Open Wide and Say “Aaahhhhh”

place your fearful mindThis weekend I had the pleasure of participating in a retreat with Western Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. I gleaned so much from her language, her presence, and her demeanor. It was powerful to bask in this experience from Friday night through Sunday morning.

 As I attempt to share what I learned, please forgive my inadequate attempts to paraphrase Pema. I’m hoping to convey the essence of some of her message. Know that she put all this far better than I can, and that I encourage you to listen to her recordings, read her books, or see her live if you are so inclined.

Of all her teachings this weekend, one sticks with me the most: if you’re not expanding, you’re contracting. Because there is absolutely no permanence in this world. Impermanence is a mark of our existence. Nothing stays still or the same, ever.

 Expansion is difficult to define, but to me it relates to individual and universal growth, open-heartedness, open-mindedness, surrender, willingness to take risks, willingness to go beyond what feels comfortable, and willingness to feel your feelings and move through them, all for the ultimate purpose of benefitting others. Expansion is a conscious choice we can and must make on a moment-to-moment basis if we are committed to our growth. I seek expansion.

Yet sometimes, all too often, I feel myself shutting down, resisting, avoiding. As humans, we have a habitual tendency to close down. What do we do when these feelings of contraction creep in? Logically, if everything is always changing, the only antidote to contraction must be expansion. But how do we return to expansion?

Pema says, “We begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment.” Here are some practical suggestions she shared for shifting from stress toward a relaxed state.

  • Open your arms wide, like wings
  • Smile
  • Open your state of mind to the direction of limitlessness
  • Sit up, with “good head and shoulders”
  • Open your sense perceptions, one by one (begin by focusing on sounds around you, then what you see, etc.)
  • Exaggerate the sense of contraction, then release
  • “Place the fearful mind in a cradle of loving kindness.” Send kindness and warmth to the fearful part of yourself. Be gentle with yourself. It takes enormous courage.
  • Open yourself to your contraction and your imperfections – don’t resist. The gap between expectation and reality is a portal to the Infinite, a learning opportunity. 
  • When you feel yourself attacking or blaming another: “Don’t act. Don’t speak. Remain like a log of wood.” Make your strong emotion the object of your investigation. Have unconditional friendliness toward what you’re thinking and feeling.

We work on ourselves to make a positive impact on others. For Brilliance-Based Businesswomen, focusing on our expansion is essential to serving our clients and customers well. I hope these tips from Pema will help you through the inevitable moments when we begin to shut down.

How do you reverse feelings of contraction when they creep up on you? In what areas of your life and work are you expanding?