Transitions are Trying — 5 Tips for Letting Go

If there’s one theme that’s followed all of my professional career, it’s this — transitions are trying.

Why Transitions are Trying

In reality, the best use of change management skills were surprisingly — or not so surprisingly — during the 15 years I worked as a real estate agent. Change stinks!

What I witnessed first-hand while working with hundreds of families is what William Bridges mapped out in his famous model that describes why transitions are so hard. A huge stressor in life is when you sit between two places — the way it was, and the way it will be.

The shift between the past and the future is a slow, shifty, unsettled place Bridges calls the ‘Neutral Zone’. Transition happens as Bridges describes it, in the process of letting go during your time in the Neutral Zone.

Tricky Transitions in the Time of Pandemic

In December I wrote for the Insight Timer blog about how the year 2020 engulfed us, without a moment to transition, and why that leaves an emotional challenge.

Now as spring begins, the days are getting longer, the daffodils are starting to grow, the vaccines have arrived. Hope is on the horizon again! But even a New Beginning full of positive things can be a challenging transition. Think about the bittersweet moments that come with huge milestones like becoming a parent or getting married or retiring. Benefits and excitement, absolutely. But also a lot of adjustments, and apprehension and the insecurity that comes with trying new things.

How To Ease Into Transition

In my 20s I lived in Chicago and played in a group tennis league with a great group of friends. The first season started in March, but I didn’t show up until May. Chicago is famous for its ‘cooler by the lake’ weather patterns which creates natural air conditioning in August, but makes for miserable spring tennis! The next season I showed up in March. I let go of my expectations of when summer starts. And to this day I still remind myself, ‘If you wait for the weather to show up in order to enjoy summer, you’ll miss the whole season!”

The incredibly taxing social, health, wellness, political and medical phenomena of the COVID-19 pandemic will take years for us to fully put it behind. But here are some ideas to help you start seeing what’s Ending, as we all begin to live in the New Beginning. These are ideas as we live right now in the Neutral Zone:

  • The obvious first — write in your journal. Keep the prompts simple, like:

What’s going on?

 

Or my internal weather report right now is…

 

  • Always end in reflection. Remember, transitions are not easy. Reflection Writing is a really simple way for self-care, self-soothing and self-growth in whatever combo you need those!
  • Watch for patterns. You don’t want to wait for the warm, perfect weather of summer before you start enjoying the summer! After a while, using simple prompts like the ones above on a regular basis will help you see the movement happening in your world. Like a daffodil sprouting you’ll witness and learn from your own transition as it unfolds.
  • Be patient. Transitions do not move in a logical line. As we shift into a post-pandemic world, some days will be full of hope and excitement, others will be stressful or discouraging. Be present to whatever is happening, remind yourself that the Neutral Zone is constantly shifting and keep a focus on what you are learning about yourself and your own resiliency.
  • Try. We’re all waiting for the all-clear from the CDC and other health experts that the time for safety measures is complete. We’re getting closer, but not there yet. In the meantime, it’s OK to start thinking about a wishlist for ‘normal’ experiences, or to start figuring out how to get back to some old activities again that work most easily within the safety protocols.

Assessing Where You Are

As you think about the Neutral Zone, here’s a way to consider where you are at right now.

Picture your favorite pair of ‘evening out’ jeans. Where are they right now? How weird would it feel to pull them out again? To try them on? To wear them out in public?

Isn’t that crazy how a simple pair of jeans can carry so much baggage right now?

Sorting through that sort of experience is what the Neutral Zone is all about.

The Cool Thing about Letting Go

friends focus futureWhat I remember most from my days selling real estate is that moment when I saw a client finally let go. Happens in a split-second. But then there is JOY!

The process was always something along the lines of starting with apprehension about finding a place that was ‘just right’. And then apprehension about packing, finding a new grocery store, meeting the neighbors, saying goodbye to cherished memories. And finally whether it was before a contract was even signed, or after settling in for a while, that moment of Letting Go, of taking more steps in the world of the New Beginning than in the Ending. And from that point, more and more steps into the New Beginning each time.

It won’t be easy, but the New Beginning is starting. The last year has aged us, but we’ve learned so much about being resilient. Be patient in the Neutral Zone. Use it for the springboard that it is. See you in the New Beginning, let’s shoot for sooner rather than later!

More Tools for Transition

I teach Insight Writing as a method for journaling that is inspired, efficient and insightful. Whether for general self-care or in a time of transition, Insight Writing is an amazing way to tap the wisdom within you. For more information, find free samples, free mini-podcasts or a list of available workshops on my website. Or find me on Dabble where you can sign up for mini-workshops or drop-in for a free class! My featured class on Dabble is called, “Transition Time | Leaving 2020 in the Rearview Mirror!”

Try Reflection Writing for Yourself! Free Drop ins on #WellnessWritingWednesdays

Reflection Writing in your journal is an amazingly simple tool. Most amazing because it’s a secret no one really knows about.

Learn the Simple Power of Reflection Writing

In a quick moment of mindfulness after you write in your journal you can capture the wisdom within. Be your own self-development coach, identify that next big idea, give yourself the quiet hug you might need.

Want to learn more? Join me for free drop-in sessions on Wellness Writing Wednesdays. We try different prompts based on seasons of the year, current events and more. But we always end with a reflection write so you can see the power of these insights for yourself.

Sign up for my next free Zoom drop-in. Or book your own free private session any time based on your own calendar.

 

April Reflection Writing Inspiration & Wellness Writing Wednesday Drop-Ins

For variety and depth in your journal, see suggestions by date. Visit my blog for more info. Or follow me on your favorite social media channel for prompts as I post them.

Apr 14 / Wed Wellness Write (Perceiving family ancestor wisdom) free drop in*   
Apr 17 / Family History Day (Prompt: Resiliency in my family teaches me…)  
Apr 21 / Wed Wellness Write (Stream of Consciousness Writingfree drop in* 
Apr 22 / Core Tools for Your Journal Register on Dabble  90 min, Zoom
Apr 25 / DNA Day **NEW** Explore Family Connections: Known, Unknown & Even Hidden Register on Dabble  90 min, Zoom
Apr 28 / Wed Wellness Write (Prompt: ‘Could Have’, a poem by W. Szymborska) free drop in* 

May Preview: 

May 6/ **NEW** Explore Family Connections: Known, Unknown & Even Hidden Register on Dabble  90 min, Zoom
May 8 / Birth Mother’s Day (Prompt: ‘Dialogue with Ancestors – A Meditation for Journal Writing‘ in Insight Timer)  
May 13 / Journal to the Self  opens 6 week self-paced course

 

And, you can always find the latest tools, resources and courses on my website. For 2021 all courses are available as personal sessions just for you, or private group sessions and anyone special you’d like to include.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash.

transition 2020

Shifting Into a New Year: 2020 End of Year Journaling

Pleased to have an article featured on Insight Timer Blog — the very important topic of processing the year that was 2020, and letting it go. Enjoy the article on their website, or below. 

2020: A Year With No Transitions

Laura Stukel explores the shifting states of transition and suggests three meditative journaling practices to let go of 2020.

In a normal year’s end we start to become wistful, reflecting upon and gathering up the memories, while also looking ahead for inspiration to direct the year about to unfold. But it goes without stating. 2020 was in no way a normal year.

While we cannot wait to move away from the year 2020, it’s easier said than done. When things are shifting, we can find ourselves churning – times of transition (no matter how big or how small) create a tension between letting go of what was and accepting what will be.

Understanding Transitions

Bridges-Transitions-Model-copyright

William Bridges created a three-part model to help explain the nature of transitions. The Bridges Transition Model refers to the shifty part in the middle as the ‘neutral zone’ – a no man’s land where we live both amidst what’s ending and also in what is beginning.

It is an unsettling place, yet the heart often needs to linger here for a long while.

In fact, what makes 2020 complicated is that there were basically no transitions. From mask-wearing routines, to school or work environments to social gatherings, we found ourselves launched rapidly into one new beginning after another with no time for the neutral zone.

So, saying goodbye to 2020 is a transition and requires letting go. But in this moment, we also have the baggage of thousands of little things we had to abandon without an option to let them go. We are in a neutral zone, held by the tiny (and of course the not so tiny) threads of all the emotions from the little challenges and frustrations, the grief of milestones and special events that were not celebrated, time lost, health changes, and loved ones who suffered as well as those who passed.

We may even be held by a tinge of unprocessed guilt for pride in new hobbies or skills or strengths discovered, because of the confusion of if or how to acknowledge, or let alone celebrate or feel gratitude for these.

Mindfulness Encourages Transition

So how can we mindfully, gently, carefully, guide ourselves in this shifting moment? With the promises of a vaccine, we are likely at the beginning of the end phase of this pandemic. In order to move into a new year, we must let go of the one past. How can we process what has transpired in a way that nudges us to move into a new chapter in the best possible way?

Journal writing has been scientifically proven to invoke mindfulness, release stress, encourage processing of thoughts and emotions, and create clarity when problem-solving is needed. Journal writing creates space to practice letting go; it is a tool for shortening the indefinite time in the neutral zone.

Bringing the practice of meditation into journal writing at this particular year-end, can create even more benefits.

In another piece, Laura explains the practice and benefits of mindful journaling in more detail.

Saying Goodbye To 2020, Mindfully, In Your Journal

Some ways to process, and begin the shift from 2020 into 2021 using meditation and journal-writing include the following.

Create A Historical Recap

Christina Baldwin was a teenager during the Cuban Missile Crisis, carefully recording — and protecting — her account for future readers should a bomb destroy life as she knew it. In creating a record for others, we create a pathway for our own understanding – and healing.

Read, reflect and focus on a quote from Baldwin (now a well-known author on journal writing), and then create your own recap of the year 2020 in a paragraph for each month. Write it as a gift for someone in the future; it also becomes a gift for yourself. Include what events stood out for you personally, locally, nationally and around the world. Reflect on this quote to get started:

“Spiritual empowerment is evidenced in our lives by our willingness to tell ourselves the truth, to listen to the truth when it’s told to us, and to dispense truth as lovingly as possible, when we feel compelled to talk from the heart.”  – Christina Baldwin, Life’s Companion

Doodle For Insights

The oval is the first shape children master in any culture around the world. Reflecting on a key word for a few moments and then adding it in an oval on the center of a journal page creates an amazing writing prompt. Beginning with a prompt in an oval sets you in an open, gentle, curious place of child-like wonder.

Try sitting with the phrase “Goodbye 2020” for a few moments as you take a few deep, slow breaths. When you are ready, write the phrase in an oval and then follow your pen. Branch, sketch and jot the words, symbols, lines or whatever comes. When you feel finished, review the page and now write in words what you see – patterns, insights, struggles, opportunities.

Write An Unsent Letter To The Year 2020

Begin by watching a movie of 2020 play out in your mind. Be present as the months pass. Be careful to watch, but not to label. Be gentle in allowing yourself to express the range of emotions. When you are ready, start a letter with the prompt – ‘Dear 2020, I need to tell you…’.

Unsent letters create clarity and closure. Add a ritual of destroying the letter if you feel so moved – it adds to another element, catharsis

Here’s To The New Beginning Ahead

We are in a shifting moment. Shortening days suddenly become lengthening days. We flip the page to a new calendar. A vaccine is becoming available. Each of these moments creates a new neutral zone.

The year 2020 will be in the past soon enough. How you let this year go will help you begin the new year in a place of mindfulness, openness and healing. We cannot rush the heart through the neutral zone. But being present to the process of letting go helps us take steps into a new beginning.

 

 

Water photo created by wirestock – www.freepik.com

Giving Mindset Journal

Create a Giving Mindset: The Power of Your Journal This Holiday Season

I’m thrilled to be featured once again on the Insight Timer Blog with a special article about mindfulness this holiday season.

Copy below or click to on their website.

Create a Giving Mindset: The Power of Your Journal This Holiday Season

The holiday season approaches, and it will be one like no other. Amidst a global pandemic many connections and traditions we look forward to may be a bit different this year. While not a replacement, the blended practices of meditation and journal-writing can be a beautiful alternative for this moment. And perhaps some can inspire new traditions for you going forward.

It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s major religions have traditions of connection, and of light, in what is the darkest part of the year in the northern hemisphere. And lack of connection is one of the most challenging sides of living through this pandemic. This holiday season lands at a time some believe may be in the ‘third-quarter phenomenon’ – a trend that has been noted by those that study experiences of extended isolation, such as living on the International Space Station or at the research campus on Antarctica. No matter the overall timeline of the isolation, around two-thirds to three-fourths of the way through, moods and morale hit a low-point.

With the caution of COVID-19 numbers hitting new records in many parts of the world, but the promising news of vaccine rollouts seeming imminent, it could very well be that the holiday season and the lows of the ‘third-quarter’ of the pandemic will overlap.

So what are some new ways for right now we can use to connect to traditions and others, create a giving mindset for ourselves, and celebrate what is a season of light in so many cultures? The combined practices of meditation and mindful journal-writing gives us a pathway.

Mindful Journaling In The Holiday Season

The practice of meditative and mindful journaling is a simple three-step process:

Begin — Be present: take some deep breaths, listen to an audio journal prompt, take a walk. Let your writing prompt find you.

Write – Shorter is better! 5-10 minutes is just enough.

Reflect – Take a few deep breaths, read and be present to what you have just written. What surprises or insights stand out? Now write yourself one last line of reflection.

You can learn more about reflection writing in the talk below:

Reflective Writing In Your Journal, by Laura Stukel

 

Ideas to combine meditation and mindful journal-writing in this holiday season:

Linger in a few moments of beautiful candlelight

Many different traditions draw from light in the darkness. Enjoy some deep breaths as you feel your body relax. Sit and be present to the stillness. When you are ready, begin to write, using this meditative beginning and then following your pen wherever your writing takes you.

You might want to try this candle breathing meditation by Sara Rabinovitch, Ph.D.

Use images or wording from cards given or received as a springboard into writing

Extend the tradition and the exchange by being present to any inspiration. Reflect on a selected card for a moment and take a few relaxing breaths. When you are ready, use a few words from the card as a starter and then follow your pen.

Connect in a deep way, without limitations of time or space

A Character Sketch journal write is a description of someone dear, using a moment of meditation to be together in your mind (anyone special – perhaps even someone who has passed on). Close your eyes and picture your dear one approaching, then standing near. Finally, be present with them, using all of your five senses. When you are ready, describe your dear one in your journal. To really experience a moment of a giving mindset, you may choose to conclude your session by writing a special holiday card to this person, and mailing or delivering it symbolically to a loved one passed.

Capture special holiday moments

Similar to the technique above, a Captured Moment journal write begins with quiet meditation, and an observation in your mind, using all five senses. Seasonal scents or essential oils add inspiration. To try, simply sit in quiet with your eyes closed, and picture a blank, white screen in front of you. Allow yourself to call forward holiday memories from the past, watching them pass like a movie, or as if flipping through a photo album. Then let one be fully present to you, and enjoy that moment again using all five senses. When you are ready, write, describing this holiday moment in time as if you are enjoying it again in slow motion.

Embrace the symbols, inspiration and perspective of holiday traditions

From images of the sun on the Winter Solstice, to the story of the oil lasting for eight nights, to the journey of the three wise men, we have rich connections to culture, history, traditions and nature in this time of year. Secular and pop culture adds more layers. Using music, stories, family heirlooms, religious texts, or similar inspiration, find perspective and in your journal. Travel space and time as you need to. Write as another person if it suits you. Quietly center yourself amidst your inspiration, and then write.

For example, imagine yourself being among the peoples who placed the columns at Stonehenge, then write as that person observing the season present. Or maybe enjoy the classic song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and then write from the perspective of Bing Crosby himself, with whatever wisdom he may be able to impart into your journal. Or, Ebenezer Scroorge perhaps? Take in bubbe’s latke recipe, noting the careful way she described the steps, and then write from her perspective as if she was experiencing the present moment in time. You get the idea.

Dialogue with a Grandparent – Meditation for Journal Writing by Laura Stukel

 

Create a Mindset of Giving

Yes, this holiday season will be unlike any we have experienced before. And yes, there are challenges. Remember to take time to be present, and to create new, mindful ways to connect with traditions and loved ones during this season. Blending the practices of meditation and journal-writing will allow us to experience holiday traditions in new, creative and heart-filling ways.

 

Coping COVID-19

Coping with COVID-19 – Tools from our Journals

In the past four weeks I’ve worked with over 45 students in online journaling workshops as each looked for ways to process the impact of the COVID-19 crisis individually and as a learning community. Nearly 75% of the way complete, it’s fascinating what we’ve shared together. And the lessons I’ve learned. My big takeaway comes down to four coping categories, and eight simple journal techniques.

As groups, we’re using journaling as a means to cope with this crisis. But the categories apply no matter how you approach self-care. The important thing is to do what feels right for you — and do something every day, just don’t overdo it.

Key Lessons from our Journals

From rocket scientists to sleep experts I’ve been chronicling the benefits to journaling, especially right now, here on my blog. I’ve also been keeping tabs on the leading thinking coming out of places like the Mayo Clinic and the Center for Disease Control. But it’s my students who had the wisest, most simple wisdom to share from their examples:

Be Present. Present to Emotions, Uncertainty, Gratitude.

Routine. Do something basic every day to Boost Immunity, Sleep Consistently, Journal.

Release. It’s hard enough to take in so much change and so much bad news at once. Let alone to process it. Release in the way that feels right to you through things like Hobbies, Books/Music, Moments of joy.

Connect. At this time of separation we need as many ways to connect as still possible. Focus on Loved Ones, Helping Others, Nature, Faith.

And through their own courage to learn new ways to connect with their journals right now, these students have reminded me of the most simple and effective tools for this moment.

Journal Tools in the Time of COVID-19

Based what I’ve observed with my students these past few weeks, the best approach is to try something simple, with the intent of addressing at least one of the four categories every day. (Colored fonts below indicate a link to additional resources on most techniques.)

Be Present:

  • 5 Minute Sprints – Set a timer for 5, add “What’s going on?…” as your prompt. Write.
  • Reflection Writing – Whatever you end up writing, reread it (aloud if you want to), take a breath, write for one more minute about whatever comes to you. You are your own best coach and advocate.
  • Stream of Consciousness – Take a long walk, focus on your breathing for 3 minutes or daydream for 5. Then open your journal. Write.

Routine:

  • Topics du Jour – Find seven topics that mean the most to you right now. Select one topic per day of the week and assign each to its own page in your journal. Do one quick write on each day’s topic. Repeat each week. For example: Mondays – ‘Managing Stress’, Tuesdays – ‘Healthy Habits’, Wednesday – ‘My Kiddos’, etc.

Release:

  • Clustering – Write a focus word in the center of a journal page and circle it. It could be an emotion you wish to process, a word that represents something that brings you joy, or inspires you. Take a few deep breaths as you consider your word. Then doodle and sketch with branches with whatever comes to mind. When you finish, describe your doodle in words.
  • Dreams – Many of us have been dreaming more often, and we’re remembering more of our dreams, and they are more vivid right now. Dreams are the subconscious mind’s way to process what happens during our day. A journal is a beneficial way to complete that processing.

Connect:

  • Character Sketch – Think of one special person in your life and observe fully in your mind what they mean to you emotionally, as a physical presence, the lessons they have for you, any inspiration or memories. Sit and be present with them for a few moments. Then use your journal to record a vivid description. When you are done, pick up the phone, send a card, or hop on a Zoom call. Share the highlights of your write, or just enjoy the interaction. If this loved one is no longer with us or inaccessible right now, find a ritual to share the highlights — perhaps whisper them to the first star you see in the evening sky.
  • Captured Moment – Let a joyful moment come to mind and then experience it again in your mind using all five senses. Linger for a moment. Then record it in your journal.

Remember the Overall Wisdom

I hope this framework for thinking about coping and self-care is helpful in this moment. Remember to keep it simple, but do something to support yourself each day. Being present, finding routine, releasing and connecting are powerful tools whether your work on them through your journal or in other ways.

 

All of these techniques are presented in the Journal to the Self workshops I teach. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes right now and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!

 

Photo by Lisa Fotios, Pexels. 

dreams

Understanding Dreams in the Time of Coronavirus

Since social distancing due to coronavirus has started I find myself incredibly tired so early on some nights, completely crashed out on others, and sometimes I just toss and turn and toss and turn.

And man, regardless of the type of sleep, I’ve had some crazy dreams.

Dream Insight

I’ve since learned that this is common around the world. Sleep experts think there is a combination of forces at work. In some ways the daily stress is so much it’s making us sleep lighter or more soundly than usual. With dreams, sleeping so soundly encourages our brains to dream more vividly, while sleeping erratically causes us to wake up and recall them more easily.

According to an article by Psychology Today called, “How Dreams and Stories Handle Emotional Chaos” offers a note of reassurance, even if our dreaming is unsettling now:

…one of the reasons we dream is to make sense of what happens to us during the day, even the worst dreams we have are still plot-driven, still make some sort of emotional sense, and still clean some of the psychological litter box. They allow us to function better in our waking lives because they clear out emotional, spiritual, and intellectual detritus. 

In an LA Times article entitled “You’re not imagining it: We’re all having intense coronavirus dreams” Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., explains this process further:

When we observe something normal, our brains don’t need to “digest” it, he says. However, when something out of the ordinary happens — like a pandemic — our brains may process the experience through dreaming. That’s why “difficult-to-digest” experiences may give us dreams, Naiman explains.

Dream Work in Your Journal

Your journal can be an excellent tool to process these vivid dreams. Some can pull at you later during waking hours. Some tips:

  • Capture very basic facts immediately when you wake in the morning (or even very gently at night so you don’t further disrupt your sleep)
  • Keep a pen, notepad and even a small flashlight on your nightstand
  • Once you are fully awake take a moment to look at your quick sketch and recall your dream in more details; giving it a title can help
  • Remember that any dream you recall is a story from your subconscious; it can be a source of inspiration and release for your thinking brain too

Some options for processing your dreams:

  • Write your dream title (from above) in a circle and then brainstorm all the ideas, feelings, details, symbols that come. This is a journal technique called Clustering.
  • Write the name of a symbol or character from the dream inside the center circle and try a Clustering that way.
  • Close your eyes and take in a central character from the dream or one that repeats in your dreams and take a few deep breaths. Then write what’s called a Character Sketch in your journal. Describe everything about this character from your five senses. Be open to what more this character may have to share with you, what they represent.
  • Try an Artmaking activity with a collage of magazine clippings, drawings or doodles to represent what you experienced in a dream.

For me, one really vivid dream stand out. It was a giant monarch butterfly telling me to go back to sleep. She had to return and remind me two more times during that one fitful night of sleep.

The next morning in my journal I was able to connect her reminder to the ‘butterflies’ I’ve been feeling in my stomach during the day. I constantly have that nag in my gut like when my little guy played soccer goalie and I just closed my eyes until the penalty kicks were all done. I became aware of the transformation symbolism of the butterfly — it’s hard work to change from a caterpillar, but we’re working together to save lives in our community and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Clustering, Character Sketch, Artmaking and Dreamwork are a sample of the techniques I teach in Journal to the Self workshops. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!