Creative Call to Action: Expand and Contract

Creative call copy

Last spring I took a series of yoga classes that were both amazing and deeply challenging. Usually about twenty minutes in, I would be ready to fall on my mat in a teary, muscle-trembling heap. But my pride would never let me collapse, or leave. I kept going to classes, and I’m glad I did. My downward dog got better, and my creative life got one of its biggest boosts ever.

Each yoga class had a theme. One week the instructor told us we would spend the hour expanding and contracting. One pose would open us, the next would pull us closed like a flower at night.

“There are times to expand, and times to contract,” she told us. “In life you can’t do one or the other all the time, you need both.”

Expand and contract? I almost fell off my mat!

Expansion has never been my problem. My go-to state in life is, well, go. But in that moment on the mat something clicked in me. A willingness, an attraction to this idea. Expand and contract. Open and close. Okay, I’m game.

I started looking for small ways to expand and contract in my life, started noticing when I felt the need to move one way or another. At one point I even took a hiatus from my creative work entirely, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I rested, played, explored other facets of my life, and returned utterly focused and inspired.

I’m not suggesting you drop everything in an instant. I think the notion of expansion and contraction is just as relevant to our day-to-day creative work. We get down on ourselves when we are not brimming with ideas, we feel stuck. But maybe we just need a little down time, a little contracting. Maybe our blocks are just a self-imposed break.

Breaks are vital to our creativity.

In yoga, at the end of every class, we do something called ‘corpse pose’. We lay on our backs on our mats and just let our bodies sink into the floor. We relax, we contract, we expand internally. If you looked in on a class during corpse pose, it would probably look like nap time for grown-ups. But it’s actually the most important moment of the whole hour. According to yoga, the rest in corpse pose is what allows our bodies to assimilate all the benefits of the hard physical work we have just done.

All that work is lost without rest.

Creative rest resets us, allows us to fill the deep well that we draw from whenever we make something. Engagement with our daily lives keeps us fresh, gives us space for new ideas.

Expansion and contraction. Our lungs do it. The tides do it. The seasons come and go.

Expansion and contraction. I’ve even heard the universe does it. So why wouldn’t we?

So here’s my Creative Call to Action for you: expand and contract.

Maybe one of these states is more comfortable for you. So try the other. Remember to take action, or remember to rest.

Maybe you are trying to create perfect balance in every moment.

But balance really is just a moment, a split second between yoga poses, a brief pause between rest and action in our lives.

So just go for it. Expand deeply, really stretch yourself when it’s time to act. Make that deadline. Burn those candles. Check off that impossible to do list when it really counts. Dig deep. Go mad with new ideas. Turn your life into a short-term creative retreat.

On the flipside, make your rest truly restful. Turn off everything that has an off switch. Take a bath. Read a novel. Put all your work away to be present with yourself and those around you. Do small things that bring you joy.

Expand and contract. Like an inhale and exhale, you can’t have one without the other. Expansion is your opportunity to make the work you love, to turn your dreams into reality. It’s a harvest. Contraction is the space you need for more inspiration to take root.

Now I’d love to hear from you!

What’s your go-to state? What are you craving right now, more expansion or contraction? What’s your next step?

13 thoughts on “Creative Call to Action: Expand and Contract

  1. Awesome post! Very applicable to everyone I think. I’m the type of person that is go-go-go when I have a new idea or I’m into something I’m working on. I work like mad until I burn-out & everything is done. It’s almost like I can’t get anything else done until it’s completed. But, once that’s over, I have to take a little break. I’ve been working hard. I need some time with my family or to myself. Plus that helps me relax, clear my mind, & get ready to fill it with the next best thing. Thanks for the inspiring post.

  2. i totally agree!! when i see people talking about their muse leaving…i always think to myself, she’s on vacation! she needs a break!! i also think being a visual person, my brain needs a break from all the input in the everyday world

  3. Love this quote- ” I’ve even heard the universe does it. So why wouldn’t we?”
    Seriously! Like I’m sure a lot of Scoutie Girl readers are, I’m an expander and feel guilty when I’m not expanding. I’m definitely going to work on realizing when I need to contract or when I’m in the moment of contracting. When you look at it that way, there really is never a time to feel guilty about not being “go-go-go.” Thanks Maeg for this inspiration!

  4. I love this too. I’ve always been moving pretty fast, whether it’s work, working out, or doing things with friends. A few months ago I read a book called Sabbath that sounds like a religious call to action but is about the importance of taking some time out regularly. For everybody. So I started trying to take an entire day off once a week–no computer, no work; just paying attention to my husband, my dogs, and the beauty of the world. And relaxing. And guess what! It gave me much more energy for all the other parts, plus a little perspective on the relative importance of all the things we think are so important. As a fellow yogini myself, I can totally relate to the “contraction” idea–there are times for Warrior pose and times for pose of the child. Thanks, Maeg, for bringing this idea forward and saying it’s OK to fold inward.

  5. Awww, just what I needed to hear today. I’ve got some changes going on in my life, which have caused me to reevaluate where I am going with my biz. I think it is definitely time for me to step back and contract for a bit.
    Great post, thank you :)

  6. Ah, I had a feeling I’d be in good company here as one who likes to ‘expand’ :) I’m so glad this post spoke to all of you!

    Katy–I will have to put that book, Sabbath, on my reading list. One thing I tell myself often but have not followed through on is having one day per week just like the one you describe–and making it non negotiable. I often have a semi-sabbath which doesn’t really do it for me at all–it’s like I’m stuck between gears. Thanks for the suggestion!

  7. Very apposite post for me today – I am involved in a creative collaboration with another craftsperson, and I am feeling anxious and rushed because she is wanting to push on. She is probably feeling frustrated with me because I am constantly holding back. Maybe we need to read this post together and discuss it. Many thanks.

  8. Hi Maeg, thanks for your post at Scoutie Girl. I am contracting a bit at the mo’. Things were crazy-busy last month gearing up for my first Market appearance but now my family is needing me. That is my “go-to” place when I contract. My friends call it my CAVE, I retreat to it and let the biz do it’s thing for a while. So far so good. Early days. Interesting that I was just looking a Yoga classes this week….spooooky!!

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  10. Maeg, your insights here are profound. Thanks for reminding me and my female creative geniuses to allow for both in our lives. Happily, I’ve been living this last year in a state of blissful contraction, to use your terminology, and it has been just that.. blissful. I’ve lived through my 5 senses and felt my 6th sense expand. Buddha would be proud, if the Buddha wasn’t so expanded to perfection 😉 Ok, time to expand again…

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