0404 093 865

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Melbourne, Byron Bay or Skype sessions

Ph: 0404 093 865

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Expansion and contraction

When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his extraordinary poem Kubla Khan, on waking from an opium dream, it was like a transmission from beyond. It simply flowed with no effort, beyond conscious thought  …


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.  ….


The story goes that he was called away from his desk by a visitor, known to posterity only as ‘the man from Porlock’, there to see Coleridge on some everyday business. After writing a blisteringly brilliant 54 lines, Coleridge was devastated to find that his train of thought had been lost! From a peak of bliss and flow, everyday events pulled him back down to earth and the vision was lost (Coleridge’s fellow Romantic poet Keats possibly alludes to this incident in the closing lines of his Ode to a Nightingale (possibly another drug-induced experience):


Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?


In many ways, a deep, intense, heart-opening workshop experience, like Path of Love or even the shorter Awakening of Love weekend workshop, can be like a visionary peak state (the great thing is it’s not a result of drugs!). They invoke an altered state, of open heartedness and trust, that is both created and shared by the experience of being with a group of fellow travellers, in a truly safe space.


Having been deeply in touch with our essence, and true self – what is other than the usual personality and ego structures than run our experience of life, we feel amazing, clear, true of aim – wonderfully, miraculously – even in touch with our true Self, and with others’ true selves, free of the usual defenses and projections that make us feel unsafe or unhappy in the world.


Being around others in this state, where the usual masks and defenses are off, we also ‘fall in love’ with them. In such an experience of connection, in our pain and then in our acceptance of self and joy, we see humanity at its best. Not in a false, ‘shiny’ way, but in work like Path of Love, warts and all. A fundamental experience of a workshop like these (in a session with a trusted therapist, or with a good friend who loves us and doesn’t judge us) is that we still feel love and connection with others and ourselves, even in our vulnerability … even with our hurts and our human life experience, which of course is far from perfect. 


Through this profound (and often new-found) self-acceptance and self-love, through our judgments and projections about others being exposed as our own defensive structures, and (let’s face it!), through the power of music and dance to also lift our spirits, we feel on an incredible high.


The thing is .... we often want to hang on to this bliss, this appreciation and trust, of self and others. We crave and love it because it’s our true nature. And there’s actually nothing even particularly mystical here – this is how we would always be if we weren’t driven by our ego structure and, especially, our superego (the critical voice that tells us we should do such and such, or that we are no good. This is an internalized voice we all have from childhood. It helps us become socialized and to survive as young humans.


… and yet, we inevitably come down from this natural high (the Buddhist Psychologist and Insight Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield wrote a book called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path in which he says "We all know that after the honeymoon comes the marriage, after the election comes the hard task of governance. In spiritual life it is the same: After the ecstasy comes the laundry.").


The Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa speaks of the ‘Lord of mind ‘- the effort of consciousness to maintain awareness of itself … of holding onto our sense of self’ (noting also that ‘Drugs, yoga, prayer, meditation, trances, various psychotherapies – all can be used in this way’, to hang on to peak states. See Cutting through Spiritual Materialism)


Of course we want to attach, it’s only natural. It’s only human, but as far as feelings of expansion and contraction are concerned, I first heard of this Rumi poem ‘Birdwings’ at the end of a Path of Love process). It was a reminder that we do have to ‘come down’, and indeed why it is crucial that we don’t try to grasp onto the expansion too tightly:


Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you are bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.


Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralysed.


Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.


(From The Essential Rumi Coleman Barks with John Moyne)


Maggie Klein also read this poem in our SE practitioner training. With a new understanding I can see, not only that it’s ok to come back from the high and deep connection and belonging we feel (whether after a workshop like Pol or Aol, or whenever we experience deep, safe connection with others, whether a lover, or friend, or after a good therapy session!) – but that it is actually crucial, for several reasons.


  1.  Otherwise we could get stuck on a high, in an altered state (which can also happen in an experience of ‘psychosis’ or a bad drug experience). There is a saying in the Diamond Work ‘tether your camel’, meaning we can go to places of expansion and bliss, but we also need to attend to the everyday things we need … the work that grounds us (our jobs!), the home and family that may not have accompanied us on this part of our journey, our colleagues and workmates, our boss. To have the expansion and the everyday reality. That is balance. And importantly, the shift in perspective gives us the opportunity and ability to integrate these peak states (and what we discover in them) into our everyday lives.


2.   It is also important to come down to give our nervous system a chance to ‘pendulate’.


By developing the ‘muscle’ of pendulation, by practicing holding both expansion and contraction, bliss and anguish (whether trauma from the past or what life presents us with), we develop and extend our capacity to be in life, with all its surprises (both good and bad), and to recover a sense of equilibrium.


Every time we experience deep and real connection (with others and also with ourselves) in our heart and then cognitively integrate it (with our mind), we develop resilience. In fact this pendulating between extremes is a key aspect of developing resilience. We get to experience (in our bodies and in the 3 brains of mind, heart and gut) what we know intellectually - that life has cycles and rhythms. By experiencing the contraction as well as the expansion, we learn, and trust and believe – on the deep level of inner knowing as well as through our actual experience – that ‘this too shall pass’: whether grief or stress OR bliss and expansion.


In the ancient world, on the twin pillars of the gateway columns to the famous Oracle at Delphi were two inscriptions. On one pillar was written “Know thyself’. On the other pillar: nothing too much”. Nothing too much is multifaceted of course – all things in moderation, take the middle way or middle road (‘via media’) etc. With our understanding from Somatic Experiencing of the value of pendulation it also alerts us to the importance of natural swings, of the organic (and precise) intelligence of our nervous system in managing all of life – the highs, the lows and the swings. This natural pendulation is evidence, in fact, of the health and intelligence of our nervous and psychic systems, and of their wonderful tendency towards healing.


…. Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralysed.


Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.