Back to School: What can mindfulness offer us during transition?

Elinor Brown explores how mindfulness can support us through change, the Bridges Transition Model and a practice for being present as we move between day-to-day activities. The first of a series of blogs looking at mindfulness and wellbeing through the rhythms of the school year.

“Transition is not just a nice way to say change. It is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change, as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now.” William and Susan Bridges 1

My family is in transition right now. I’m shifting from being a freelance MiSP trainer to joining the amazing MiSP team, with all the excitement and nerves that come with starting something new. My older son starts Year 11 next week. He is already noticing how he is ‘leaning forward’ with a sense of loss of the freedom and adventure of the holidays even in the middle of hill walking in Scotland. I wonder if you recognise this. My younger son is starting secondary. He was excited about ordering new stationery, otherwise he’s giving nothing away.

September in education brings changes for us all, holidays to term time, new classes, new roles, new expectations and more.

Transition begins, as my older son is experiencing, with an ending. It may feel effortful, we may feel resistance, anxiety, sadness, excitement, a mixture, or something different.

In the Bridges Transition Model this is the first of three stages:

  • Endings – where we become aware both of what we are losing and what we might take with us.
  • Neutral Zone – the in-between period of learning and adapting to where we are, which might be uncomfortable and confusing.
  • New Beginnings – where we feel oriented, have clarity, a sense of direction and energy.

When we work with others there are ways to support them through these stages including empathetic listening, clear communication, identifying transferable qualities or skills and encouragement. Might we offer the same to ourselves? And what role is there for mindfulness?

How can mindfulness support us through change?

  • Mindfulness practice is responsive, helping us find stability and clarity in moments of unsteadiness.
  • It is also cumulative. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s famous invitation is to ‘weave our parachute’ before we jump out of the plane.
  • Practise regularly, when the conditions are favourable and the skills and attitudes will be there to hold us when we most need it.

How does mindfulness fit with the Bridges Transition Model?

  • It helps us ‘reorient to the way things are now’ by supporting stability, clear seeing and kindness towards ourselves and our experience.
  • It can help us listen to ourselves, with empathy, and recognise the needs beneath thoughts and emotions.
  • It enables us to see the bigger picture rather than get caught up in a single story.
  • It can help us be more intentional and creative.
  • Letting go and acceptance are attitudes that we grow through practice.
  • Savouring our experience in the third stage can help us build resilience; in future we can call on our memories of adapting.
  • Mindfulness gives us choice. Even if the change itself is not our choice, we can choose how we respond.

What might practice look like? Obviously, I’d encourage you to build a regular meditation practice. We can also start small, in life. Our days are full of change and transition, sleeping to waking, one place to another, alone to company, home to work, class to breaktime. We can choose to be present in these moments.

  • Acknowledge: Here I am. Get curious What’s happening right now? We might notice automaticity, hanging on to where we’d rather be ‘just another minute in bed’ or leaning into the future ‘I must remember to say . . .’ and putting a friendly arm around ourselves, not expecting it to be different, letting it be.
  • Resource: Getting from a to b we might focus on the sense of the body in movement. Changing activities, we could take a breath, feel our feet on the floor, or tune into different senses as we do the activity.
  • Connect: continue whatever we are doing with awareness, including planning what we’re doing next and making a choice about what to do next.

Over time, practising daily, when we meet larger changes, we may find we approach them differently. We can find steadiness even in the midst of transition and uncertainty, acknowledge our experience with a clearer head and warmer heart and make choices that support us to move through change with greater ease.

What about mindfulness and my family? My practice holds me gently as I wobble, reminding me that it’s OK to feel this and no wonder, MiSP is so important to me and I care passionately about this work. My older son’s school was the first place I delivered Paws b after training in 2014. He still meditates today and knows, as he notices himself leaning into the future, that it is a natural thing to do and that at any moment he can come back to his feet and the feel of the terrain beneath them. My younger son is one of my greatest teachers, to just let be and trust.

Have a go: You might like to sit comfortably and quietly and run through a working day in your mind, from waking to going to bed. What moments of change come to mind? Which ones might you choose to be present with? What happens when you are? How might your choices support you?

Elinor Brown is a mindfulness teacher and trainer and Project Manager and Copywriter for MiSP.


1 Transition as ‘The Way Through’ William Bridges (Revised by Susan Bridges)

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