Working with Transition and Change

Contemplative coach Alexa Owen on how to embrace life's one constant: that of change.

The autumnal equinox has arrived, marking a transition into shorter days and longer nights for those of us living in the northern hemisphere. The exact moment of the equinox marks an exactly equal split between light and dark—the tipping point. Understated and subtle, this transition goes largely unnoticed. 

Our lives are full of transition and change and, like the equinox, this truth remains mostly out of our conscious awareness—except for when it’s abrupt or unwanted. We go from sleeping to waking, moving to stillness, hot to cold, hungry to sated, troubled to joyful. We change our minds, change our jobs, change homes and habits and how we see the world. The light, the seasons, the weather: we watch all these phenomena change. But if change is such an inherent part of life, then why does it feel so difficult?

Why Change is Hard
Eastern wisdom traditions like Buddhism posit that suffering comes from a misunderstanding of reality as it is—for example, denying the truth of impermanence and change. We tend to cling to what’s pleasant or familiar, avoid what’s unpleasant or unfamiliar, and check out when something doesn’t land at one of those two poles. Change—whether it’s habit, job, home, or relationship—involves moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar, which is why we often find ourselves challenged by change even when we deem that change as good. 

Familiarity feels safe, which means the more comfortable we can become with the inevitable discomfort experienced during change, the more ease we invite into transitions big and small, expected and unexpected. The more we truly understand life as a dynamic, energized, ever-changing process, the friendlier we become with ourselves and the world around us.

What might it be like to stay present in the transition itself—to soften into the heartache, the longing, the discomfort, the fullness of your human experience? 

5 Ways to Lean Into Change

-Practice presence. Cultivate mindfulness by observing sensations—especially in activities that you wouldn’t deem particularly “important.” Attend to the small things and the in-between: tying your shoes, eating your food, the walk from one room to another. Support your mind in becoming aware of the small moments of transition in daily life.

-Repeat an affirmation. Craft a short, affirmative statement in the present tense that reminds you to acknowledge the truth of change—for example, “life is change, and change is okay.” Post it in places where you’ll see it often, like on a bathroom mirror or the refrigerator door. Bring it to conscious awareness when you notice yourself resisting a necessary change. 

-Cultivate self-compassion. This involves acknowledging the difficulty of the situation, being kind toward yourself within it, and recognizing that this difficulty of change is a shared part of the human experience. Even if you feel alone in your specific challenge, the challenge of change is something everyone feels—and you can take refuge in that connection.

-Receive social support. Connect with those who can empathize with your particular transition and can be a source of wisdom and support. Finding someone who can relate but who also may be a few steps ahead of you in their own process is ideal: it shows your own mind that life beyond this challenge is real. This kind of social support also helps dissolve the misguided assumption that it’s you against the world.

-Surrender to the transformation. Snakes shed their skin, trees lose their leaves, and caterpillars completely dissolve their physical form before restructuring to emerge as the butterfly. The more you allow for the falling away of what was, the more you create space for what will be.

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