I recently finished the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges. It had been recommended by my counselor, and it was quite good.

A friend asked recently for my thoughts on some of the books I have been reading. Her comment was something to the effect that most self-help books sound great when you read the brief synopsis, but turn out to be mostly common sense. I can't really argue with that, but often it is in the way someone tells you something, even something you already know, that helps bring understanding. Whether it is a person or a piece of reading, we sometimes just need something outside ourselves to dust off our lens of vision.

In the book the author explains that we go through many transitions in our lives, great and small. He says they largely follow the pattern of - an ending, followed by a neutral zone, and then ultimately a new beginning. Common sense right? But the book does a great job of helping you understand the path through transition.

Endings are difficult. Most of us avoid them and their discomfort whenever possible. Some also ease the pain by beginning something new before the ending takes place, like beginning a new relationship before ending the current one. And the pain of the ending is not always related to the apparent importance of the change. "One person may be brought to a complete standstill by a divorce or a job loss, but another person may take it in stride. Someone else may come to terms with a debilitating illness and then be demolished by the loss of a beloved pet".

But it is important to experience the ending, to take the time to mourn. We shouldn't fight the experience or let others talk us out of it. "You are not the first person who ever lost a job (or moved or had heart surgery), but telling you that is of no help." Of course we need to try to keep things in perspective, and not imagine that there is no sequel, but we should not gloss over it like it is nothing. Your pain is your pain, and it is legitimate.

The second stage is the neutral zone, and it is probably the most important. Most people rush through this stage because it is a time of vagueness and uncertainty. It is a time when it feels like nothing important is happening, where we feel lost. It is a common reaction to change external things rather than work on the internal changes that need to happen. Many people distract themselves with shiny things and filling their lives with busyness.

But it is in this neutral time where most of the work is done (even if it doesn't feel like it). It is in the fallow time that the soil is renewed, and during sleep when our body repairs itself. The neutral time is like a "fertile time-out" where we can turn down the noise to listen for those quiet voices of healing to appear.

But it is difficult to be patient. We want to feel like we are "going somewhere". And it is also difficult to explain this time to friends and family. "'I want to think things over, I guess,' we say a little lamely. But then it turns out that once we are out there, we don't really think in a way that produces definite results. Instead, we walk the beaches or the back streets. We sit in the park or movie theater. We watch the people or the clouds. 'I didn't do much of anything,' we report upon on our return. And we feel a little defensive, as though we failed to deliver on our promise".

But the author assures us we shouldn't feel defensive. It is in the neutral zone that we get a angle of looking at things we don't get anywhere else. It is in this time of "attentive inactivity" that we see beyond the "reflected light of the familiar surface of things and see what is really there in the depths." It is a time of reorientation and realignment as you move from one phase of life to another.

Reading this book has helped reaffirm that what I am doing right now is important, and that I am making progress even if I can't point to something tangible yet. I am fortunate to be able to take this time away from things through the support of family, friends and even J. I don't know what I will find, or even if I will be able to explain it, but I believe that this time in the neutral zone will prepare me for what comes next.

I have only stepped away for a while, and I will still be "me" when I return. I have more reading and discovery ahead, and there will be plenty of work as I move toward a new beginnig. As the author says, the neutral zone is a "great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.," And as he quotes in the book "As a wonderful Zen saying expresses it, 'After enlightenment, the laundry'."

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition


Holly Linden said...

Honored to walk with you during this important time.

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