Many years ago, I saw this sign in the window of a small business: “I don’t take my problems with me when I leave the office. I have a complete set of them at home.” The memory makes me smile, although behind this sentiment lies a very real challenge. When we carry our work-related concerns home with us and vice versa, we may notice that we are never fully present wherever we find ourselves.
Moving between home and work, of course, represents a major transition. What about the smaller transitions that occur over the course of a day? Many of my colleagues are healthcare professionals who work with multiple patients in a row. How does one be fully present with the current patient, as opposed to ruminating about the patient just seen or worrying about the patient to be seen next, especially when said patients have complex or unresolved problems? How does one mindfully transition from one task or project to another?
Of course, the whole point of mindfulness is to focus on wherever we are at any given time, and on whatever is happening in this moment. This is a simple matter, but definitely not easy to do. Undone tasks, unfinished projects, unresolved concerns have a way of visiting us at inopportune moments. So how do we help ourselves?
An important component of working with this challenge is to recognize transitions when we are in them, and to consciously and explicitly set aside the concerns associated with one place prior to moving ahead, engaging in the cognitive equivalent of closing files on the computer at the end of a day’s work. Some people, in fact, like to use the image of closing files as they move from one project to another. Others find that by focusing on the experience of the transition itself - the drive from work to home, for example - they are better able to leave behind where they've been; the transition becomes its own mindfulness practice, allowing for a space and opportunity to ground oneself in the present moment.
When transitions involve moving from one place to another, doorways can be enormously helpful - intentionally leaving one place and arriving at another, we can give ourselves the gift of arriving here and now.
The invitation to you is to take note of the transitions in your day, to notice how you make them, and to consider how well your current practices serve. What alternatives might you like to explore?
Priscilla M. Koop, PhD is an MBSR teacher and a consultant with the Mindfulness Institute.ca.