In yoga, we expand in order welcome in the deep restorative breath, the pranayama that is the life force and the actual point of yoga. The expansive breathe that powers our physical yoga practice is the vital element that powers the body and mind to the ultimate goal of practice, reaching a state of higher consciousness.
We breathe into our practice, our bodies move and sweat and eventually, we find the stillness we seek. Enlightenment? Probably not. Peace. Possibly. But what happens when we roll up our mat and head out into the world? More often then not, we’re overwhelmed with a wave of chaos– both of our own making and of the broader world we live within.
With this premise of expansion in mind, I’d like to explore the opposite. Contraction. What if we take a look at our lives and we contract? Hear me out.
We’re 8+ months into a global pandemic and the whole damn world had to contract on a dime, without notice, and with our survival at stake. We contracted. We had to.
But as the months drag on, we’re in a strange and untethered place. The virus is still raging, our government has abandoned us and will not keep us safe, and we must decide what part of our lives we will continue to contract. And for many of us, that is a deep and anxiety-inducing activity.
For some of the lucky ones, the contraction simply meant staying home with their families, cooking all their food and talking with loved ones over Zoom. For the not so lucky, the contraction meant a radical shift of job loss, potential loss of home and maybe even the loss of one’s health. For others, the contraction simply meant that they were now essential, yet paid no different, and must sacrifice themselves so those lucky ones can enjoy their contraction.
What if we all, collectively, and as much as we physically can stand, contracted our lives? Radical downsizing. Stepping out of the consumption economy. Decommodified our lives. Lived in the waste stream. Created our own food sources. Cooked all of our meals. Created a barter system with our communities. Embraced our communities and supported each other’s contraction.
What if in this radical re-making of our lives, we discovered that such a contraction removed the anxiety and we could breathe again. We could remove the deeply seeded and rightfully acquired anxiety we are all experiencing and we contracted our lives. We made our footprints smaller. We did away with the need to always fit in, to always adhere to social norms, we did away with the shoulds and the have tos.
We are at a crossroads with our collective human journey. We are being forced to evaluate all that’s necessary in our lives, all that we’ve invested our time and energy into and all that we’ve acquired over a lifetime. We are being forced to evaluate what is necessary and what do we need to survive.
And here’s the thing, many are realizing that we really need so little to be truly happy. We really need very little in our lives in order to breathe deep and enjoy our moments. We need to produce something necessary to another human. We need to be of service to someone, somewhere, somehow. We need to put food on our tables and keep some sort of roof over our heads. And even that’s optional to some of us.
We are shedding the piles of necessities we’ve accumulated over the years of living this commodified life. And the planet is helping us do this through a global pandemic and radical climate change. Some of us may not wish to enter this type of contraction. It’s unsettling and removes the false comforts we’ve built over the years.
Contraction isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Over the past 8 months, I’ve done a dance of contracting and expanding. I’ve expanded my footprint a bit. I’ve settled into the guest bedroom at my family’s house to ride out the virus that hit while I was traveling in the spring to sell my crystals at festivals. By staying in one place too long, I acquired a few of those commodities I normally wouldn’t touch. I bought one too many books (my weakness). I invested in a digital piano to create. I expanded my business into lapidary art and invested in some mobile gear to polish on the road.
At the beginning of the summer, I looked at all of the business interests and noodling ideas and threw it all at the wall to see what would stick. I was on unemployment for the first time in my life, had no where to go, no where to work, no business coming in and had the space to breathe. And step back. I was blessed to be in a place of experimentation to see what would survive the summer and be my journey.
It’s no surprise that the crystal business was the hands-down winner. With the time and space to invest in my lovely little cottage industry biz, I found joy. In the contraction of my everyday life, in a place where time essentially stopped, I found joy in every single aspect of my 3 year old business. My crystal business is simple. It’s so simple. I source beautiful mineral specimens. I photograph them. I post them on Etsy. People find them. They invite them into their lives. I package them with love and send them to their forever home. Simple. Beautiful. Joyful.
And while the world isn’t re-opened yet, I’m at a point where it’s time to go out and explore again. I’m returning to my desert home where I source my stones. I’m going back to a community that lives far outside of the commodified world. A community that thrives in the waste stream, where we make or scavenge almost all that we need at the swaps or the local thrift stores because there simply is no big box store. There are no large grocery stores, no Targets, no malls– nothing. Just desert and people who’ve chosen to live outside of society for decades.
But here’s the thing, most of the people living there chose contraction for a reason, or had it forced upon them. Some exited society decades ago, or never entered it. Some were forced into contracted living after the 2008 recession and never recovered. I fear the town will expand this year as more are forced on the road from our current economic depression. All in this town live a simple life. And, while the reasons may not be in alignment and some may be bitter about it, for the most part, the simplicity is a welcome and beautiful thing.
Contraction to find the space to breathe. It’s not easy. But I feel it’s necessary and we’re all being forced into some form of it– one way or another.
The more we surrender and lean into the life of simple living, the easier and more joyful this contraction can be. Why not lean into the space in our lives and build or do something beautiful. Contract. Simplify. Stay present. And breathe.
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