Transitions are part of life. Nowadays not just individuals but also communities, families, and organizations experience many transitions. As humanity, we are faced with poverty, violence, and environmental destruction. The whole world is in transition and in crisis and we are all affected by it if we acknowledge it or not. As the impact on all increases our familiar identities are shaken to the core.
Transitions are inner processes that take place when changes impact on us. They allow for growth and development and make sense in the larger picture, even though we may not be able to make sense of them at the time.
Puberty, childbirth and mid-life crisis are major transitions evoked by inner changes. We are also faced with external changes like separation, retirement, job loss/change, and relocation. Nowadays, external changes are happening more rapidly with little time for us to adjust internally. The consequences are expressed in stress, illness and lack of motivation.
Transitions often bring with them strong emotions, crises, and short-term paralysis. They are accompanied by a strong sense of loss. In those difficult times, many of us feel ashamed of our feelings, or fear being shamed should we expose them. Those transitions then are often not visible to others as we try to hide them, sometimes even from ourselves. When we can acknowledge transitions in crisis situations, we can begin to deal with all the feelings and emotions involved, and support and understand ourselves more fully.
Initiation rites in ancient and existing tribal cultures honoured transitions and recognized three stages: separation, transition, and re-incorporation. Separation symbolized a death experience, transition a place of loneliness, where an inner attitudinal change took place, and re-incorporation a welcome into a new position.
What we can learn from those rites is that we need to let go of the old to make place for the new. The place between the old and the new is a chaotic no-mans land, where we are deeply confronted with ourselves and asked to develop a new orientation.
Transitions begin with an ending: a good bye to a familiar situation, shocking news, or an inner realization, ‘it can’t go on like this’. Other transitions just creep in and are experienced as a growing sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. We all respond differently to endings. Some of us become angry, some retreat silently, some belittle the experience, and others panic and seek desperately solutions. All are trying to come to terms with uncertainty, fear and shame, and in the process may blame themselves or others. Whatever we do, the feeling of loss, and uncertainty won’t go away.
In the next step, the middle phase of our process, it begins to dawn on us that we can’t return to the old and yet have no clue what the new will bring. Apathy, indifference, lack of motivation weigh us down. Hope and despair take their turns. Feelings of depression and loneliness and a sense of failure can drive us into isolation. It’s hard to believe that anybody else cares, and it’s difficult to take anybody else’s advise. We are feeling overwhelmed, at a loss at what to do with ourselves in our situation. Powerless and hopeless we are required to surrender old beliefs, ideas and expectations and to open up to a new unknown path. We are required to take full responsibility and courageously step forward, even if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us and if it is the right direction. When we take a step, we impact on reality and open doors for new ones. Slowly a path emerges. With every step we take we strengthen our confidence and trust. It is a big challenge, to ask of our strength and courage when we feel the lowest, and not all of us make the journey successfully. That is why it is vital that we talk about the process of transition in crisis.
Over time we then come to a place where we are sick and tired of our situation and willing to experiment with new steps. This is the new beginning place and it is vital to not be discouraged by negative experiences. This stage we need to view as experimental and following questions help us to evaluate our experience: What was my goal? What did I do? How did I behave in that particular situation? What happened? How did it impact on myself and my environment? What are my conclusions? What does it mean for my next step? *
As our negative moods have the tendency to colour our perception it helps if we attempt to observe and describe what happens around us as objectively and accurately as possible.
Transitions take time. When we become isolated or overly fixated on our problems, it can be helpful to go for a walk or to engage in artistic or creative activities like sculpting, painting, making objects for the home, etc. When we turn to family, friends or professionals for help, the importance is to notice what impact the sharing had on us. We may feel calmer, relieved, encouraged, understood, accepted or strengthened. These are the kind of experiences that will nourish us on our journey.
When we are ready to open up to the world again in our experimental phase it helps to ask others about their experiences with transition, and notice that we are not alone.
* Inspired by Jos van der Brug & Kees Locher; Unternehmen Lebenslauf; Stuttgart, 1997, p. 243f
Copyright © 08/2001 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Integrative Dialogue #14, Aug2001