The voices of contraction

Sometimes the voices of contraction speak very loudly in us. Those voices assume that being shrunken, fearful, and anxious is the only option. It’s a painful place to be.

Do you recognise these voices? Do they speak in your life?

Here’s an example of what it’s like for me.

I’m a trustee of a charity. Recently the organisation’s finances have meant we have had to face difficult decisions impacting on people’s jobs. There has been a lot of conflict and strong feelings on all sides. The voices on the outside have been echoed in my own internal conflicts over what is the correct course of action.

The situation has triggered a strong contracting response in me. I’ve been more stressed, shrunken and fearful than normal. In that space my usual capacity to meditate, to write, to be open, to connect, has been curtailed.

Another way to describe this is to say that I’ve been in a mess! I did at least know I was in a mess, and I was working to get beyond the mess. The trouble is that in that place the voices of contraction are very strong. It’s so easy to stay bogged down.

I should also say that despite my fear, I have also been able to access my more forceful energy and drive forward the difficult decisions I knew were needed. We’re in the area of fight or flight here.

This recent experience of the voices of contraction was only the latest in a long line for me.

Here’s how I wrote about it one previous time:

How to enjoy the voices of contraction

The voices of contraction may be very loud.
Round the table confusion reigns.
In the democracy of your being
fear and neediness may carry the majority vote.

Invite the Buddha to the table.
He may say nothing but his presence brings calm.
From that space the way forward becomes clear.
Even the voices of contraction may start to sing.


The poem says that when we get stuck in contraction we may need ‘outside’ help because it’s so hard, if not impossible, to extract ourselves from a place of contraction from within that contraction. An analogy would be that we are bogged down in a quicksand and the more we struggle with it, the deeper in we go. We become obsessed with the anxiety and that makes us more anxious, which increases the obsession, which then…

The suggested move (the ‘turn’) is that we invite the Buddha in.
It doesn’t have to be the Buddha. It could be whatever has meaning and strength for you: a vision of nature, the image of Jesus, angels, the faces of your children. It could be that you talk to your friends about the situation and they bring that sense of Buddha nature, or God, or equanimity, to you. Another way of saying this is that we step beyond the confines of the immediate (relative) truth and connect a little with the absolute.

Then who knows what will happen? You’ve brought a step change to the situation. It doesn’t guarantee a ‘solution’ but something different starts to happen. To continue the analogy with quicksand – when people get bogged down in the quicksands of Morecambe Bay near where I live, the rescuers have a special bit of kit. They poke a nozzle down next to your trapped legs and pump air or water in and that releases the tight grip of the quicksand, and out you come.

Maybe as the hovercraft scoots back across the sands you can all start singing with relief.

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