CHANGES, CHANGES CHANGES
This is how it all starts. You experience a change, an alteration of something in your life. It may seem like it is a good change, such as moving to your dream home or adding a new baby into your family unit. Or it can be a devastating change such as the loss of a job or the death of a beloved friend or partner. You deal with the reality of the change. You bring closure to your old existence, and then begin to develop the new habits and patterns you need in order to actuate your new reality.
You may feel carried along by the momentum of everything that must happen in order to adjust to your changed existence. It can be setting up your office at home because you need to have a place to find a new job and begin the new job search. Or if you have moved into a new home, it can be finding a new grocery store, dry cleaners, post office, library, and the best route to drive to work from your new house. Or perhaps most challenging of all, it can be taking care of the end-of-life arrangements for your life partner and then beginning to learn to be completely responsible for all of the details in your life. Whatever change you have experienced, there is a period of busy-ness that accompanies the physical reality of the change, and then the action begins to slow down and you may notice that you are not so busy, and you may begin to notice that even though you are done with the change you are still feeling uncomfortable. Nothing feels quite right. You slowly begin to realize that there has been a shift of some kind, and it leads to the question of "What now???"
I have worked with a counselor/teacher for many years, and she has shared with me (more than once!) that this seemingly quiet time after the tumult of a change is a very powerful time for personal growth and expanding personal consciousness. I have come to accept the truth of this statement. When we have to re-vision what is important to us in a new situation, we are more open, more raw, more vulnerable and potentially more accepting of new truths about what we want our life to include in the future. Even the good changes bring about this opportunity to ask questions – to re-envision what you want your life to include. You may remember, or you may realize for the first time, what is truly important to you, and what you want to build into your new reality. And then step-by-step you bring these new realizations into your life. You realign your version of your Self to include these newly adopted values. They become part of your reality, your new real life.
This description may sound pretty straightforward and linear. The truth is IT’S NOT. And that’s what makes these BIG changes so different from the normal ones, and also what can make them so challenging. Change is the exterior circumstance, the event, the ending of some reality in your life. Transition, on the other hand, is the interior process of adapting to a change, of experiencing the emotions, the uncertainty of not-knowing, the disconcerting feeling of nothing feels normal. Transition is also the process of questioning what no longer works for you and creating and adapting to what does work for you in your "new normal”. If only we could use a checklist and move through it, checking each little box as we completed it and arriving at end of the list declaring, "I am transitioned!" But of course it doesn’t work that way.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross may have been the first to understand the randomness of the emotional process of transition in her research on grief. Dr. Kubler-Ross identified 5 stages of grief that a person will experience after the death of an intimately connected companion: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her research also showed that NO ONE travels through these stages in the same way. People bounce from one stage to another and then back and then forwards. Grief is a particularly individual process. And what is even more interesting is that the grief experience a particular person feels for the loss of different companions also varies.
Transition is very similar, partially because grief is often part of the first stage of transition, the stage William Bridges names "An Ending." When something we care about ends, we experience a loss, and loss often requires a grieving process in order to be able to let go of what was lost and begin to envision something new. The loss of a job is a good example. The first response of being told you no longer have your job is disbelief (denial), followed by thoughts of "Are you kidding me, I sweated blood for this company!" (anger). You may talk to people throughout the company to see if there is another job available, or if you can get the person who told you fired (bargaining). The first day you stay home in the morning you picture everything happening at the office without you, and you miss your friends, your desk, the habits of your day, and you feel lonely and alone (depression). Maybe you begin to like waking up late in the morning and working out mid-morning, and you embrace the slower pace of the unemployed life (acceptance). All of this is part of the first stage of transition. There is no ability to move on until you have reached a level of acceptance that your prior reality has ended, and that you have the opportunity...the invitation even, that it is time to look at your life and to begin to envision, discern and create a life that has Passion and Purpose, a life that leads to joy, spirit and meaning.