Transitional Times

Time is a strange thing, and it’s hard to believe six months have passed since our last blog post! And, to state the obvious, time is also precious. In fact, one of the elements of music that makes it so useful as therapy and in therapy is its time-bound nature. Music happens in the present moment. It also encapsulates time in our memory, and engaging with it can slow or stretch our experience of time passing. For instance, in a Music & Imagery session, you may experience a journey across miles of inner landscape in just a few minutes of chronological time. While singing, you may revisit early developmental stages while still being grounded in your present adult body. And our human ability to simultaneously hold layers of time like this is one of the things that helps heal trauma. Music therapy scholar Brian Abrams writes in-depth about chronological versus contextual time in humanistic therapy and in the arts, so check-out his work to nerd out more on that…

But back to the blog hiatus. The months of 2019 so far have been transitional in nature. Both of us work in hospice and mental health settings in addition to private practice, and some things in those work arenas have shifted and opened up in the last few months. It’s been good, and it’s been hard. In a culture that insists on shining everything in a positive light and focusing on the future, we aren’t always encouraged to acknowledge what we leave behind or the difficulties inherent in transitions. What is it that makes transition, even that which we’ve chosen or excitedly anticipate, messy and disorienting?

Transitional time brings forth a need for both/and perception. Western thinking is built on dualism, or either/or perception – we can either feel our feelings or think rationally. We must go or we must stay. Black or white, heaven or hell, female or male… dividing things and people into fixed categories eases anxiety, even though most phenomena of the human and natural world are too complex and dynamic for such surgical precision. Trying to fit an experience of transition such as adjustment to a death or a career change into defined categories of “good or bad”, “right or wrong”, “blessing or burden” creates undue psychological pressure and does us a disservice. Anything of meaning and significance will always be too multilayered for either/or perception. A death after a long illness can feel both right in the relief it brings and wrong in the jarring absence of a loved person. Caregiving for a child can be both blessed and burdensome.

Navigating the liminal space of transitions, during which we are neither here nor there but somewhere on our way, has an alchemical effect on our development. Old ways of being, knowing, and doing decompose while new ways begin to form. This joint decomposition and formation can feel like a quiet buzz through our body and consciousness or can feel like bursts of exhilarated or agitated energy. It can sometimes go unnoticed and be recognized only in retrospect. This alchemy is available in subtle transitional times, like a shift in the season that causes changes in our routine with differed daylight hours. It is available when work or home responsibilities change, or when we incorporate new boundaries or self-care practices into our lives. When a relationship begins or ends, when we move, when a life-altering breakthrough comes in therapy… regardless of the particularities of the transition and the amount of energy it demands, there is growth available in the resulting in-between.

Participation in therapy during such times can allow this growth to be recognized, honored, and integrated. It also provides an opportunity for the messy particulars to be scattered across a relational table and creatively considered. Our disorientation and delight are witnessed and companioned. Of course, some of us find space beyond the therapy office for this, and our particular transition may even involve ending a therapeutic relationship! What is most important, though, is that we hold our times of in-between as gently and curiously as we hold times of departure or arrival. In moments of feeling alone, remember the work of poets, musicians, mystics, and artists are a refuge. Listen intently to the urgings of your inner voice to support your continued movement, be the movement onward, inward, outward, or a little bit of all at once. And know this: a transitional time is as sacred as it is strange.

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