Notes on Marta Stapert’s process of Focusing with Babies
During the 2002 Children Focusing Conference, Marta Stapert asked me to “listen to the voice of her process” that she used when connecting with babies.
We engaged in a shared field of exploration, directing our awareness into the ‘feel of her process’ -sensing into the nature of the shared field between focuser and child, and allowing that to have words…..
Marta was sensing into her process from the inside.
I was not only reflecting back, but also I was sensing into my experience of her during the conference, and some of what she had written.
What follows is how I described this on the Focusing Discussion list, with newer commentary from 2014 in brackets [ ]:
“On the last day of the conference, some of our focusing time was directed towards 'sensing into' what is occurring when a listener is listening/focusing with babies.
We explored this as listeners, as practitioners, and as ‘felt-sensing observers’ into the process.
We began with wanting to understand:
"What is foundational in us around the felt sense and focusing?
Where does this foundation with listening/focusing with children and babies start?
How can we understand this more deeply?"
A few of the threads that were included in this were:
-Marta's experience of her own process listening and working with babies and children.
-My sense of Marta's process that I picked up during her demonstrations and presentations at the conference.
-Marta’s article [in 'The Focusing Connection'] describing some of what she and others are doing with babies in Romania.
-A comment Marta made months ago about 'the felt sense as a VERB'.
-Ann Weiser Cornell's comment that "in a way, it seems that the baby IS the felt sense."
(While Marta’s process with babies, and her ‘sensing into’ her own focusing process was key in articulating what follows, we wanted to be clear that what follows applies to focusing with children or
babies IN GENERAL. We used what we knew and “what Marta does” as an ‘INSTANCE’ of the process of listening to children and babies that ANY good listener does.)
1) Thread One – the nature of the baby’s felt-sensing.
The felt sense has a conviction of its own, a knowing.
SOMETHING is already there, in/with the baby.
This something is …. ???
Is it a felt sense?
(Hmm, not sure if ANY noun works here to describe this. Maybe it is not a thing.
How about a verb?)
Yes. THE BABY IS ALREADY FELT-SENSING.
There is something here about the fact that the baby is felt sensing, that FELT-SENSING IS AN ASPECT OF THE BABY'S NATURE.
The listener can 'sense that'/attune to that/ 'pick that up' and be with it.
[now, in 2014, I might not say that the baby is felt-sensing, because I have no way to know that. Given what is known now about social resonance circuity, I might say “the baby has an energetic nature, is living energetically. The listener can attune to some of those frequencies and connect energetically with the energy system of the baby.”]
The baby's felt sensing involves BOTH transmitting (its needs and wants) and receiving (something- from the environment or from the listener.)
When we sense into what is happening in the listener, there are:
a) Receptive qualities of love.
A warm welcoming acceptance, and a highly attuned sensitivity (receptive qualities of attention) to the nature and needs of the baby
b) and, transmitted qualities of love (expressions of warmth/love/energy from the listener towards the baby.)
Something is happening WHEN THE BABY IS HELD IN AN ATTENTIONAL EMBRACE by the listener.
When the baby is "held in that energy space", THE BABY CAN SENSE THAT SHE IS 'BEING HELD' in this way.
There is something very nourishing and life-giving that happens in the baby from:
- The healing and nourishing that is implicit in being embraced in this way - being 'fed' this loving care.
- When the baby registers, or recognizes, that she is being embraced in this way.
Either/each/ both of these recognitions can be experienced as felt shifts in the baby.
[since this was written, I have read Winnicott, and have personally experienced what it is like for an infant part of me to first connect interpersonally with the mother in a few Focusing sessions. I even more strongly agree with the above statements in 2014, than before.]
2) Thread Two. What actually happens energetically and attentionally within the baby, and between baby and listener.
The baby’s wanting involves a significant amount of her life energy and attention. Often, what is wanted is not something she can get for herself, but needs sensitivity and assistance.
The listener may be able to tune-into what the baby is feeling and needing.
In this listening, THE BABY IS BECOMING PART OF A FIELD (not only a separate thing from the listener; but there is also a shared field). THE LISTENER CONNECTS WITH THE FIELD OF THE BABY.
Something can happen between the two of them because of the shared field (there are links formed between felt and cognitive processing, and the link between two beings).
When this sort of thing happens, we sometimes feel a larger presence in the interactive field.
When this larger presence is there, we KNOW that it is there.
The Focusing attitude works on all sorts of levels.
The listener can be the loving attention and 'be with' the baby (as being and/or as felt sense):
a) THE UNIT OF LISTENER-BABY BECOMES ONE JOINED SENSING SYSTEM
b) And, there is a supportive loving holding space/ field AROUND that joined system, which is holding, protecting, nurturing it.
There is BOTH connection AND protection/safety happening in this interactive exchange.
All of what is being described above seems to be some of the MOVEMENTS OF LIFE at an energetic/felt-sensing level.
3) Thread Three - working with what is happening before and after a felt shift in the child.
What is the role of the listener and articulation - how does it help the baby, and what role does the listener play?
Something about 'life wanting to be known.'
Something is already FELT, it is "implicit", but it is wanting to be known in a different way, in a way of 'more'.
The listener plays a key role in this process.
There is something in the baby that is 'wanting to be known/ expressed'.
But the baby doesn't yet 'know' what that is.
The baby has an idea or a need - something that wants to be manifested.
Our caring and listening facilitates that process.
Something INSIDE the baby WANTS TO BE "KNOWN".
And IN THE LISTENING, WE TOUCH THIS PLACE in the baby.
The baby FEELS, she doesn't "know' yet. She does not have the articulation.
The listener provides the space and the sensing into (attuned conscious awareness) SO THAT THE BABY CAN BE MET ON THE LEVEL THAT THE BABY IS EXPERIENCING.
This increased space and capacity for conscious articulation (as in all Focusing) facilitate life-forward movement.
It is not the listener’s knowing, but the listener TOUCHING THE BABY'S KNOWING that is at the core of this.
LISTENING IS THE BRIDGE to articulation.
It gives space and a voice to 'what is wanting to come.'
There is a linking of 2 places - now they are no longer experienced as separate.
For example (from The Focusing Connection article about Marta with Romanian infants) realizing that 'the mouth needs to suck.'
The baby can be met with that knowing.
Any words THAT CONNECT to the baby’s experiencing would be ok.
(Marta didn't have to use English words to reflect, could have been in any language)
When there are the “WRONG words” (when the words are NOT an expression of/ connected with felt experiencing moving forward in some form), the felt cannot become known.
JUST THAT LINKING IN ITSELF is profoundly healing in some way, when this occurs within the space of a deep understanding.
Some further thinking about levels of connection and need of the babies. This came from adapting Gene Gendlin’s stages of listening and helping someone focus from the chapter called “The Listening Manual” at the end of his Focusing book:
<![if !supportLists]>a) <![endif]>Perhaps some babies, or (certain aspects of some babies), ARE 'NATURALLY CONNECTED’ in this way, just as some of Gendlin's therapy clients were.
In these situations, simply offering the baby a safe space and listening presence may be enough for the baby to 'shift' and more forward on her own.
<![if !supportLists]>b) <![endif]>? Some babies might need more help to CONNECT WITH THEMSELVES. Just like some adults need help with felt sense formation.
Here, the listener's sensitive receptivity can build a bridge, and 'energetic link' to the baby. The listener can assist in the connecting of the baby to herself, or to some ‘understanding’ of what is wanting to come forward.
3) Some babies MAY NEED HELP IN “ARTICULATING” what comes.
By linking up the listener's awareness and cognition with the babies felt sensing, the baby's life forward movement/felt shifting is facilitated greatly.
To say the upper few sentences again in another way, there are a few levels on which the listener assists in this:
A) There is the connection in itself. Listening and connecting BUILD A BRIDGE OF CONNECTION to the child.
B) The articulation of the need by the listener, the finding the right words, may be associated with a felt shift of being not only connected, but also UNDERSTOOD.
C) If something more is necessary in order to actualize what the need is wanting, (such as making a special nipple for the child to use), then the listener can communicate that need to others the
communication of that need to the outside world builds another bridge of connection. (the 'word needing to become flesh')
So, the ‘action’ or expression that is needed to complete the knowing may BE word, or it may be communicated BY a word.
…in other words,
-sometimes simply 'being held' is enough.
-Sometimes one also needs to 'be heard' - by another aspect of oneself, or by another - and that is enough.
-And sometimes, the next life-forward step is taking a needed action, or offering some form of needed care TO the baby, to that which one listened to.
In these cases, this ALSO TAKING EXTERNAL ACTION is implicit in the listening - to NOT do that could be considered 'not listening' in a way.
If you ARE already connected to your own or another's 'felt sensing system', then ANY additional spaciousness and attention will help allow the felt sense to unfold. (More than one listener can be
As Marta concluded with: "We need to be in the same way with adults and with babies."