Recently, I talked about finding a deep experience of peace as I sat in Central Park, and how I could stay with that inner sense of quiet even as children, dogs, birds, all kinds of people came and went in the area where I sat. It was fundamentally an experience of playing with foreground/background dynamics: I chose to have the sensations of peace stay in the foreground of my awareness as the sounds of activity came and went in the background.
Playing with foreground/background dynamics is its own kind of mindfulness practice…
as it invites you to choose where you want to place the focus of your awareness, not unlike choosing what television channel you want to watch, or what website you wish to visit. It’s a matter of orienting to where you want to place the focus of your awareness in any given moment. Where you focus your attention is where the “loudest” input will be, while everything else will tend to fade a bit into the background.
One of the things I have found very useful over time is to have developed a reliable internal “home base”. It’s an internal place where I can reliably focus my attention. It allows me to bring into the foreground of my awareness an internal steadiness that centers me whenever I connect to it. To access or enhance your own awareness of the “home base” in you, here’s a process that might be useful:
• Take a moment to be present to the natural in and out of your breathing.
• Follow the next out-breath all the way down to the bottom of the breath, wherever that is for you, and let yourself linger there as your breathing continues.
• Notice if your body and mind settle as you hang out there at the bottom of the breath—give yourself time simply to be there, without doing anything in particular, other than sensing into settling.
• This can become a reliable internal “home base”, where each out-breath offers an invitation to settle into yourself whenever you need to do so.
Once you develop the habit of following the out-breath down to the bottom, and taking time to settle in there, it can become a way to shift foreground/background dynamics in just about any situation. Let’s say you’re in a meeting and someone says something that triggers you. Shifting your awareness to your breathing, and following the out-breath down to the bottom, can offer a way for you to settle into your home base, bringing the experience of being more settled into the foreground of your awareness, as the conversation continues just a bit more in the background.
As with all these practices, there’s no right way to do this one. Bringing along curiosity as your constant companion can allow you to play with the dynamics of shifting foreground to background and background to foreground. Experiment with what best supports you and notice what happens to the quality of your internal experience when you develop the habit of orienting to your internal home base.