May 20, 2019
How to Manage Major Life Transitions with Mindfulness
Some months ago, I ran into a neighbor while on a walk and we stopped to chat. I asked about her daughter who would soon be off to college, noting what an exciting time it must be for her. Then, moments later, my dear neighbor started to cry. Through unexpected tears, she told me just how much she was going to miss her beloved daughter as she’s going through some major life transitions.
The truth of change is never more forceful than during life’s inevitable transitions. Whether they are welcome or not, transitions hurl us into an uncertain future often while we’re still longing for the security of the past.
Some of life’s major changes happen with metronomic predictability. Here are just a few examples:
- Leaving for college
- Landing our first job
- Getting married
- Having children
Of course, life can be wildly unpredictable and some changes are as unwanted as food poisoning. We lose our job, a loved one passes away or we become ill. Life transitions can also arrive like the tide, slowly creeping up on us, until one day we realize that our career or our marriage no longer fulfills us. We need to make a bold change.
Typical Feelings During a Major Life Transition
All of it brings a level of uncertainty that’s roiling with a gamut of uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and physical sensations. Even if a change is expected and welcome, we can be beset with anxiety, self-doubt and fear. I experienced all of these things – as have plenty of other women I assume – when navigating pregnancy, birth and eventual motherhood. My daughter just turned 16. But I remember the transition to motherhood as if, as they say, it was yesterday.
That’s the thing about transitions. They’re landmarks in our lives and as such we deserve to be present for them, to experience them fully and to become wiser for having weathered them.
How to be Mindful in the Midst of Life Transitions
Being mindful in the midst of life’s transitions can help us move through them with a more clarity, insight and even kindness. While we think of mindfulness as the practice of paying attention to the present moment with nonjudgmental awareness, it’s also a worldview replete with attitudes that can help us shoulder life’s vicissitudes. One hallmark of mindfulness that’s particularly helpful during the uncertainty of change is curiosity.
Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert described curiosity as a gentle, forgiving friend who taps you on the shoulder lightly and invites you to turn your head a quarter of an inch to look at something more closely.
Why it’s Important to Address what we Feel During these Major Changes
Why would we want to look more closely at one of life’s thorny transitions? Because while we can’t make queasy feelings about change go away, we can work with them – not only so that they become less painful, but also so that we can learn and grow from them.
Rather than become subsumed or immobilized by the fear of change, curiosity encourages us to stay open to the feelings, thoughts and sensations that arise in any given moment and allow understanding to unfold.
Through the lens of curiosity, feelings such as anxiety or fear can become, if not pleasant, workable. We can, for example, become curious how it feels in our body when fear arises. We can notice the thoughts, storylines and images that accompany it. We can observe how the phenomena of fear moves through us and – like everything else in life – eventually changes.
None of this will make the discomfort of change go away. Mindfulness is not a magic wand. But if we bring our full, loving attention to the moments our discomfort arises, we’ll discover that our fear, or whatever else we might be feeling, isn’t monolithic. Depending upon the circumstances, we might begin to think that something good can come from an unwanted change or at the very least that we can handle it.
Lately, I find myself thinking self-referentially about my neighbor. I wonder how I’ll feel when the predictable transition of my own daughter leaving home for college arrives. By relying on the friend of curiosity, we might also learn where the next stone on the path of change will lead us.
That’s another thing about transitions. While they force us to let go of the familiar, they often compel us to create something entirely and, hopefully, wonderfully new in our lives.
Don’t Stress About Change
Stress is inevitable in every major life transition, and the minor ones, too. While you typically can’t control your surroundings, you can control how you handle it. Our Stress Less, Live More program offers a live, interactive approach lead by expert teachers that teach you the tools to manage stress so it doesn’t get in the way of living. Learn more about Stress Less, Live More today.
About the Author
Kelly Barron. M.A., is a certified mindfulness facilitator at UCLA and writer. She teaches mindfulness for UCLA’s Mindfulness Research Center as well as for corporations, schools and private groups. Kelly has worked as a mindfulness teacher with eM Life since 2016. She came to learn the value of mindfulness as a deadline-driven journalist. Now, she’s passionate about sharing mindfulness with others to help them live with more ease, clarity and joy. You can learn more about Kelly and read her blog at www.kellybarron.com.