatever doesn’t feel like that“.
The Companion could be awake for this, if one of these 7 awakening factors appears in the Focuser and invite to notice this state. „You might notice how curious ( mindful, joyful, still, absorbed) you already are.“
Another point became evident to me while watching the video. The tone of the Focuser’s and Companion’s voices was very melodious, friendly, inviting and playful. In retrospect, I really became aware of how I am paying attention to the melody in the Companion’s voice in an Interactive Lead In. This paying attention to the Companion’s voice often results in the voices becoming more melodic. When the Companion’s voice becomes more melodious, (and mine too), something happens in me, I become more energized, more joyful, more connected, more playful. I would like to explain this with a little digression into the polyvagal theory of Steven Porges. When the Companion’s tone becomes friendlier, I will involuntarily activate a muscle in my middle ear via the ventral vagus nerve to fully hear these melodic variations. Now higher tones and their modulations are better heard by me. The ventral vagus nerve in me also goes to the heart and regulates my heart rate, makes it „softer“. This is accompanied by a change in my emotionality, my heart emotions awaken: I become friendlier, more compassionate, more emphatic, more curious, more secure, more playful. The same ventral vagus nerve in me innervates my vocal cords: my voice becomes more melodious. My Companion activates his ventral vagus nerve even more to catch the melodious variations in my voice. The same sequence is now happening in the Companion. Both partners now are in a feedback loop that lets the heart qualities become stronger. These events were experienced by my interviewees and described as „more heart connection.“ Heart connection, of course, is exactly what our Inner Parts want from us as well.
In my opinion, both the Classical Lead In and the Interactive Lead In are extremely valuable tools for entering into a Focusing process. The Interactive Lead In is quick and easy to learn for a person who has mastered the Classical Lead In, virtually with one time of doing. The Classical Lead In tends to make the Focuser calmer, more self-focused, more present and more embodied. The Interactive Lead In tends to make the Focuser more awake, more connected and relational, more curious, and more energized physically and mentally. I would like to invite Focusers to experiment with both Lead Ins. With experience, the Focuser will be able to develop a sense of which of the above qualities are most helpful in that particular Focusing session for the Focusing Process to go deep.