When we step forward into an inviting future, we need to pay attention to the gap between our existing habits and our changed environment. If the change is unwanted or the future is uncertain, we have even more reasons to be mindful during the transition.
Transitions are hard
“Soon it will be time to put the toys away and wash your hands for dinner.”
“In five minutes we’ll start putting your toys away.”
“Which toy would you like to put away first?”
If a parent tries to move a small child abruptly from one activity to another, a loud, tearful protest is the likely outcome. If the child gets several chances to get used to the idea, the transition proceeds more smoothly.
As we grow older, most of us lose our tendency to protest loudly and tearfully in public, but we continue to dislike abrupt change. We want to know what to expect and how to handle it.
Trauma adds anxiety
Unexpected change naturally irritates the nervous system and triggers anxiety. In a system already braced for danger, change is interpreted as a threat to a fragile sense of control and safety.
As you move through your day, do you ease slowly from one activity to another, or shift quickly? What resources help you navigate daily transitions? You might see some of your habits in a new light. Some examples:
- Take a deep breath
- Have a hot drink or a snack
- Stand and stretch
- Sit and rest
- Check for new messages
- Complete a task
- Leave a task unfinished as a starting point for next time.
Does your day contain any rough transitions that leave you edgy and unsettled? What can you add to give your nervous system more time to adjust to the change?
Our bodies relax into familiarity, even if we long for change. Muscle memory carries us efficiently through routines worn smooth by repetition and optimized by small changes over time.
Whether a life transition is sudden or planned, traumatic or happy, it inevitably disrupts our routines. Our muscle memory no longer applies, requiring us to learn new patterns of movement with conscious attention. We make confused, awkward mistakes despite our best efforts. Time moves more slowly as we concentrate. We feel anxious, frustrated, and overwhelmed by the flood of new information.
Give yourself time to adapt, explore, and not yet know the answers. In a month, you will have established new habits. For now, you are a beginner. What judgments or preconceptions do you have about adult beginners? What are your thoughts, feelings, and experiences as a beginner in this moment?
Build in time to breathe, rest, and replenish your energy. Are there any commitments you can put aside until the adjustment period is past? Allow anxiety, frustration, and other difficult feelings to move through you like a wave.
Sometimes there is an uncomfortably long hallway between an old door closing and a new door opening. The extended gap between old and new challenges us to manage uncertainty while we create a new future out of the unknown one step at a time. What judgments and preconceptions do you have about uncertainty?
Rather than rush through the period of uncertainty, acknowledge and experience it fully. Even though we prefer certainty and stability, there can be a spaciousness in not-knowing. What is your physical experience of uncertainty? What can you enjoy about it?
Ask for support
As isolating as uncertainty can be, you are not the first nor the last to struggle with it. No matter how you reached this point, blame will not help you. Ask for understanding and support from the people around you. As much as you can, bring compassion to your experience and the ways you respond to it. Seek out nourishment for your spirit in this in-between time. Simple meditation can help you stay connected to your self.
Space for healing
The process of healing is a commitment to change, and at the same time a commitment to acceptance of our truth in each moment. When we move mindfully through small and large gaps, we create space in our lives for healing.
History of the phrase “mind the gap” on the London Underground, warning passengers to be careful of the gap from platform to train.
London Underground photo by Jason Brackins, Creative Commons license.