Notes from Katarina:
* Below is a story given to us by Mary Jennings for a teleconference we hosted in March 2009. Mary first wrote the article in 2007. In November 2009 the story was published by Ann Weiser Cornell in ‘The Focusing Connection. On this study page, I added a few highlights and section headings to further our learning and illustrate the TAE process * more on our Thinking at the Edge study page
The Tricycle Effect
How to think further with focusing
by Mary Jennings,
first written in 2007
A kind of patience
It started with a round of personal focusing. I was uneasy– hassled -about something or other, wondering how to be with all of that. With the focusing attitude of allowing, a memory came, one from way back when I was a teenager in my home town. I recalled how, every evening in the summer time, young John Duggan used to cycle up and down the street on his tricycle. Mr Duggan, his father, was always with him on these occasions. John had a severe learning disability, never said very much or interacted with people, but he loved going up and down, up and down on that tricycle, never straying far from home ground. His father stayed discreetly behind him, helping him turn occasionally, otherwise just patiently being with him as he slowly, endlessly, pedalled his way along the street. I stayed with this memory and then came the shift: ah!, this is how I am to be with what is troubling me – in the same way Mr Duggan is with young John, patiently, discreetly,
allowing it time just to be there, helping it along only when needed. By having that kind of patience, the whole thing was carried forward, moved, shifted, to the point where I don’t even recall now the details of what the trouble was; it has long since been well satisfied.
From private to public
Some time later, when I was learning about the Thinking at the Edge (TAE) process, including Gendlin’s ideas on carrying forward, crossing and concept formation, I became curious about what was going on when that memory came so perfectly, so wonderfully, so amazingly to meet just what I needed. If I worked further on this, beyond what came during a particular focusing session, what might I be able to articulate about what I now understand by ‘patience’? How could I, to paraphrase Gendlin, enter further into the intricacy of my experience and bring into the public domain the richness found there?
I began by recalling again the whole situation of me and the Duggan family back then, in that town, thirty years ago. What was it about all of that, particularly in the way Mr Duggan was with his son that I had implicitly known, felt and understood that was somehow significant? Stray thoughts, small details began to jell into a bigger picture…
At that time, thankfully the situation has changed for the better since then, people with severe learning disabilities were not considered to be able to do much, they were not even seen much and chances were, they would end up in an institution because no one knew what else to do. That was there, implicit in the situation. But young John was out in the streets, the same as the other kids on the block, his father helping him only to the extent he needed……
Lots of instances
I see that there is an air of quiet defiance in Mr Duggan as he walks, steadily, hands behind his back. By his very presence he is shielding his son from the well-meant mutterings of passers- by (“Poor boy!”; “It’s the parents I feel sorry for!”). “No need to feel sorry, this is John’s street too”, he is saying.
He is keeping a respectful distance from John, allowing him his own space, tenderly offering him light assistance to negotiate the tricky turn where the street curves; “this is my son in whom I am well pleased”, I hear him say as he watches him go back up the street, slowly.
As a well liked pharmacist, trusted for his advice to all comers in his practice, Mr Duggan is using his own quiet authority to show us how we should be with John: “I
can’t heal my son, but he is to be treated in a proper manner, with all the dignity and respect he deserves”: yes, he is saying that too as they meander down the street again. And there is more…. In that apparently simple situation, all of that ‘more’ is there, knowingly felt.
Expanding the concept
I began to wonder what happens when I look for the qualities and insights that I see in all of these instances of ‘patience’. Another way of saying it is to ask what are the patterns that I can discern in these instances that I can use to say more. Let me tell you:
Patience is not only tender, respectful and loving, it is quietly defiant; it knows how to hold its own ground. It has a calm, silent authority that insists by example what must change. It empathises with pain and suffering but provides a way of going beyond mere endurance. You can trust its strength and wisdom. It moves slowly but at the right pace; it’s always there, right behind you, offering you just the help you need. Its power is felt by others; it changes them too.
My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines patience as,” calm endurance of pain or of any provocation; quiet and self-possessed waiting for something; perseverance; forbearance”. There is all that and more in how I now describe the concept, having reflected on this particular experience of it. This is an important point; ‘patience’, when I use it, cannot mean just any old thing or it would be meaningless; I could not communicate anything of what I want to say if I just decided to use the word ‘rhubarb’ to hold all of what came to me. No, when I used the word ‘patience’ it has crossed with all the public meanings of that word and my own situation. With my description, definition, instance, I can add a new member to the use-family of the word. In doing that, I draw out particular facets of the concept which came to me in this reflected-upon memory.
Recall that what I needed in my original focusing session was to be patient with myself.
What I discovered was to be patient in this kind of way. What I did in reflecting upon it further was to bring this expanded understanding into the public domain; this is what I mean by going further in thinking with focusing.
Significant fleeting encounters
Perhaps it is time to stop a moment and ask, “Is all this just my fanciful interpretation of what was going on with Mr Duggan and John all that time ago?” In one way, the answer is “of course, yes, it’s just my interpretation”; I certainly cannot verify it. In another way, it was part of my situation also, just as it was for the passers-by with their sense of, ‘Poor boy!’ We lived in that community; we implicitly lived, felt and experienced that way of
living, knew that there was a certain expectation of how people with a disability might live and be treated, knew whose opinion and authority counted and whose didn’t, knew what was said and unsaid about all manner of things; all of that was there in our seemingly fleeting encounters on the street on summer evenings.
The Tricycle Effect
In honour of what that father and son taught me, I call this the ‘John Duggan tricycle effect, or the Tricycle Effect for short. I think of it this way: I see the word PATIENCE in big, block letters, fixed and immovable, well defined, commonly understood. Then I see young John Duggan on his tricycle, weaving his way in and out between those big letters, pushing them slightly sideways, moving some of the letters behind one another. He does not knock them down, or distort them so that we can’t read them; rather in making space for his own path, he actually makes more space for P A T I E N C E; more can be included in this concept as a result of his meanderings.
The ‘tricycle effect’, this allowing of what came as a memory to ‘speak’ to me, showed me a way to understand patience differently. My idea of patience has evolved from one of:
- Passive endurance to active wisdom
- Waiting for change to a way of making change
- Quiet perseverance to silent authority
Changed concept, changed way of living
When I see this ‘new’ kind of patience in action I know now that it has the power to change people. When I see the ‘old’ kind of patience, the ‘quiet endurance’ kind of the dictionary , the kind that is content to ‘offer things up’ or ‘put up with things’, I want to say, “there is more possible; allow me to say what that might be”. I don’t need now to tell the one specific story of John and his father, I have a concept that can be applied or talked about in all sorts of ways.
It might give me, and others, a new way of working in some particular situation. The idea can be taken up and used by other people who know nothing of how it originated. It can become part of the existing form of our culture with the potential to change the way we live in some small, but perhaps significant ways.
The power of focusing
Concepts and ideas are powerful. They influence how we think and live. Focusing can allow us develop new ideas and concepts if we take it further than some focusing sessions. Try this for yourself. Allow a memory word, an image, a snatch of song…. to come about something that moves you, still touches you. Something that won’t go away about some aspect of your life that you care about. Something that comes in one session that you feel has a richness to it. Allow the Tricycle Effect to weave in and out to what comes; allow it to show you the qualities that are there, and to show you how can apply these to change, develop, soften existing notions, idea and concepts. Then just wait, with a new kind of patience, for the more that you know to show itself.
Mary Jennings, July 2007
Mary Jennings is a business consultant and lives in Dublin, Ireland. She is interested in applying focusing to work situations. She can be contacted at [email protected]