Updated: May 3, 2021
At myKinCloud we frequently discuss the idea of changing daily habits to help our overall wellbeing. Small habit changes are one thing, but what about major life changes?
Moving homes, having a baby, changing schools, starting a new job, adopting a dog, etc…some of these life changes are deliberate, but others are out of our control. With these big events come big feelings, where we might experience a full range of emotions, from joyous excitement to sheer terror. People frequently fall into one camp or the other, where we either love or loathe change.
I happen to fall in the ‘love change’ camp, but experiencing change these days is significantly more difficult than I can ever remember. Where I used to get giddy with anticipation about the next big adventure, I now find myself clinging to the past and quite frankly freaking out. Let’s take the most current example in my family, where my daughter is in her final year at primary school. While changing schools is inevitable and mandatory at this point, and we are all ecstatic about her next opportunity, my mind keeps racing back through the years in sentimentality, and I feel as though these last few months of the school year are going by like a runaway train.
Over time many of us also become more resistant to change. There is the expression that we get 'set in our ways' as we get older, but there can be more to it than that. When we have kids, bigger life changes bring more nostalgia of what is gone, and it reminds us how fast our kids are growing up and how time is fleeting. Change can become more representative of what is lost than what can be found.
This is where mindfulness can really help! When we practice mindfulness, we take ourselves into the present moment, without judgment of our feelings. We root ourselves in the current experience, locate where the feelings land in the body, and focus on the breath. Why can this be so important in dealing with change?
1) Negative feelings are usually related to either past or future events. Feelings such as sadness and regret are associated with past events, and feelings such as stress and fear are associated with future events. We can reduce or even eliminate these feelings when we are truly focused on the present moment. Body scans, thought awareness, sense awareness -- these are all great practices for returning to the present. It's in the present moment where we can reconnect with calmness, joy, and peace.
2) As much as we try, we are not superhumans. Negative thoughts are going to creep up from time to time, and when they do, this is where observing thoughts without judgment or attachment can be effective. If we are able to recognize thoughts and feelings without dwelling on them, we train ourselves to be more in control of how we respond. We can encounter an emotion with curiosity, rather than getting swept away. We have thousands of thoughts in any given day that we can choose to focus on, or let pass by. “Leave your front door and your back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea,” - Shunryu Suzuki. We are big fans of emotional cross ventilation!
3) Finally, we can embrace ourselves and our difficult emotions with kindness, as we would a friend by practicing the Metta meditation: May I be happy, May I be safe, May I be well, May I be at ease. We cultivate self-compassion so that we can avoid the second sting of experiencing a difficult emotion, and then judging ourselves for having the difficult emotion.
Even with all these tools and practices in hand, I am still going to wail like a baby on the last day of my daughter’s school year when she waves her flag at her annual field day; I will be stressed about her first day going to school by herself next year; I will likely feel sadness and fear, excitement and joy. Yet, I will do my best to get a hold of myself, breathe, check in with where I am feeling my emotions in the body, and focus on each present moment. I am determined to embrace the next big adventure.