I tense every sinew of my body into a tight ball and drape my arms protectively around my head and ears and eyes. I am just a little girl, but I am beyond my years. I see my mom’s best path, but it is her path, and she is paralyzed by the notion and risk of choice itself, and is unable to move forward. I cannot move for her; I cannot play her game of life. I cannot actually end her half-hearted relationship, or sell the old car that keeps getting stuck, or resolve the family feud for her. I offer my advice, but she does not hear me, and I am not her. We are on a merry-go-round going nowhere.

So my movement, albeit inward and contracted, feels comforting and right. It’s my way of jumping off the merry-go-round. It is movement, after all, and gives action and expression to an ongoing buildup of frustration. Crumpled tightly up, I feel safe within my borders. I feel my separateness.

Years later, I find myself doing this again. The details are different, but in the company of someone inappropriately going on and on about something, I feel the same sense that I once did of overload and being encroached upon. Just like long ago, this person is unable and unwilling to hear what I have to say; she is focused only on speaking. I feel a burning urge to retreat and find a safe space far away. So I close my eyes and let the voice go on in the background, and I coil up yet again. This inward contraction gives expression to my saturation, and is my way of creating appropriate and necessary borders.

Now, the thing with contraction is it can be necessary; it’s a survival and defensive mechanism. But it means when I am in this state, I am not all I can be. I am not in a space where I am present and connected and open to receiving abundance. I am living from a place of fear and not love.

So, with the help of someone wise, I take a step back and see this contraction, and I accept it. Then I imagine myself uncoiling and unfolding and beginning to open up. I feel relief as I release. I picture a magnificent, flowing dance, where I expand and move, at one with the surrounding world.

Sometimes, when our muscles are so tightly contracted, we have to contract them even further before release and expansion becomes possible. When we have a baby, we need to contract so much for the final and absolute expansion to become possible. So, too, I suspect that I am more fully able to expand because I have been in contraction. I know and appreciate openness for I have been closed.

Tzvi Freeman writes in Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: Meditations on the Wisdom of the Rebbe: “One who returns from the darkness must bring of it with him and convert it to light. He must exploit his experience to surge higher and higher with greater strength. Therefore, the one who returns from a distance is greater than the one who was always close.”

My contraction is like the darkness. It can be converted to expansion, just like darkness can be converted to light. Contraction is a gift. It serves as a springboard to opening up to life and all that life entails.

I was far away, but now I can be close.