Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom
Excerpts about Contraction
Any State of Non-Surrender is a Contraction
Let’s investigate what surrender is. Let’s take the moment of surrender and put it under the microscope. What we notice first is that there is a tension, a state of holding or contraction. What is the tension, the holding, and the contraction? When there is a tension in your mind and in your body, aren’t you saying no to something? You will find out from your own experience that holding, tension, and contraction are simply the resistance to the experience or the perception of a certain state or a certain truth or feeling. When you say no, there is a contraction that is a form of resistance. What else could it be? So any state of non-surrender is a contraction, a tension, a grasping. It can take many forms and be experienced at many depths. It can be hard, like armor, so that you aren’t even aware of it most of the time, or it can be softer, like a defensive attitude or resistance, or it can be dullness, non-seeing, and confusion. But at the deepest level, there is always contraction when you are rejecting something in your experience. And the contraction restricts the flow of energy. It creates a barrier that separates you from the experience that you’re saying no to.
Diamond Heart Book Three, pg. 174
Boundaries are Not an Objective and Ontologically Real Phenomenon
Contraction. This is the state of ego boundaries in its purity, devoid of any other function besides that of separateness. This is the specific state of separateness. Here one clearly, definitely and distinctly feels separate. It is as if the separate individuality has been bared to its bones. It is the inner and most elementary structure of ego boundaries. It is the bare minimum of individuality, the sense of separateness itself. It is the basis of all other layers of boundary, and of the ego individuality. Experiencing this ego state gives the final understanding of what ego boundaries truly are. Here one knows that a boundary is not an objective and ontologically real phenomenon, but a reaction, a contraction. In this experience, typically the skin is a little hot, a little prickly, a little dry. One feels somewhat frustrated, but also empty. One feels like an empty shell, and the shell is nothing but a very thin layer of a frustrating kind of prickliness. This state of boundaries is nothing but the sense of surface tension itself, a slight contraction all over the skin. It is ego boundaries in the state of pure
contraction, the presence of negative merging affect all around one’s body.
Pearl Beyond Price, pg. 405
Contraction is a Springboard for the Activity of Ego
The feeling of negative merging or the tiny strands of contraction are felt as harshness, as if there were sand on the nerves, a prickliness. That is the contraction when it is felt on the deepest level, and is not covered by the level which is felt as a smoothing out or as dullness. And the moment you want to do something, the moment there is the slightest ego intention, the subtlest activity, it brings these tiny strands together, increasing the tension, compacting them. As they are compacted, more of that contraction results. So after a while you have a big tension somewhere in your body, and from this you react. Without this tension, you cannot take any ego action. This is because there is actually nothing underneath the ego. So the ego has to amass this contraction in order to take action. The solid contraction is a springboard for the activity of ego. This is where you come from when you act from personality: a solidification and intensification of the contraction that is already there. This is why the ego cannot take an action of any sort that we could call surrender or letting go or acceptance.
Diamond Heart Book Three, pg. 182
Forms of Contraction
So any state of non-surrender is a contraction, a tension, a grasping. It can take many forms and be experienced at many depths. It can be hard like armor, so that you aren't even aware of it most of the time, or it can be softer, like a defensive attitude or resistance, or it can be dullness, non-seeing, and confusion. But at the deepest level, there is always contraction when you are rejecting something in your experience. And the contraction restricts the flow of energy. It creates a barrier that separates you from the experience that you are saying no to.
Diamond Heart Book Three, pg. 174
Freeing the Expansion of Awareness
Awareness occupies a very special place among essential aspects. In a sense, inner development as a whole—the work on both personality and essence—can be seen as the freeing and the expansion of awareness. The reason behind this is that the most basic function of the personality is the reduction of awareness. In fact, the deepest aspect of the personality is a restriction of awareness. The ego identity, which normally is called the self, exists on the deepest level as a contraction of awareness, a restriction of consciousness. To say it more accurately, the ego identity (the I) as a structure is on the deepest level a hole of awareness, or a deficiency of awareness, because of the loss of intrinsic and basic awakeness. This is the deepest and most defended hole in the personality. This deepest hole in the personality, around which its identity is structured, is the avoidance (the loss) of the awareness of death. More accurately, the personality does not understand death, and it avoids the perception of its possibility and its existence. It is terrified of death because it means its own annihilation. We are not referring here to the death of the body, although the personality cannot conceive of any other kind of death because of its identification with the body. We mean the experience of nonexistence, which is the absence of experience. But this nonexistence is the deepest nature of the personality, its very center.
Most Human Suffering Involves Contraction in the Nervous System
We have seen that the negative-merging affect is the state of contraction of the nervous system due to undischarged mounting tension. This contraction is always the core of any contraction or tension in the organism,. any painful or stressful condition. In anger, in fear, in hurt, in jealousy, in anxiety, in any painful emotional state there is a contraction in the nervous system, and this contraction is the negative-merging affect. It is also the core, at the nervous system level, of physical contraction and tension. Most, if not all, of human suffering can be reduced to physical pain and tension, or painful emotional states, which involve contraction in the nervous system and thus the negative-merging affect. This indicates that suffering is ultimately frustration, and that tension produces it. It is also significant that an aspect of Being, the Merging Essence, is what can eliminate this suffering; this is another reason for the infant’s desperate need to internalize the good mother of symbiosis. We note also that autonomic regulation cannot be very efficient in the absence of the Merging Essence, and thus the state of the organism is kept always in a less than optimal condition.
Pearl Beyond Price, pg. 256
The Expansion and Contraction of Aliveness
Life feels like the dynamism of animals, just as growth feels like the dynamism of plants. (See appendix C for the Sufi connection of the property of life to the animal soul, and appendix A for Aristotle’s view.) But the sense of aliveness feels much bigger than the body, not defined by it, and more fundamental than the physical mode of existence. Directly in touch with our aliveness, we feel like a river of life, a dynamic and pulsing consciousness. We experience ourselves as a fountain bubbling with aliveness, energy, fullness, excitation, passion, vigor. We sense ourselves as the presence of life, as life, as life outside of time. Our soul is life eternal, not in the sense of everlasting linear time, but outside of time, prior to time, independent of time. With this aliveness there is vitality, there is energy, there is movement, there is warmth and heat, expansion and contraction. There is a sense of zest, of power, a sense of health, a well-being that pulses and undulates. There is a bubbling quality, as if our cells are exploding with it. We are the life force; we are the life.
The Inner Journey Home, pg. 126
The State of Frustration is a Contraction
It makes sense that the state of frustration is a contraction because it is the state of the organism when there is an undischarged tension. In the original experience, the child needs something but does not get his need met. The need is like a rising tension. It is in fact sympathetic arousal, a heightening of the charge of the autonomic nervous system, similar to what happens in the fight or flight reaction. When the need is met there is a discharge of the tension and arousal reaction. The discharge, which is a parasympathetic reaction, is felt as relaxation, satisfaction and gratification. This discharge, as we have discussed, is closely allied to the manifestation of the Merging Essence. The Merging Essence, which is felt as a pleasurable contentment, affects the nervous system, discharging its tension. When the need is not met, the heightened state of arousal and tension remains, and the Merging Essence is not released. This is clearly not healthy for the nervous system, for its function of autonomic regulation is being impeded. This state of contraction, which is the outcome of undischarged mounting tension in the nervous system, is frustration, the primitive affect characterizing negative merging.