How to Be with the Natural Cycles of Expansion and Contraction

Apr 22, 2015

I’m fascinated by the natural cycle of expansion and contraction that happen as you grow spiritually and creatively.

You venture on a writing retreat, or you disappear into your creative cave, or you hike for miles into the wilderness – and you are changed. You are so awash in joy, connected to all that is, so buoyed by a cushion of love and meaning… and then, sometimes quickly, sometimes little by little, life returns.

The buoying and joyful knowing recedes, and you feel not lost so much as dry.

Like a starfish about the tideline, waiting for the ocean to return.

You know this is utterly normal. You know you have peak experiences (or are granted the grace of them) so that you can then, through patience and practice, develop the capacity to live that way more of the time.

Or as Jack Kornfield says, “After enlightenment, then comes the laundry.”

You know that it’s all love, it’s all good…but still, my God, this contracting after your heart falls open or your creative life blossoms can be so painful.

I’ve just experienced my own sweet flowering – one of the deepest and strongest of my life – and as that state has faded into the background a bit, I have watched the fading with careful curiosity. I am so aware of how, in the past, I have made this natural passage more painful and how I am now learning to be a little easier with it. Tuck these ideas away for the next time you return aching and wondering why why why can’t I always feel this way:

Tell yourself, “This is normal. Contract, expand. Tide comes in, tides goes out. Remain alert and curious.” Or: freaking out is not necessary.

Bow to the dishes with devotion. And your mom when she asks for the 13th time where her purse is. Bow to the deadline, the cranky partner who felt ignored, the dirty laundry. Shower it all with gratitude.

Laugh at the thought you need to go get “more” from someone or somewhere else. Retreats and trainings and long spells in the creative cave are fantastic, but so is all the rest of it.

Always be cultivating a community to whom you can say, “I just had the most amazing experience,” who will understand and nod with joy.

Be alert for feeling like a stubborn child, who feels cheated because the perfect day at the park is over and digs in her heels, stubbornly turning away from the cool glass of water and the freshly made bed. In other words, continue to give yourself what you most desire – the time to meditate or write, the time to hike in the patch of forest by your house – even if it isn’t the hours you would have on retreat or the pristine wilderness hundreds of miles from humans. Because to follow your desire, to tend them with care, is both the path home and a wonderful place to be right now.

Be alert to telling yourself, “Well that was pointless, why give myself ____ again?” Retreats and deep dives and walkabouts are precious. Period.

When I first led retreats, I used to feel like a charlatan because after the retreat was over, in a few weeks, people were back to regular life. It took me years to understand that’s normal! It’s okay. It is what we do with what we experienced and how we generously share that matters.

Hope this is useful!



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