When was the last time you waited for your laptop to turn on? That you sat there and stared, as it took minutes to launch their operational system. How quickly can you jump from one activity to the next? And how present are you in any of them?
Ever noticed how different is the experience of watching a movie in the theater, compared to at home? How immerse you feel, and how much more you get from it? The reason is simple and goes beyond the (obviously) better sound and big screen. It has to do with path that led you to sit back in that chair, staring at nothing else than the screen. It has to do with the state between whatever you were doing before that, and how present it forces you to become.
Years ago, I read an article about the transitions that take place in our everyday lives, and their role in getting our minds from one thing to the next. Although the article seems to have vanished from the internet, I recall learning that our experiences can be crafted in a way that creates these transitions between one state and the next. Between A and B. These states, although frequently unnoticeable, are incredibly useful and often define how we navigate our lives.
Transitions are underrated.
Think about it: when you watch a movie in the theater, after all the hustle to get there, what happens first? The fading of the lights and music. Then the ads, then the trailers, and then opening credits. Only after all these stages you get to watch the actual movie. Once the movie ends, you don’t stand up and fleet the room. You can sit and watch the questionably fun closing credits, while the lights are slowly turned back on.
Can you recall watching a movie that touched you so deeply that got you staring at the screen for minutes before you could stand up and leave?
What this does is, it builds your presence. It builds momentum in your mind and shifts your full attention to where it needs to be. It gives you time to switch from whatever was happening before to that experience. At the end, it gives you time to recover before you go back to “life”.
Now, cut to our actual, busy, FOMO lives. The devices we use seek speed and seamless connections: you don’t have to wait for your phone to turn on everytime you need to use it. You don’t need to go to an agenda to check someone’s number to call them.
We want to kill transitions for the sake of speed. And we’re wrong on doing that. We want to play a movie in daylight in our TVs, and we want it to play 30 seconds after coming home from work. We want our email or message to arrive instantly. We want to be responded instantly.
How often do you stay at the table after you finish eating? Or even, do you eat at a proper table, doing nothing else but eat and maybe talk to someone? Think about what happened between your previous activity and this very moment. Chances are it looks like this: doing something, doing something else, doing some other thing, doing and doing. Our experiences in life, may it be at work, study, travel, relationships, are moving towards erasing, or at least ignoring, these transitions.
I invite you to think about the experiences you had in the past, or recently, where you can identify this transition between being here and there.
For instance, when I have an appointment, I like to arrive at least 20 minutes early. I never realised why (until now), but it has always proved to be powerful on helping my mind to be released from what was going on before the appointment. As a result, I always feel a lot more present. And these 20 extra minutes are often the best part of my day.
When was the last time you commuted without distracting yourself from the fact you were commuting to work? That you simply paid attention to that moment between leaving home and sitting on your desk?
We are in a continuum of stimuli and reaction, and action, and scrolling, and responding. We believe our lives should be a progression of boxes checked and a scavenger hunt where you finish one thing and get on another one right away.
I say, don’t.
I say, take a break from that.
Don’t try to remove or numb the transitions in your day: it may be more productive to listen to a podcast or an audiobook on your commute. But just once, try to just be in the commute. If it takes you 40 minutes to get to work, then give your mind 40 minutes to adapt from home/sleep mode to work mode.
The beauty of the transition is in the small things: the wait for the water in the shower to get warm before we step into it, the end of a song and beginning of another one. The minutes before the waiter brings your dinner. The 15-minute break before your next meeting. The hours before the concert of your favourite band.
Don’t try to fill that with other stuff.
Because if you pay attention, the magic of the transition is also in the big things, and nature relentlessly shows us that.
Look at a sunrise and a sunset, and feel the day beginning and ending. Look at the flowers blooming, look at how you surroundings change because it’s summer, or winter, or spring, or autumn. Observe how long takes to the snow to build up and to melt down. Every form of life, including our own, is constantly transition.
Everything is in transition anyway, so why not enjoy it?
Sometimes it might seem like your life has been a bunch of consecutive events, but pay attention. Was it, really? Or were you just not paying attention?
Have you never spent a day between jobs, between projects, between schools, between relationships? And if you did, did you appreciate that moment or were you just wishing for the next thing?
We get anxious for the next step. We underestimate the power those transition moments in making us so much more prepared for what’s to come. And specially, more present to it.
It’s not a rough cut. It’s fade in, fade out.
Three years ago, I decided to go on a sabbatical.
The question I was asked the most (after “what?!”) was, “what are you doing next?”. Ten out of ten times, my answer was, “I have no clue. And I’m enjoying the heck out of it”.
It was true. Somehow, I knew I was preparing to something else, somewhere else, but I had no idea of what it was. Luckily, I allowed myself to say, “I don’t know”, to the most important question of my life at that moment. And I was aware enough to know that fading out was necessary, that I could not jump from one branch to the next. That it would not be wise, that it would not work, and that it would definitely not be fun.
Letting myself into the transition and enjoying it took me to places, situations and people I could never imagine.
Now, I am fading into something else.
I’m not there yet, so don’t ask me where I’m going because I don’t know. Each time I overcome the anxiety of the next destination, I enjoy the heck out of the journey. I am allowing myself to navigate into wherever direction it makes sense.
You don’t see that many people speaking from these places. You normally see who’s already on the other side, who already found what they were looking for - or at least wants us to believe that. Or people who go through that while traveling through beautiful places (been there, done that), not from the monotony of their own grey desk.
It can be awfully boring at times, deadly scary at others. It is okay, because I know the light will shine beyond the tunnel as soon as I get there. And that after that light there will be another tunnel, and another light, and another tunel, all the way until the end. I understand that this is my turn to sit back, nevermind what happened until here and shift my attention to the movie that’s about to start at any minute. Because that’s just how it goes. For everyone.
And in the meantime, I can sit on back my chair and enjoy the popcorn.