Awe and the Miracle of Felt Meaning

Awe and the Miracle of Felt Meaning


Meaning must be constantly received, like the light to which we must

open our eyes here and now, if we want to see.


Brother David Steindl-Rast from “Word, Silence, and Understanding”


As long as I am in control, not much can happen to me. As soon as I

allow reality to touch me, I am in for adventure. The quest for meaning

is the adventure par excellence, and happiness lies in the thrill of this



Brother David Steindl-Rast from “Word, Silence, and Understanding”



What is Experiential Psychotherapy?

What is actually happening in the present moment in the type of psychotherapy that is called “experiential,” and how does it help our clients? It is easy to speak about the healing power of the psychotherapy relationship, but understanding the magic of “experiencing” is much more elusive.


The word “experiential” often suggests the expression of emotion, but the experiential element of psychotherapy can be viewed more broadly as any process where we are touched in some way that feels meaningful.



The Concepts of Eugene Gendlin

Eugene Gendlin is a psychotherapist and philosopher who has written extensively about experiential psychotherapy and how therapists can best utilize this experiential component in their work. He does not use language associated with spiritual writers, yet as a phenomenological philosopher he is documenting a person’s inner process, which puts him squarely in the realm of the “now.”


Gendlin’s philosophy focuses on these moments when something becomes meaningful to us, not just in an intellectual way, but as if our whole being senses that something is meaningful. He describes how we as therapists can help clients tap into a deeper, “implicit” level and experience what he calls “felt meaning,” leading to moments of “forward movement.” His words encourage us to invite “awe” and that unpredictable and often inexplicable “more” in the moment.



The Poetry of Brother David Steindl-Rast

I offer another perspective on felt meaning by bringing in the ideas and poetry of Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and scholar who defines meaning in much the same way that Gendlin does and who reminds us how enlivening it is when we are willing to give up control enough to allow reality to touch us. Like Gendlin, Brother David does not define “meaning” in the narrow sense of looking for the meaning of life. Rather he sees the process of finding meaning as something that is ongoing in our lives.


As a field that once aspired to be a science, it has been difficult for our profession to openly acknowledge and celebrate the wondrous aspects of what we do. For this reason, it is of value to introduce someone like Brother David, whose words of unbridled enthusiasm can speak directly and poignantly to so many psychotherapists.




For further discussion visit “Felt Meaning: The Concepts of Eugene Gendlin,” “Felt Meaning: The Poetry of Brother David Steindl-Rast” and “Implications for Therapists: Felt Meaning as a Source of Direction and Inspiration.