Expansion and contraction describe two basic business cycles, two ways our breath moves, and the ongoing cycle of personal growth.
Expansion and contraction are also why all those potholes need patching each summer. When water freezes, it expands. When it thaws, it contracts. When groundwater freezes under the pavement, it takes up more space and causes the pavement’s material to expand. Then, when temperatures rise above freezing, the pavement contracts to fill the void under the surface where the water has contracted. The result: a pothole.
In life, when we press beyond our limits and expand into a new space, we expand our concept of our capabilities, and, ultimately, our understanding of who we are. People may notice and say, “You’re on fire!” And that’s how we feel: supercharged and skyrocketing! We grow beyond who we once were.
Then, our internal temperature changes. We bump up against some internal, limiting beliefs. We get scared, stuck, and filled with self-doubt. We feel the void within. We sink into our own pothole--a place from where it feels hard to take action. After all, we can barely peek up over the edges of this dark place, let alone find our way out.
I keep reminding myself that this is normal. Expansion stretches us. Contraction naturally follows.
Or as Jack Kornfield wrote, “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”
I’m in a pothole right now, it seems. I’ve been working all year, writing consistently and making progress on my second book, a memoir. I pitched it to a literary agent at a writer’s conference, and she asked me to send fifty pages of the manuscript. She described the one-page she read as, “compelling; intriguing; pretty beautiful.” This, dear readers, is a freakin’ dream come true.
I soared on an emotional high for the following week. I gave myself a break and took that week off from writing. I savored the agent’s words. I celebrated myself. I sat in immense gratitude for all the years I had practiced the craft of writing and enjoyed the study of reading.
The next week, we needed to travel to be with family during a medical procedure. I didn’t produce any writing. I didn’t revise any writing. I tried, but I was out of my ritual and out of my writing space.
Another week has passed, and I am just now beginning again. Yet, I feel trepidation. I’m intimidated by this project. I know what I’ve created is pretty beautiful, but I’m stuck in a pothole.
I’m in the contraction period. I keep telling myself that it will pass. Just like business cycles and our breath, I will rise again.
So, I’m talking to myself every day, and here’s what I’ve been saying:
This is normal. Expand, contract. Breath comes in, breath goes out. Remain curious. Hold your vision.
Take one step every day. One. Step.
Meet with your mentor. Keep your creative community close at hand.
Don’t wait until you feel in the flow. You’re a grown up, now, doing exactly the work in the world you’ve always wanted to do. Own it.
Be gentle with yourself, too. Take care of your body. Rest.
Read. Read. Read. Reading is an integral part of the craft of writing.
When you feel stuck or dissatisfied, get curious about your need for exploration. And remember, expansion and contraction are normal and, eventually, everything grows and potholes get filled in with new material.