(published January 31st through my newsletter)
Last summer, before heading out on my trip to the desert, I knew I needed to log some serious family time.
Part of this journey is surrendering to the unknown.
Part of the giving over to the unknown is not knowing when I’ll be back to the east coast, when I’ll be able to see my loved ones in person again.
Also, I’ve grown wary of airplanes. I no longer enjoy the feeling of getting to hop on a flying machine and zoom hundreds or thousands of miles, to be plunked down exactly where I desire. There’s something about it that feels too extreme, too easy, too fast.
Airplanes remind me of the phrase, just because you can, does that mean you should? You can spend a few hundred bucks and BOOM, you’re exactly where you feel like being, but does that mean I should take this option?
Not that airplane travel is bad, just that I don’t want to abuse it. For the sake of the environment, my nervous system, and for the love of slowing down in general. So anyway, knowing this, I decided to spend the first 10 weeks of last summer living with my sister in New Jersey.
This would allow me some high-quality time with my nieces, who were five and seven years old, before hitting the road.
So I borrowed my friend Kareth’s chunky old Ford SUV, and in two trips, moved all my stuff from DUMBO to Glen Ridge on June 1st.
Shifting from spending “quality time” to “quantity time” with my nieces was, well, different. My sister has always been very gracious – making sure I can see them when and how I want – but in the past those have been isolated instances and special occasions.
I haven’t had to act as a true caretaker for them.
By spending those 10 weeks together, I had the opportunity to have a much deeper experience with the girls – to get to know them in many more moods and circumstances.
They got to learn some good lessons from “Aunty Airy,” while I also got to learn lots of solid lessons from them.
There was one lesson in particular my nieces taught me that has fundamentally changed how I think and function in my life on the road. It has to do with transition time.
You know how kids, when you attempt to load them into the car, take so long with the transition?
First, they don’t necessarily get directly into the car. They might get distracted by a spiderweb or flower, or need to run back inside to get some special toy they forgot.
Then they have to find a creative way to enter the car – climbing through windows or crawling in via the front seat or back hatch.
After that they need to arrange all their little things. Whatever toys or books they brought, those need to be placed in optimal position to be reached. Sometimes there’s a stuffed animal that must also be strapped into a seat belt or tucked under a blanky.
And oh my goodness, the seatbelt situation! My nieces were pretty good about strapping themselves into the car seats most of the time. But sometimes it was a real battle of squirming body parts and squawking resistance.
Finally, after what might be anywhere from 5-10 minutes, we would be ready to go.
It’s not that we were going very far either, we’d just be running a quick errand like getting dinner groceries. But still the transition time would be the same.
When I first started taking care of them I would rush this time. I’d try to make them expedite their little rituals of transition. I was impatient. I wanted to teach them how to move faster, so we can just get there already!
But then one day, it struck me that they were showing me something really important. Transitions should take time!
In every little piece of the movement from the house into the car, they were adapting. Their bodies and nervous systems and minds were adapting and shifting into a new place, into each next unfolding piece of the journey.
They weren’t stopping the journey at all. When I stepped back and let them do each piece to completion, it all happened just fine. They got in the car, we ran the errand, it all worked out.
But even better, when I followed their timing and allowed myself that same quality of transition, the journey felt a lot better to me.
How shall I enter the car today? What comfort object might I have forgotten? How do I want to arrange my purse, phone, sunglasses? What is it like to mindfully put on my seatbelt?
A couple days ago I was moving Scampy to a beautiful new spot for the weekend and I was reminded of what the girls taught me.
Packing up my whole life in this little camper to transition from one place to another is a project. When I rush it, I resent it. But when I allow myself a couple hours to carefully wrap my dishes, to tuck away my books, to check and re-check all the safety mechanics, it becomes a real pleasure.
And interestingly, this translates to almost any unsavory task.
If you give yourself time, if you give it high quality attention, it becomes a mini ritual. Many of these rituals can be peppered throughout your day, returning you to the present moment, and generating more peace and wellbeing in your field… if you make space for them.
Best wishes for a beautiful weekend full of many mindful transitions,
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