Via Basel: Circle of Being: Expansion & Contraction
Half Life in Full Circle, by Duy Huynh
Except for medical personnel, first responders, essential workers, and others on the front line in this COVID-19 pandemic, most of us including myself have been at home for a week, officially sheltering in place in Chicago, the whole state of Illinois, and many other communities, some working, others with less to do but all of us sharing a common feeling of what I can best describe as “contraction.” In ordinary times we fluctuate between the expansive feelings, joy, excitement, etc. and the opposite, sadness, worry, and the rest in the contraction category. This time it’s all of us having the same kind at the same time for a whole lot of time.
In western cultures we tend to think mostly in linear terms, a beginning, middle, and end, full stop. Looking at phenomena as a circle with no beginning or end is an eastern perspective, generally speaking. Combining that with the universality of expansion and contraction following each other, we can start to look at existence and being in a whole new and fresh perspective.
Many years ago I was introduced to this concept, “expansion & contraction,” at a meditation retreat by my teacher Shinzen Young. (Of course nothing I am saying is original but merely regurgitating and commenting on it is my purpose here.) This concept applies to a variety of macro and micro phenomena. The universe has been expanding, scientists tell us, for 13.7 billion years, but sooner or later it will contract, returning to that densest point in time and space when it all started. Is there another recurring similar cycle? Our breathing is an example, with expansion on the in-breath and contraction on the out-breath, in a constant, ongoing flow. At any moment in our bodies, cells are constantly being produced while others decay in a constant cycle of life and death, aka expansion and contraction. In nature, plants and trees grow from a seed to maturity, then decline and decay, eventually forming the foundation and nourishing process for the next cycle of life. I am sure you can come up with many more examples. Are there simultaneous multi-verses all doing the same dance? Maybe!
What, then, is the theme, lesson, or wisdom in that ubiquitous phenomena, and why is that relevant today in the midst of widespread anxiety and uncertainty unleashed by this pandemic? At an early age, around my mid-teens, I experienced a few short-lived panic attacks. They were related to feeling constricted and imprisoned in time and space with no outlet. I could not explain or justify them then, but fortunately they eventually stopped as I went about with my life. There were also other times when I felt absolutely expansive and unbound, such as when I entered Lebanon in August, 1970, after leaving Iraq by way of Jordan and Syria, on my journey to America. It is only later that I started to put these experiences in perspective and in relation to this cyclical concept.
Now, there has been a wealth of incisive and wise comments and articles, etc. regarding the upheaval the world is going through, but I still feel there is a place for personal expression in some way or another and this column at Escape Into Life is my preferred one.
Many others have written about looking at the big picture, and that allows us to see what is happening in cyclical terms, more like a wave instead of a straight line, and then that wave actually loops back on itself and connects, with no break in the circle. You can call it the circle of life, of being, or whatever name that suits you and your cultural background. However in my opinion this will help only if it is felt deeply, internally, in your body and heart as well as your mind. Just to understand and rationalize it intellectually is not enough. In your core, deep inside, you have to believe it, and you really can’t fool yourself. Only by repetition, continued reflection, and meditation on that concept can it become an integral part of you without having to voluntarily bring it up every time you confront a challenging situation, minor or major. It will be a natural flowing process rather than the manufactured, fragmented, intellectual and emotional response we are accustomed to.
May you be bathed in a soothing and loving solitude at this time.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.