Have you ever heard the saying, “Physician, heal thyself?” Well in my case it is more like “Interculturalist/relocation specialist, coach yourself.” In just over one week, we will be out of our current place and into our new one. As I write that, it sounds so simple! But in reality, I’m stressed. Lying awake at night. Disorganized. Scattered. And annoyed with myself for feeling these things.
You see, in the great scheme of moves, this one is truly no big deal. We’re moving less than 10 miles. It’s a strategic, voluntary move – a way to get out of a deteriorating situation and get closer to clients, jobs, and education. We’ve given away or sold a quarter of our stuff. We’re using OneNote on our smart phones to keep essential details at our fingertips and manage checklists. We’re taking time off. We’ve hired movers. Except that it will certainly be above 100 degrees F (38 C), it couldn’t be easier.
So why do I feel stressed? This is of great interest to me, because after almost 15 moves I like to think I’ve “mastered” the process. After all, I’ve learned so much! I now know better than to try and move and work on the same day. To load a truck the same afternoon as an evening final exam. To simultaneously pack, load, and clean when you only have two sets of hands. I also know to keep a bag aside with critical documents, valuables, and items like keys, toilet paper, and water. Helping other people think through these things is something I do for a living. So when it comes to my own move, what’s the problem?
I think it’s that stress isn’t just caused by logistical plate-spinning and lack of know-how. It’s about what moving means. It is literally a break in our lives. In our personal and family stories, it is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. An interruption. A new opportunity. A death of what was. A birth of what will be. A change in course. A choosing of one fork in the road over a different one. A realization that not all roads can be taken, and that selecting option A may preclude options B – G. An intangible feeling that we are on the cusp of something, made concrete through the act of packing boxes and signing paperwork.
This liminal space – the space between here and there – is ripe for reflection. For daydreaming about how marvelous the new place (and this one is brand new!) will be, with its kitchen island and wood floors. For loathing all of the details we have come to hate about the current place, with a force that only emerges once you commit to leaving the current place behind. But beyond the space itself, it is about what these walls held. The goals achieved. The moments shared. The disappointments and sorrows overcome (or not). The things we always thought we would do but never got around to doing. The things we never thought we’d manage to fit in, but somehow still did. The routines emerging organically within the space. The pace of life. The priorities. The love. The people that we were and are at this precise moment in our lives, people who we will not be in exactly the same way ever again.
From another angle – an Eastern one, shared by my acupuncturist friend – the reason I feel jumbled is that I am jumbled. The internal mirrors the external, and vice versa. When I sift through old photos, school transcripts, worn out clothes, and treasured cards, I am emotionally transported through the stages of my life – all of those people who I once was and once thought I would become, and all of the people and spaces I once knew. This is juxtaposed with the assorted detritus – the junk mail we never threw out, the outdoor rug that survived for years until our neighbors got a cat, the pens that have long dried out of ink, and the hat that seemed like a good idea but never quite went with anything.
The external sorting prompts a yearning for internal cleansing and catharsis. But just as there’s always an awkward object that doesn’t fit cleanly into one of the boxes, there are also uncooperative bits of our lives that refuse to mesh seamlessly with our narratives. From the Chinese medicine perspective, preparing for and going through a move is like riding rapids on a river teaming with flotsam. We’re bound to get splashed, hit by debris, even experience moments of exhilaration. Cumulatively, this effort clogs our system, giving us racing thoughts at days’ end, headaches, listlessness, and moodiness.
So what is an Interculturalist and relocation professional to do?
Maybe get acupuncture. I did, and it held me in a peaceful cocoon for days. But not everyone has access to – or comfort with – expertly placed needles. If I was dealing with myself as a client, I would say to observe this time. To honor it. To be with it, rather than force it. Not in a fluffy way, but in a present, intentional, attuned way. I would tell myself to take pictures of a moment and space which will not come again, to catch the light as it falls at certain times of day with the precise view outside my window. To fill the rooms with one last conversation, one last burst of laughter. To pay attention to the curves in the road and the traffic snarls instead of being on autopilot. To take care of myself and remember that actual people are moving – not just their stuff. I would advise talking about what it means. To consciously co-create what it means with my partner.
I would invite my client to consider that the power of relocating is that it wakes us up. It makes us notice things. It opens up spaces for creativity and perspective shifts. By forcing us to sort through ourselves and the lives we are building, it presents an incredible opportunity to cultivate ones that suit us. Ones that befit our stories. Ones that propel our development and enrich our relationships. Ones that are aligned with our identities and our purpose.
Moving is an invigorating and overwhelming encounter with your life, and with yourself. In a fleeting flash, you get to really see who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. You get to ask yourself what matters, and have a fresh chance at making your life matter. If I take a deep breath and embrace it, who knows what I might see?
Wish me luck.