Foreground and Background

Fresh off a workshop in Toronto that was extraordinary in every way (the participants, the venue and the work that was done), I’m heading off tomorrow to present at an academic conference in England (on “Consciousness, Theatre, Literature and the Arts”), after which I’ll be joined by my daughter for a two-week jaunt around the English countryside on our bicycles: circling from Manchester down to Cambridge, and back around up to Manchester.

So I’ll keep this newsletter punchy: an experiment you might like to try, a great radio interview, and a few announcements.

First, the experiment, which was provoked by an interesting study.  People were shown paintings for a minute or so, and then were asked to describe what they saw.  Participants in Western cultures tended to describe what was happening in the foreground; in Asian cultures they tended to describe the background.  Interesting.  These different cultural perspectives point to differences in allegiance, with some significant ramifications.  A primary allegiance to ‘doing’ will draw your attention to the foreground; a primary allegiance to being will draw your attention to the background, which is the living context that sustains and guides whatever happens within it.

Similarly, in our own lives, an allegiance to ‘doing’ will tether our attention to our doing: to our agendas, our judgments, our status in the win/lose scenarios we formulate.  An allegiance to being will carry your attention away from that contracted realm in which everything is taken personally, and shift it into a realm that is non-personal: the realm in which the dance of the present moment is felt in all its specificity, and within its harmonies is heard the clear invitation to join in.

So this is something you might play with: to allow the field of your attention to dilate from the foreground of your doing to the background of your being, such that what we call “the background” actually ascends to the foreground.  The more gently you can allow your consciousness to descend into the primary being of your body, the more easily the life of the world around you, and you within it, will come into focus.  I encourage you to give it a try and see where it leads.  I find it a powerfully transformative practice.

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