Embodied Situated Cognition /The Felt Sense

Gendlin’s notion of the felt sense emerged from his empirical research (in associatin with Rogers) into the frequent failures of psychotherapy and why it works when it does (Gendlin, 1981: 3). Those who were successful in therapy came to an inner knowing which Gendlin called the "felt sense", "a special kind of internal bodily awareness … a body-sense of meaning" (Gendlin, 1981: 10) which the conscious mind is initially unable to articulate. A felt sense is more than just an emotion, though it usually has an emotional aspect: In everyday terms, the felt sense describes the fuzzy feelings that we don’t usually pay much attention to - a vague 'gut feeling' or that inexpressible sense of unease we express as 'I'm not quite feeling myself today' or 'I just got out of bed the wrong side this morning'. A intuitive understanding of the felt sense is required to really understand Gendlin's work, so I will give a few more examples. Imagine you are at a conference and spot someone that you have 'a bit of a history' with. How does that feel? Maybe some butterflies. Maybe some vague memories. A mixture of things. That feeling is a felt sense. Or let's say you're taking a walk on a beautiful fresh morning, just after a rain storm, and you come over a hill, and there, hanging in the air in front of you is a perfect rainbow. As you stand there and gaze at it you feel your chest welling up with an expansive, flowing, warm feeling. That feeling is also a felt sense. In many such ordinary situations we sense that something is wrong - or right - but may find it difficult to express just what that wrong - or rightness - is.

We have all had a sense of not knowing what we're looking for, but being certain that we will know what it is when we find it. A poet, graphic artist, or indeed theoretician, will often have a sense of what their creative work needs to move forward, but it may initially be beyond their grasp. In such situations there is a knowing and a not knowing at the same time. What is known in this case is tacit and embodied and we seek to shift it into explicit conscious knowing. In each example the missing something - the next step in the process - is 'implied' by what is already there and this implied 'implicit' is one of Gendlin’s central concepts. If we delve into our felt sense of the implicit, it begins to open up and "comes to imply more and more", revealing itself as an "unseparated multiplicity" (Gendlin, 1997b: 16; author's emphasis). Thus our experience suggests that the "bodily . . . . . [the 'implicit'] can contain information that is not (or not yet) capable of being phrased" (Gendlin, 1992: 349). But how? Gendlin's explanation meshes with the understanding of embodied situated knowing described by enactivism: The body "is an ongoing interaction with its environment" (Gendlin, 1992: 349) and this explains how the felt-sense could access "a vast amount of environmental information" and how new creative work can emerge from it. Furthermore "if such a self-sensing body could also think, and could use its bodily . . . . . in its thinking, well, it would always think after, with, but with more than conceptual and language forms. This more would be realistic since it would be the body-environmental interaction" (Gendlin, 1992: 350). Gendlin emphasizes that as a result of this approach the subject/object distinction collapses: "We will move beyond the subject/object distinction if we become able to speak from how we interact bodily in our situations" (Gendlin, 1997b: 15).


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