Finding Presence In Transitions: A Powerful Practice
The school year is ending. "It's a transition." I've heard myself say more than once in the last few weeks, a tone of trepidation in my voice. That time of year when (if we have school-aged children) all the routine that we've come to rely on, shifts.
But transitions are not just these big moments, between seasons, and life routines they are both big--There is transition in birth, there is transition in death, in moving to a new home--And tiny...moments over and over again throughout a day...
So What Is A Transition?
It is moving from one place to another, from one activity to another, moving from one focus to another. Transitions often involving a preparing to go, a leaving, perhaps a cleaning up or a setting out of something new.
It is a space between two things. Two moments. Two subjects. Two activities. Two places. Traveling is a transition, arriving is a transition, departing is a transition. In a meeting, we transition between two subjects. In a classroom, we transition between two activities or topics. Within a big transition, like moving, their are many tiny transitions as well.
The hallways of a school--a passing period-- is a transition and often the most anxious moments of a day for a high school or middle school aged student. If you have a toddler or have raised a toddler child, you probably have said out loud, "transitions are really hard for my child." It's often during a transition moment when everything seems to break down.
For a toddler (and let's be honest for many adults too) the space of a transition seems to provide the opportunity for things to "fall apart." It is easy to witness the quality of resistance and clinging when we watch a child. "No I don't want to get into the bath, I'm not ready, I'm still playing." As the adult we use all the tricks up our sleeve from direct logic, "It's time to get into the tub," to mild coercion, "It will be so warm in there!" And often, no matter the technique the small child has big feelings about the shift. And then the tub, and the enjoyment of the warm water and soap, and then it begins again..."No I don't want to get out of the bath, I'm not ready. I'm still playing," as their lips turn blue and the water drains from the bath.
These transitions, the little and the big, feel challenging for our children, and perhaps also for ourselves. And so we try to rush them, fill them, or avoid them, in an effort not to feel. But not to feel what exactly?
This spring as the leaves turned green and the grass grew taller and the sun stayed up longer, I found myself wondering... So what's your relationship with the transitions, Paige?"
Bringing Awareness To Your Own Experience Of Transitions
My practice, and the practice that I teach my clients, is to notice when things feel uncomfortable. And then to dive in. Bringing awareness to these moments, particularly once that recur, is a way to tune into what is happening, both what is actually happening, e.g. I am putting my shoes on my feet, and to what thoughts/feelings may be invisibly informing the moment, e.g. I don't want to put my shoes on. So anger is arising while I do it. Noticing what is happening, or having enough awareness to notice what is happening, is the first step in breaking a habit or pattern. Just noticing.
How do you feel when you're moving from one thing to another? What's the feelingtone in your body, in your mind? What's your mind up to as you consciously or unconsciously shift your attention from one place to another?
In a transition there's a space, there's a gap. There's a chance to find stillness in a transition.
Instead, we often find busyness.
"Ooh, there's a break. There's a gap." The mind says, "let's fill it!" And thinking mind loves to fill space. Not with necessary information for said, transition. Find shoes and coat might be part of it, but also...
Did you finish that task from earlier? And what about that thing later? And are we going to be on time? And where is my, oh no, I lost that thing, and oh dear, later on today I'm supposed to, and I didn't finish the thing from the meeting. And there's that laundry I forgot about, and now...
Suddenly those actions of the transition, leaving, or waiting, or traveling somewhere take on a feeling of urgency that has nothing to do with what is actually happening in the moment. The mind's thought stream has filled the gap and covered up the present moment possibility. In reality that space, the gaps of a transition between small moments, and large, can be a beautiful opportunity to find stillness. To pause. And to engage in the practice of returning attention to Presence.
Transitions are such a wonderful opportunity because they're challenging. They invite the mind, or the mind invites itself, to get active. During a transition the mind is not specifically focused on something. Like that toddler, our own minds,' tend to throw a tantrum when they aren't being soothed by doingness. The mind doesn't like space. But present awareness loves space, it is space.
The Difference Between Focus and Presence and the Ability to be in Focused Presence:
It can feel really simple to be present when we're focused. And being focused and being present aren't necessarily the same thing. You can be focused and present/conscious, but you can also be focused and somewhat unconscious.
The difference here is that when I'm focused on a task and I'm also resting in consciousness, I'm not "losing the rest of the room." I am working within an expanded awareness, so that I know what is happening around me, can respond peacefully to an interruption and generally feel at ease while also in the process of "doing something." As I type this, I can also hear the rain falling outside the window, sense the back of my body, feel my feet on the floor, and feel very content and peaceful. I notice if I need to get up and go to the bathroom, and I don't push past my natural stopping point into stress. That is, I'm not so focused on what I'm up to, that I lose my attention solely in that task.
Exercise/Direct Experience: The next time you're in a focused task, whether that's on the computer or a physical project in the world, see if you can keep part of your attention on the rest of the space that you're in, on the energetic quality in your hands or your feet or the back of your body.
When we're so focused that we lose the rest of the room, that we lose our connection to our consciousness, or the "awareness of awareness" focus feels different. For example, if we get "interrupted" we'll often snap, "can't you see? I'm doing something?" or "Ugh! I have to finish this. I can never get a minute" When we're in presence and connected to our consciousness, there's less of that.
A transition can be an invitation to pause, to reconnect, to Re- Source.
So... transitions, they are when our focus shifts from something, and there is a gap, to something else, that's the transition: the gap.
If you tend to struggle with transitions, perhaps just like your child, this is a great opportunity to explore what you're actually up to in a transition. What is that mind up to? Are you connected to consciousness, aka "present," or are you lost in thought?
Is your attention focused on a million other things, or are you right here, right now in the transition, moving slowly, one foot in front of the other, putting on the shoe, putting on the coat, someone asks a question, no problem. "Yes, I'll get that for you." OR "No, you need to grab that yourself." The phone rings and you know not to answer because you don't need that extra layer of information at this second, or you know what? Yes, I do have the time, I'll take this call and then move along into the rest of the day.