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Weekly Practice in Conscious Living

729th Week: Foreground/Background Revisited

It goes without saying that these are stressful times and we all are having to dig into the strategies that we have for finding and accessing our internal steadiness and sense of centeredness. One of the practices I’ve written about many times over the years has to do with recognizing, and then playing with, the constant process of choosing what is in the foreground of awareness and what is in the background.  Our culture tends to favor putting activation, emotional intensity, and drama into the foreground, while experiences of being centered, steady, and internally quiet slide into the background, often not to even be acknowledged as present.

Another dynamic I’ve written about many times is the metaphor of the kaleidoscope—that we are all complex beings comprised of many aspects or parts of ourselves.  Sometimes we’re fully focused in our present-day adult self, thinking, responding, and behaving in centered and rational ways.  Other times, we are triggered into different kinds of activation and find ourselves acting from impulses that arise deep within unhealed and uncentered parts of us.

The thing I like best about the kaleidoscope metaphor is that it shows us something important about foreground/background dynamics. When you turn the tube and all the glass pieces begin to shift, you never know what pattern will emerge from the one you just saw.  What you do know, though, is that as pieces move from foreground to background, something different will appear.  And, whatever emerges will arise from pieces of glass that have always been there.  Nothing is added; nothing is removed.  The whole dynamic is a shift of elements of the kaleidoscope that move from foreground to background and background to foreground. Within the context of wholeness—all the different pieces of colored glass contained in the kaleidoscope—patterns can shift and change into many different ones that may contain some pieces that had already been in the foreground and some that were previously hidden in the background.

We are like the kaleidoscope.  We are whole beings who have many states of mind, many ways of being. As we focus our attention, awareness, and experience on what supports our feeling more steady and centered, certain aspects of ourselves move into the foreground and others drop into the background.  When we focus our awareness on things that are distressing or activating, another shift takes place and patterns of reactivity tend to move into the foreground and our steadiness may fall far into the background of awareness.

For this week’s practice, I invite you to pay even more attention to where you focus your awareness during any given day and then to notice what comes into the foreground of your experience as you do so.  We always live within a context of wholeness, so it’s impossible not to become activated at times, or to focus on distressing situations that need to be changed.  The key is to have a choice as to how activated we want to remain and when we want to shift back to feeling centered and steady.

And, even though it can sometimes feel like a paradox, it is possible to be distressed and steady at the same time if you are able to focus on your internal steadiness at the same time you acknowledge whatever distress you may be feeling.  The key is to be able to notice when you are becoming so distressed that you lose your center.  When this happens, it’s useful to be able to bring steadiness back into the foreground without having to be completely free of the distress.

It helps to have images, mantras, sounds, or fragrances that are reliable resources to which you can turn when you want to shift from a foreground of activation to a foreground of steadiness.  Also, as I’ve mentioned many times, breathing in and out through your heart space can also be steadying.  Each of us has our own ways of reconnecting with our center.  The key to this practice is to remember that each moment offers a choice.

As with all these practices, there’s no right way to do it, no right responses.  Instead, there’s just one more opportunity to explore what supports a quality of internal life that feels good to you and to discover what helps you shift the foreground of your awareness into what helps you access your always-present internal steadiness.  Remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing those judgments to move on through without your having to respond to them in any way.

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