Many of us are drawn to a good transformation story. A dramatic before and after shot can spur in us a bone deep knowing that life is cyclical and changes often. Often we are shown images of a caterpillar transforming into the butterfly to illustrate how change is natural. What we don’t often see is the part where the caterpillar digests itself in the cocoon and becomes a goo or soup before reforming into the butterfly. The process of transformation, the transition from one way of being into another, is where a mindfulness practice can be a powerful tool in staying focused, grounded, and calm. How can a mindfulness practice support our navigation through the transition of what was and what will be? This article will provide tips and practices on how we can be more present, connected, and maybe even comfortable in the goo stage of change.
At its simplest, change is awkward and uncomfortable. The pandemic brought us profoundly altered conditions for work, school, and home. These seismic shifts and resulting subtleties and nuances to our lives can bring an abundance of strong emotions like grief, uncertainty, and fear that live hand in hand with excitement, hope, and possibility. A New York Times article recently provided tips on moving from languishing in these transitional times, to a sense of thriving. The effects of these emotions can distract us from the pause so necessary in making decisions and showing up as our whole selves. While we cannot always predict or control the events that effect us, we can manage how we handle and react to those changes through present awareness and regulation of our nervous systems. A mindfulness practice can build our resilience to live in the not yet, the no longer, and the what now?
Perhaps you have noticed a heightened sensitivity to sound, other people, or activities that differ from your day to day since the pandemic. Maybe you notice differences in your choices of comfort, communication style, or even ability to think in the same manner as before. I catch myself saying, “I used to love being in rooms full of people!” Then judging my tiredness or discomfort as something that is “wrong” with me. That lack of presence to my body’s needs is not serving me. By not acknowledging that something has changed culturally and within me, I am blocked from the fullness and possibility of being here now. By beginning a practice of witnessing myself, I have embodied the adjustments and realignments that support my healthy functioning in most situations.
Pause. Notice. Adjust. (Repeat as needed)
One of the ways we can lean into the goo stage of transformation is to embody fluidity. This can feel like a dance that consists of adjustments, repositionings, and looking agains. As a former school teacher constantly fantasizing about growing octopus tentacles, I recognize sometimes life does not provide us the ideal situations for getting present. The best wisdom I can share is to start simple. Start where you are with what you have. I utilize the process of pausing, noticing what I am experiencing and adjusting to serve my needs.
PAUSE: For example, I may take a breath to pause the habitual movement or perceived momentum of the situation.
NOTICE: Without analyzing, I ask, “What is here right now?” This may be naming what I hear, see, smell, feel, and/or possibly taste. Then bring that noticing to my body. What do I feel? Where do I feel it? Those feelings or sensations are given names. It could be that I sense a quickened breath, or a tightness in the jaw, or a sensation like anxiety or excitement. Importantly, judgment is invited to step out of the conversation so that what is speaking from the experience can emerge.
ADJUST: Once I am present and aware, I can adjust something in the moment. If the jaw is tense, I can smile or open my mouth and stick out my tongue. Sometimes it’s fun to encourage the people around you to do the same! Laughter is a great companion to presence. Another option is to shift the weight on my feet or sitz bones which will support my body’s comfort and load distribution. I can also distance myself from stressors, turn down sound, or make other decisions that support my needs at the moment. Taking a pause to be aware of what is happening gives me the opportunity to do something differently.
This exercise could literally take less time than it took me to type it out. Without the burden of judging, it really becomes a creative experiment in finding your comfort and a dance that leads you into new shapes.
Being with the Experience
If you have more time to sit with your experience, try this reflective journaling prompt for more insights into your experience of transition.
By setting aside a moment to engage with your experience, you can begin to create a clearer picture of what your needs and reactions are in the present moment. I have found that in certain situations on certain days, I need a break after sixty minutes. This is a huge shift from a person that used to work with hundreds of people a day in a non-stop job. While I sense this is my now, I understand that everything is always changing and my needs will adjust as well. Sometimes our life situations do not support our mental and physical needs, but we have some choices in how we support ourselves. What options do we have here?
One of the most nourishing things we can do for ourselves is to connect and be in a conscious relationship with ourselves, others, or the natural world. Making a list of the people in your life, the pets, the trees outside your window, etc. can be a good reminder of what you are connected to. Caring for ourselves can also look like asking for help, rest, calling in your calm, choosing nourishing foods, drinking water, gratitude practices, speaking your truth, stillness, connecting with nature, hugs, movement, or taking a breath. Most importantly it’s a healthy reminder that while before and after transformation stories work well for social media and news outlets, they are highly curated tellings that create an incomplete narrative of linear movement that negates the robust, cyclical, and bumpy nature of life itself. Sometimes the caterpillar starts again or decides it doesn’t want to be the butterfly! While we understand that the world changes, many of us struggle with the experience that we change as well. Mind Body Align is here to support you in navigating the transitions in your life.
Caryl Church Jesseph (she/her) is a Curriculum and Education Developer and Mindful Educator with Mind Body Align. Along with 15 years of experience in public schools as a K-12 art educator, Caryl is also a certified yoga teacher, published writer, exhibited artist, and winner of the Northeast Ohio Outstanding Art Educator Award and The Carrie Nordlund Award.
Caryl earned her Master’s Degree in Art Education from Kent State University. She compliments her work with modalities rooted in storytelling, visual art, movement, play, and ecological connection. She is passionate about creating welcoming, safe, inclusive, equity-focused spaces that support people’s mindful awareness and connection to self, others and the natural world. Outside of the classroom, Caryl can often be found photographing wildflowers, writing stories, or enjoying live music.