Phenomenon of Contraction [New Book Draft]

I’m taking a break from writing the third book in my Dream Trilogy to draft a book about the phenomenon of contraction. Contraction has tremendous explanatory power in showing us why we suffer. It’s a vast philosophical principle, and most importantly, a constantly lived experience. It is also connected to the lucidity principle, in that we go non-lucid every time we contract onto a dream and mis-take it to be real. The very sense of reality is largely constructed from our contractions. Below is the first draft of the Introduction and Chapter One.


Over the past forty-five years of studying and practicing the great wisdom traditions, I have searched for the irreducible factors that bring about suffering. What are the common denominators behind samsara, the Sanskrit word for conditional reality and all its hardship? Can these denominators themselves be further reduced into a foundational tenet? One central theme has slowly but consistently emerged as the central player. Contraction.

Contraction is what I find when I look deeply into how I create my internal sense of self, the external world that co-emerges with that internality, and the suffering that ensues from this duality. You can’t have self without other, inside without outside. But the unconscious labor of contraction doesn’t just give birth to these twins, it spawns triplets, because suffering is also born with the creation of duality.

Contraction has tremendous explanatory power as a philosophical and generative principle, as we will see. But more importantly it is an affective phenomenon. Contraction is not just something I find with my mind; it’s something I can feel in my body. Herein lies its true power, and what makes this book more than a philosophical frolic. There’s plenty of theory and philosophy in the pages ahead, but it’s all in the service of personal transformation and the alleviation of suffering. Some of the following principles may initially seem theoretical or philosophical, but that’s only because we haven’t fully experienced what they refer to yet.

That makes this book a practice manual. It’s fundamentally a way to realize unconditional happiness by pointing out all the ways we make ourselves and others miserable. Stop pinching yourself, and the result is a natural state of happiness. The philosophy is there purely to support the following practices so that you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

On one level, the irreducible instruction could not be simpler. Just open and relax. That’s it. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Which is ironically what makes it so hard. It’s so simple that most people usually respond with something like, “Yes, but . . .” So for them, for those who say “but,” we have this thing called the path, and a product like this book. Reality, and the natural happiness that arises from opening to it, is simple. Confusion is what’s complicated. So for the modern complex mind we have complex teachings designed to meet modernity, and eventually seduce it into premodern silence.

How to use this book

The heart of our journey lies with the contemplations and meditations that bring these teachings to life. Meditation is not just one practice, like sport is not merely one activity. There are as many meditations as there are sports, and we will explore a number of them. The book offers a progression of these practices, building and refining upon their predecessors, while simultaneously bootstrapping or supporting each other. Some of these practices are “emergency meditations” designed to be used on the spot, when you’re in the throes of a contracted situation and need immediate help. Other meditations are more formal, designed to bring about stability in extended practice sessions.

Contractions manifest in countless ways, many of which will surprise you. Countless antidotes are therefore presented to give you the tools to work with any contracted situation, no matter how overt or covert, acute or chronic. Together, all the following contemplations and meditations will slowly untie the infinite knots you have tied yourself into, culminating in a profound sense of relaxation and ease. One by one these layers of contraction will be pointed out and then opened, releasing the energy trapped inside these knots. The result is blissful energy, freedom, and eventually enlightenment itself.

But the process that leads to this freedom, the fundamental return to life, is not itself always blissful. If your foot has fallen sound asleep, it feels like pins and needles as it wakes up. If your hand is frozen solid from not wearing gloves, it can burn like hell when it thaws. This is where the philosophy that supports these “defrosting” practices comes into play. With the right view, you willingly endure the discomfort necessary to wake up, because you can see that the result is well worth the effort.

Chapter One

The View Behind the Meditations

Because this is a practice manual, we begin by unpacking the view behind the meditations and contemplations that follow. Right View is the first and most important of the Eightfold Noble Path in Buddhism, the eight factors that lay out the path to awakening. “View” is akin to philosophy, and supports our understanding of the meditations that lie at the heart of the wisdom traditions. Right view helps us to see where we’re going, and keeps us from straying off course.

Two central challenges await those who are willing to explore the meditations that work with contraction. The first is the discomfort that sometimes accompanies this exploration. Contraction originally occurred, and continues to occur, as a way to avoid uncomfortable situations. But that discomfort doesn’t just disappear by contracting away from it. It becomes embodied in the contraction itself, which throws the discord into your unconscious mind, and therefore into your body. Being willing to work with contraction therefore requires a willingness to reenter uncomfortable feelings, which is what the reverse meditations are all about.

Reverse meditation

A number of the meditations in this book belong to a little known family of practices called reverse meditations, a term that comes from the Mahamudra tradition of Tibetan Buddhism . They’re called “reverse” meditation for several reasons. First, these practices are the opposite or reverse of what many people associate with meditation. Most people think that meditation is all about feeling good, getting “Zen,” and otherwise chilling out. This is just one small aspect of meditation. Complete meditation is not about feeling good; it’s about getting real. And getting real requires dealing with the harsh reality of difficult situations.

Secondly, these unique meditations are designed to reverse our relationship to unwanted experiences, which means going directly into them instead of avoiding them. In so doing we can discover the basic goodness of whatever arises, and which is deeper than interpretative goodness. Basic goodness refers to the ineffable “suchness, isness, thatness” of whatever occurs, good or bad. If we capitulate to our usual avoidance strategies, we simply drive acute conscious discomfort into a chronic unconscious cramp. The discomfort is still there, but now it’s buried deep in our body-mind matrix, where it works backstage to dictate much of our onstage life. The rejected experience then manifests symptomatically, an undiagnosed reflection of an underlying discord that manifests in virtually everything we do. All our actions are then discovered to be sophisticated avoidance strategies to evade these uncomfortable feelings.

The reverse meditations give us the opportunity to practice relating to the unwanted experience directly (and to the contraction that acts like scar tissue to sequester it from consciousness), instead of from it indirectly. Relating from the contraction is no relationship at all. It’s our usual reflexive reaction, our default, that kicks us out of our feeling body and into our thinking head, a process we’ll explore in detail below.

Because the reverse meditations invite unwanted experiences, they are no day at the beach. They’re counter-instinctual, counter-intuitive, and counter to our normal versions of conditional happiness. They go against the grain of ego, which always just wants to feel good. But these unusual meditations lead you to the discovery of unconditional happiness, basic goodness, the real beach that lies within even the most disquieting situation. Once you counter your relationship to unwanted experiences, and open your mind and heart, you’ll find yourself lying in endless sands – no matter where you are and what you’re going through.

So we have to be a bit intrepid to explore this material. But it’s worth the price of admission, for otherwise we will continue to live on a pilot-light level, and sustain this gnawing intuition that something is missing. Something is missing, but it’s merely missing from conscious awareness. What’s missing is stuffed deep within us, undigested, unprocessed, and insidiously wrecking havoc on our lives. What’s missing is the life force energy that is trapped inside these contractions, and that is released as we open to them. If we continue to reject the parts of ourselves that are stuck in these contractions, we’ll continue to reject part of our lives.

Stretch by stretch

To ease our journey into a proper relationship to unwanted experience, we’ll begin with entry-level exercises. We’re going to gradually stretch our mind into expansive positions, like a form of mental yoga, that allows us to contain difficult experience. Stretching may not always feel good, but it’s good for growth. We’ll slowly work our way into deeper stretches, expanding the mind to the point where it can accommodate everything, without being adversely affected by anything.

Our journey begins with standard mindfulness practices and then expands upon them. One near enemy of these baseline practices, which are often done in peaceful controlled environments, is that we don’t live in controlled incubators. If we only practice meditation while sitting in silence, we tend to lose our meditation when we move or things get loud. Meditation gets too precious and delicate. Incubators are initially important, but we need to bust out of them in order to grow. In this book we want to cultivate industrial strength meditation, which means an industrial strength mind that can handle anything.

As a general rule, the deeper you go the more potent and chronic the contraction, with the level of contraction being directly proportional to the discomfort that it attempts to avoid. In other words, the deeper you go the more challenging it gets. The deepest contractions have been there a very long time, and they’re not easily accessed nor readily relaxed. To challenge and open these foundational cramps is to contest our very sense of reality, and who we think we are. That’s not an easy contest.

Nor is it always welcome. We’re going to go after the very axioms of our life, the things that we take for granted, and point out that they are not givens, but merely constant constructions born from these constant contractions. These truisms (that I really exist; that the world is solid, lasting, and independent; that you are separate from me; that duality is real) are actually false, and that unnerving exposure is like having a series of rugs pulled out from under our feet. If we relate to that rug pulling properly, the result is freedom, and eventually enlightenment. But if we don’t, the open space is experienced as a free fall, and we panic. This panic is revelatory, for it will show you precisely why you contract in the first place. Contraction is a form of self-defense, which generates the very sense of self, as we will see. [contractions serve a purpose, ground]

But we’ll start in the shallow end of the pool before moving to the deep end. The good news that makes this deep dive worth the plunge is that the degree of freedom and the level of energy released with this inner work is also directly proportional to the degree of the contraction. Armed with the tools in this book, the deeper you go and the more you access, open towards, and release the primordial cramps, the more ecstatic the journey becomes. The ecstasy only transforms into agony if you don’t relate to the opening and relaxation properly. That’s why we need the proper view.

So we’ll start small and easy as a way to convince you that the stretching is worth the effort. Once you start to taste the low-hanging fruits, you’ll be more inclined to reach for higher branches.


The first challenge in exploring contraction is the occasional discomfort of the journey. The second challenge is working with the subtle, ubiquitous, and unconscious dimensions of contraction. By starting our meditations with more conscious and overt levels of contraction, we literally get a feel for them. Once we begin to sensitize ourselves to them, we will start to discover contractions everywhere. But we will also discover how desensitized we have become to the deeper levels of contraction, a form of anesthesia that manifests as literal insensitivity and insensibility. So another general rule is that the deeper you go the more constant and unconscious the cramp. Some of these contractions are so foundational and incessant that they have become axiomatic, the givens of our life, as mentioned above.

The constancy is what makes these deeper contractions more difficult to access and release. It’s like the proverbial fish unable to identify the environment in which it lives. Until it leaps out of the water, the fish has no contrast to detect its liquid environment. Perception is always generated in contrast. We see these black letters because they’re set in contrast to the white page. No contrast, no perception.

Some of the meditations therefore serve to create new contrast mediums that allow us to take a leap and see things never seen before. For example, when we “leap” onto our cushion and sit still in mindfulness meditation, that stasis facilities the perception of the movement of mind, or thought. Thoughts are usually masked by the relentless activities of our lives. When we stop and sit, we’re removing the camouflage of movement and our thoughts now stand out. This is why many beginning meditators complain that meditation is making things worse: “I never had so many thoughts before!” Yes you did, you just never saw them.

The main practice of this book is open awareness. This is the meditation that released the cascade of insights you now hold in your hands. By inviting the mind to open and expand, you can better see how it tends to close and contract. Now it’s not just the discovery, “I never realized how many thoughts I have!” it’s also the unearthing, “I never realized how contracted I am!” Both discoveries can be prickly. But like a doctor making a diagnosis, the uncomfortable revelations are fundamentally curative. You can’t solve a problem you don’t even know you have.

Always practicing, always contracting

The Tibetan word for meditation is gom, which translates as “to become familiar with.” This term has a number of implications. First, meditation allows us to become familiar with who we are. By providing successive contrast mediums, meditation allows us to see dimensions of our being never seen before. It brings automatic and unconscious processes into the light of consciousness, which allows us to de-automatize and therefore liberate ourselves from these processes. Most of our contractions are automatic reactions to unwanted experiences, which makes most of us automatons. We’re running on automatic ignorance, habitually contracting with no idea that were doing so.

This ties into the second main implication of gom , and that is that whether we know it or not we are always meditating. We are always becoming increasingly familiar with whatever we experience, or whatever is our default. This means that we’re always meditating on either contraction in its many guises, or openness in its numerous manifestations. So one reason contraction is such a central player in our lives is because we’re always practicing it, and becoming increasingly familiar with it. We’re too familiar with it, which ironically masks it. We don’t see it as a practice anymore. We see it as “Just the way it is.” Contraction, reactivity, tension, withdrawal, and countless other synonyms we will explore have become are automatic defaults. We have accomplished the practice of contraction.

When I did my three-year meditation retreat, I was introduced to dozens of practices. It was like being at a meditation university, but in a strict monastic setting. I took it upon myself to probe each practice deeply, and to ask challenging questions to the meditation masters who introduce me to them, so that I could understand what I was doing with these meditations and why I was doing them. One question I always asked was, “What does it mean to accomplish this practice?” How do I know when I’m done practicing, and can start to “perform”? One way to know is when you start doing the practice automatically, or when the practice starts to “do you.” Your default setting changes, not just when you’re formally doing the practice, but in your life.

For example, in the practice of mindfulness, I’m still not mindful all the time. Even though I’m distracted less and less, I still find myself defaulting into mindlessness. I have cut such a deep groove with so many years of mindlessness that this fault, my default, will take some time to fill in. I have not accomplished mindfulness, and so I continue to practice it.

When we get swept away in our habitual patterns, and end up doing things we later regret, we often say something like, “I just couldn’t help myself.” Because many of us unknowingly practice selfishness all the time, we tend to default into selfish behavior. Counteracting this lifelong practice with selflessness takes time. We know we’ve accomplished selflessness when that becomes our default, and we say things like, “I just couldn’t help being selfless. I couldn’t help but be generous, kind, and caring.”

We’ve been unconsciously practicing contraction for a very long time, and continue to meditate on it in ways that will startle you. It’s our default. Contraction remains our automatic reaction to virtually everything. This isn’t meant to discourage us as we start to counteract this lifelong habit, but to point out how dark the forces of the dark side are, and how formidable they remain. Appreciating the sophistication, omnipresence, and power of contraction will help us marvel at it, “Wow, there it is again! Amazing! Look at my virtuosity!”

Obstacle into opportunity

This more playful approach will also help us unwind our tension much more effectively than an adversarial approach. Wrestling with our contractions only adds to the contraction. We can learn to smile at contraction, make friends with it, and eventually use it as one of the most powerful of all markers for precisely where we need to go to grow. In other words, armed with the right view and our heightened sensitivity, we can bring contraction onto the path and use it to accelerate awakening.

If we continue to capitulate to the force of our contractive habits, we’ll continue to practice samsara. But if we can use those same contractions as an invitation to open instead of close, our unconscious practice of samsara transforms into the conscious practice of nirvana. The tantric traditions of the East transform poison into medicine, and the alchemical traditions of the West transform lead into gold. Equipped with the material in this book, we can transform obstacle into opportunity and use every instance of contraction as an occasion to wake up. The curse transforms into a blessing.


I giggle every time I hear the word ‘contraction’ in teachings now, because my mind immediately follows up with the word “laxative”! :rofl: :innocent: :purple_heart: :pray:

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Ok, an attempt at an “intelligent response” that went south quick, from 3 weeks ago. But WTH, being vulnerable, so I’ll post it anyway because contraction is sooooooo important and subtle, I’m learning!

This response is mostly psycho-bla-bla-bla to paint one flavor of “Contraction” very close to my heart: developmental psychology. I even got so triggered by breaking it down, I had to stop.

My cat was approaching, and cats have this weird power that once they lay in you lap, you can. not. move. No joke. Even cat-haters. So I was squirming with my edge as it was, and now my cat was coming to pin me down to sit in it!

Catching my red flag, I stopped the pretend ‘intelligent conversation’ and just sat with the feeling. As such - it’s incomplete, but you get the gist of where I was going - how this notion of “Contraction” gets subtle AND effects others.

“Just open and relax.”

Language reinforces duality. Gramatically: verb acts upon a noun. So the simple statement is an instruction in “doing”.

In response to that simple statement, many people usually respond with something like, “Yes, but . . .” (guilty!)

I jokingly refer to this as “Yeah, butt…”

In a nutshell, it is responding from a contracted state not open to another possibility.

The magic of DBT (my opinion, I only received a portion of it all in IOP almost 11 years ago) is by simply exchanging…

Ohwait, that’s Mahayana.

…simply exchanging the word “and” for “but” in one’s self-talk and other-talk is probably the key of DBT (for me at least). It is an inclusive shift, which goes contrary to contraction and resistance.

Here’s a grammer experiment off the cuff:
Say “exchanging self with other”
Say “exchanging other for self”
Say “exchanging ‘but’ with ‘and’”
Say “exchanging ‘and’ for ‘but’”

AHA! NOW I know why it takes an entire day for me to compose an email anymore! I’m geeking out on a whole 'nother dimension of “geek”! It can get neurotic, and now I understand how neurosis is the near enemy of enlightenment (dare I use such a profound word for mere blathering). Sommbich!!! :confounded:

Here’s an example of how contraction “molds” 2 year old “ego” in it’s very development:

Imagine a 2-yo’s run around saying “NO!”
The power of the word “no” - it gets a response! It establishes boundaries. Developmentally, it individuates the 2-yo from the entire universe that it knows thus far: ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. This is healthy.

If I had a scholarly title, it would be,
“The Energetic Developmental Theory of Attachment and Effects and Development of Familial Karmic Personality”

  • simply because scholars like to shove lots of complicated words into their titles :smiley:

Developmentally, a profound shift in sense of agency happens inside a child when it says this new word, “no”. The feeling tone of it’s caregiver’s noises and energetic interaction changes. The child has been picking up on this energy all along and responding to it’s balance, suffocation, absense, or all of the above since infancy.

(even beyond - it’s said that mom’s inner environment of hormones and ‘stuff’ primes the fetus’s brain development to be born in a world of hippy bunnies or a world of monsters to fight. Amazing stuff!)

For the record, I have no idea the vocabulary of a 2-yo. I think I introduced “feeling tone” and “sounds heard” as I started breaking this down even further (by throwing it into form - writing a reply), and realized it went far beyond the word “no” down to how a parent responds when a teensy tiny infant “fusses”. (no response is also a response and is picked up)

Ex: An ex-boss had triplets, all different egg/sperm combos. One “was colickey” and this boss admitted to me he how he reached his limit with the constant crying and whatever a baby with colic does. Maybe it was the colic, the predisposition that lead to the colic, but I suspect “nurture” has a huge part of how these triplets turned out then, maybe about age 6. The “colickey” one was smaller, timid, insecure, bad at sports, and ‘clingy’. (opposed to ‘needy’ as we ALL HAVE NEEDS and this is an OK thing!). Having 3 newborns/infants at the same time, as “a first child”, is a herculean task and I place no judgement. Raising one baby is herculean. I only make the observation.

==== so the meat of it, and where it all broke down for me =====

Format = “sounds” (eye expression ‘hitting mirror neurons to the soul’) [energy]

With that one new word, the parent-as-survival (since a human infant is 100% dependent on the parent for sheer survival) is actually shaping that child as an energetic co-creation of experience.


“goo-goo-goo?” (love eyes) [starting to become smothering and claustrophobic]

a) “neutral-new-noise” (clear eyes) [contraction of parent gives space for child to take up more space]

b) “insistent-push-noise” (angry sharp eyes (aka perverted hurt eyes)) [expansion of parental energy gives less space for child to occupy - more smothering],

c) “whiney-wilt-noise” (sad needy eyes) [excessive contraction of parent energy leaves child in a void]


d) the worst: an inconsistent application of a, b, AND c.

If parented skillfully (and what newborn comes with a manual?!), raising a child is allowing this blob of a newborn to become the unique expression it is. And it ultimately comes down to this subtle play of of energy, and contraction is one.

A trend in the US I’ve experienced and witnessed at a craft store: a mother strolled her son-inna-shopping-cart to the back of the store and snapped at him, “How could you do that to me while in line?!” Stars forbid the child “make a scene” like that boy apparently did – in her mind.

At that moment, something in that 3-4 year old boy died - and my heart broke. Not being a parent, I had no authority to say anything.

Yet something else was also born - the unspoken notion of a false power over others. A very subtle manipulation was installed in that boy. One that took me 35 years to finally see running in ME.

What that toddler learned is some nebulous sense of “I MAKE mom into a monster that shuts me down.” As in, “I have the power to affect mom’s state of being.” That seed matures into the victim who tells his now ex: “I cheated on you because I can’t make you happy.”

Yah, shit gets twisted, 'eh?

And it’s all related to contraction and then habitual proliferation. In a sense, it’s imposed. Yes there are 2 players, but one isn’t fully “online” yet.

The phenonemon of using a child as an object to meet the parents’ unmet emotional needs from when they were a child - family karma. And it all comes from a contraction.

< big gulp! >

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