Experiencing the Sacred

INTEREST AREA: Experiencing the Sacred

Immanent Spirituality: The Experience of God in The World

Intuitive Focusing and Focused Listening can be used purposefully to “attend to,” “sit with,” “articulate” the “intuitive feel” of spiritual experiences. But more importantly, the practice of Listening/Focusing opens our eyes to seeing the Sacred around us by encouraging attention to those moments when the Sacred enters our lives.

It’s called Immanent Spirituality, God as experienced in the world, moments when the Sacred underpinning of the world “breaks through” and becomes visible, palpable, feel-able. Experiential spirituality is separate from any particular sect or creed. You can incorporate it into any religion and into every day living without organized religion.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat call it Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life (Scribner, 1996), and their book jacket reads:

“These remarkable readings tutor us in the art of lingering with our experiences and seeing the world with fresh eyes…Life’s meaning and the presence of Spirit are found in the shape of a child’s foot, in an encounter with a wild animal, in the memories evoked by a rocking chair, in the process of doing a hobby, or in the messages on a computer screen.”

Spirituality Is More than Religion

Elfie Hinterkopf, in her book Integrating Spirituality into Counseling: Using the Experiential Focusing Method (available in The Store at www.focusing.org ), makes the following distinction: 

“It is important to distinguish spirituality from religiousness…in this book religiousness will be used to mean adherence to the beliefs and practices of an organized church or religious institution (Shafranske and Malony, 1990). Spirituality will be used to refer to a unique, personally meaningful experience (Shafranske and Gorsuch, 1984). Although spirituality may be positively related to specific forms of religiousness, spirituality is not necessarily reliant upon any given form or appearance of religion.”

“The spiritual experience is one of bodily felt release, more life energy, feeling more fully present, a sense of feeling larger and being able to reach out to more parts of oneself, to more people, and to more of life (Campbell and McMahon, 1985).”


Jesuit Fathers Pete Campbell and Ed McMahon have made a life’s work out of looking at the specifically spiritual aspect which can be present in any use of Focusing. They call their approach Biospirituality (Bio-Spirituality: Focusing As A Way To Grow ,Loyola Press,1985, 1997, www.biospiritual.org )

In any Focusing process, the Focuser will often experience a Felt Shift, an opening of tension release into forward movement and new energy. Pete and Ed tell us to pay more attention to the “bodily-feel” surrounding these felt shifts in experiencing. They show us that, if we attend fully to the feelings surrounding the felt shift, we will find feelings of gratitude, of awe, of being “graced” by the presence of the Almighty. 

They elaborate upon Gendlin’s sixth step of Focusing, called Receiving: thanking and acknowledging your Body’s Wisdom for the new steps of healing that have emerged. They have taken the further step of noticing the presence of grace and awe and thanking the Greater Source from which felt shifts, spiritual and emotional growth, emerge.

Being Touched and Being Moved

Using Gendlin’s Focusing process, we will refer to “bodily-felt experiencing,” “bodily-felt spirituality.” Whether experienced through nature or inspiring music or religious rituals in church or through watching the kindness of one person toward another, these spiritual experiences will be “felt.” The existence of Something Greater or Something More will be fully and unquestionably known, experientially, rather than being only an intellectual theory.

I call it “being touched and being moved” and find it often marked by at least a sheen of tears in the eyes, along with an expansive feeling of one’s own boundaries and limits dissolving for at least a moment of merging into a feeling of Oneness – with nature, with another person or other people, with music, or with the religious ritual in church.

As with personal growth and creativity, spiritual experiences can also be reached more predictably through the conscious use of the Intuitive Focusing process. If you “accidently” find yourself in the midst of a transformative, spiritual moment, you can enrich and enlarge that opening by consciously turning attention toward the “feel of it all” and making words and images for the power and meaning of it.

These words and images can stay with you after that magical moment ends and can be a road back to that spiritual experience, again by consciously turning one’s attention to them in a Focusing way.

See Focusing and Spirituality: The Still, Small Voice for several ways to use Focusing to invite and to explore spiritual experiences.

Agape: Experiencing God in The Other

For me, intense spiritual experiences of the love known as Agape also happen regularly through the experience of exchanging Listening/Focusing turns in a Focusing Partnership or a Listening/Focusing Community. Through the use of Focused Listening, I am able to set aside my own stereotypes and prejudices and really enter into the world of the other person.  In these moments of empathy, when the Focuser touches upon her deepest values and most profound truths, as the Listener, I am often moved and touched by the absolute uniqueness, yet universal humanness, of the Other. 

In these moments, often with a sheen of tears in our eyes, it seems that the boundaries separating one person from the other drop, and we stand together in a shared, sacred space. I believe this is what is meant by experiencing The Christ Within The Other or Universal Oneness or Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” vs. “I-It” experience. For me, there is no more sacred experience.

See articles in PDF:

Ten Ways to Spread “Experiencing The Sacred”

  1. First, bring your own awareness to The Sacred ever around you. Surround yourself, dwell in, wrap yourself in your experiences of The Sacred. Keep the Spiritual Literacy book at hand to dip into, be reminded of the many ways The Sacred is manifest.
  2. Subscribe to our e-newsletter and immediately download the Instant “Ahah!” Mini-Manual.  Use Instant “Ahah!” #10 – Spirituality: Being Touched and Moved (p.33) to enlarge upon these experiences. Spend Intuitive Focusing time sitting with “the feel of the whole thing” and making words and images for what about it was Sacred…create images that can bring you back to this “felt experience” any time.
  3. Consider the Listening/Focusing Partnership exchange as a spiritual path, The Way of Relationship. Learning to overcome difference, to love diversity, to see the Sacred within the other person is the path of spirituality as much as any inner meditative work. Treat your own relationships with spouse, children, friends, coworkers as Sacred, and bring this model to anyone you can.
  4. Bring listening/focusing to your own religious community:
    • Offer to do a “sharing circle” after the service, a place where, instead of “mix and mingle” socializing, people will have the safety of a no-cross-talk “sharing” Round Robin on whatever, including how the service was for them today,other spiritual experiences during the week, issues needing support and “prayers” or “positive energy.” A great place for newcomers who don’t know anyone and those of us who are shy, introverted, just don’t like chatting.
    • Follow this up with an offer to do some presentations. Find books, poems, literature from your tradition that refer to the listening/focusing attitude.
    • Offer listening/focusing training as a 10-week class or two weekends…..If you use this as a way to build your own supportive community, your own friendship/support group, you will be happy to do it for no charge, and the “church” or “temple or “mosque” will be happy to give you space and advertising for no charge. The first Changes group was in a church, and religious spaces have been open homes for Changes groups ever since.
    • Use Dr. McGuire’s manual, Focusing In  Community (Focusing En Comunidad in Spanish to start your own Focusing Community
    • Get help and support and sharing on the Creative Edge Focusing Discussion List    Join us.
    • find a Certified Focusing Professional  or Creative Edge Consultant  in your geographic area, country, language where you can get the initial training yourself, then turn around and offer it to your spiritual center. See our Free Resources section for listings.
  1. Go up to the next level or higher.  Go to the head religious leaders of your state or diocese or region or nation and teach them about listening/focusing as a way of strengthening people’s faith through “direct reference” to spiritual experience and of strengthening community through empathic sharing.
  2. Find out who the leaders are at the highest levels and go through them to bring listening/focusing into spiritual communities and retreat centers. Emphasize not only immanent spiritual experience through Intuitive Focusing and building community, empathy, love of the Sacred within the Other through Focused Listening but also Interpersonal Focusing and Collaborative Edge Focusing Decision Making as part of spiritual community, The Way of Relationship
  3. Google “experiencing The Sacred,” “spirituality,” “immanent spirituality,” “Quakers,” etc., etc., and follow up on what you get, joining e-discussion lists where you can talk about Focusing and Spirituality.
  4. Find authors of successful books on Spirituality, visit their websites, see how you can link with them, get them to include listening/focusing in their next books or on their website.
  5. Spend some personal or partnership Focusing time on the question: “How can I bring The Experience of the Sacred through Focusing and Listening into the world?” and see what comes.
  6. Join us on the Creative Edge Focusing discussion List to continue brainstorming and getting support for this initiative.

Related Articles on Experiencing the Sacred (PDF Files)

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These materials are offered purely as self-help skills. In providing them, Dr. McGuire is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.