There was a moment, sitting nervously high up on the edge of the gantry from which I was to jump, when I realised I couldn’t reach the trapeze. I had to launch myself forwards, focused on the bar, and anticipate catching it, quite literally letting go of the safe and familiar to leap forward, confident(ish) that I’d make the grab. Several of people were watching, even though this was a basic circus skills introductory lesson. While the moment during which I was neither sitting (relatively) securely nor grasping firmly the trapeze was but fleeting, it was nonetheless transitionary. It stands as one of my more memorable personal metaphors for the in-between phase of any change.
The time between leaving the familiarity of one job, moving to London and starting another stretched, by comparison, over many months until I reached the point in time in which I felt that I had achieved a familiarity and mastery over my new circumstances. Actually, it was probably nearer a couple of years if I am completely honest. If that sounds odd, it takes up valuable mental real estate to rethink everything you previously did without thought. What are my options for getting to work? Where do I get the best Indian food? Where are the best running routes? How do I get home when I realise the tube has stopped running? How long does it take to get to a meeting across town?
These transitionary periods have, I have learned, a natural rhythm and flow to them; they form a liminal in-between space for a reason. It is part of the natural process of leaving something respectfully behind in order to embrace the new with a clear mind and a proud heart. I’ve used rituals to support this process often without realising it. I took a walk-through movie of my house on my phone before I packed up and moved; I went on a 72-hour solo vision-quest on a Tuscan mountainside. Transitions don’t have to be so dramatic; most are not. They show up everywhere when you start looking for them. Your morning ritual on waking as you prepare for the day. The daily commute. Walking through a door into a meeting room. Putting my running shoes on. They are at the same time both discarding and preparatory moments.
As such, transitions can be triggers, too. As I am putting my equipment together on the archery field I have left the rest of my world behind but I am not yet fully ready to compete. As I do so, I get my mind ready for a good performance. At an aiport you are not yet at your holiday destination, but you’ve left your routine behind and are preparing for your break. It’s difficult to commute to work without thinking about your upcoming commitments and how you might handle them; your home persona is left behind as you get into ‘work mode’.
Transitionary times are hard to rush through at any scale, whether short or long, whether major life events or daily activities, whether we think we know where we are heading or whether we feel discombobulated. It is usually injurous for our wellbeing to rush these times, whether we are between known states or unknown ones. I know what getting to work looks like, but in all likelihood I arrive better prepared and more balanced when I have paid due respect to the process of getting there. I am likely to perform better when I set up my archery equipment mindfully and with consideration to the tournament I am about to take part in. We are likely to arrive at our holiday destination in a more relaxed state if we have embraced and enjoyed the process of getting there, of seeing it as part of the holiday itself. There are
Oftentimes we don’t know – can’t know – what lies ahead in our journey, especially when something tangible and significant has ended. On leaving a job, perhaps, or a relationship, or after the diagnosis of an illness – the transitionary space is one where we most usefully explore how best to leave behind that which we need to leave behind as well as figuring out what we might be drawn to do next. I’ve learned the hard way that it is best to respect the process, to work on teasing out the learning, to take tentative steps into the future. Experimenting a little with new ideas, new activities, new practice, new thinking… helps us to figure out what the future could look like.
In part two I explore what this thesis might mean for our desire and attempts to get back to a life with at least some familiar signs of pre-pandemic normality.