“The moment in between what you once were and what you are becoming is where the dance of life takes place.” – Barbara De Angelis
Transitions are “in between” times when we find ourselves between the old and the new. The coming “new” pulls at our awareness, sending us into loops of planning, impatient waiting, re-planning and still more waiting. Mix in a healthy dose of worry (it happens to the best of us) and times of transition can get a little messy. Mix in the tension that can arise as we deal with the demands of the “old” at the same time as we look forward to the “new” and we suddenly see why times of transition are often quite challenging to our peace of mind. For even the most graceful of us, transitions can trip us up as we move through the dance of life.
The year my oldest child headed off to college and my youngest started high school, I realized I was entering a transition that would draw itself out over the course of years. I admit that this realization came with a moment of panic. I tend to be a person who prefers to rip the Band-Aid off quickly rather than dragging things out. Yet, this transition felt different. There was no rushing (or desire to rush) toward the empty nest that is my future. I was simply going to have to take each step – some as quick and complicated as a tap dance sequence, some as dizzying as a ballerina’s pirouettes and some as sweet as a slow dance at the senior prom – along the way as it came.
And the steps I’ve taken during this time of transition have been as fast and as complex as the jitterbug. Moving in and out of dorm rooms. Endless SAT-prep. Impossibly expensive shopping sprees at Bed Bath & Beyond. Another prom. College tours and applications. A second (and third!) year spending Thursday nights studying for APUSH (Advanced Placement US History). These are all rites of passage for each of my children that deserve my full attention even as I sneak glances ahead to what life might be like for me after I drive home from dropping my youngest off for her freshman year.
These stealthy glances ahead seem to alternate between giving me thrills of excitement and shivers of fear. How will I fill my days? What will my husband and I do on the weekends without a youth sporting event to cheer at? Can I even remember what an actual weekend feels like? How will my hodge-podge of part-time jobs shift and change as I am able to devote more time to my professional life? Yes, these glances are a distraction from the dance I’m doing right now. But they are also necessary fodder for the daydreams, hopes and prayers that need to go into my discernment of what I’d like from this next dance in my life.
This long time of transition has taught me that there can be a certain sweetness to in-between times. I’ve developed a mindset that I call “short-timers syndrome.” This has made me much more present to life at home. I find myself not wanting to miss anything – family dinners, a snuggle before going to bed, a laugh in the car, even studying for another blasted APUSH test. I’m not going to get this time back and I find myself wanting wring all I can out of these last few years. It turns out that “short-timers syndrome” is a highly effective way to practice staying in the moment and enjoying the dance of life.
I was a little surprised to find myself facing transitions within this long time of transition. The fact that this surprised me makes me feel a little silly. After all, what is life but one long transition? Seasons have changed. New opportunities have arisen. Old ones have faded away. Relationships have shifted. With my new, keen awareness of transitions, I’ve been fascinated to watch my “dance skills” improve as I navigate each one.
Becoming graceful in times of transition, it turns out, takes practice, patience and persistence. This I understand intimately from my yoga practice. I know without a doubt that tripping or falling down is better than OK. It is an opportunity to get up and try again. Yoga has also helped me develop confidence in the slow, winding backroads of life rather than yearning to leap on the highway. Yoga has given me faith that each step along the way – the sweet and the not-so-sweet – are worthy recipients of my full awareness.
No matter where you are in life, you are between what you were and what you are becoming. We all have “moments” like mine when this is just a little clearer than others. We have the choice to receive these transitional moments as gifts. We can choose to adopt “short-timers syndrome” and throw ourselves into them completely and passionately. Even if we don’t like the music, we can choose to dance our hearts out with faith that there will be a next dance and a next …
Keep on dancing. Keep on becoming. Keep on living.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.” – Thomas Merton
The “present moment” is “having a moment” (to use popular vernacular). It was once a concept I encountered only in my yoga and spirituality studies. Now however, I’m coming across this concept in People Magazine, on television (the morning news as well as entertainment shows) and all over Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
On a yoga mat, we learn that the present moment is as full and as brief as a single breath. One breath can feel like an eternity when you’re struggling. One breath can also flit by in an instant when you’re in your favorite posture. One breath can contain a moment of disappointment or a moment transformation – when you finally become someone who can actually do a long-sought-after posture.
On a yoga mat, we learn to resist distractions from without and within. We learn to pay keen, close attention to each moment lest we miss the lesson, the success or simply the experience. This is one of those huge lessons that we carry with us off our mats and into our lives.
Meditation and contemplative prayer teach the same lesson in a slightly different way. While on a yoga mat, we seek the present moment by being fully absorbed in what we’re doing. In these quieter, stiller practices, we dive into the present moment while doing nothing. We learn to connect with the spaciousness within that is always there, but is often camouflaged by our hectic, churning thoughts.
We find in these practices that the present moment is endless as long as we don’t end it. That, of course, is the hard part. While we’re new at practicing (and I, for one, think I might be “new” for the rest of my life), the present moment is as beautiful and as fragile as a bubble. One fleeting thought – even a really good one – is enough to pop it. The good news is that the moment is always there awaiting our return.
As Thomas Merton indicates in his words above, the present moment is often filled with unknowing or at least uncertainty. The present moment, then, asks us to trust even when we have no idea what is happening or where life is taking us. In fact, one of Merton’s best known prayers opens, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.” Even the most enlightened of us feels clueless a great deal.
Certain present moments, however, are filled with clarity. They are those “A ha!” moments along our journey where we suddenly understand where we’ve been heading all along.
Some of these moments are sweet. Perhaps a dream that you (almost) forgot you were dreaming has suddenly come to fruition. Perhaps you suddenly face a surprising new possibility that feels somehow perfect. Others come with some bite. Perhaps a lost job leaves you suddenly with the freedom and space to spend time seriously reflecting on your life.
These moments are not frequent (at least they’re not for me), so it’s wise to savor them when we arrive at one.
These “A ha!” moments teach us a great deal. Through the power of hindsight, they teach us that it’s OK and totally normal when one or more steps along your way are less than pleasant. In fact, it is in these challenging, difficult moments that Merton’s admonition to have courage, faith and hope comes into play.
Courage helps us hold firm to our path – to maintain trust in our values, our instincts and the nudges of our hearts. Hope keeps us walking along our path with a smile on our face despite our challenges. Faith, though, is the key. It is faith that keeps whispering in our heart that we are here for a reason. Faith keeps us certain that we have special gifts that the world needs. Faith bolsters our desire to become the person we have the potential to be.
These “A ha!” moments reassure us that it is safe to trust the process. They teach us the amazing power of patience and persistence. They teach us that there is absolutely no sense in hurrying – each step along the way must be taken in order to travel our unique path.
Whether your present moment feels spacious or full, quiet or hectic, cloudy or like a clear-blue-sky day, dive in. Resist the temptations of distraction. Resist the urge to rush or skip a step. Dig deep and find the courage, hope and faith to embrace each step along your very special path.
This is your moment.
“Home again, home again, jiggety jig!” – my dad, as we pulled into the driveway from every single vacation of my childhood
There is a particular feeling to coming home. It’s hard to put into words. It’s part release and part relief. It’s a sense of being firmly grounded and centered. I imagine it’s the way a toddler feels when she crawls into her mother’s lap after a long morning at preschool – happily exhausted by her adventures out in the world and just as happily snuggled in for a rest in the most secure place she can imagine.
My dad’s cheerful little ditty has been on repeat in my heart and mind of late. We have been fortunate to travel a great deal this summer. Whether our trips have taken us near or far, it always feels nice to come home. Home is where we regroup, get organized, clean up a bit (my Lord, the laundry!), settle down and get centered – all necessary before we can be ready to pack up and hit the road again.
Never a super-light packer, on each of our trips this summer, I have schlepped an extra bag. While my yoga mat can be a bit unwieldy on flights, I almost never leave it behind. After I stuff in a block and my towel, that extra bag is full!
You see, no matter where I am in the world, I find I am happier when I sneak a little yoga into my days. Stepping onto my mat feels like coming home. My practice is where I regroup. Where my thoughts become more organized. Where I clean up my body by sweating out toxins, stretching out kinks and twisting out tension. My mat is where I settle down emotionally and mentally. It is where I get centered again so I can live more like the kind of person I hope to be.
These are the tangible gifts of a contemplative practice and they are profound. The intangible gifts – the long-term changes to your thought patterns, the clarity you gain, the deep faith in and hope for the world around you that develops as you practice – will transform your entire experience of life. All of these gifts make lugging that extra bag seem like a pretty small price to pay.
No matter where you wander this summer, the next time you come home to your practice, pay close attention to how you feel. You just might find yourself smiling and singing as my dad taught me.
Spring is flamboyant in my garden with roses and peonies blooming simultaneously in glorious, ready-made bouquets. Summer, on the other hand, is a little quieter. While the blue, magenta and pink blooms of my beloved hydrangeas are probably what you would first notice as you sit at our patio table, it would be a shame if you didn’t get up and take a wander.
Unless you get up to walk around, you will miss some special secrets hiding around the yard. The delicate lavender flowers on the hosta in the shady far corner. The multi-colored daisies like white, yellow and orange smiles under the magnolia tree. The pale pink fronds of astilbe by the stone wall. Delicate pink and yellow blossoms of anemone waving from their long stems over the tops of the potted ferns. Even the weeds are pretty at this time of year – dark purple violets speckle our grass.
Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun who lived and wrote in France in the late 1800s, noticed the same thing and she wrote, “The splendor of the rose or the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent or the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” It was as she observed the gardens around her home that she came to understand her role in whole of creation. In her mind, she was like a tiny violet, able to make the world a better, sweeter, more beautiful place simply by being who she was. Richard Rohr writes in his July 31, 2017 essay, that Therese’s motto was to “do very little things with great love.”
We often get caught up looking for the grand gestures, the perfect gifts, or exactly the right words. We wrongly feel that life’s big moments – births and deaths, successes and failures, sicknesses and remissions – can only be suitably marked or noticed with rose- and hydrangea-like expressions. Yet a daisy or a violet of an expression – a note, a phone call, a hug, an invitation to take a walk, even a simple text message – is a perfect way to say “I am thinking of you and I care.”
It’s not the gesture that matters, but the fact that we are inspired to make a gesture at all. What is important is that we reach out to connect, to love and to give of ourselves.
My yoga practice has taught me the power of little things. The act of folding forward on my mat takes five breaths – maybe 30 seconds. For years (a lifetime really), I couldn’t reach my toes. But simply bending over and staying there for five breaths a day eventually created something of a miracle – the forward fold I’d yearned for. Patience and persistence created the equivalent of a rose on my yoga mat – a pretty nice forward fold.
But it’s important to look a little more closely at what was really going on. Yes, breathing, counting, stretching, moving – nothing fancy or grand – yield physical change in my yoga posture. But my intention in doing these simple things matters as much as the fact that I’m doing them at all.
You see, I’ve hurt myself doing the same forward fold that eventually, gently lengthened my forever-tight hamstrings. When I was new to the practice and in an awful hurry to “be good” at yoga, I pushed and strained. Rather than practicing to take care of myself inside and out, my intention had twisted. Somehow progress and physical perfection had replaced peace and centeredness as my goals. It’s no surprise really that I pulled a muscle on the back of my leg.
When I was a new teacher, eagerly sharing yoga, I failed to move with my breath. I allowed my mind to wander to my students’ mats and didn’t pay attention to what I was feeling on my own. My intention had again twisted. Instead of teaching, instead of helping my students to find the appropriate path into and out of the posture for themselves, I took the short-cut of “showing.” While I sincerely hope this wasn’t the case, perhaps I was even excited to “show off” the changes yoga had created in my body. Again, it’s no surprise that I pulled that same muscle.
Intention, then, is the violet or the daisy of a yoga practice. Intention imbues your practice with meaning. Intention insures that you’re on your mat for the right reasons. Intention keeps you focused on what matters – that you are taking time out to take care of yourself, to step away from your chattering thoughts and to tune into your heart and soul.
When you watch an experienced person practice yoga, you may at first be captivated by his grace, fluidity and physical prowess. These are the flamboyant roses of the practice. Look more closely. Try to find the violets. You will see a soft expression in his eyes. You will sense a tenderness in the way he moves. You will sense respect in the way he cares for his body. You will notice that his smile is contagious, as is his steady breath. These are hints that the practice is being done with love. These are glimpses of the intention behind his practice.
Intention makes your yoga practice a gift of love from you to you. This same intention, the one you practice each and every time you unroll your mat, will absolutely become a habit. Before you know it, you will find yourself, like Therese, looking for ways to do very small things with great love. Each time you do, your practice becomes more than a gift from you to you. It will become a gift of you to the world around you.