Interview with Joe Shirley

Today I am writing about Joe Shirley, a friend and colleague who is a fellow fan and practitioner of Dynamic Facilitation. Over the last several decades, Joe has created a compelling body of work called “The Feeling Path”, a powerful new approach for facilitating emotional healing.

I recently interviewed Joe, asking him to speak about the resonance between the Feeling Path and Dynamic Facilitation. Of course, the differences between these two practices are apparent: Dynamic Facilitation is a way of working with groups, helping people find creative ways of working together on shared challenges, while the Feeling Path is a way that we as individuals can work with our own emotional challenges (either alone, with a coach, or with a listening partner.) So what are the commonalities between these two approaches?

I was particularly excited to interview Joe about this, because it really fits well with the theme that I have envisioned for this new blog: the “Listening Arts” as encompassing both “inner listening” practices  (all of the various ways we can practice listening to support our own growth, including Focusing, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Inner Empathy work, etc…) AND, “outer listening” practices (all of the various ways we can practice listening, to support interpersonal and group relationships: Non-Violent Communication, various forms of mediation and facilitation, etc.) It’s wonderful to meet someone else, for whom these parallels are also very real!

So that said, here’s Joe:

“In the Feeling Path, we notice a “stuck feeling place”, bringing that experience more completely into our awareness through a specific mapping process, and then we invite that stuck place to shift to an ideal state. Afterward, we apply the wisdom that comes from this shift, back into our life. There are three basic movements embedded in this process, that can be generalized more broadly:

1) Embracing “what is”. In the Feeling Path, we are invited to embrace anything we find inside ourselves, no matter what it is. We fully embrace something by welcoming it, inviting it to reveal itself as we do the mapping. Through experience, we develop a trust that all of our feeling states have a positive intention, regardless of how scary or difficult they may initially appear. This trust is particularly developed in the next practice that follows.

2) Inviting “what wants to be”. In the Feeling Path, we interact with the image that we have generated through the mapping process. We invite the feeling, through the image, to shift toward what feels better. We find that it does so willingly, gladly, eagerly, showing us what it would look like if it were in an ideal state.  This opens us up to our own inner wisdom, and leads to the third practice.

3) Embodying the difference. In the earlier process of mapping, we started with ‘where the feeling or stuck pattern is’. As this imbalance or stuckness is loosened up through eliciting the “ideal state” this is analogous to regaining the full “range of motion” of that part of us. Now we have access to the natural function of feeling, which is to give us ongoing, moment-by-moment feedback as to the degree of balance in our lives.

So this third principle, “embodying the difference between what is and what wants to be”, means that we are able to be in the present moment with whatever we are feeling, while still having clear access to that “ideal state” of what we want to be moving toward. And so we are able to notice and ask ourselves, “What does this experience inspire in me? What new choices do I want to make? What new practices do I want to engage? How do I want  to live, from the place of knowing the direction of “what wants to be”?”

Rosa: Ok, that’s a great description of your work in the Feeling Path… now, how do you see that, as connecting with Dynamic Facilitation?

Joe: In Dynamic Facilitation, we also experience these same three principles in action. We start with “embracing what is”: there is plenty of space for embracing resistance, stuckness, passion. We have a place for every contribution, and the role of the facilitator is to welcome whatever people want to “put into the pot”. That’s where the magic starts to happen: as we embrace all of the different perspectives, we start to get a much fuller picture of what is going on. As we embrace what has earlier been marginalized, we find that everything changes!

We also “invite what wants to be”. That’s how I experience the “purge” aspect of Dynamic Facilitation… as inviting everyone’s unique vision of “what wants to be”, so that we clear the path for new insights and new wisdom to become available to the whole group. That’s where creativity arises, in that space…

As for “embodying the difference”… in Dynamic Facilitation, I see that as the next movement, after we have developed both a new awareness of “what is”, and of “where we want to go”. Now, what we need to do is figure out, what do we want to do first? What’s the next step? How do we go about enacting this new understanding, in the life of the group? How do we harvest our discoveries and use them, to create something new?

Rosa: Thank you, Joe! It makes a lot of sense to me…


Well, there you have it! I found it all very compelling — Joe’s description of his own work, his take on Dynamic Facilitation, and his exploration of the “common principles” in these two fields, and I am very happy to share all this with you here today.

More info on The Feeling Path:

1) You can download the first section of Joe’s new book when you visit .

2) More about  Joe’s work on his website,

More info on Dynamic Facilitation:

1) Tom Atlee’s website has an older version of the Dynamic Facilitation manual you can read online.

2) Jim Rough, the inventor of Dynamic Facilitation, has a site at with several articles.

3)  You can download a chapter on “Practical Dialogue”  through my website.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Joe Shirley

  1. Congratulations, Rosa, with your new blog! And what a great way to initiate it with your interview with Joe and his new book. Though I have had the pleasure of knowing Joe and following bits of his creative path, your interview brought me a deeper understanding. Thanks!
    And congratulations to you, Joe!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Jean! I’ve personally experimented with Joe’s process, and found it very powerful… maybe I will write about that at some point! And one of the things I love about his book, is how much of his own personal journey he includes in there. Very inspiring reading! I highly recommend it.

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