In my dream, I am standing in front of a vending machine. I want something from this vending machine, but I don’t have the exact change that I need to purchase it. Nearby is a long, high counter. Behind the counter is an old woman. She is smiling at me. I approach her, put my money on the counter, and say: “I would like some change please.”
The soul is adventurous and wants new experiences. The body wants to find a warm, safe space and sit tight. There is no balance between these two different needs, only a dynamic disequilibrium, a flow, a tide that surges and ebbs and is never twice the same. The space between the enticing new thing and the comforting same-old, same-old is transition. And transition can be difficult.
Transition is difficult to control. Life is insecure. We plan. We store our nuts for the winter. We build our house of bricks. We do our very best. But the best laid plans “go oft astray” (“gang aft agley”) as poet the Scots Robert Burns tells us in “Ode to a Mouse.” The nuts sprout and grow into trees instead of becoming food. The house of bricks walls us off from life. Change finds us in our lair and drags us out into the chaos.
Every fairy tale tells us that change will find us. No matter where we hide. No matter how wise or beautiful we are, no matter how strong or clever we become. We cannot outwit change, that torrent that sweeps the ground out from under our feet and challenges us to learn how to swim at the edge of the black hole of anti-matter. And change creates transitions.
Change and transitions are, by their very natures, abrupt, even if planned. What can we do in transition? Come to stillness, sit back, relax, go with the flow, listen to your heart, make connections, and smile.
Transitions demand that we find a still space within ourselves. That is the place my Seneca grandmother always referred to as “the within the within the within.” We can find the center of the whirling gyre, even when everything around us seems to be spinning faster and faster and threatening to blow up. A meditation practice gives us the skill to go to our still center within the space of a breath. If you haven’t been practicing, it will take more than one breath. Focus on breathing out. Imagine you are blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. First blow out ten candles, then twenty, thirty, forty, and so on. Each exhalation is longer than the one before. I imagine a color, any single color, while I am doing this. And I sit back.
Transitions are in motion, so sit back. Literally. Give yourself the advantage of posture. How we hold our bodies makes a big difference in how we experience in life, and all the difference in how well we are able to make transitions. Leaning into transition takes us off our center, weakens our power, and gives us the illusion of controlling the transition. Sit back. Cowering away from the transition by ducking our head and hunching our shoulders tells us we are being victimized. Sit up and sit back. Let the transition do what it needs to do. Trust.
Trust brings relaxation. Tension is our way of telling ourselves that we have to protect, guard, and be alert for danger. Transitions are dangerous, so we tense up. Relaxation changes the nervous system. Transition becomes opportunity. Some find a hot bath relaxing. (When my sweetheart was moving, she decided to let the movers pack it all up for her. She freaked when she returned home after work to a completely empty house, so she ran a hot bath and climbed in. I found her there, hours later, without even a towel to dry off with. But she was smiling.) Some find a long walk (or even a short run) relaxing. Some work picture puzzles. Others draw or paint, sing or dance. Relaxing might mean taking a nap, but it doesn’t have to be passive.
From our center, sitting back, finding relaxed, we can trust enough to go with the flow. Even to be curious and interested in the flow of the transition. Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia. The paranoid believes that life is out to harm her. The proanoid believes that life is out to help her. Be proanoid. Believe that what you need will show up at just the right time. Don’t become flaccid and just assume that you will be fed if your mouth is closed. Going with the flow still requires us to paddle around rocks in the stream and to be alert to offers of help. There’s an old joke about the person in a house by a river in flood. A bus is sent to evacuate everyone, but this person refuses, saying: “God will provide for me.” The river rises higher and a boat is sent to rescue anyone left. But this person refuses, saying: “God will provide for me.” Finally, the water is so high that a helicopter is sent to pluck this person from the roof of their house. “No thanks,” is the reply, “God will provide for me.” This person drowns, goes to heaven and lodges a complaint. “I trusted in you God to take care of me, and you failed.” “Really?” replies God. “I sent a car, a boat, and a helicopter, but you refused my help.”
One author suggests that we approach transition like eating out. Select what you want from the menu and place your order. (And if we are in the midst of transition, then we must admit that we have, indeed, placed an order for change, even if only in our dream.) After you have ordered, trust the chef and the wait staff to use their skills to provide what you ordered. Oh, and you need to eat what you are being served, even if you don’t remember ordering it, even if you have changed your mind and don’t want it any more, even if you are terrified of what could happen if you take a single bite. (Is it a poison apple? Is it a magic mushroom? Is it manna from heaven?)
Listen to your heart as you eat what you have ordered. Disconnect the brain for a while and listen to your heart. You know the answer. It is already within you. It is in your heart. You know how to ride the waves of transition; the heart is your surfboard. You know how to get down the mountain; your heart is your snowboard. You know how to get over it; your heart is the bridge. You know how to get above it; your heart is your kite. Unfurl the wings of the heart and wrap yourself in love. Trust your heart, especially when it counters what your brain is saying.
Your heart says to reach out and connect. Connect to all that supports and nourishes you. Let the connections come to you. Trust the connections. We are social beings. And the social networks that we weave around us are the most important aspect of our health and well-being. In fact, those who have healthy lifestyles but few connections die sooner than those with unhealthy lifestyles and many connections.
And smile. Even if you have to fake it. The brain doesn’t know the difference. It produces feel good hormones every time your lips turn up. Grandma used to exhort us to: “Put a twinkle in your eyes.” She knew what she was talking about. Smile your way through transitions. Smile your way through change. Smile your way through life, which is, after all, a joke. A loving joke. Smile.
Green blessings are all around us.