7 Teachings to Navigate through Major Life Changes

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” – Anatole France

Change can be a frightening prospect, even when it is positive change that we have invited into our lives.  When life changes in a monumental way – moving, job change, relationship change, birth of a child, loss of a loved one – we are letting go of one part of our lives as we move forward to something new and different.

Imagine the process of change as swinging from one trapeze bar to the next. When you let go of one bar there is a moment where you are suspended in space, reaching out to the next bar.  It is in this moment when you feel so “up in the air” that you are taking a leap of faith towards something new.

Mindfulness During Times of Major Life Changes

In the October 2011 issue of Yoga Journal, author Sally Kempton discusses 7 core yogic teachings to support you through radical life changes:

(1) Know that change is inevitable

One thing that we can absolutely count on in life is that it will change.  Enormous amounts of unnecessary suffering are created through attempts to hold on to the fundamentally impermanent aspects of life.  We create our own suffering through clinging to relationships, jobs, and material objects.  Through recognizing the fundamental and divine nature of change, it becomes easier and easier to welcome change and surrender to what lessons it has to teach you.

(2) View change as an initiation

Change is welcoming you to something new and different in life.  You are transitioning from one phase of life to another in some form.  If you begin to reframe the way you conceptualize the change process as moving from one stage to the next, it may become easier to let go of current circumstances and welcome your initiation into the next phase of life.  As you transition from one stage to the next, you will no longer be quite the same person.  Reflect upon all that you have learned from your current phase in life and embrace the possibilities and lessons that lie ahead.

(3) Meditate through uncertainty

There is often a deep-seated sense of uncertainty that underlies most major changes.  It is the sense of unknown that permeates through us and makes us second guess the most “rational” of decisions.  That sense of uncertainty and of the unknown exists in that “space” between the two trapeze bars.  For a moment you are suspended in air with no bar to cling to.  This is the space where change is occurring – movement is happening.  Use the tool of mindfulness to become centered and tuned in to your internal experience through this moment of uncertainty.  Notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment or resistance… cultivate an attitude of openness and acceptance of the unknown.

(4) Uncover your truest desire

Tap in to your deepest wishes during the process of major change.  Use the experience of change as an opportunity to ask yourself important reflective questions: “What is my true desire in this situation?” or “What outcome would be the best for all involved?”  Notice what thoughts and feelings emerge as you reflect and look inward.  Begin to notice what common themes emerge from your responses.  Make contact with what your deeper self and inner intuition are telling you.  Try to release the feelings of fear that may emerge as you reflect upon your change process and direct your focus toward your deeper senses.

(5) Set a strong intention

A “sankalpa” is a clearly articulated, affirmative statement about what you intend to do moving forward.  Now that you have begun to uncover the true desires of your inner self, start to make those desires manifest through setting your intentions to move forward deliberately.  State your intentions about how you wish to engage with your process of change through present tense, affirmative statements: “I am taking proactive steps toward finding a new home/job.”  Your intentions are “not merely a wish, or even a statement of purpose.  It’s an articulation of direction that brings your goal into the present moment” (Kempton, 2011, p. 50).

(6) Take action, one step at a time

Abhyasa” is steady effort in the direction you wish to go.  As you begin to initiate (or flow with) a major life change, reflect upon the steps that you need to take in order to make that change happen effectively.  Consider the practical and logistical aspects of your life change and how you can be best equipped to handle them.  Take the time to write down all of the steps that you need to take to make your process of change run as smoothly as possible.  Let go of fear and emotional uncertainty as you choose to mindfully engage in this problem-solving and planning process.  Now that you have thought through the steps that you need to take you must take action.  The best laid plans mean very little with no action to back them up.

(7) Practice letting go

Major life changes provide you with the opportunity to practice “vairagya,” which is thought of as detachment or letting go.  Depending upon the type of life change you are facing, your process of letting go may mean letting go of the past, of how things used to be, of fear, of grief, of your old relationship, or your old job.  Allow yourself to grieve the undeniable loss that accompanies all major life changes.  Even positive changes have loss associated with them, as you are moving from one phase of life to the next.  Embrace the freedom that comes along with choosing to let go of the past and embrace the present.

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Kempton, S. (2011, October). Navigating change: Use these 7 core yogic teachings to support you through radical life changes. Yoga Journal, 43-52.

Featured image: In Flight by Joel Olives / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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