The rhythm of life is expansion and contraction. Our heart and lungs pulsate in a finely tuned dance with the rest of our body. The tides move in and out of shore in sync with the moon. The oak tree, the field of wheat, the bee hive, they all cycle between dormancy and abundance as the seasons pass.
People, too, expand and contract. Our being, the animate spirit that lights up the body and sparks our genius, flourishes when conditions for life are propitious. We can extend our presence outwards and allow it to fill the room, connect with people and awaken parts of them they never knew existed. By allowing our being to take up its rightful space, we enable our Goodness to come into the world.
There are, however, times when the outside world rejects us or emotions threaten to overwhelm us. In response, our being retreats back into its shell and we protect it by deploying mental and emotional defence strategies. When that happens, the body still moves, the mind still thinks, and emotions still arise, but the trinity disintegrates into three isolated domains. We end up functioning instead of existing, doing instead of being present, chasing goals instead of living our purpose. At its worst, we loose contact with the ground of our being and the resulting void feeds our depression and despondency.
Our desires, too, follow an expansionary trajectory from the unnamable source within to its fulfilment in the external world. Like seeds that sprout in the soil and transform as they grow towards the sun, desire expands through our actions until it has reached its proper form. Desires, however, can be frustrated by external constraints or inner denial, and the latter causes us to suppress desire so that it remains small and pent up.
Attention also expands and contracts. Not only the analytical awareness that attaches names and meaning to things, but also the affective part that powers our empathy and compassion. Our attention can expand beyond our physical boundaries to connect with the world around us and the larger whole that envelopes us. And attention expands within us like tendrils of clematis to reach and report back on the deeper layers of our being. This way, attention to self becomes the basis for presence and attention to other becomes the basis of intimacy.
Under stress, however, we retract our attention, like tentacles of the sea anemone when touched by a foreign object. When we pull back our attention we disconnect from others and stop paying attention to the submarine currents of our inner world, causing us to become disconnected from ourselves. Or attention folds in on itself, creating a solipsistic loop in which the mind focuses on itself and we become isolated from felt reality.
The rhythm of life is expansion and contraction. We are not here to manage or optimise that rhythm, because that disturbs and distorts its natural flow. Instead, we would do better to honour that rhythm and stay present to it, allowing it to move through us in its own time.