Expansion & Contraction: The Essence of Life

March and April were pretty challenging months for me across the board, but specifically in the area of finances.  Between unexpected 2010 taxes due, a significant increase in 2011 estimated taxes due, clients expectedly and unexpectedly completing, a lack of new clients enrolling, and significant financial commitments taken on before discovering the tax situation, I exhausted all of my financial resources.

Each time I learned of another financial “blow”, I experienced contraction in three specific aspects of my being – physical (sensation), mental/intellectual (thought), and emotional (feeling). For example, I was hunched over the kitchen table sobbing, avoiding eye contact or touch with my husband (the bearer of the bad tax news), repeating to myself over and over how I had done everything “right” (paid the estimated taxes Turbo Tax indicated in 2010) yet condemning myself for not knowing better and feeling shame, anger, loneliness and hopelessness.

I fully surrendered to those experiences on all levels of my being – ranting, sobbing, huddling internally and externally.  In retrospect, I think this surrendering was actually a surrendering to or embracing of expansion; even as, in the moment, my physical, mental, and emotional experiences were contraction. Kind of like the yin yang symbol – a little light exists in the dark, and a little dark exists in the light.

Our minds, emotions and bodies move between states of expansion and contraction all day, every day. This is the nature of life…in fact, THIS IS LIFE.  That old adage “The only constant is change” could not be more accurate. Change comes from expanding and contracting…moment to moment, day to day, year to year…and our experiences of these expansions and contractions within and around us is LIFE.

A wise friend of mine suggested that when the world sends me circumstances that would typically (maybe habitually) cause me to contract, try expanding! I remember looking at him and wondering “How the hell I do that????” Now I see: it’s all about being present with myself in the moment. When I am with the feelings, thoughts and sensations that arise in each moment, I am naturally led to expansion.  So now, when I contract, I notice how contraction shows up in my being via emotions, sensations, and thoughts.  By simply bringing awareness to this, I begin experiencing them and, in time, the contraction shifts to expansion…and the cycle begins again when I am once again stimulated into contraction…

The thing is, I don’t want to get caught in the vortex of contraction – the fear, victim thinking, doom and gloom, anger, shame, etc. that leads me down into the depths of self-pity.  I want to experience these sensations, thoughts and emotions, and allow them to move through me, witnessing, trusting that “being with” without attachment will lead me to expansion.

Expansion also reveals itself in these three aspects of my being – physical (sensation), mental/intellectual (thought), and emotional (feeling). In the previous example, it was first surrendering to the feelings arising in the moment…and noticing they changed to feelings of grief, mourning, and sadness.  As I experienced these more expansive feelings and communicated them to my husband, I was able to begin, slowly, to look at him and release the tension in my body and able to consider that although the circumstances seemed dire, possibilities for navigating them might exist. Eventually, I was able to be held by him and feel comfort and self-acceptance.  Later still, I was able to discuss strategies that honored my current state of affairs.

One of the paradoxes I notice is that my being’s desire for expansion triggers fear and contraction! I know I am being called to something larger in my professional practice.  When I attended the Presence-Based Coaching training in April, I began working with this commitment “I am moving from containment to expansion in my professional practice”.  And guess what?  I’ve had (and am still having!) lots of opportunities to explore how I have contained myself and how afraid I am of expanding. I’ve been telling myself the same old stories…I am not good enough, no one will enroll, I’ll never be financially stable…when in fact, these thoughts only reflect part of the story.  The other part?

I am competent and wise in my coaching AND I am new to being a solo-preneur and there’s a steep learning curve.  People are drawn to working with me AND it’s time to expand my offerings to include retreats, workshops, and who knows what else.  I have just finished the first year of owning and managing my own business…it takes a few years for financial stability to manifest even for the most seasoned entrepreneur.



It seems to me, that to harness the energy and empowerment of expansion (of LIFE itself), I must allow myself to be with the dance of contraction and expansion in all aspects of my being – physical (sensation), mental/intellectual (thought), and emotional (feeling).

Imagining life will always be expansive seems unrealistic to me; as unrealistic as believing life will always be contracted.  Life itself is the movement between two.  My life is about learning to dance between contraction and expansion gracefully, accepting myself and others, and remembering that expansion exists even during my darkest hours.

My question for you is: “”…what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems.



Questions to ponder:

  • What are the physical symptoms you experience when you feel contracted? Expanded?
  • What feelings typically underlie your experience of contraction?  Expansion?
  • What are the repetitive and habitual stories you tell yourself when you feel contracted?  Expanded?
  • In what areas of your life do you habitually contract and resist being with that contraction?
  • What are you willing to do about it?


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  1. This blog post struck a chord with me. As I read about your experience, I realized that you did what I have always failed to do – you accepted and embraced all of the feelings and allowed them to roll over you and express themselves in whatever way you were feeling at the time. I find myself bogged down in decisions that I feel unprepared and unqualified to make. And yet, I am determined not to let these feelings overwhelm me.

    I know that releasing your emotions didn’t fix all your problems, but it feels like it would be a small step towards sanity at the very least. I appreciate the kick in the butt. I hope things get better for you. Blessings.

  2. Just in time – I’ve just come through a significant change and all those feelings (lack of worth, victimhood, shame, embarassment etc) all rolled through me…I asked only that they teach me and I would sit still with them (I became a hermit for a short time, not literally). In time, I remembered that the loss of “it” only represented a very small portion of my life…and I got back to living the rest of the portions…family, friends, the joy of driving down the highway, good music…more fully once again, and by doing so the change, the it diminished. Today I said, “there that is done”.

    By returning the other portions of my life that for a short time were overshadowed, I can slowly emerge into the new something…I am excited to see where that will be…almost there….