In Transitions as Death: 4 Steps to Healing Old Losses, I explained that transitions have three parts: death, chaos, and a new beginning. In this post I will explain transition as chaos and birth.
Disruptions & Awareness
By nature, transitions offer a disruption. Something changes in our lives and we are forced to acknowledge that change. I believe that our ultimate goal is to be aware - of our feelings, behaviors, inclinations - as often as possible, and especially during transitions, because that is how we grow. Growth, like change, is inevitable, so why not grow with the current?
I’d like to explain why I think awareness is beneficial. In our everyday lives we are moving quickly. Our society requires it of us, and as humans, we are adaptable and distractible. For the most part, unless we do a lot of work to be mindful, we run on auto-pilot, and auto-pilot is run by habits. So why are habits problematic? Because habits are old behaviors. They are born through this process:
1. A new situation arises
2. We react to X situation intuitively
3. We continue to react to X situation and similar situations like we did the first time
4. This collection of reactions becomes an unconscious strategy (or habit) for dealing, regardless of whether we’ve changed in other ways (grown older, had a bunch of new experiences, etc.)
If we are aware of real-time-what’s-happening-now AND of our habits, then we can separate the two out and react to the actual moment: external stimulation and internal reactions (body sensations, thoughts, emotions). This nuance allows us to act freely, without being weighed down by old beliefs and stories.
Transitions are not always linear (mourning > chaos > new beginning). You might feel like your life is in complete disarray as soon as you lose your job or break-up. You may forget to mourn part of your identity and go straight to panic mode. Or you might get jazzed about a new job and neglect your feelings of anxiety that are running below the surface. Regardless, there will be a time when chaos reigns, and that is the perfect time to change old behaviors. You can change old behaviors anytime you exercise enough awareness, but when you have a disruption, the world feels upside-down anyway, so the pieces (aka your habits, behaviors, inclinations) are more flexible.
Imagine a finished puzzle sitting calmly on a table. That’s you during times of non-transition. Now imagine that the table was jostled and some of the puzzle pieces came apart. That’s you during a transition; it’s easier to move the pieces when you’ve already been disrupted, so it’s the perfect time to work on the places that previously felt stuck. You may be wondering why you’d move the pieces on a puzzle, as they only fit in one place, and that’s where the metaphor breaks down a little. However, we want our puzzle pieces to change so we can create a new identity, one that feels in line with our current, authentic self.
So, transitions offer a disruption, and if we can be aware throughout that disruption, we have an opportunity to break out of habit, embrace agency, and create a more authentic self. This is THE new beginning. Not only are there more obvious new opportunities in front of you (new choices, jobs, homes, partners, etc.), there’s also a new way of interacting with the world. This is often the most exciting part of a transition, as possibility is your middle name.