Brave new world

Andy Robins explores expansion and contraction that is felt around the world – May 2020

The U.K. was put into lockdown on 23 March in an unprecedented step to attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus. As we move into week 9 of the crisis, government focus is shifting from the health dangers of the virus and focusing on the consequences of the economic shutdown. 


What lies ahead is a scary prospect for most people. Society is built, and governments elected, on an economic model of expansion. Strangely, contraction of markets, although inevitable, is rarely anticipated, and isn’t usually the forerunner for the re-election of governments. So what are years of economic expansion, followed by rapid contraction going to bring us? Fear is spreading across the globe, combined with the dormant energy that has been lockdown in billions of homes for several months. We see levels of unrest, and not just in the world’s poorer developing nations but also in the world’s superpowers. In the U.K., there is a backlash against the government’s measures of children returning to school. After convincing society of the terrible consequences of ‘breaking lockdown’ parents are now being told the level of risk of catching Covid-19 is low enough to send their children back to school. 


In recent days, as we exit the shutdown, talk has arisen around mental wellbeing in the leadership and business community. Some leaders have spent lockdown navigating acceptance of the situation, by directing their anger at governments, resisting responsibilities and laws, and posting opinions on social media before coming to terms with their lack of control. Acceptance looms, and joy and enthusiasm are only a short step away, yet as we know, the darkest hour is the one before dawn. Our bodies are habituated to being triggered, dragging us back into the drama of the crisis. If we allow it, the global contraction is going to grab us from behind, manifesting as a physical contraction in our bodies.


The danger for us arises from believing that we can think our way into accepting the situation. There is no separation between mind and body – they are one. To cross that line of acceptance, we must be able to relax. It is a wonderful sensation (maybe even joy) when we physically feel everything dropping away. This is the moment that our energy begins to flow and we can again add value. Yet, this is only the beginning and to truly make this leap we need to ensure our energy continues to flow. We too, like the economy, must now expand under challenging circumstances. 


At this time, it’s essential that we find daily physical practices to keep our energy flowing and maintain our mental health. These practices need to involve the expansion and contraction of our bodies as this motion creates flow.


Try this exercise: stretch your arms out in front of you with your left hand facing upwards and right hand facing downwards, rapidly open and close your hands for 15 seconds. Now shut your eyes and hold your hands apart as if holding a large boulder and slowly bring them together so that you end up holding a football. Close your eyes and feel the sensation that takes place within the body. You’ll likely feel a sense of contraction and expansion, both within and in the space between your hands.


We witness this contraction and expansion in our daily zazen practice. I have a regular yoga practice of Sun Salutation, where I am always folding and opening. This particular practice forces me to use both convergent focus and divergent focus. As I fold and step back, my attention moves internally, taking me physically into what we term survival mode. I briefly maintain a narrow focus before standing, opening and broadening into divergent focus. This brings me from focusing on some thing to focusing on no thing, helping my energy to flow into a more coherent and balanced state. There are many ways to physically practice this contraction and expansion, from martial arts to dance to sports like golf. Looking at the challenges ahead don’t underestimate the power of these practices to carry you through the most difficult and challenging situations in a state of joy and enthusiasm.


Ease & joy in muddy waters,

Andy


Speaking of expansion and contraction physically manifesting in the body, the four energy patterns can help leaders feel that manifestation. Join us in the fall for both FEBI Certification and the FEBI refresher course.


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