Life is full of lessons. Some lessons are easy. Some lessons are hard. But when you've been around the block enough times, certain lessons will keep repeating themselves throughout your physical experience on this planet. These recurring lessons of life can be called ‘universal principles’. And you soon learn that unless you surrender and abide to these ‘universal principles’ life will continuously punish you, until you do. A principle I've noticed most people struggle to live by, is the principle of expansion and contraction, and as a result suffer mentally, physically and spiritually. So what is expansion and contraction?
Expansion and contraction is literately the cycle of existence. You see it in every aspect of life. Night and day, inhale and exhale, high tide and low tide, contraction and eccentric contraction of muscles. This principle manifests everywhere. It’s the exertion of energy and accumulation of energy. So how does this relate to the human experience?
When you’re engaged in the act of giving energy, exerting yourself mentally or physically (work, sports ect...), you’re in the stage of expansion. This is an outflow of energy. A vital component to the human experience. Giving your gift, being of service to others and making the world a better place, produces feelings of euphoria in your body that become very fulfilling. If you’re someone who has pushed themselves to their limits to produce something of true quality, be it in your business, a passion project or just for the fun of it, then you know what I’m talking about. In my personal opinion (I have no science to back this up) I believe this is how human beings are designed. We receive good emotions from our body when we exert energy, and become depressed when we hold in our energy. The opposite of depression is expression. But expansion is just one side of the coin. And it’s the other side of the coin I see that is more commonly ignored and disregarded.
Contraction is the accumulation of energy (not to be confused with the withholding of energy). This is a state of rest and recharging. This accumulation of energy is vital as without it, you would soon burn out, become ill and die. Like a computer that is constantly working it will eventually shut down (or work very poorly). Illness can be a way of your body forcing you into contraction if you don’t adopt healthy habits to recharge. Unfortunately a person’s agenda and the body’s agenda aren’t always aligned. Instead of respecting your body, being with the illness until it subsides. Reflecting on how you became ill, so you can avoid it next time. We take pills to mask the symptoms so we can keep working. Driving the illness deeper into the cells until it comes back years later as a serious illness. Quite disturbing when you spend time to think about it!
You can respect and honour your body (yourself) through clean food, company of friends and family, sleep, music. Pretty much anything that nourishes your soul. This could be a 20 page article on just those four things. But I want to focus on a less traditional way (in the West any) to recharge your biological batteries. Meditation (focused awareness).
Just in case the word meditation puts you off, let me share with you that personally, I’m not particularly religious or spiritual. I’m not trying to reincarnate myself or reach some high level of enlightenment (not yet anyway). Those things don’t interest me. I practice daily meditation to master the ‘art of recovery’. I want to be able to do a 12 hour work day and not be too exhausted or fatigued. To embody efficiency as best I can. So how can a daily 10-15 minute meditation session help you on a physiological level?
When under stress we release a hormone called cortisol. Research shows that this hormone slightly increases memory function, increases immunity and heightens the pain threshold. These are short term effects. This would have been useful back in the cave man days when getting away from a threat. Once safe (back in the cave man days) we would have returned back to our tribe where we could rest. This allowed the cortisol to leave the body, bringing us back into a more relaxed (parasympathetic) state. Now, fast forward to the 21st century where nothing really ever turns off. Even at night you can hear cars and see street lights on 24/7 (especially if you live in a major city), advertisements everywhere and an endless supply of sugary foods. There is constant stimulation. This causes a problem for our hormonal and nervous system, as it never has the opportunity to fully relax. Because of this, it’s common that most people have low levels (or high in some cases) of cortisol in their system constantly. The symptoms of this can be anxiety, depression, stress ect.. So you can imagine how years of cortisol in your system can run down your entire body. Make you ill and even shorten you life span. As we live in a culture of flashing lights, loud noises and long work hours. We need to consciously install habits to aid our body in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Putting aside 15 minutes a day to sit comfortably (eyes open or closed) to consciously be aware of bodily sensations - your breath, heartbeat ect.. - Without adding any internal dialogue. To be present. This allows the body to move into the relaxation response. Meditation is the best method I’ve discovered to ground your energy. There’s an abundance of amazing meditation teachers out there. My personal favourites being Eckhart Tolle (author of the Power of Now) and Allan Watts. I urge you to listen to these guys or to find other teachers you resonate with.
As human beings, we are designed to live 90% of the time in the parasympathetic nervous system. We’re not meant to be in a constant state of anxiety and stress. It is not sustainable. So to match the demands of the 21st century. Certain rituals (habits) must be in place to support ourselves. Drink water, eat fruit and vegetables, breathe fully, meditate, and exercise. The simplest advice anyone could give and yet most of us are lacking in one or two of these areas. The body only needs a few simple things in order to support you on your journey. Expand forward into the world, express yourself. And when your body needs time to rejuvenate, honour that as well.