A while back (764th Week’s practice), I wrote about choosing frequencies and engaging practices that make that process more fluid. Another helpful approach is to cultivate an awareness of the “foreground/background” dynamic that is present in every moment. Whatever is in the foreground of your awareness, there is likely to be something different in the background.
One way to think about these foreground/background dynamics could be the distinction between moments of upset in the foreground and an awareness of the present-day observer in the background. The observer is the part of us that notices what we experience and is able to make choices about what to do with what we notice. In this case, we’re exploring finding ways to shift from the foreground upset to a background of a more regulated quality, if that’s what you choose to do.
Drawing on an awareness of foreground/background allows more choice about whether you want to continue with the focus of your attention and experience or if you want to shift frequencies to something else that you may find in the background. For example, you may be upset over a news report you just heard, with your body tense, fear in the foreground, and thoughts of what terrible things might unfold. These responses are natural in these times, but you don’t need to live there. Once you notice how distressed you are, it’s possible to become curious about what might be in the background. Perhaps you notice a quality of quiet, or ease, internal steadiness, or reassurance of some kind. This doesn’t mean you are ignoring or denying issues that are realistically upsetting. Instead, it means that you will be able to respond more coherently if you aren’t caught up in the activation related to them.
I have long had a practice of sensing an expansive stillness right in the background of my awareness. It’s always there and I often take a moment or two during the day to lean into it and rest for a moment. It has become a constant companion, and I experience this stillness behind thoughts, feelings, actions, urges—behind any and every awareness I may have. For me, shifting into the stillness offers a moment of ease, or as many moments as I have to rest there, and that serves to shift me away from activation or stress responses that aren’t useful or supportive. As I do this, I may not be in the stillness in a given moment, but it is there to lean into if I need to rest for a moment, to have a breather in whatever I may be doing, or if I’m upset and need to have a moment of comfort and of feeling held within the stillness.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to choose a background awareness that both soothes and centers you. You might explore the presence of the kind of stillness I described above, or you might orient toward the unflappable steadiness that is also always there in the background of all experience. Whatever quality you may choose, notice what you experience when you consciously shift from foreground to background, reminding yourself that each moment is an opportunity to acknowledge what you may be feeling but also an opportunity to shift to whatever support is right there, always, in the background of your awareness.
As with all these practices, there’s really no right way to do this one. It’s a matter of remembering that distress and activation arise for everyone at times and remembering foreground/background dynamics offer one more way to experience how choosing where to put your attention can have a powerful effect on your internal quality of life.
Remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything with or about them.