Transitions Are a Challenge

Transitions are a challenge. Some folks make a career out of providing guidance and support to others going through the bigger life transitions – education choices, marriage planning, establishing a home, preparing for retirement, or using Hospice to gracefully end a life.

No one I’ve encountered makes much of a business of guiding others through the little transitions that can be just as disorienting. After months of 6-7 days a week of work, having 4 days “off” requires an adaptation in thinking, sleeping, rhythm of the day that is as much a transition as taking full retirement. But there are no books to tell one how to apply the brakes, slow the metabolism, shift one’s perspective in order to fully benefit from the change in activity.

I have a friend who teaches at the United World College, who has come to recognize a sort of mini-depression that accompanies the start of each eagerly awaited break in the school year. He is tired from the pace of teaching, very ready for a restful change in activities – yet the actual transition is not easy. He handles the vacations more smoothly when he has a trip of some sort planned; when finances prevent travel he says he finds it hard to switch from constantly busy to a relaxed and yet satisfying pattern of activity.

I’m having somewhat the same challenge, on a smaller scale, with my two back-to-back four day weekends. I was/am so very ready for a break from work, but actually slowing and relaxing and letting the days flow in their own form is not easy. My body wakes at its normal 6:30; I have to tell it to go back to sleep. My mind wants to review what is still waiting to be done on this month’s caseload; I have to firmly yank it away with a scolding “not today”. By my third day off, I do sleep in late (stayed up unusually late the previous night) and enjoy the fact that the only demands in the day pertain to cleaning and preparing fish to be roasted later, as part of supper being served for a small group of friends.

A basically unscheduled day.
What a rarity.
What a joy.

So why is it difficult to make the transition, and relax into this open-ended time? Why do I find myself starting to sort through accumulated magazines as I tidy my living space for tonight’s company? The reading material has accumulated over several months, unattended, while I worked. Surely it can remain so during my little space of rest.

The particular transition I and my UWC friend confront is from doing to relaxing (or being, doobee, doobee, do).

Shifting from vacation back to work mode is no less easy, I know. Maybe that’s why, when the vacation is as short as at present, I’m not inclined to fall into resting mode to the depth I might wish to do.

An extreme of resisting transitions or change can be seen in obsessive-compulsive behavior, where a dish out of place on the table can set off a panicked repetitive response. Fear of some sort of loss underlies most compulsive behavior. Hmm… yes I see that I do, at some minor level, fear that if I fully relax I may not be able to bring myself back to the high level of energy required to do my job well.

An extreme opposite to compulsive sameness is found in the principle of impermanence which is fundamental to Buddhism. Meditation, stilling the mind, is the practice of becoming free from the illusion of time and therefore the illusion of permanence (something enduring over time). The contemplative practices of MasterPath also encourage development of an inner realization that the only things which endure are Soul, the Eternal Divine Master, and the emanation of Its energy, experienced as Shabda, a Sanskrit word loosely translated as Love. Happiness is found in acceptance of the transitory nature of what we normally call reality. Pain and suffering are mental constructs which arise from comparison – what is versus what was, what is versus what may be in the future, what is versus what one wishes were true, etc.

Which brings my reflection to another level – why are we constructed such that our mental limits, need for a sense of permanence, resistance to even small changes is so solidly implanted? Why does it take so much concentration to move into a different form of awareness, where each moment is pure and precious and enjoyed for itself, as it is, without comparison?

I will not even begin to probe in that direction. Theologians have argued the point for millennia. I have nothing to add to their dialogue.

I choose instead to focus my attention on becoming fully aware of the small ways I still cling to the illusion of permanence. I choose to continue my effort to let go of the need to hold that illusion. As my Teacher instructs, I choose to put my attention on that which is not just permanent but eternal, for therein lies my happiness.

I could not have maintained the pace of work this past year, nor found the new love delighting me, nor been enabled to assist those who now say I have done so, had I been focused on finding permanence. Indeed, my life for many years before 2013/14 had seemed stuck in one place and one pattern. I was learning the lesson of seeing small positive changes in what appeared to be sameness. I was learning to be patient while karmic issues exhausted themselves. I was learning to be happy and feel free within what could be perceived and felt as a prison.

Now I must learn to be as patient, as free and as happy within the context of constant change. My Master, in His inner form, brought me through the illusion of being stuck. He will see me through what I am now experiencing as a whirlwind of impermanence.

So be it.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

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