Road trip! A nephew graduating the University of South Carolina. A husband bicycling the Blue Ridge Parkway. Beauty everywhere, in the faces of my cherished family and in the wildflowers profusely covering the Parkway forest floor.
And the price for precious time with family and days in the mountains with Mike? Hours upon hours of driving and passenger sitting. I amused myself during the 10 hour trip home with the following attention practice, which altered my perception in a positive way and also reduced travel fatigue and stiff joints.
Foreground and Background Attention Practice:
Here’s what you do.….(please try this as a passenger first, and not while driving…just a disclaimer)
STEP 1: Notice what is in the foreground of your attention. On the highway, this could be the signage, the billboards, the median strips. This is where most of us ‘hang out’ with our attention when we are in a car, even when a passenger and not making driving decisions.
STEP 2: Give your attention to what is in the background. This can be great fun on a mountain trip, as the vistas are many and dramatic. Enjoy exclusively what is in the distance.
STEP 3: Are you ready?! This is the challenging one. Simultaneously give your attention to the foreground AND the background. Equal attention. Go ahead. Try it with this next Parkway photograph. Not so easy!
The eye darts from tree to mountain, from grasses to sky, from newly-leafed-branches to distant cirrus clouds. Our minds name, categorize, and assess. Instead of grasping details with your attention, hold it ALL in your awareness, without a preference for any of it. Observe how this changes your perception, and also your physical level of comfort and ease.
It’s a restful practice, ultimately, although you may find yourself struggling with habit. My eyes and mind prefer to focus intently on one thing and then another. The foreground/background attention practice resists this intense one-pointed-focus-habit. To encourage a new way of seeing (and being), you can utilize what student, Sophie, calls ‘soft eyes,’ a gentle all-inclusive gaze of one’s surroundings.
What does attention-training have to do with the Alexander Technique? The Technique is one very big practice in attention. We learn to recover our poise by giving our physical experience attention and thought. We re-educate our kinesthetic sense by attending to the moment-to-moment sensations of life in a body. Instead of fixing ourselves by correcting the details our posture, we notice the dimensionality of our body in space, and invite, as it’s called in AT World, ‘a little bit of ease.’ All of this is achieved through how we engage our attention.
May your road trips be safe ones, and may you find yourself enjoying ‘a bit of ease.’ Godspeed—–