Expansion and Contraction

 “While trauma is about being frozen or stuck, pendulation is about the innate organismic rhythm of contraction and expansion.  It is, in other words, about getting unstuck by knowing (sensing from the inside), perhaps for the first time, that no matter how horrible one is feeling, those feelings can and will change.”

–from the book: In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness by Peter Levine (highly recommended, very readable and sooo interesting)

There is a rhythm to the way that we do things – to our days, weeks and years, to the way we walk, to the cadence of our voices.  Music and dance is compelling way beyond its economic “usefulness” because it connects us to this internal rhythm. It is inherent to our organism: the heart pumping in our chest and our in breath and out breath.  Even when we make our bodies still, there is rhythm and movement within and around us. Rhythm is inherent to existence.

When things are a-changing in dramatic or unplanned ways, sometimes it is hard to remember that change is our rhythm.  It is the way things function at the micro-cellular level and the macro-universal level.  It is a rhythm of being.  Each breath is only with us for a moment, as yogis like to say.  Feelings, seasons, moments are always on their way to becoming something else.  Expansion and Contraction is a part of our experience and knowing this, knowing that we aren’t in a perpetual state of either can be difficult and beautiful.  It can help us to have patience through the difficult times and deeply appreciate the beautiful ones.  Rhythm is a part of this existence.

Patanjali writes of the pain that comes with knowing that change is a fact of life.

Yoga Sutra 2.15 (Desikachar, Heart of Yoga)

Parinamatapasamskaraduhkhairgunavrttivirodhacca duhkhameva sarvam vivekinah

Painful effects from any object or situation can be a result of one or more of the following: changes in the perceived object, the desire to repeat pleasurable experiences, and the strong effect of conditioning from the past.  In addition, changes within the individual can be contributing factors. 

Desikachar’s Commentary:

There is constant change of some sort in ourselves and in the objects of our senses.  These changes may be unrecognized.  Thus, we may have an urge to seek for more of the same, when there is no possibility of achieving this.  The effects of past conditioning can create strong reactions if what we are used to is not forthcoming.  We must add to this the complexity of patterns in ourselves and the world around us.  Thus, there is potential in any object or situation to contribute to painful or unpleasant effects.  What can we do?

(read more of the Sutras… Patanjali has some ideas of what we can do.)

Aaaah, change. I much prefer thinking about it as rhythm.  To me, “change” is more abrasive and annoying of a concept, but I can warm up to “rhythm.” With rhythm, there’s a sense of things coming around – maybe even coming back around, like a dance. In a dance with another person, you have to feel the music, respond to the touch of your partner, and go with the flow of the experience. There’s a quality of surrender that rhythm asks of us.  And don’t think surrender is passive.  A dancer wouldn’t be dancing if she slumped passively.  Surrender is an active choice and it takes practice, poise and patience.

For me, when I am quiet and tuned in to this innate rhythm and nothing too terrible is going on, I find comfort in it.  There is a “sensing from the inside,” as Levine says, of something way bigger than me at work: genetic, evolutionary, physical and universal.  In yoga, it is Ishvara pranidhana, or surrender to the divine, the bigger things at work, the Plan.  This comforts me (when I remember) during experiences of expansion, feeling myself open and receptive, or contraction, when I’m not.  The deep sensing of rhythm is a reminder that I won’t always be in the space that I inhabit today.  Things can and will change, and will probably come back around.

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