Life presents many turning points that can inspire new perspectives. Changes of any kind may awaken us from the trance of routine, creating an opportunity to see life itself anew. While at a crossroads, it is particularly important to take the time to see all the available options and choose as wisely as possible.
Turning points that arise in the natural flow of time, such as new years, birthdays and graduations, are often marked with rituals and celebrations that encourage reflection and provide opportunities to share feelings with others.
Experiences like falling in love, falling ill, being hired or fired, buying a house or adopting a pet, getting engaged or getting divorced, finding a new interest, losing a loved one or deciding to retire are individual turning points that challenge our sense of who we are and where we are going. It may be tempting to try to return to old assumptions and recreate a familiar orientation, especially when the change at hand is unwelcome.
What helps make a turning point an opportunity for learning and growth?
The first thing is simple but not necessarily easy: be aware that there is a significant life-change happening. Our habits of mind and behavior can be so powerful that we don’t realize we are at a crossroads till after it is over. When people come to see me with symptoms of depression, anxiety or eating problems they are often able to trace the origins of their difficulties to a significant shift in their lives that they were unable to properly digest at the time. Use the milestones at hand to contemplate the turning point in your life with curiosity and compassion.
A second suggestion is to make room for a full range of feelings. Most major transitions generate a variety of feelings: excitement, dread, hope, and anxiety to name a few. Cultivate intimacy with yourself by accepting the complexity of your responses to changes in your life.
A third recommendation is to express your feelings to your journal or your loved ones. Writing about stressful events can be calming and help clarify thoughts and feelings. Communicating with others can inspire, offer closeness and support and relieve isolation.
I did not expect the death of a beloved uncle many years ago to have a profound effect on my life but it was an important turning point for me. Facing the reality that a pillar of my childhood and family was gone has changed my view of my own life and choices.
More recently, I was surprisingly moved by teaching an MBSR class by myself this past winter. After studying mindfulness-based programs for many years, and co-teaching a few times, I was happy to be in the role I had been preparing for, but I also felt lonely and so responsible and anxious about doing a good job. It was helpful to remind myself that this was a new experience, that it is natural have a variety of responses even to a wished for situation and to confide my feelings to friends and colleagues.