Figure / Ground


How About Them Apples?”

figure ground

figure / ground — finding reality amid the dreams

Classical Confusion

The Dilemma of Foreground / Background

If you took Psychology 101, you’ll remember the perception illustrations like the one to the left. As you look at the illustration, either the smirking guy or the pleading woman will pop out at you–to the foreground. Initially, the foreground image will so predominate, that you might not be able to “make out” the other image.

Once you see it’s opposite, there’s a switch, and for a moment, that’s all you see. However, since your mind knows that the other view is there, soon you are able to see both, or one, or the other, by choice.

Another way to view it–do I see the woman in the top picture, or do I see her apples? What is it I bring the to the forefront of my consciousness, and why? Whatever is in the foreground of my consciousness is what I notice. If I simply leave it at that, much of what is going on behind the scenes is covered up by the obvious.

A couple of decades ago, Magic Eye began to produce posters that looked like visual noise, or look like this:

© Magic Eye 2007 Magic Eye Inc.

Have a look here, if you don’t know how to “see” this!

Clicking on the above image takes you to Sarah Susanka’s book site for “Not So Big Life.” This book is an essential read. But I digress.

Anyway, I remember when those posters first came out–crowds, noses pressed up to store windows, all staring ahead, cross-eyed, trying to see the ‘magic.’ Once you got past the learning curve, seeing the 3D image takes seconds.

So, What’s my Point?

Our minds, as I said last week, in the article on Zen Mind, are hard wired in terms of ways of ‘doing’ reality. I mentioned this in terms of the old 28 days to change a habit idea. The reason is simple: neuronal pathways actually exist for everything that goes on in our brains, and the older a connection, the more deeply entrenched it is. Learning something new requires first of all realizing the validity of the new thing, and then practicing it for 28 days, as the brand new neural links build.

Thinking Isn’t Enough–Ever!

Remember, it’s 28 days of implementation!

I’m going to do a client mash-up as an illustration. A client told me about working on her “Core Strength,” something pretty typical these days. Pilates, as well as martial arts, and yoga, have all stressed developing the core muscles, both for stability and for power.

the core

The Core — stability, relating, self-esteem

Well, that’s a good thing to work on, but here’s the thing. Many people feel weak in the highlighted zone to the left. Our internal wiring, however, does not see or understand that most have weak personal cores too!

We are programmed to separate physical training from our personal development.

Zen Mind is no-mind, in that it is a re-alignment of our understanding about the inter-relatedness of “us.”

In the West, we separate mind, body, emotions & feelings, and spirit.

I suggested to my client that her instincts were right on–she feels weak in her Core, and this is more than a muscular weakness. The issue is not only physical, but emotional, and “personal.”

What I mean is that just strengthening the core muscles, while good in and of itself, will not automatically shift over into her having a strong “core” of being.

The three core zones

The picture to the side is of the Chakras, and I’ve highlighted the first three, or “Core” Chakras.

There’s an old thought that most people spend their lives working on Chakras 1 through 3–what are called the physical Chakras, and never get to 4–7–the ones that actually allow the person to engage their deeper self, so as to make a difference in the real world.

What happens in my office is interesting.

Bodywork leads to an emotional/physical realization (an actual experience) of what we talked about in therapy (an intellectual understanding.)

The bodywork opens things up, so that other ways of living and being become clear. Once the energy channels open and energy begins to flow, you have a real experience of what being alive and “full of energy” is like.

Many of my clients have actual physical things happen in the days following a session–long-time pain goes away, or intensifies. Some have frequent bathroom trips, others are suddenly overwhelmed with emotion.

For others, the entire experience happens in the office, and life as usual happens at home, as they shut down the feelings as they close my front door.

But the interesting part is what happens if you take this

Core Work seriously.

  • Each day, you set aside time to sit, to breathe, to open yourself to your own insecurities and imbalances.
  • You allow yourself to feel the full extent of both the relationships you’ve had in the past, and the ones you’re in right now.
  • You can fully and completely experience what you are feeling, and accept all aspects of your inner experience as “who you are.”

Figure and Ground Shift

In order to ‘wake up,’ you have to bring your attention to the larger picture. To use the top photo as an illustration, it’s seeing both the apples and what lies behind the apples.

Emotions often tend to be background. Let’s use sadness as an example. The feeling, “sadness” arises into consciousness, and instantly, the mind snaps away from it, to the foreground of “questioning.” Rather than fully engage with (feel) the sadness, you say, “I wonder what it is in my past that has caused me to feel sad?” Your mind has taken control, and you discuss with yourself and others the causes of the feeling. Rather than fully and completely feeling the feeling.

In other words, in order to ‘wake up,’ you must broaden your perception–the fearfulness of bring fully yourself is accepted.You choose not to shut down, avoid, or “paint over” the background data–as you allow yourself to fully and truly feel. You notice how you block yourself, and how you keep yourself from feeling your own energy””how you keep yourself from fully and completely releasing yourself from the resistances, fears, and chains you imprison yourself with.

The shift is this: I am not who I think I am

Your mind is stuck in old views and habits. If you are perfectly content with yourself and your life, you’ve got this sorted out. If not, the problem is that you keep repeating ways of being and doing that support what does not work, and indeed, keeps you stuck.

Instead, allow yourself to shift your focus, for a while, from thinking old thoughts to feeling your feelings and allowing in new experiences–at the core level. Find balance, open yourself to deeper and more intimate relating, and accept yourself, fully and completely. Then, move from there.

I’ll make some suggestions about this in the remaining articles for 2008!

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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