Managing Life Transitions

In the fifth century B.C., Heraclitus wrote "Nothing endures but change." In writing his literary work Meditations in the first century A.D., Marcus Aurelius Antonius stated, "The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it." In fact, throughout all the ages and stages of history, there has been much contemplation about the inevitability of change and its effect on the human condition. Now, in the 21st century, as a result of the digital revolution, both historians and futurists agree that in many facets of life, change and resulting life transitions are occurring at unprecedented rates.The digital revolution has catapulted us into a multi-dimensional universe. This has had a profound effect on the legal profession. Here at LAPBC our counsellors see lawyers who are going through a number of life transitions simultaneously on multiple levels. These life transitions usually consist of the following three elements:

  • An Ending: an ending to some phase of your life, career, relationship, friendship, workplace situation or living situation;
  • A Neutral Zone: a period of confusion, distress, loss of focus and sense of direction, which may or may not include loss of a sense of purpose; and
  • A New Beginning: a new beginning with unfamiliar states of being that need to be cultivated, experienced and worked up until they feel normal.[1]

We all have characteristic ways of handling life's transitions. Our unique individual creativity in how we move through life defines us. Our conceptual framework or schema and the meaning we give to life's transitions further influence how we formulate our actions and our goals and articulate our core values around them. "The individual is both the picture and the artist."[2] Occasionally transitions may be challenges that are overwhelming. At times we are thrown into chaos as we weather the storms that inevitably arise on the horizon. Then there are the positive transitions, where we are excited and energized by new possibilities that open up, and we can embrace the creative power of life. We can then develop and strive in a new direction towards new achievements.

Striving in a new direction, however, does not necessarily always provide solutions to life's transition problems. In fact, without being mindfully aware, ceaseless striving can exacerbate our body's physical stress response, resulting in chronic increased cortisol release into our body systems, potentially creating burnout, a number of health problems and even addictions. Ceaseless striving keeps us stuck on the treadmill of too much "doing" and not enough "being". Mindful awareness has been defined by Jon Kabaat Zin as "paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, without judgment". He pioneered and developed mindfulness-based stress reduction at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Mindfulness meditation is moment-to-moment awareness. It is being fully aware. It involves being here for the moments of our lives without striving or judging. Through mindful awareness practices we can enhance our capacity to manage our psychological engagement with ourselves, others and the world in a holistic way. These practices allow us to embrace stillness, silence and self-reflection. Mindful awareness practices allow us to embody our feelings and be congruent in our thoughts and actions, allowing for the better integration of our emotions and abilities to engage in our life tasks of love, friendship, work, kin-keeping/parenting, and spiritual and self-development.

By connecting with our integrated thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way, we can let go of the compulsive need to control and criticize and can focus on the process of engaging in tasks in a productive manner. This is a key concept for achieving excellence in legal practice. Striving for perfection will exhaust us, whereas achieving excellence in what we do is a positive nurturing stance that allows for full focus and engagement in embracing our strengths and abilities in the present moment.

At LAPBC we have successfully taught people mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques that greatly enhance their ability to feel the reality of their experience and successfully navigate the stages of their life transitions without getting lost in them. This enables them to make better decisions, deal with clients more effectively and do their work with less stress. We also assist people in reconnecting with their core values. These values are intangible guiding principles and goals that bring meaning to work and life and motivate engagement, involvement and commitment. This creates a perspective of curiosity, openness and radical acceptance.

At a recent art show, a retrospective of 60 years by Canada's oldest painter, 97-year-old John Koerner, I was amazed to learn that he started out first as a lawyer in the former Czechoslovakia and then later went to art school. After immigrating to Vancouver, he became colleagues with Jack Shadbolt, B.C. (Bert) Binning and Gordon Smith while teaching at the Vancouver School of Art and the University of British Columbia. When asked about his guiding philosophical perspective, he provided the following quotation:

"Take your life the way it is. Don't think that it should be otherwise. Everything that you meet bless and you will be bless." -Unknown