I have been in transition for the last year. It started with pregnancy and the knowledge that my life was about to change radically. Even though the pregnancy and the baby were something both my husband and I really wanted, I had mixed feelings about it: through-the-roof excitement combined with fear and anxiety. The fear and anxiety came from knowing that an ending was about to take place – the end of Marta as a non-parent, as a solo entity that can take on all the work I want and can handle. I feared losing my work identity and becoming swallowed up by motherhood.

Fast forward to this summer, baby Loki Lettofsky was born on June 15th. My life indeed changed radically overnight. I was pleased to discover that amidst all the changes, I had a desire to reconnect with work (like prepping for the next session of theMusician's Mastermind!). Instead of my desire for work completely ending, there was room for it, and room for mothering, and the task now is to figure out the new balance and this new me.

I’ve been reading the classic self-help book Transitions by William Bridges and in it Bridges describes how each transition is made up of these three parts: 1. Ending; 2. Neutral zone; 3. Beginning. Transition is different from change, in that it is an internal shifting, whereas change is external. External change can be the springboard for transition, or internal transitions can lead to external change. 

The Ending and Beginning are rather self-explanatory, but the Neutral Zone benefits from a little elaboration. The Neutral Zone is that murky area after the Ending, or overlapping with the Ending, where space and time is needed to discover the new Beginning. And it might overlap with the Beginning too. The Neutral Zone can be quite uncomfortable, but rushing the Beginning might shortchange the inner work that is needed in a transition. Giving space and room to the Neutral Zone will allow the Beginning to emerge on its own.

As I’ve muddled through the Neutral Zone and wondered how my new beginning would emerge, I’ve found a couple of questions to be very helpful and I thought I would share them with you.

First, I ask myself this several times a day:

What do I need right now? What is one small step I can take to get there?”

What I always want is to feel better, to feel more balanced, to feel more grounded, to feel less crazy. Since those are long term goals and harder to achieve in a moment, I am seeking a concrete step to get me on the way to feeling better, more grounded, etc. The answers to “what do I need right now” range from connecting with a friend, crying to my husband, eating chocolate, taking a shower, taking a nap, etc.

The second question I ask myself is:

What am I willing to notice right now?

There is a lot of down time built into new motherhood – all the nursing! So at least once a day, sometimes more, I use that time to ask myself what I am willing to notice. Not change, not fix, not make it go away, but simply notice. I usually notice tension in my face and neck and shoulders. The cool thing is that simply observing, noticing and allowing it to be there often has the consequence of the tension softening and releasing. The more I can observe and get deep with the observation, the better. I try to find the root of the feeling and sometimes describe it in as much detail as possible. An example of one of my internal dialogues:

“The tension is in my tongue, I’m sucking it to the roof of my mouth. The tension radiates into my jaw and face. My tongue feels inflexible and like a rock. It feels stuck to my mouth. Where does this come from? Where does the tension start? The root of the tension seems to be at the root of my tongue. Oh, I just noticed a release and letting go of the tongue muscle. Oh, I noticed there can be more space in my mouth. Ah, that feels nicer.”

Deep breath!

I’ve been reflecting on how the lives of freelance musicians are constantly changing, from one gig to the next. Change is not the same as transition, but it can go hand-in-hand with transition. Transition is an internal state, an internal shift, of the three stages: an ending, a neutral zone, and a beginning. Freelancers often go through these steps externally – one show ends, followed by a break and down time, and then the next show starts. Using that “neutral zone” between gigs to make sure you really take care of yourself could decrease the stress that goes with the unstable life of freelancing and gigging. Asking yourself “What do I need right now?” is a great way to get beneath our knee-jerk reactions of eating our emotions or mindlessly surfing facebook for hours.

The second question, “what am I willing to notice right now?” can be applied to working on music. Musicians are so good at problem solving, and constantly judging our work that taking a step back and creating a little space for non-judgement is healthy. It takes the pressure off the intensity of learning music, and often we learn faster because of the release of pressure. The key here is to notice without judging or desiring change. Just observe. Find the root of the problem, only for observation purposes, not for judgement and criticism of ourselves. Get as specific as you can. See what happens if you let go of the desire to judge, criticize, fix for a portion of your practice session. I’ve found it makes practicing much more enjoyable!

Let me know if these questions resonate with you and how you apply them. I’d love to hear from you! Especially as I’m sitting on the couch nursing for the twentieth time today, it’s a welcome break to hear from friends and colleagues!

PS – Have you heard about the Musician’s Mastermind? The Mastermind is a group for digging into inner obstacles, Inner Artist coaching, and loving accountability. The next session starts on Sept 28th. Click here if you are interested in learning more.

PPS – I'll be performing with the lovely Christine Steyer this coming Friday (Sept 4th) at 4th Presbyterian Church, 12:10 pm. We're doing some old favorites as well as a set by David Shenton that I simply adore. Click here for more info.