My patient sat quietly, his hands resting in his lap, gazing out the window. Therapy. We had already covered the major areas of life, the “what happened” between last week and this week…the status of his marriage, how work had been, golf. We had discussed his levels of mood and anxiety, the fact that he often couldn’t sleep at night, and felt tired during the day.
Then he mentioned in passing, somewhere between his lower back pain and the dog’s recent antics, that his son, John, was returning to college tomorrow. John, had been home for the summer, working, and now was headed back to the east coast for another semester. And then my patient moved on once more, this time reflecting on a childhood memory that had just come up, a memory of loneliness, of hiding.
“Let’s go back for a moment, “I suggested. “How are you feeling about John leaving for school?”
He looked perplexed at my question, my request to pause at this particular point in the session, on an issue that genuinely seemed like a non-issue to him. And yet in the minute of pause, of slowing down to reflect, tears surprised him. He would miss him. They were both getting older. He wondered if John would still need him in the same way, as the years passed on.
As I sat and looked at him, and we talked through his fear and sadness together, it struck me that this is one of the most beautiful things about psychotherapy. We stop for a moment to reflect. In the midst of a busy life, we sit together and expand time. Here, we were slowing down a transition, the transition of his son leaving for school, and the transition of fathering a son who was now one year closer to adulthood. The transition of summer to fall. The transition of child to adult, and adult to somehow even older.
I think it is important to notice our transitions, and make sense of them as best we can. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until we look back. But nonetheless, we often rush through such times, when rushing is not what our souls are asking of us.
Perhaps we rush because it is difficult to feel our way through what such transitions mean. Birth, graduations, illness, weddings, divorce, death, aging, are crossings that often carry the weight of “both-and”…both joy and struggle, both love and loss, both awe and heartbreak. We feel confused and overwhelmed. Yet these are the very opportunities we have to fully experience the bittersweet nature of life. To sit with the questions of how and why time passes, or why life unfolds the way it does, often leading to more questions without answers.
If we rush through these moments like crossing a busy intersection, we miss the chance to feel. Our days blur together, at the surface, a stream of events that all carry the same value. Perhaps we feel more secure, because we are somehow protected, defended, against the emotions that we don’t know how to feel. At the same time, we are robbed of the chances to be more fully alive, more fully connected to our humanity, more fully in love with each other.
We are robbed of that particular intersection of past, present, and future, an intersection we will never again discover.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in noticing the transitions in your life, big and small. Are there transitions that you are rushing through, either consciously or unconsciously? What would it be like to slow down, expand time, and feel your way through…to notice and reflect on the meaning of your particular experience? I would love to hear your thoughts.