The guided meditation at yoga class this morning began with a short discourse on how to recognize and manage transitions. The yoga teacher referred to sudden transitions in temperature as the cold spring weather suddenly turns summer-like and then gets chilly again. She reminded us that the change from day time highs of 10 Celsius to hot and muggy days with temperatures at 24 Celsius means that our bodies make abrupt transitions. Extreme and abrupt temperature changes feel unsettling.
Those of us who live in parts of the world with four distinct seasons are accustomed to changes of weather. Changing seasons mean that we dress in different clothing, eat different foods, and partake in different outdoor activities. Even our driving habits change! These changes all involve transitions.
Learning to deal effectively with transition is more than dealing with temperature or seasonal changes. It’s a life skill. Last Sunday we attended our five-year old grand daughter’s first piano recital. She is learning piano with the Suzuki method. I watched her confidently perform both pieces she had prepared, watched her bow, and watched as she took her seat with other children.
All went well until the end when the teacher asked her, as the youngest student, to help present roses and certificates to the graduating students. She helped but burst into tears after the presentation. When we soothed the tears and asked what upset her, she told us that she didn’t want lessons to end for those students. As a five-year-old, she does not yet have the skills to understand nor to cope with the mental cost of separation.
Her behaviour provided another example of how some changes make for easy transitions, such as when spring abruptly turns to summer. Other transitions are more difficult because they signal an ending.
Transitions and Endings
Our grand daughter’s comments prompted me to think about life transitions that indicate the end of something. Many readers will have experienced a major transition with a change of job, or with retirement, or with a move to a new community. Life transitions also happen in families with births, deaths, marriages, divorces, estrangements, and separations. We grow and change as we adapt to a ‘new normal’.
Sometimes transitions happen abruptly and leave us feeling out of control. An accident, a death, or a sudden illness gives no warning of a transition. A sudden unexpected change feels like receiving a sucker punch. Yet, the change must be handled. Grief, anger, regret, sadness are normal reactions that must be managed before our spirits can adapt to a life that is forever changed.
Some transitions, such as a graduation, or a wedding, or retirement from a career, are planned. They allow opportunity for mental preparation. We can rehearse and imagine a new future as we plan for growing into a different version of the self.
Sometimes a transition happens so gradually that it’s difficult to observe until it’s complete. For example, we might choose to take up a new habit and before long it becomes a necessary part of life. I’ve experienced this with taking some form of daily exercise. When I don’t swim or walk or practise yoga or go to the gym, I feel that something is missing. As a result, I have a changed self-definition that craves daily physical activity. This transition has truly been a surprise as I was never athletic in my younger years and had to force myself to get enough exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
Retirement is a transition. As well as a financial impact, there are emotional and psychological changes. Careers end. Work stops and a new identity forms. This transition is easier if retirement is an anticipated change but each person will experience the transition into retirement differently.
Aging brings other types of life transitions. It’s tempting to deny the effects of aging, but declining stamina, health, and energy becomes a new reality. This may be an opportunity to be thankful that some aspects of life can be left behind. There is an element of fear in most life transitions because transitions mean endings. A loss is a loss. There is grieving. However, when we acknowledge the end, we prepare to move on rather than get stuck in the past.
Transitions also mean beginnings.
It’s human nature to try to hold off changes, even beneficial changes because we want the comfort of what we know. Sometimes we cling tightly to something that can’t be controlled. Yet we need to step outside of the comfort zone and consider future possibilities.
Transitions open doors for new beginnings. There’s an awkwardness to many life changes that challenge us to adapt to a different reality. Circumstances of every transition differ. Retirement, moving, a major change of life situation — these changes challenge each of us to find inner strength. Too often such changes happen in tandem with the reality of aging. Rather than flail at the injustice of life, we might consider the wisdom gleaned from life experience. Increased social and emotional skills that come as we grow older assist in making endings into beginnings.
My yoga teacher encouraged our class to be gentle with ourselves and allow our bodies time to adapt to sudden temperature changes. Her advice applies equally to life transitions . When facing a transition we can be gentle with ourselves, draw on past experience, and allow enough time to adapt to a new reality.
Thanks for reading my post. I’m interested in hearing about reader experiences with transitions. Do we cope better with transitions as we grow older or are transitions more difficult? What life skills help with transitions? Does a positive attitude help in managing transition and change?