Cycles of life

This is an ambitious article, it is broad and sweeping and some may say generalising. Yet, it is my hope that, since it starts with us, consciousness and our very cells, it will find an intuitive response inside of you. The idea started with observing myself. With meditation and experimentation in consciousness. With the big picture and the small picture. But what does that mean?

For many years I have wrested with meditation and the affect it had on my day to day life. There have been days when it generated a keen and clear awareness that carried me. Then there were days that I felt dissociated from my body and those around me. Interpersonal relationships were like talking through a telephone, distant. It sometimes took me many days to be in the physical world again, to communicate with people and do my job.

What brought about these disembodied states of awareness? They were due to meditation practices that brought about expanded states of consciousness, immersion in Being. Kabbalah, Yoga, Tantra, Sattipitanah were some of the cocktail of methods and techniques I used. They resulted in an inability – partially due to being in a wheelchair – to come back into what we know as normal, every-day consciousness. I was stuck in expansion like a drug addict and not able to easily contract again to live my normal, embodied life.

These are the key words: expansion and contraction. Consciousness expands and we know ourselves as Being. Consciousness contracts again and we know ourselves as embodied individuals and personalities. What is happening here I asked myself? It seemed that certain meditation traditions where celebrating the expanded states and vilifying the contracted. I absorbed the aversion to contraction taught by the various schools I attend like a sponge. Yoga, Buddhism and Christianity. Many of the traditions want to expand only. Samadhi, Nirvana and Heaven, they were the goals. “Kill the ego” they said. Now I agree with Freud, this belief is the opiate of the masses and a return to the womb.

Since when did contraction and embodiment become so bad? I noticed the resistances to personal power and ego where deeply ingrained, cultural and systemic in me and many of the people I interacted with. The religious and social context in which I lived also showed it. Vast groups of humanity were hanging onto ideals of expanded Being as the goal beyond earthly life. It did not matter what colour, shape or forms this took. What mythology.

This resistance had its reverse pole as well. When I dabbled in materialistic ways of being in the world, in a place of contraction. Me and you, my nation and yours, my tribe and yours and all the diversity of what it means to be a human animal living out a short life on a beautiful yet delicate planet. All of this orbiting a small star which itself is whirling through space on a galaxy one amongst billions. Yes as I contracted further, the more my consciousness was forced to expand consciousness out again: this time into an infinite universe of planets, stars, galaxies and objects. Within the contraction is the expansion. This is a universe of expansion and contraction from our own little being to the very mechanics of the universe.

When I had genetic tests the counsellor told me we can see this pulse is echoed in our DNA. DNA unravels for the RNA to read it and ravels up again. This is how proteins are made. Our bodies breath in and out, if we breathed in only we’d explode.Perhaps this observation can be extended further: the societies in which we live and the politicians we vote in also display this expansion and contraction. Of course they would, we vote them in, even if it is the last vote you have on the road to “unfreedom” and autocracy. There is a pulse in all systems – expansion and increase to contraction and decrease.

These last few years we have seen our liberal democracy move towards increased globalisation then turn towards more internally focused sociopolitical systems – at least in the Western world. There has been much fear connected with this contraction. Fears of fascism and persecution of minorities, this is a justified fear. The world has seen many autocracies and atrocities with untold pain and suffering. The memory still vivid in our collective memory.

The warnings are valid when we view such contractions of our societies and conservative politicians filling our governments. Though that does not make them bad, a nation has simply turned towards internal affairs. Though it does mean we need to be on high alert for the shadow side of such contractions.

The reverse is true, the world has seen unprecedented growth and expansion, nations have been included, the globe has been connected in ways unheard of in past generations. Facebook can translate a conversation from Arabic into English and back again so we can participate in an online conversation across cultures. Unchecked expansion though also has its shadow: food is sent around the globe so we can eat a strawberry in winter, local produce exported. Work is excessively outsourced and the local workforce neglected. A high carbon footprint for a nice, juicy apple packed in plastic.

The current social-economic climate has reacted to the expansive, inclusive nature of the past few decades. A public call has demanded resources be used to support everyone back home, we are Americans, or British or French and we take first place in our own countries. Can we all be included at our expense they ask? Employ us and buy locally. Again, this attitude has its shadow – marginalisation, supremacism and the horrors of fascism – yet the contraction is not bad, it is cyclic. We make a mistake when we assume life to be linear, growth and increase as good and contraction as bad.

If we take this example back home to our own being: the practice in mindfulness meditation we learn that we all have the tendency to hold onto pleasant sensations in the body and push away unpleasant ones. In fact, not only do we want to hold onto pleasant sensations (they often come with expanded states of consciousness), we would like them to increase. We are greedy for them. And what of unpleasant sensation? We have developed an aversion to them. It could even be that we hate them and find as many distractions as possible not to feel them.

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life is a diagram representing expansion and contraction and the balance between the two. This extraordinarily diagram shows the interaction of these polarities as they manifest in an infinity of different ways of being in the world and the functioning of the universe. Expansion and contraction and the balance between the two, yang and yin and the balance between the two.

This article has also gone from expansion and contraction again. We looked at the world then back to ourselves again, for that is where it all begins – with yourself. Practice mindfulness meditation and learn to loosen the habit of mind that pushes away the unpleasant and holds onto the pleasant. Undo the tendency to polarise into good and bad. To push away inconvenient truths and hold onto comfortable ways of living. Life is cyclic and we need to learn how to navigate its pulse.

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