“You’re contracting, by the way” an acquaintance told me recently over lunch. No, I wasn’t in labor. Or even pregnant for that matter.
“You’re contracting. You’re experiencing stress and you’re contracting and it will only cause pain. You need to expand.”
It should be noted that I don’t really know this person all that well, but it turns out that he has an uncanny (and slightly creepy to be honest) sixth sense. This same individual approached me in a crowded room of work colleagues and out of the blue asked, “Do you do any creative writing? You strike me as a writer.” At the time, not a single other soul on Earth knew that I wrote most mornings in the darkness of my house, before the sun came up. To say it gave me chills would be an understatement.
But back to lunch.
The combination of surprise I felt having been so adeptly read by this near stranger (again!) coupled with my natural inclination to cease communication of all types when experiencing an uncomfortable situation of any sort (really healthy, I know) caused me to, well, completely contract. I could feel it physically now that he mentioned it.
“You’re an isolator by nature. You need to reach out.”
Aaaaaand, now I was crying. In a restaurant. At lunch. With a person I barely know. Jesus, this was supposed to be a casual lunch to chat about business. How did we get here? Why are we psychoanalyzing me? And why does your nose have to run when you cry?? It really just makes an uncomfortable situation about a thousand times worse.
So I left what I expected to be a informative meeting from a work perspective with way more information than I could process at the time. And I contracted big time. I felt really crappy for weeks about my naturally isolating and shrinking self. I still feel kind of crappy, truth be told. But that’s what happens sometimes when you realize an uncomfortable truth, and the only way to feel better in the long run is to sit with that discomfort and get to whatever is at the heart of it.
Expansion. It’s what elementary schools do when the population of an area grows beyond what the initial plans expected; it usually involves modular structures circling the playground. It’s what middle-aged couples do to their homes once they have a little extra money stashed away and they realize they want a place in their house to retreat from their teenaged kids. Expansion is messy and causes arguments, at least that is my association with it.
It turns out it’s also the state of the universe. Everything around us is expanding from the perspective of physics. Maybe we should too?
I knew exactly what my acquaintance-cum-soul searcher meant by “You need to expand”, I had done it before. I know that expansion leads to connection, I had felt it before. The problem was that I thought I was expanding. I thought I was doing it! We have only lived in our community for a year. We moved here not knowing a soul and are starting a business here. I knew from the beginning that I would have to get over my shy tendencies and go out of my way to meet people, so I tried to do just that. I spoke with random people at the grocery, cold called friends of friends who live here, even cold called friends of friends of friends. The whole process had been uncomfortable but nice too. People here are very friendly, which made it easier than it could have been to reach out.
And of course there had been stress – we had completely upended our lives. And everyone who starts a business from scratch wishes there was more work in the beginning, of that I’m certain. But just when it feels like it’s time to circle the wagons, maybe that is exactly the time we need to surrender and open. Not to the enemy, of course, because let’s be honest, unlike the old 1950’s Westerns, the enemy is rarely out there. The enemy is – 99% of the time – right inside our own evil little lying minds. “The voices inside your head are liars,” a friend of mine likes to say. And it turns out that they prevent you from reaching out and really connecting to others. They can also prevent you from reaching out and connecting to that thing that is bigger than you – by telling you that you don’t have enough time, that you’re too tired and should probably just stay in bed, by whispering that it probably isn’t real anyway.