Every morning I walk my little girl to school. We talk about things we see along the way, she notices this certain group of flowers, the mailboxes oddly set into the sidewalk that I have to veer around if we’re walking side by side, the state of the sky, dogs who bark at us, bugs, butterflies, and bees. She adds such color to an otherwise routine and hum-drum walk through an ordinary neighborhood. It makes me wonder, how colorful and…well…full would our lives be if we viewed transitions, the stuff that happens between one thing and the next, as events just as exciting and important as the stuff on either end? Transitions are often just something to get through on the way to where you want to be. Our morning commute, the airport or train station and their accompanying modes of transportation, seasons, life stages, and waiting of any kind are all examples of transitions, and they all offer opportunities to practice mindfulness and being present.
Remember when we were kids and time seemed to go on forever? Summers were endless. If we went to a summer camp away from home we met life-long friends, a week made a huge impact on our lives, so much could happen in a day. That’s because we noticed absolutely everything. We were fully present and authentic all the time. We weren’t worried about what was ahead of us or what was behind us. Kids don’t check out and get lost in their thoughts while the rest of them is on autopilot. If we were throwing rocks into the lake we were throwing rocks into the lake, noticing the sound, the splash, and the ripples. There likely wasn’t an inner dialog going on about what to have for dinner, future commitments, what time it was, or anything else other than the rock going into the lake. Granted, much of that has to do with lack of responsibility which we can’t avoid now, but maybe we can plan ahead. We can have dinner in the crockpot, know exactly how long it will take to get home and set an appropriate alarm on our phones, then go childishly throw rocks in the lake.
If you’re bored you’re not paying attention. -Alan Alda
Right now, in the northern hemisphere, we are starting to move into fall. Kids are going back to school, which signals the end of summer even if the weather remains warm. Some of us have kids going away for their first day of college or kindergarten, so we’re dealing with a quiet house and altered schedule. I used to drive across town in the morning to drop my little girl off to preschool, then I would go to a yoga class, run errands in town, and come home to work. Now we walk to school, I drop her off, and take a walk around our neighborhood, then come home to work. I have way more time now, but I miss yoga class which isn’t practical to attend in the mornings anymore. I would have to hurry to drop my daughter off, rush across town, likely barely make it in time for class, and take half the class to calm down from the stress of making it to class on time. It defeats the purpose. I enjoy my morning walks instead. We are in transition. There are different routines and rules involved in kindergarten. It’s a new school for us, new teachers, and new expectations, so we’re learning the ropes. We will eventually get into a routine, I’ll start attending noon yoga classes, and all will be well! A transition like this feels like things have been thrown up in the air, and where they land is anyone’s guess. The trick to dealing with it is to be fluid. Have no expectations, take things as they come, and keep a calm, open mind.
In yoga, we often like to remind our students that what your body is doing between poses is just as important as the poses themselves. People tend to ignore the transition and focus instead on where they are going. In doing this they miss part of the beauty of the present moment. What is in between isn’t garbage or emptiness to be stepped over and ignored, it holds its own merits separate from where you have been and where you are going. The transition, in essence, is a pose in itself. If you start to move slowly, with intention, you begin to notice the challenge and the beauty of the transition. Once you learn this, you can take that lesson out into the world and live a more mindful life. This is a more child-like, imaginative, colorful life.
Take your morning commute. How can you make it more mindful? Take a cue from my kindergartner. Notice everything. Maybe shut off the podcast (don’t get me wrong, I love podcasts) or the audiobook, or the music and notice the things around you. Use meditation techniques to keep you in the present moment, because your mind is going to wander. Calm your monkey mind by focusing on things around you. If you start thinking about what your day has in store or your grocery list you are no longer in the present. Notice the sky, houses you pass, architecture, gardens, bumper stickers, the differences between your neighborhood and the area where you work, the texture of the road or the sidewalk or the vibration of the train, people watch, notice people’s shoes…the possibilities are endless. I guarantee you will notice something you have never noticed before and it may change your perception. Use this time to bring some quiet and personal time into your day. Maybe this means leaving a little earlier so you can take your time and it doesn’t become a source of daily stress. Stop for a coffee or a tea. Make it pleasurable. Just slow down. What a great way to start your day.
Life stages can be tricky transitions. Think about puberty. Talk about a rough transition! It’s the most volatile, tumultuous time in most of our memories. You are wanting nothing more than to be accepted into the tribe, to be liked, for others to think that you are super terrific…and your body rebels! Yikes. So now we get to look forward to middle age, our bodies are due to rebel yet again: menopause looming on the horizon (doesn’t that sound like a bucket full of rubies) or, for the three guys that follow this blog, a decrease in testosterone which promotes decreased energy, soft bellies, and man boobs. Of course, the severity of these symptoms can be significantly decreased with a smart diet and exercise routine, but that is a topic for another day. The point is, transitions can be rough. Let’s focus on taking it one day at a time. Listen to your body, and if it is being completely nutso give yourself permission to do a little extra self-care. Try body brushing, learn about helpful essential oils, make a cup of tea and snuggle up with a good book, get a pedicure, take a nice long bath, whatever makes you feel calm, confident, and beautiful. While you are doing these self-care practices show your body some love. While applying lotion, notice each lump and bump and say to yourself, “I love my calves, I love my thighs, I love my belly.” Even if it’s not true, do it every day and soon it will become true. It might seem weird at first but treating your body with a little extra love decreases the stress response which can help with anything from inflammation to weight loss. And, come on, that body has gotten you this far, taking a little time to show it some love is the least it deserves.
Try these tips and tricks to help you navigate through your next transition mindfully:
- Look around you. What do you see? What color is the sky today? What kind of tree did you just walk by? How many different colors of shoes did you see this morning?
- Slow down your daily chores. Even if you’ve done a task 5 thousand times, take it step by step today. Is the task more difficult? Why?
- Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself how awesome you are and congratulate yourself for anything you may have accomplished today. Especially if something was difficult or challenging, lift yourself up as you would a best friend.
- Take the time to increase self-care. Transitions may require extra rest and repair. It isn’t unnecessarily indulgent to take a little time out. You are worth some extra time to fill up your cup so you can go out and kick butt later.
- Plan ahead, but give up expectations. Sometimes transitions can feel like stepping off of a cliff into thin air. Plan for what you can foresee, but remember to be fluid because there will be things you have no control over or that you can’t foresee.
- Remember to be present. Be exactly where you are when you are there. Happiness can only exist in the present, even if the present is challenging.
- Don’t be afraid to sit back and watch the world go by. Even if it is for a short time. We don’t always have to be busy. Sometimes sitting back and observing is necessary in order to make sense of the world around us. There are things that we don’t notice when we are rushing through.
If you found this post helpful, please hit “like” and “follow”. For more frequent updates and motivation, you can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram by clicking the links above. If you know a friend who could use this information, please share it right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!