Contractions: Dissolving These Little Inner Fists With Gentle Attention and Loving Kindness
At some point in our lives, most of us unconsciously developed contractions, which are like blocked energies occurring in the head, throat, chest/heart area, stomach, pelvic area or root area. These contractions can feel very dense and sluggish and can actually drain our energy. They served as a way to protect us from vulnerable situations, powerfully negative emotions, feelings of unsafety and various other events in our lives. Our bodies seem to record threats from our external cues and contract in the face of those threats, creating what feels like a lifelong contraction in one or more of these areas. If you notice what happens to the human body in a crisis situation, like the collapse of a building or a bomb, you’ll see that the body automatically contracts inward to protect itself. The head goes down, the legs come up towards the head, the stomach muscles contract. The body automatically coils up in self-protection. The same seems to happen when we are faced with perceived psychological threats, rejection or trauma from childhood, albeit in a more unconscious way. Even if the body doesn’t visibly contract, the contractions are formed. For some of us, addictions develop as a way to further cope with this buried pain. By medicating these areas, we get to continue to not have to feel these buried emotions. But addictions are only temporary fixes. They cover up the pain. They don’t deal with the underlying issues.
A friend once said, “There is really no need to rest with and feel these bodily energies – the real work is just in questioning thoughts or just being present.” I beg to differ. Even once I questioned a lot of thoughts, and experienced an abiding presence, the contractions were still there, creating all sorts of havoc in my life – from addiction to reactions to threats that weren’t in fact real. The body seems to have its own say in the matter. And yes, thoughts can be questioned and can dissolve away, creating a more spacious, peaceful and fully present experience. But until these contractions open and dissolve, there is likely to be suffering, addiction, anxiety and/or depression to some degree.
What helped me was to consider these contractions like little fists that coil up in the face of stressful situations throughout the day. For example, when faced with a situation where I needed to speak up, but could not, the throat would feel blocked. When feeling stressed at work around a deadline, the stomach would clench. Relationship stress often brought a contraction in the heart area. Situations around safety, survival or money resulted in a flaring up of the stomach and the root contraction, near the bottom of the groin and lower back.
Once these contractions were seen like little fists, just gently bringing thought-free attention to them in the moment they began to contract was very helpful, and very loving. For years, I was highly unconscious of these little fists. They were essentially ignored. I was in my head mostly. But bringing awareness to these little fists whenever they contracted was a loving gesture. I remember spending hours each night, before sleep, resting attention very gently in those areas where contraction was felt. This felt like the most loving thing I had ever done – to care enough to pay attention to these little fists. Paying attention, along with the Living Inquiries, conscious breathing, some Tong Ren and Acupuncture, was really all that was needed to dissolve these little fists. It took time. Some contractions didn’t dissolve for months, or even years. Infinite patience was part of the love. To be infinitely patient is not to wait in time or forever, with the idea of some future moment when everything will dissolve. It is to rest right now with whatever is there.
To rest without expectation that anything will happen is truly a peaceful and loving way to work with these little fists. I often work with clients at the Center on these contractions. They want a quick fix. They want them to dissolve immediately. This is a natural inclination. We live in a culture where we are taught to look for quick fixes. But these contractions were often formed long ago and solidified through years of unconsciousness. They usually don’t dissolve right away for that reason. And whenever we are applying pressure to the contractions as a way to dissolve them, they often just stay contracted. Infinite patience, loving kindness and paying attention directly is just the right medicine.
If you are interested in learning how to work with contractions more skillfully, contact the Kiloby Center for Recovery at firstname.lastname@example.org.