Embodied Pathways

Focusing and psychedelic experience: An interview with João da Fonseca

August 22, 2023 Adrian Harris
Embodied Pathways
Focusing and psychedelic experience: An interview with João da Fonseca
Show Notes Transcript

Focusing is a powerful way to access the wisdom of the body. It was identified by Eugene Gendlin in the 1950s and is widely used in therapy.  In 2009 Alicia Danforth suggested that Focusing could be a valuable tool in psychedelic-assisted therapy, but João da Fonseca is one of the few people in the world who have explored this possibility. João is a Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist with 20 years of clinical experience. He’s qualified in a wide range of approaches, including Transpersonal, Existential, EMDR and Focusing-Oriented Therapy. João is at the forefront of psychedelic-assisted therapy and currently works at the Liminal Minds ketamine clinic in Portugal. He is a contributor to the first book in Portuguese on psychedelic-assisted therapy, Psicadélicos em Saúde Mental (2023).

Episode outline:

João describes his work at  Liminal Minds and sets out the principles of psychedelic-assisted therapy. He then explains what Focusing is, unpacking the way that it enables us to access the implicit wisdom of the body. We then turn to the question of how Focusing can be used to support psychedelic-assisted therapy. We consider the role of Focusing in the preparation stage, during dosing and in integration sessions. We then consider the importance of the inner healing guide and how Focusing relates to this fundamental aspect of psychedelic-assisted therapy.  Focusing can also support the therapist or psychedelic guide: João explains how he uses Focusing during dosing sessions as a way of being fully with the participant. The insights he gains from this can be valuable in subsequent integration sessions, helping to bring more clarity to the participant's process.

It becomes apparent from our conversion that there are fundamental parallels between Focusing and psychedelic experience. That opens further questions about the nature of the embodied human psyche. We conclude that this is just the beginning of a much bigger conversation: Both Focusing and psychedelics " are openers of the mystery". Join us on our journey of exploration!

References:

Danforth, A., 2009. 'Focusing-oriented psychotherapy as a supplement to preparation for psychedelic therapy'. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 41, No. 2.

Gendlin. E. 1981. Focusing. Bantam, New York.

Liminal Minds psychedelic-assisted therapy clinic: https://www.liminalminds.pt/en/





Focusing and psychedelic experience: An interview with João da Fonseca 

Adrian:

Welcome to the Embodied Pathways podcast. If you've been listening to other episodes, you'll have heard me talk about a way of listening to the wisdom of the body called Focusing. We'll be taking a deeper dive into focusing this time and looking at how it might be used to support psychedelic assisted therapy.

I'm hugely excited about this, as I can honestly say, we'll be exploring new ideas in this episode, and I'm delighted to introduce João da Fonseca, to guide us on this journey. João is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist with 20 years of clinical experience. He's qualified in a wide range of approaches, including transpersonal, existential, EMDR, and Focusing-oriented therapy.

João is at the forefront of psychedelic-assisted therapy and currently works the Liminal Minds Ketamine Clinic in Portugal. João is also one of the very few people in the world who's bringing together, focusing and psychedelic experience. João, welcome. 

João:

Hi, Adrian. Thank you so much for receiving me. I'm feeling really excited for this moment. It's fresh, it's new. You know, I think it's actually the first time where we can talk about the possibility, the potential of these two things, psychedelics and Focusing. I think this never happened - maybe once or or twice in little talks with people -and hearing you say my path, and now arriving at this moment, where we can try to make a bridge and bring some clarity about how this can be helpful. It really means a lot - It resonated. 

Adrian:

Lovely. Fantastic. So it would be good to hear a little bit more about your work at Liminal Minds. Could you say about what it is that you do there? 

João:

Sure, of course. In 2020, I, I worked in a foundation to a study, a clinical trial on psilocybin with people with treatment resistant depression. And there was also the possibility to do a trial with MAPS and PTSD - from MAPS too. This in the same center. And I got the opportunity to do the training for the psilocybin with Compass and do the training with MAPS too. That was a very big privilege, But we only got to do the study on, on psilocybin and then with time, things didn't continue in the center

And before I went there I just had almost left my private office just to embrace this project. Things didn't work out the way I wished it to. And then I decided, okay, this is not kind of my context, and I'm not very much into science itself - I’m into the therapy. And I decided, okay, it's time to go to what makes resonance to me. So I got back to my office and three days later I met with a friend and just tell me the news that he was working at this clinic where they were using ketamine assisted therapy. So just got to talk and things got very well in-tuned. And I started working there a year, year and a half ago. We're a a team of six people and we are receiving a person with also depression diagnosis. We have a sensibility towards the importance of therapy or support during the use of this substance. And ketamine is a substance that's already legalized, so it's used in what we call off-label, which means it was designed in regulated to work as an anaesthetic, but then they discovered that it could be used for anxiety and depression because people get good results or signs after ketamine. There's even some stories saying - I mean, this is actual facts that happen in the War of Korea. They found out that the soldiers that were injured and part of them were treated with opioids and the other part were treated with ketamine. So the ones that were treated with ketamine, they got less PTSD symptoms. So this opened their eyes and said let's see more about it. And now it seems to have this good acute effect that that also lasts. 

Basically we have this protocol where we receive people, they are screened by a psychiatrist. Then we have two preparation sessions - This is a protocol that is typical to research in the major trials on psychedelics. So we have these preparation sessions where we know the person, her worldview, her intentions, how she's feeling about herself and and the world. We create an alliance and trust, which is a major thing. I cannot overstate how trust is the most important thing we have as humans to survive, what holds everything together. If we can take care of trust, if we can build our relationships on this ground of trust, things just open up to different levels. And these two sessions, I would say that the major point was, is, ‘Okay, I'm here by your side, this is what's gonna happen. I'll be with you all through the way, because some things might open up differently than we are used to’. And we really need to feel that the person is prepared and the trust is there so we can go through. And then we have dosing sessions, and for each dosing session we have an integration session too. The protocol says that the ketamine, we need at least four dosing sessions, more or less. So the effects - not only the non-pharmacological and experiential, but also the pharmacological - so they can, you know, enter the system. If you say like: if we have a dry land and big rain comes up, you know, just one big rain, it can collapse. So you need more rains consistently so the thing might sediment inside. And then we see, we evaluate what's happening and we can check with the person also if one maintenance session is needed or not. 

So basically that's what we do. I'm really glad because it's a very human team, and I know this sounds weird, but we also know how trust is important. We not only work on the professional agenda, but there's personal stuff in a way we take care of it on a safe environment too. We wanna be small - this is our cooking, this is our restaurant. We don't want to franchise anywhere because we think this kind of a core connection will lose itself, will not be the same. This cannot be franchise. It can only be created by particular humans in a particular situation. 

Adrian:

That's lovely. And you and your team have recently published the first Portuguese book in this particular area.

João:

Exactly. Yeah, it was in Portuguese. And this was a group of young, very intelligent and good willed psychiatrists. There's also an association here in Portugal called Space where they trying to implement this with ketamine especially because it's the only one that's available now. And a couple, well, maybe 13 - 14 persons just connected to this area. We gathered all together and we created a very interesting reference and first step book for, you know, the history of this, it's the ethic of this, what is psychedelic assisted therapy and, yeah, we just published it and I think it's good, we are happy with the work. It's not easy to put this kind of book, the first time with our publishers in Portugal - it’s still a conservative country in some things.

Adrian:

Well done.

João:

Sometimes the pioneers and the first steps are the hardest. 

Adrian:

Yeah. Pioneering is definitely the right word to use in this context I think. Focusing is going to be a key part of this whole conversation, and we're both very familiar with Focusing - We use it professionally and and personally. Some of our listeners will know what it is, but some might not be quite sure. How would you sum up what Focusing is?

João:

You know, that's lovely because I could have this great planned answer to give, but also at the same time, I'm doing it right now here with you. So some actualization can come and I think that that links with Focusing too, in a way.

So the way I would describe it is a sort of a contemplative practice where you try to bring your attention down and inside. You kind of go into what is called the implicit wisdom of the body, that which we are not attentive to, because normally in our days we are focused in our things and very focused on what is on our environment externally. You know, we would say like William James and how consciousness is like water that has different states, one more regular than others, and they can also adapt to a different object or vehicle or glass where the water goes. I would say like most of this water is just focused on, ‘Am I safe? Am I behaving well? How are people reacting?’ So a lot is in this prefrontal part of the brain, in our eyes, and we do spend a lot of time on that mode. Focusing gives you a way to make a pause about all of those processes that are already conditioned and very trained, and some of them very rigid. And it's go inside, into your heart, into your guts, into what we are feeling and caring in the present moment in the body. So we kind of just open a space where we stop with this, uh, automatic things and in a very delicate, in a very gentle way, we try to hold space to what the body is carrying right now. And normally this works very well with a gentle approach. Like, you know, Gendlin used to say, well approach it like you are approaching a child that is scared or an animal that is hurt. So you're not gonna try to make therapy with it or think a lot or make a lot of noise. Just gonna sense the space. How can I approach that thing? And if you listen, if you really open that space, that thing will gently come more into awareness, will become more precise. So what is normally a very murky thing, with this type of attention, this type of ‘experiential listening’, we call it, the body reveals much more information about what is going on. And it can come through physical sensation, that you think: ‘Ah, just a headache’. Or it can come for feelings, or an image or thoughts or worry about something that happened. Energies, intuitions, movements, you know the body is so creative that if we allow it - to give it space - its avenues of expression just blossom in front of you. So I think it's a very, almost - I feel sacred when I do Focusing, when I go into that place, which is a place of knowledge.

When it opens up, it's normally something that makes a sense of revelation: Of course, of course it's that! I like to say it’s like you’re a kid at home and your parents are always working all the time outside in the world, and you know, when they come, they never have the intention to be with you. They're always outside. So this is like they’re coming home and talking to the child, or like your soul or your awareness is fully embodied and going inside. It returns home. So I'm getting emotional about, it's so, how much I, really, I’m blessed to discover this practice. 

Adrian:

Wow, thank you.

João:

Then different and much more singular from other contemplative practices, Focusing has this thing of doing partnerships with another person. So it's not only an intrapersonal thing, it's an interpersonal thing too, with the environment, because it's so important how much you are bonded intimately with an environment. Since you were in the womb and now in the earth, and now in the cosmos, wherever you wanna take that environment, where there are other people with other environments themselves. But this one, you have a person in front of you that knows this language, that knows this territory, and holds space for you while you do the journey inside. And this person is gonna help you, like gonna reflect, almost amplify what is coming from the body, what is coming from the felt sense. And normally when you're talking to people, what they reflect to you, maybe an opinion or maybe,’Oh, this happened to me too’, and then Focusing, you're just echoing, you know, also in the felt way, what the person is accessing in her body right there. And when you do this and when you hear your words or your gestures back to you, it's so odd in a way, but it's so incredible because that it's like it resonates back to you and the process can open up more, like it feels listened to. Or maybe you can say, ‘No, no, actually that's not what it is. It's more this’. So it can actualize itself by this reflection. So this is a very sustainable thing, I believe. Gendlin wanted to give free therapy to everyone, and a way to access themselves with other people, with others. I don't know; I wonder why is, isn't this more known? And maybe it has its own wisdom because sometimes I get scared about things that come up to the world and then how they are appropriated and completely distorted. This would be difficult to distort because it's in us, right? It's an experiential thing. It's always in us, but according to our conditions, our life experiences, et cetera, et cetera, sometimes we get a little bit alienated from it.

Adrian:

I think from the beautiful way you've explained Focusing, anybody listening who knows anything at all about psychedelic experience is gonna kind of get, this could be fabulous for helping somebody before, certainly afterwards, and possibly even during a psychedelic experience. So this is the juicy bit. This is the piece where we begin to explore what Gendlin - Gendlin's the guy who actually discovered Focusing - And he talks about crossings between different areas, and this where psychedelic experience crosses over with Focusing. So I'd love to hear, what are your thoughts on that? What, how can Focusing contribute to psychedelic experience or psychedelic assisted therapy?

João:

Yeah. Thanks Adrian, that's beautiful. I remember the crossing is also in the zigzag, right? Like we're dancing, but nobody's leading, but it's the whole thing that's working by itself, of course with a particular type of attention. And how that zigzag is important between what we are feeling in the body and what we're thinking about it or what we are selecting about it. So how we are symbolizing that experience, which can colonize the experience itself. So this is how important it is to have this sort of a dialogue. I think that will, definitely there are all the possibilities and potential to make this crossing between what psychedelics represent by themselves as an experience also in therapy and Focusing. Now that it’s doing their clinical trials and coming up more into mainstream, people are thinking, how, how are they gonna make this accessible to others, you know, how are they gonna make this in primary care and offering this? And there's many issues, costs, you know, two therapists or one therapist, some sessions, you know, there's a big struggle to try to find what's, how to put this inside, and how much therapy people might need afterwards. And maybe I would say like, Focusing can be in fact something really helpful before, doing and after. Absolutely. It's a Sancta Sanctorum of experiential approach, as an experiential approach. And Focusing can be a sustainable thing. It's can be taught or relearned, I would say, right? Because it's a natural ability, but you can develop this partnership which will help you process in time, not only the psychedelic experience, but also then your felt sense and your implicit knowledge of your body and connect to it. And this could be sustainable and this could make a good point on that.

Adrian:

This is one of the lovely things about Focusing. Once you know how to pay this attention in this particular way, you don't need a therapist! You might have a partnership - I have a Focusing partnership, which is really lovely, but you've got this special way of listening to your body and the body has its wisdom. So we'd be empowering people, wouldn't we? 

João:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Empowering people. Emancipating people also, you know. Good therapies, these therapies emancipate people, and it should be to emancipate, not to create dependency. So, you know - and I'm a therapist I'm saying this! It is, it's like you have a resource. You have a resource, like you have a well where you can get water. So you have that according to your emotions, to your life and access to your body, which is the only sensible, I would say, it's a majestic organism that allows you to have consciousness and does thousands of systems at the same time, your awareness without your control. It's taking care of your life the way it can. And it knows, it knows what you are living. And people have to access that. They have to have a way to, to find a bridge into that. Not so much outside or into a guru, or into a therapist or into, you know, the school, the fathers or … There's so much glamour now around psychedelics and how important they are - and they are, they're incredible substances. They're different from the medication. It's not a medication. This is, it's not a drug. It should be called a substance that creates temporary instability in your ingrained and sedimented process of, self-referencing identity - shakes them up, and then all parts, not only in the brain, the whole body, that normally are not connecting or crossing, to say in an explicit way. They just start, you know, a whole choreography of it. They are a key that they open the locker, the locker is in the door. This door opens to a room. This room is part of the house. The substances are only the key to unlock the door, the room, the house: That is our awareness. That is our organicity. That is our felt sense, our implicit wisdom of the body.

That is what choreographs and metabolizes the experience with psychedelics and metabolizes and choreographs also are Focusing when we're doing it in the same way. Yeah, psychedelics is like Focusing on steroids or something like that. In a way, I don't know what that experience is, but it's very intense. Its opens up this experiential siding, multiple layers of, of awareness. Emotional footsteps, parts of your history that you know, you forgot how meaningful they were or good of that, shaking your brain in a way that it kind of opens up. It can open up, like power of consciousness would open up and then you would see your intrapersonal stuff, you would see your interpersonal stuff and you would see your environmental stuff altogether. And mystical experience can happen a lot. Those are very connected to, to a big change in the person's perspective of things. And it just like have a, can have a journey where the brain is much more, um, amplified, I would say, in terms of what, what it carries and something like this.

There's what we call the Flight Instructions, in preparation sessions where you kinda, ease the anxiety for the person to have a little bit of sense of control about what might happen. We kinda role play the space where this is gonna happen, the bed, the eye shades, the music. And then there's a part where we kinda choose with the person what would be exercises that she likes, that relaxes them, that, you know, can help reduce a little bit of the anxiety. That is a moment where you can, for example, teach Focusing, you know, or do a simple exercise of Focusing - guide them through finding, you know, the feeling at home experience, for example. It doesn't need to be a place, but an experience in your life with a person or something that you like to do. Maybe it was in the place where you were born, where that gave you the sense of feeling at home. And even if you don't have it, well, try to imagine what that would look like, you know? And then you guide people into that and the music, and so they kinda start, putting their toes in this little water, you know - a little? Big, sorry, maybe it's an ocean! We, we don't know how, how big it is. So that could be a place for that for sure. Dosing sessions also, although there's this, there's this kind of, um, tendency and, and like respect, that this is an intimate job between the felt sense of a person and a substance, I would say - I can use Focusing language, so I can cross them, both of them and, and you kind of need to hold space, uh, not to bring stuff there or not to do therapy. Things have to really come from the person and you hold that space. Normally people might want to talk. It's important that people feel that they can do what's natural for them. But since there's this action of the substances, it's like an opportunity to have an open window so you can dive in that experiential dimension and see what comes. And we're there, we are keeping physical and emotional space safe in a way. 

Maybe after when the effect of the substances goes down, people can start to, coming back again or talking again, then that can be also a good place for experiential listening. Some things you can point, talk about or openly more, but the thing is like in Focusing when you just talk too much and you just go into language and concepts and you try to articulate things, you might be skipping your own process, you might be coming out of experiential knowledge. You're not listening, you are ‘Ya dah, dah, dah, dah, dah dah’. That's different. So you need to have this entangled spaces of space and of dialogue, you know. The experiential side and symbolic, articulated, creating, creating a meaning out of our things – that’s always the way.

And then in, in fact, integration. Integration is the major importance of the work with psychedelics. I guess also with Focusing, also with therapy, you know, in a sense where you can have a great experience with the therapist, you know, you have a great relationship, you know, you have a great insights when you, you're together. But then you go outside to the same world and you go to the same, you know, unhappy job, unhappy relationship, your environment and know same holds answers and things don't hold. They'll never hold. It's one hour of therapy a week normally, so all the rest of the hours. And if those things come back again, it's difficult to implement, a new behavior. So integration is very important. It's like how you put the seed in your world and the support you have through it. I think was George Harrison, the Beatles guitar player, that he said on an interview that he took a lot of LSD during his life, and he said, ‘Well, I kind of regret that because the first experience of LSD would give me enough material to work through my whole life’.

Adrian:

Wow. It's true, isn't it? Yeah. Integration is so important. Focusing comes in there. Focusing can be a way of helping people to stay with their embodied experience and unpack it. 

João:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, both of them have this effect, and psychedelics and Focusing open up to your experiential, to your embodied sensations, you know, to, what's underneath your thinking mind, your own ego, the way you are building and actualizing your place in the world all the time. What they call the default mode network. There's even something in the brain like a scheme or network of neurons that's rigidified and information passes there much more quickly, than in any others. And, and this is what is temporarily, shattered or shook, shaken. And, then they open up to other, levels of perception. We have the mental part, we have sensations part, we have the feeling part and we have intuition part. Why are we always, always on the logic and the causalities and what's the rest of our body? They don't teach this. I don't know. People access that. And also, so they, they both, they both are avenues for that.

One is not so gentle, I would say. I mean, it can be. Good too, of course, and, very welcomed. But it might come, uh, with more intensity and it comes because of an effect of on your system and it's, it can’t stop it. It's like entering in an airplane and it's not gonna go down until it reaches it’s destination, even if you don't want that. So we need to prepare people for that. And Focusing, no, there's more gentleness. You can work your way through what's, what's, um, safe for you. You're there with whatever is the conflict that's coming, but the way you approach it is also there's more, could be more manageable, I would say. 

Adrian:

Interesting that there seems to be a parallel between the way that Focusing is working - opening up an experiential awareness of our embodied experience - and psychedelics. It's like they're both doing a similar kind of thing. 

João:

Yeah, they actually do, you know, like, just our narratives, um, the idea is that our narratives gives us some space so we can listen to the rest of what we carry inside. And they are designed for that. One just, takes over a little bit and the other is more polite, I would say.

But, both of them, is the idea that they go straight to things that we carry. It's ours. So it's, I would, I would say a parallel where there are the things that you see with your eyes and there are the things that you feel with your body. I think as a scale here, which has a big difference. And they both make you look inside, like your eyes and go inside. So they do have this parallel thing. It would be very interesting to see them working together in some of these trials, for example.

Adrian:

Sometimes in psychedelic work we talk about the inner healing guide, and inviting people when they're in the experience to allow this inner healing guide to be with them and to guide them through the process. My sense is that this inner healing guide that we talk about in psychedelics is very similar to the wisdom of the body we're touching into with Focusing. Does that make sense?

João:

Absolutely. You know the word Gendlin used about, the implicit knowledge of the body, that thing which is not yet in your awareness or that thing that has not come into reflection yet. We think much more than we can speak of. But we feel much more that we can think of and we live much more that we can feel. And there's still much more than that. That's just one of, again, of Gendlin's quotes. And that sense about how the body's a kind of recollection of here and other places, me and other people, the whole universe. That's how we feel the body from the inside. And they just link, they resonate, of course, in my way of feeling and seeing things. This is already in us at a certain level, I would say, even in our cell or cellular knowledge. I remember the story about what we call the morula, like three to four days after conception. We are a morula, which is a conglomerate of cells. Right? And it installs in our mother's womb. That's what we are in the beginning of the beginning, after the crossing, maybe the first crossing, right? And, and this, this membrane is this is permeable. It allows you, because it has to be permeable because has these exchanges with the first environment, which is our mother’s womb. But it creates sort of a line or circle where this, there's space that can come up where this potentiality of life can be positioned. It has a place. So before our bodies get into bones, blood, brains, hearts - before then we get to identity and whatever comes in our development, there is space, you know? But in the beginning, it's not the verb, it's space. This sense of space - specialty too. But this space can be felt as an intrapersonal phenomenon, as an interpersonal - There I go again - And as a contextual also. Right. And we all, I guess, have the sense when we feel this space being contracted or reduced to a very small thing, you know, when you're scared and overpowered and things like that. And how I can feel that this space also expanding and being free, you know, and flowing. We feel this with certain interactions with people. We feel this in different situations. We feel this even with the thoughts and the worries we have. So there's some kind of knowledge already there about, it seems to be important, how to regulate that space, yours and others.

And then even before we know anything consciously, homeostasis is built inside the womb. It forms into a body, you know, a human, it grows, it, it knows how to be part of the birth too. It knows, it feels and comes a feeling in a movement where it wants to start crawling and then, becomes the moment where crawling gets frustrated, so there's something body that wants to stand and starts to walk. You know, there's, there's all these things in our bodies full of knowledge about how to live and how to adapt to the environment. Then sometimes language and culture can get in the way, not in the best way possible - It cuts us off from that.

Even when we developed language, we become with a lot of abstract thinking. You know, our connection to the environment, to the immediacy of our feelings and things, just changes forever. We can create worlds inside our brain - not connected to what is happening in our bodies or in our situation. And that might get too far apart sometimes. So this is there, this is accessible and uh, we have to work on a premise of some inner healing intelligence, the wisdom of the body, implicit wisdom, or there are many names, but they all point there. 

Adrian:

We've been mostly talking about how Focusing can be useful for the participant in a psychedelic experience, the person actually having the experience, but I'm wondering whether Focusing can also be valuable for the therapist or the guide or the facilitator - the person who's with that person.

João:

Yes. I mean, I'm almost alone in this because I want to find more people, find others that are putting together psychedelics and Focusing, or, I don't know, create that context. But through the way I have been working, you know, Focusing-Oriented therapy in a way, which is another way to use the Focusing, right. Also for people that don't know Focusing might be this, uh, general use of this contemplative practice where people go into their felt sense and they're listened by another one. And then they swap places and the one that we're listening is the one that goes into experiential journey or process. And, um, Focusing-Oriented therapy also has that for sure, but then it's used in the context of therapy. A slightly different relationship, but, I mean the same, I guess it's the same, dynamics and attention to the felt sense of the person. So what, what we also call experiential listening is this part of the, the way to bring up into awareness what the person really feeling or she really felt and how she's building her story about it around it.

So that's making a balance in a way that story and experience are as much as tied up and synchronized as they can. Sometimes there's too much story and then it loses connection with what was there. Or sometimes you have too much feeling and too much experience, and then things also can get lost - Losing the sense of the whole, or not so organized, I would say too. Developing that way of offering an experiential listening when you are with someone, you know, trust it, starting to trust it, and starting to let yourself be guided by it. I remember for example, once I was teaching Focusing, you know, on the end of the day, I’d presented a lot of information so my head was, I was having a big headache. One of the things that I do is I do a demonstration where I do my own Focusing - at that moment what's happening. I cannot rehearse this. I just go into my body and whatever it's coming, it's coming. Focusing is about that. Cut to your stories and go inside and see what what is, and there was a person listening to me and suddenly the headache was coming and so I was feeling it. And also I was articulating it like sort of a pedagogical way of people trying to understand the processing, symbolizing a narrative, and then accessing your experience and feelings. And then I got this clear message from my body and it's message feeling like, ‘Okay, raise your hand, join your hands together, and put them in your forehead like you're praying, like you were praying - like the symbol of praying’.

This communication came very clear, and when you start doing Focusing things are, if you're attentive, they're really sharp and clear. It's like when you give it that space, it's really precise. So it was asking me to put the hand like that in brain position, and my, my mind was like, ‘Oh, come on. Don't do that. That sounds religious. You know, I'm gonna do that here in front of these people? That's not adequate, da da, da’. So our inner critical, whatever wanna call it, was, trying to keep me safe, so things would go well. But then I have to go again: Why is my body asking? Can I express this? Can I do this or not? Maybe sometimes there's not the right place to do it and you don't do it. That's okay too. It's beautiful to say, ‘No’. It's good that you protect your energy and your life. But then it was like, okay, why not? And then after doing it, when when I did it, I understood that my head was falling down towards the hands, and my head was closer to my heart when I put it down. I don't know if you will understand this. 

Adrian:

Yeah, it makes sense. 

João:

And the hands were the bridge, the hands were the bridge that were putting the heart and the brain closer together. And when that happened, I honestly felt my energy in my head just melting away. I started to breathe. My body gave a deep breath, things shifted, and I'm like, ‘Wow’. So it's totally different from what my brain was thinking of hearing. And only after you cross it, only after you offer what the body is bringing, can you see what comes. So in your experiential listening, this is kind of the things that you try to do too, and you try to, in your own way of being present with the other person, you also try to be attentive to your felt sense. So this not only happens in therapy, but also in integration too if we're talking about psychedelics. In the dosing session because we wanna, people might be much more immersed, what I tend to do is like, is like, I'm Focusing while the person is doing that. I’m listening to my felt sense and I try to just, uh, create space for my mind. I open my eyes, I see the person, how they are, how they're breathing, you know, I'm there. Whatever they say, I'll listen, I'll pick up. But what I've been doing personally is like, okay, put up your body just to allow it to come, whatever comes. I write it down on my notes, and then I'll check them later. These things I pick up on, on the dosing sessions, then I, I might bring this also to an integration if it makes sense. ‘This came up for me. Does it make any sense?’ And the person can see if that can help or not, or open it. I will always say from the beginning, also, these things that Gendlin said, like, ‘Let's try to be attentive to your experiential things and work from it so everything that comes out, also check with that. Don't just take it, you know?’ Yeah. And in an open, safe, relationship, ideally, then you can see if things can happen well. Grow and expand or just, you know, ‘Actually that's not in it’, and that's good too. Bring that clarity for the moment of the person's process. 

Adrian:
Yeah. Always having that humbleness in the work, honouring the not knowing.

João:

Absolutely. It's part how you try to dance with this field. You know, you go from a place of not knowing – Existentialists would say ‘uncertainty’. I like to call it mystery. You're going into the mystery. I can have a feeling inside, I can talk explicitly to you like this, but inside I like, yeah, it's a mystery. Let's go, let's explore. You have all your knowledge acquired. That's very important, you know, it's your knowledge, it's human knowledge, tradition, it's whatever. But then you are here with your body, and your body is processing life right here. So let's go into that. You cannot understand what it is immediately - you have to go and explore. It's like you have the map, but then you have parts of this territories where you don't have a map. It happens alive right there for the first time, and you have to be okay to explore that part too. 

Adrian:
That's kind of where we are with this whole crossover between Focusing and psychedelic experience. We're in this unknown exploring, looking around what's there, but there's such richness, isn't there? 

João:
Yeah, you know, people, there's almost this big critic of people who can get over overenthusiastic about things - they need to be going into science and like enthusiasm could be a harmful thing. But you know, maybe in the protocol of science and how, uh, this is social systems work out, there are in fact rules and things that we need to to follow. But there's, there's a very delicate and important chance right now that we're having. These works, they were happening before, before the Industrial Revolution you know, in our own tribes. Men in a way have always searched for ways to explore different states of their own consciousness. Either way, though, with or without substances to access that: Mysteries of the whole universe. And so they didn't have all those books and all that science and then I would say they kind of find their way, didn't they? But then lately, I think something got a little bit complicated. I mean, we disconnected from there. So the first research and wave of researchers, psychedelics also came with some promises and then all these complications that, you know, turn it illegal. There were no scientific agendas. There were more political agenda, a generation of, of research on these substances just, disappeared or got lost. And now it's a second opportunity, I would say. So there's a lot to find out. We need also to support ourselves to other forms, contemplative practices or therapies that have been working with, with this sort of, um, experience. And let's see. We hope, we hope not to appropriate or colonize the essence of this experience and turn it into numbers or turn into medication or turn it into money. 

This is about, you know, giving people an opportunity to discover what their awareness might be, you know. Grof said that like the psychedelics can be for psychiatry, mental health, and the study of consciousness, what the telescope was for astronomy and what the microscope was for biology. Humbleness is needed. Between the whole knowledge we have on psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, even other areas of knowledge in society; what shift, what different perspective is this bringing to everything that we do? They are openers - Focusing and psychedelics, they are openers of the mystery, they are openers of the implicit, they’re openers of the blind spots. They are openers of a lot of those things. So, yeah, it's like, you know, okay, let's rest the watchtower of our brain and our eyes, and lets go into our hearts, let's go into our guts. See also what comes from there. And then particularly with psychedelics, what happens if it's the condition, you know, the condition temporarily, and almost like as an adult feeling, you know, your, your brain, maybe a child or fully open: This is what people might call like a mystical experience. Connected to the unity of things. There's a larger history around this in your own life, around you. Even difficult moments, of course, pain, suffering - I see you. You have to work through them, you know, understand them, own them again. Repairing those stuff again. You have to know your pain so you know yourself too.

That's the kind of thing that, uh, that we're talking about. And people are scared. They, people are scared. They don't want do their work and it's okay. Maybe they're in a position which is hard. Maybe their whole world was shattered and there are some treatments and responses in society for that. But this is something different. To know what we are researching, we need to know what that might bring if we go through that door.

Adrian:

João, there's so much more we could explore here. This is such rich territory, but we need to bring it to a close. I'm kind of tempted to think we're gonna have to revisit this because there's so much more to talk about on this topic.

João:

No, I'll be glad to. It was a very nice journey with you here and, yeah, things also have to end. We also have to honour that. And thank you for the opportunity. 

Adrian:

Oh, that's lovely. In closing, I just wanna mention the Liminal Minds website. I'll be putting the full address on the podcast website. It's ‘Liminal Minds.pt’. I've got the full link for people here. 

João:

Thank you so much. It's good for our team. We have a English site too.

Adrian:
I'll link to that and hopefully people can go and have a look and find out more about what you're doing. Fabulous. Thank you very much. We're gonna explore this more. This is just the beginning, I think of our journey together.

João:
Yeah. And thank you for holding space so well, too. I think things come out - It was not only from me. 

Adrian:
Good. Lovely. Thank you and thanks everybody for listening, and we'll see you next time.

João:
Bye-Bye everybody.