Going In Doesn’t Mean Going Deep – Part I

Going In Doesn’t Mean Going Deep - Part I by Rachel Alexander{3 minutes to read}  What’s wonderful about focusing is that it can disabuse us of the misconception that ‘going in’ (turning our attention inwardly) has to be going deep. Going inside can feel threatening in that it’s unfamiliar and intangible. If we go in, we might feel we cannot modulate how fast or far we go. There may be concern of being overwhelmed by negative emotion or exposed to more than we can handle. Once we see what’s there, what if we don’t know how to handle it, and can neither unsee it, nor force it back into hiding? Going within can seem as daunting as the horizon line appeared to early explorers — what is over the edge of the earth?

Continue reading Going In Doesn’t Mean Going Deep – Part I

Positive Psychology

Balance the pH of Your Psyche with Positive Psychology and Focusing

Positive Psychology by Rachel AlexanderPositive psychology tells us that it only takes a fraction of a second for something negative to imprint upon us (and usually stay with us ever after). Positive experiences, on the other hand, don’t automatically adhere. We have to deliberately attend to positive feelings, and linger in them, in order for them to establish themselves and take root. “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences,” psychologist Rick Hanson tells us, “and Teflon for positive ones.”

What is the importance of cultivating positive experiences, memories, and feelings? For one thing, once they have taken hold, they can become a powerful internal resource we can call upon to soothe or recenter ourselves. An availability of positive references can help the system balance and manage stress and negative emotions, making us more resilient and less likely to be overcome by difficult external circumstance.

So this attunement is going to be an introduction into how we might do that. If you are going through divorce, you might not feel replete with positive experiences. However, this is the time when you most need all of your resources firing. Internal capital can be grown by simply, intentionally, taking time with even a minute of positive experience — a momentary relief, an instant of joy — and that is the purpose of this attunement.

Like balancing the pH of the body with an alkaline-conscious diet, so shall we approach our acidic psyches!

Positive Psychology-Minded Attunement

What follows is a transcript of the Positive Psychology-Minded Attunement audio file:

Let’s find a place where we can be quiet for a moment, slow down, and bring our attention inward. Just wherever we are, right now, emotionally, physically. Checking in with how it is for you, how the weather is inside, without trying to influence or change it. Just checking in like you would with a friend, asking how are you doing today, with an interested curiosity, a gentle, caring hello to whatever is here for you now.

Taking a few deep breaths, allow your exhales to be as long as your inhales. In this attunement we’re going to access something that would be pleasurable, delightful, peaceful for you — anything you experience as a wanted sensation. Keep it as simple and light as you would like. You might use something that happened today or years ago, or perhaps you will invite your imagination to invent something entirely new.

This could be the feeling of first stepping into a warm, fragrant bath and submerging your body into the lilac water. Perhaps it’s the sensation of sun-warmed sand between your toes. The smell of your dog’s breath and feel of her kissy, furriness, welcoming you home with the ecstatic delight of someone receiving a long-awaited hero returning victoriously. The hug of a child spontaneously expressing gratitude.

Or perhaps it’s a sound — the whistle of a far off train. Or a taste — the flavor of something you love. Mashed potatoes, for example. Perhaps it’s the feel of being welcomed and loved — being received and recognized. Once you have that, just check in with where you experienced that sense of “ah, I love this.”

Taking some time and welcoming whatever is materializing in your bodily experience. Allow the sensation to grow throughout your system so the whole of you can bask in it. Allow the sense to come into the knees and the soles of your feet. Invite it into the hip flexors. Sense this wanted sensation now in your lower back.

Notice how it rests in the corners of your mouth. Perhaps you sense a little awe. In your belly, does it become a bit more spacious or a bit more stirred or is there a sense of excitement? If it feels right, you might allow a hand to settle on the part of you that is holding the sensation.

Just enjoying this memory or this imagined wanted experience, as it visits with you. In your upper thighs, the soles of your feet, in the edges of your ears and in the crown of your head.

See if you can allow this experience to settle into your neck and shoulders. Noticing if you can sense it more strongly in one part of the body and only lightly in another area. Just lingering here, with all of this, as long as you like.

Allow the joyfulness to play inside you.

Spend a few minutes in this way, and return to this or explore another chosen experience. Do this as often as you like, supplying your body and spirit this nourishment. Develop this practice and with it greater ease and access to calm. Welcome the possible — a grounded, expansive inner space — regardless of the external climate.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Why Open the Door? And Why Do You Still Have that Hideous Bedspread?

Why Open the Door? And Why Do You Still Have that Hideous Bedspread? by Rachel Alexander{6 minutes to read} Avoidance. Numbing. Most of us are adept at coping through these mechanisms also called (by me anyway) shoving junk into that third bedroom-turned-storage-room of our psyche, piling everything atop the hideous bedspread of the neglected spare bed. There is a visceral dread in even contemplating opening that door.

Why, we might ask, open the door at all?

Here’s why. Behind the door are parts of us that matter deeply. Gene Gendlin, the originator of Focusing, reminds us: whether or not we pay attention, these aspects of ourselves are there anyway. Neglecting aspects of ourselves does not rid us of their hold on us. In fact, often their hold dominates and runs us. The more we refuse them, the louder they grow. What we’ve shoved out of sight requires our attention. In fact, it has needed our attention for some time.

Take Paul, a man deep into a toxic marriage. In order to avoid looking at the issues (in his “third bedroom”), such as discontent, fear of action, fear of change, fear of how he may be perceived by others, threat to self-regard, dread of loss, and so forth, he has developed unhealthy strategies. He uses alcohol to suppress anxiety, develops insomnia and ulcerative colitis, embarks on emotional affairs at work (drawing others into the skewed reality he is living) and otherwise makes sideways attempts to get his needs met without attending to what is indeed there, but vigorously being exiled. His mental and physical health suffer. His life stagnates in some areas and spirals downward in others.

Why open the door? Because by turning our awareness to these parts, we can reclaim and access vital portions of ourselves and glean valuable information. We expand ourselves and our lives. We change. We can appreciate and ultimately gain more control of our energy and choices rather than being enslaved by what we are hiding from.

Our unwillingness to turn towards ourselves brings its own issues, with their own consequences.

Interestingly, the turning towards what we have exiled is often the main thing needed to transform it. Attention [really] must be paid (to butcher Arthur Miller’s famous line from Death of a Salesman). And the wonder is that the right sort of attention in and of itself changes everything.

To continue with the unsightly storage room analogy from the first paragraph: a focusing approach would not force you to take a week off from work, don a hazmat suit, sledgehammer, and slam into demolition mode. The focusing approach would meet you just where you are. Right there at the initial dread of opening the door.

First, we might turn towards that part of us that feels physical dread and see if we can be curious about that. We check for a bodily sense of the apprehension. We might find: “Something comes up inside that really doesn’t want to open the door. I sense that in my lower belly. It feels tight and tumbling like a sneaker in a dryer.”

Maybe asking what it’s afraid will happen to us if we open the door. Maybe asking into how it might like for us to be with it right now.

In this way, we go very slowly. We don’t bust down the door special-forces-style and thrust ourselves deep into the darkness of this daunting space. Instead, knowing that there is important information even while a hand rests on the door knob, we take time there, giving our patient curiosity to the part that doesn’t want to go in. This might be where we stay for some time, and then, perhaps, we’d turn our attention to the part that does want to go in and clear out the room. We might hold these parts with equal importance and spend time with each, asking into what they want and what sort of attention they need. We do this while remaining grounded in our body and the present.

Focusing in this way is typically done with a focusing oriented therapist or guide, or a focusing companion. A focusing companion is an individual trained in focusing. In a partnership, each party takes turns being the “focuser” and the “companion.” Partnerships often go on for years and meet weekly. There is an egalitarian, trusting connection — a specific type of listening and reflecting practiced that supports exploration and change.

By the time we actually open the door, it is easy, organic, as the conflicted parts have gotten the attention and contact they hungered for, and from that attention, relaxed their hold. And, importantly, we may now find that once-hideous bedspread has transformed into a delicious Yves Delorme down comforter and duvet!

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Inner Architecture — The Resource of Your Own Imagination

Transcript of Attunement

Inner Architecture — The Resource of Your Own Imagination by Rachel AlexanderJust taking a moment to find a comfortable place to sit or stand. In this attunement, we’re going to take a tour through our own inner self, our own body and all that it encompasses, as if we were architectural structures.

As you settle into this space, slowing down, feel your sitz bones and your own weight relax. Feel your feet in contact with the ground. Let your body settle into space. Let your emotions settle. Welcome your awareness. Settle into yourself.

Begin to imagine what kind of structure you might like to visit. Whether it would be your own home, your own body, or anywhere you would like to visit. It could be a favorite museum, a dear friend’s home, or a Welsh castle. A place of comfort and security or a place of wonder.  Somewhere very far or somewhere quite familiar.

Allowing your imagination to arrive at a space in which you’d like to spend a few minutes.

Just as we might walk through a darkened home or mansion or magnificent venue of some kind, turning a light on as we go through each room until we have illuminated the entire house, so we are allowing our attention to lead us through the environment that is us. That holds and contains what is more than us. Lingering and taking in each space as we light it with our attention.

Maybe you picture holding a torch to light the medieval chandeliers of your castle, or carrying an oil can to light gas lanterns, or with your hand to flip on the dimmer switches on the walls of each room of your contemporary you-home, we will illuminate by bringing our awareness throughout.

Pausing a moment and noticing the whole feel of the structure that you have chosen or that has chosen you. Spending a moment right here.

Observing our inner architecture with the same attitude we might wander through a curious structure, illuminating each room. Giving attention to the space and allowing our sense of it our feel and impression of it to settle gently in us.

In this way, you might just enter into the foyer of your place. You might wish to spend the whole time right here. Sense into what your body wants. At your own pace, you might begin to wander, lightly holding the attitude of gentle interest as you would go through a new space or even a familiar space with this new awareness. See if you can allow a bit of reverence to come in as you stroll through the creation of your own inner world. This is the focusing attitude and the focusing way we might foster right now.

Taking all the time you’d like to explore, resting into, maybe luxuriating in this new disposition, appreciating both the subject matter, and the way in which you are relating to the subject matter.

Perhaps, before closing, you might take a few moments to get a bodily sense of what it would be like to carry this attitude forward into some of your day. Perhaps you could recall it when relating with yourself, with others, with your work. Perhaps in a resting pause, a breath, now and again.

And when you are ready, begin to bring your awareness into your fingertips, eyebrows, tops of shoulders, and into the environment around you. Opening your eyes if they were closed. Holding all that came and is possible as we bring our time together to a close.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

A 3-Minute Attunement (Reconnecting Within)

{2:30 minutes to read}

A 5-Minute Attunement (Reconnecting Within) by Rachel Alexander

3-Minute Attunement Transcription

Let’s begin by just slowing down. Finding a comfortable seat. Coming to wherever you are, sitting quietly, and finding your way into your body. Let’s settle here. Just slowing down together. Taking a few breaths now together.

We’re just going to have this space for a few moments and say hello to whatever is happening inside and acknowledge it. Here we are simply attending to and developing the inner relationship with one’s self; strengthening the ability to be present for and with one’s self, to keep company with.

Noticing your breath. Noticing if the breathing is constrained or easy. Not forcing it, not deepening it, just being with it exactly as it is. Dropping in, asking what the weather is like right now. Perhaps putting a hand gently on the core, on the belly, right below the navel. Just saying hello to whatever is there. Noticing if there’s a sense of a softening or maybe the presence of an unwanted feeling, maybe something jittery, tight or heavy. Seeing if you can say hello to all of that too, without deciding about it or interacting with it, just greeting it, perhaps with an easy nod. I see you there. I’m here too. We can be here, together, just as we are.

See if you can notice the back, the back body, behind the shoulders where the wings would be. Just sensing into that space. Perhaps inviting the whole system to let go a bit, allowing gravity to do its part to support you. And with this awareness, this mindfulness, this slowing down-ness, coming back and returning to whatever requires your attention. Allowing a “keeping-company-with” your own inner sense of how you are, even as you now begin to include the outer environment into your awareness. Know that you can come back to this space, make use of this tool, anytime to return to yourself; to reconnect with your own friendly companionship.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

What is an Attunement? (And is an Oil Change Included?)

What is an Attunement? (And is an Oil Change Included?) by Rachel Alexander{4:30 minutes to read}  A focusing session usually begins with a “lead-in” or something called an “attunement.” An attunement, much like a guided meditation, is a way of bringing awareness into our body and our attention into the present moment. It is an invitation to resource into what is immediately available to us. This begins with a sense of our body in its environment.

An attunement can be a valuable tool for people going through divorce or experiencing stress. It invites a safe return to solid ground. Divorce is particularly reviled for its power to destabilize and dysregulate people, muddling thinking and impairing decision making. Taking a few minutes to attune can help one to re-anchor back into the integrated self.

Before meeting with your attorney, before, after, and, if necessary, during a mediation, playing an attunement or using a few prompts from the practice, can help one reorient and reorganize.

With this in mind, I am creating a series of recorded attunements for my clients, so they can have additional tools at their disposal whenever they might be needed. These are meant to guide you back to your own wholeness, whether before seeing your spouse for a custody exchange, or after a difficult phone call regarding parenting or finance. It offers a way to come back into presence with yourself and to come back into grounded contact with the day.

An important part of focusing work involves learning to be a compassionate observer of whatever is occurring internally for you, right now.

Amazingly, when whatever is occurring has your full, friendly attention, no matter how unwanted or unpleasant it may be, it transforms.

When we’re grounded in our bodies, and in the moment, we have the ability to deal with everything else from a wiser place.

The attunement is a tool you can use anywhere and take with you everywhere. The more you practice with it, the more easily you will return to a grounded state. And there might be a shorthand way you’ll find for yourself, to get into this space — a new way of keeping company with and rescuing yourself.

Focusing Style Attunement Video

What follows is a transcript of the above Focusing Style Attunement video file:

So just finding a comfortable space where we can be together for maybe fifteen minutes or so. Putting down whatever you might be doing. Taking your time to get comfortable in your body.

You might have both feet on the floor, and your back supported so that the spine can be straight but not strained. Notice sitting, and give yourself a moment to observe how it is with you, just now. What is the quality of the surface you are on? Noticing the points of contact that your body is having with its immediate surroundings.

Introduce the notion, gently, that this piece of furniture is supporting you here and now. You do not have to hold yourself against gravity, or hold yourself up with your own mind. You can settle into what is there and is supporting you. Right now.

So however disconnected or overcome you may feel sometimes, which can happen in moments of great stress where you don’t even feel your body, it’s still here. It’s still here. Sometimes the awareness can be obfuscated, or blocked, but even then the body is still right here.

Notice the quality of your breath, is it easy or constricted. Not trying to change it, just exploring whatever is there.

Click here to read the rest of the transcript.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305


Ungrateful and Pissed Off? A Curmudgeon’s Survival Guide for Thanksgiving

Ungrateful and Pissed Off? A Curmudgeon’s Survival Guide for Thanksgiving by Rachel Alexander{6:00 minutes to read}

Don’t look now, but here comes Thanksgiving!

When you are already in survival mode, a holiday can add insult to injury. If you are bracing for the holidays as a newly divorced family, maybe spending your first Thanksgiving without your kids or extended family, “celebrating” anything can seem absurd. Forced festivities can increase the sense of what’s missing and highlight not only what you are not grateful for, but what you’re actually pretty pissed off about.

During the holidays there is an expectation or even social insistence that you feel one thing when you’re actually experiencing quite another. That disconnect can be difficult to tolerate much less navigate. Here are just a few recommendations to normalize this experience and help us all get through the holiday intact.

1. Take it in small bites; which is also good advice for your digestion on this holiday anyway. How you may or may not be feeling this holiday is no indication of how you will feel in a week, a month, or for any other Thanksgiving hereafter.

Be invited to back away from a sense that this experience is prescient of the rest of your life. It is just right now that needs to be dealt with. And deal with it we will!

2. Trying to force yourself to feel anything other than what you’re actually experiencing tends not to work. It also tends to be a way of devaluing and negating yourself, and that’s something most of us do not need a repeat experience of.

Rather than forcing yourself to contrast how you would like to be or feel with how you actually feel, put your attention on being kind to yourself as you would a dear friend or beloved pet. Keep this simple. Check in with yourself frequently. Make yourself a cup of tea. Even treating yourself with more patience by giving permission not to rush is a kindness we rarely afford ourselves.

3. Do something that will distract and give your overstimulated emotions a break. Whether that’s watching a funny, stupid, scary or thrilling movie, or hiking with a group through the woods, do something that introduces another aspect of your capacity and emotional range. This can help create internal space and balance in a way that focusing on what’s wrong cannot.

4. One of our best resources is our own bodies. A simple, effective way to ground yourself and manage difficulty is through bodily awareness. A little bit of movement and physical activity can be enormously helpful. Even tapping your left then right foot several times while bringing your attention to the sensation of contact with the ground beneath can help stabilize run-away emotion. The body returns us to our connection with the earth and this moment.

5. Be here now. Focus only on this moment; this hour, what you’re doing now, staying away from a global interpretation, because our minds tend to go there when we’re feeling distraught.

6. Finding our way to gratitude when feeling like a curmudgeon is more like it. Let’s interact with gratitude by keeping it small and specific:

What am I grateful for right this minute?

It might be that you have a cell phone. It could be that you don’t have a cell phone. It could be that you have feet, if you have feet, or that you have a car that you were able to drive wherever you needed to go. It could be that you’re able to breathe easily and are over last week’s cold.

The act and importance of gratitude has more to do with reorienting ourselves to experiencing the fullness of what we already have rather than doing an actual tally. It’s a shift in how we relate to what is already here for us. It can be simple and basic; the sun rose and the moon is still held in the sky.

Or perhaps it can be wildly inventive. I for one am grateful I’ve never had to undergo an exorcism or be aboard an alien spacecraft (although some who know me may think that’s how I arrived here). I’m grateful not to be a giant octopus or sardine (they may be perfectly joyous but I think I would be cold).

All of these are just suggestions to help you navigate if you’re having a rough go during the holidays, particularly during Thanksgiving, when you might be put upon to identify what you appreciate.

This is holiday first aid.

If you’re having a marvelous holiday, good on you! You can disregard all of this. Feel great and rejoice! Extend extra kindness to those who need it.

Wishing everyone peace and love, now and in the future. A grounded, supported, and above all gentle Thanksgiving to all.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305


Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A Tool for Divorce Mediation?

{5:18 minutes to read} How do we get present?Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A Tool for Divorce Mediation? by Rachel Alexander

Last time we looked at the importance of mindfulness and getting present, so how do we do it?

Practice, practice, practice!  And, softly, softly, softly.

One suggestion: set an alarm on your smartphone to sound a gentle tone several times during the day.  When you hear it, simply bring your awareness back to yourself and your body, perhaps offering yourself the gentle prompt: “How am I right now? How am I feeling just now? Where is that located in my body?” It’s very simple, and takes less than a cluster of seconds. It’s merely taking a pause. A simple checking in, noticing, without trying to rectify, manipulate or adjust anything.

Grounding techniques also encourage mindfulness. Simply tap your feet on the floor, left then right, several times until you are able to bring your awareness into the feel of your feet in your shoes, stockings, and on the floor beneath. Simply paying attention to the sensation can bring one back to the present. Physical exercise, meditation, prayer, yoga, and time in nature all help bring us into conscious awareness. Anything that helps our senses return to our surroundings and our attention return to our bodies reorganizes us to the present.

Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A tool for divorce mediation?

Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, inventors of Inner Relationship Focusing, developed the term and concept “Self-in-Presence.” They suggest that “self-in-presence” is required not only to experience a “felt sense” (a bodily experience of something not yet articulated, at the edge of one’s awareness) but for meaningful personal change to occur.

What is “self-in-presence?” It is a state of grounded, non-judgmental awareness. It is the ability to turn toward whatever is arising in you: experience, thoughts, emotions, and so on.

This is similar to the “observer” self in Buddhism and mindfulness practice. There is an awareness of the body in space, on a chair, in contact with the world around it. There is a focusing attitude of “interested curiosity,” a turning towards oneself in the way one would turn towards a lost child or young animal upon first meeting. This is an approach of care, a slowing down, an attuning to. It brings a listening intent. It keeps company with.

We are in self-in-presence when we can acknowledge our internal and external environment with a compassionate curiosity, a befriending, a welcoming of everything exactly as it is.

To summarize:.

  • Simply turn toward yourself exactly as you are in this moment — do this by pausing and bringing your awareness to your body and breath now, and in any moment you remember.
  • Notice that you are having an experience and see if you can get a sense of it in your body. See how that might feel different than the sensation of being indistinguishable from the experience you are having.
  • Practice keeping company with yourself — your feeling or your perception — rather than identifying as it. When you notice yourself having a strong reaction, you are already expanding, as you are now both the one experiencing something and the one observing the experiencing.

Try taking this further by changing what you say to yourself from “I am _______ (furious, thrilled, overwhelmed) ” to ”something in me is _________ (furious, thrilled, overwhelmed).” For example,“I am angry” becomes ”something in me is angry.” By experimenting with this linguistic shift (which I learned from Ann Weiser Cornell), you create more space for the vastness and complexity of all of you.

Regardless of how overcome we feel by a particular sensation or feeling at a given moment, we are each — always — much more than any one thing. This is also called “disidentification.” You are not your emotion, or only your emotion. By making this shift, you invite the more of you that can notice the angry (or activated) part without merging with it. The you that can keep company with all of what is occurring for you.

Once we are in (indeed, are) this expansive, observing space, we can be both with ourselves and one another differently. In this way we welcome wholeness, healing and conclusion.

Special thanks to Ann Weiser Cornell for her comments and suggestions on this article.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305


Mindfulness and Mediation

Mindfulness and Mediation by Rachel Alexander{3:30 minutes to read} In some spiritual practices, a bell sounds several times a day calling the observant to prayer. Like a mindfulness bell, it brings the devotee back to what is important: her God; her Self; the precious here and now.

When people are not in the here and now, they are in a default-geography of past and future. A space that does not, in fact, exist. The past no longer exists and the future similarly has not yet been born. It is the landscape of fear, unconsciousness, muddled and circular thinking. It is where unhappy, historic narratives are recited, churned and finally stagnate into algae-clogged swamps.

It’s the habitat for loud, punishing declarations. “I’m getting an attorney/walking out/telling the children what you did.”

This is the place of Nothing Good Happening.

When people are in the conflict of divorce, repeating reactive behaviours, the inclusion of mindfulness practice helps slow things down. Slowing down makes one observable to one’s self. Slowing down helps one catch up with oneself.

Like slowing down film footage in order to see the material more precisely – to glean what is otherwise unobservable, or slowing down the car when finding your way through a foreign neighborhood – we slow down when emotions are high and what we are doing matters.

Mindfulness slows us down so we can make better decisions, fewer mistakes, and take the appropriate level of care. Counterintuitively, slowing down helps us ultimately pick up the pace sooner.

Getting divorced without mindfulness is like holding a board meeting with most of the members absent. The decisions made will be less informed. The required quorum might not exist, so no decision reached will hold.

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Shifting gears into an aware, thoughtful space immediately shifts people from causing problems to resolving them. When divorcing clients are attuned to themselves, they can better:

  • Simultaneously observe and engage, interact purposefully;
  • Access their innate intelligence;
  • Identify authentic wants and needs;
  • Regard the other party with clarity and spaciousness, experiencing relief; and
  • Cooperate to problem solve and co-parent.

When people are fully present, they have access to their best selves. They are not ruled by what is old and outdated – be it behavioral patterns or “unfinished business” that continually surfaces and runs away with them.

Mediation is about listening purposefully and intently. This can only take place in the present. Almost every mediation client identifies the breakdown of communication as a primary catalyst in the collapse of the marriage. Listening is how conflicts get resolved. It’s the balm for emotional abrasions.

So how do we get present? More on that coming up in our next blog.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305


Curiosity: The Little Word that Could


Curiosity: The Little Word that Could | Rachel Alexander

{5:80 minutes to read} Curiosity: A simple word that can unlock possibilities, shift paradigms, and free us from the bondage of our own “rightness.”

In Focus Oriented Therapy, we are called to settle into the here and now, sense into our body, check in with ourselves with a “childlike curiosity.” This invitation, this language, has amazed me. I have become enthralled with the concept of curiosity! It asks such a complete departure from unconscious living. It holds an almost touching possibility of compassionate attention.

I am curious about how effective an approach of curiosity could be in divorce mediation. Could curiosity be a golden key to unlocking conflict?

In conflict like divorce, people often contract into rigid positions, false certainty, their own “rightness.” Rather than the actual conflict that needs resolving, the immovability of the parties itself becomes an obstacle to settlement. With this stiffened, positional attitude, negotiation is impossible. Thinking is usually black and white, unnuanced, inflexible.

Resolution requires a movability, a spaciousness. I propose that curiosity provides that.

We can introduce curiosity by shifting slightly, and approaching first ourselves with a “childlike” and “interested” curiosity. What does this approach look like? It is similar to the way we would approach a frightened little child whom we had never met. It is how we might approach an injured animal we wished to aid. We don’t race towards it. We assess, move slowly, check in with the little one as we move closer. We don’t yet know what is wrong, what is needed, or even if we should get closer. This brings a living, aware and open attitude. It requires a continual checking in with our own internal sense and our sense of the other. It makes room for both. It implies our acknowledgment of the unknown.

Curiosity allows us to back up a bit from the entanglement and immediacy of the situation. It loosens our grip and asks us to observe what is taking place before engaging. This is anathema to how we tend to be when we are threatened, angry, deep into a conflict.

With curiosity, we regain our composure. We change stances and become more of an explorer, a visitor in our own situation. We want to see what’s going on, within and then also without. We don’t need to assert, change, judge, fix, condemn. We merely need to look into what is occurring.

If we become curious about the other:

  • What makes the house so important to her?
  • What is this experience for him?

We begin to listen and relate differently. Our attention turns. Our approach becomes more of a listening observer.

This doesn’t mean we give up ourselves and cave in to the demands of the other. Quite the opposite. In this place we are stronger and more effective because we are more present. We are more fully there, have more of ourselves “online,” accessible and thus can more fully assess what’s needed. We settle and slow down a bit. We start to inhabit a more comfortable, attuned separateness, as well as make possible a more helpful engagement.

In conflict, a genuine curiosity into what the other is up against, what she is hoping for, what he is struggling with, a shifting to understand the other immediately introduces a tone of respect and concern. Still from a safe distance. A humanness emerges. In this space, a space when the parties acknowledge the other’s otherness, their own wholeness and separateness, possibilities emerge, blood pressure drops, and settlements form.

Here is an example. A painfully introverted friend recently had to go to a large networking event, alone. She knew no one going and was filled with dread. We introduced curiosity. Instead of looking at herself from the outside, a stance which engendered self-consciousness and anxiety, she adopted an attitude of curiosity into what would be happening around her. Who are these other people attending the event? What are they there for, what are they all about? Could there be something of value, perhaps even something fascinating or precious to be discovered in conversation? Cloaked in the thick buckskin of curiosity, she would enter the event with greater ease; an explorer, with clear intent and interest. Curiosity can anchor us when we enter the unknown.

Curiosity is not obsession or fascination. It doesn’t grab, demand, insist. It is light and careful, perhaps even cautious. It is an approaching with a light touch, an asking, a checking into. It is the antidote for stuckness, meanness, holding fast. An appropriate and helpful stance to hold in conflict, divorce and certainly in mediation.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305