This is what transitions look like

Over the last cou­ple of months, I’ve lost more than 20 pounds on what my friend Molly refers to as the Blow-Up-Your-Life Diet. I’ve been apart­ment search­ing in Boston, pack­ing to move, prepar­ing to start a new full-time job after three-plus years on my own, and start­ing to lead a sem­i­nar at UMass Amherst enti­tled, iron­i­cally enough, “Liv­ing Strate­gi­cally.” (I taught my first class last week by the way. Let it be said: I love my stu­dents. And I love teaching.)

On sec­ond thought, “liv­ing strate­gi­cally” isn’t so ironic after all. If not for the strate­gies I’ve learned, prac­ticed – and blogged about here – over the past few years, I’d undoubt­edly be in far worse shape than I am today.  Hard as things are right now – and they are pretty hard – I have tools and perspective.

That is when I remem­ber to use them.

Last week, I was going through an espe­cially dif­fi­cult patch. I’d made the two-hour drive into Boston from west­ern Mass based on a realtor’s promise to show me four to seven apart­ments only to dis­cover on arrival that none of them accepted cats, despite my hav­ing clearly indi­cated that one would be com­ing with me. I start my Boston job a week from tomor­row. I still have no place to live, and once I find one, I’ll still have to move. It all began to seem utterly over­whelm­ing. Was this whole thing a mis­take? What had I been thinking?

And then, just in time, I remem­bered: This is what tran­si­tions look like. Not in every spe­cific, of course, but in the experience.

In life coach Martha Beck’s Change Cycle model of tran­si­tions, I’m right on track, smack dab in the mid­dle of Square 1 (Death and Rebirth). “The bizarre, form­less, zero-identity nether­world of Square One is what anthro­pol­o­gists call a “lim­i­nal period,” Beck writes in Find­ing Your Own North Star, describ­ing such a time as one “where you’re on the thresh­old between iden­ti­ties, nei­ther inside nor out, nei­ther one thing nor the other.”

She con­tin­ues: “Dur­ing most of Square One, you’ll prob­a­bly feel pan­icky, ground­less, and des­per­ate. Prob­lems and com­pli­ca­tions seem to attack from all sides: big ones, lit­tle ones, strange and unfa­mil­iar ones. You rush around in fren­zied activ­ity but feel as though you’re get­ting absolutely noth­ing done.”

Yes! And yes and yes. That is exactly how I’ve been feeling.

For his part, tran­si­tions guru William Bridges describes this uncom­fort­able stretch as “the neu­tral zone,” a “period of con­fu­sion and dis­tress” that fol­lows an end­ing and pre­cedes a new begin­ning. He devotes an entire chap­ter of Tran­si­tions to this dif­fi­cult time, includ­ing a num­ber of sug­ges­tions to ease the way.

The first of these: Sur­ren­der — we must “give in to the empti­ness and stop strug­gling to escape it,” he counsels.

If you’re caught in a rip­tide, you’re sup­posed to stop fight­ing and let your­self drift. If you’re fac­ing an angry bear, you should lie still, pre­tend­ing to be dead. (At least, this is what I’ve always heard; in the inter­ests of full dis­clo­sure, I’ve tested nei­ther of these.) Both of these responses would seem to go against our basic sur­vival instincts. I imag­ine that, in the instant, knowl­edge is often a poor match for adrenaline-powered impulse.

But, as I know from long expe­ri­ence, the first impulse isn’t always the right one.  As I con­tinue through this month of dra­matic change and uproot­ing, I’ll be call­ing on the col­lec­tive wis­dom of all who have gone before me (and here, I include not only oth­ers but also my own past selves.) While sur­ren­der doesn’t come nat­u­rally, it’s nonethe­less what’s called for.

Life Exper­i­ment #9:  “The present moment is the mother of the future. Take care of the mother, and the mother will take care of the child.” I love this line from one of my Bud­dhist teach­ers. The focus of this month is sur­ren­der­ing to – and car­ing for – the present moment, the only thing we ever have to work with.

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

22 thoughts on “This is what transitions look like

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  4. I admit I have been absent from read­ing your posts for a while. So I read that you have a new job in a vibrant city and are teach­ing at an esteemed uni­ver­sity. That sounds a bit more like com­ple­tion than tran­si­tion to me not that move­ment should ever stop. Con­grat­u­la­tions. BTW, are you still plan­ning to attend the SOB­Con con­fer­ence in Port­land? It sounds intrigu­ing but I wasn’t able to sched­ule it this year. Hope that you will share some of that expe­ri­ence if you go. Thanks.

    • Thanks for the congratulations!

      Sadly, I had to skip SOB­Con, but I think they’re going to let me apply the con­fer­ence fee to another event so I’m hop­ing to make the next one.

      As for com­ple­tion vs. tran­si­tion — hmmmm. I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this stretch is that tran­si­tion is an ongo­ing process and never really com­plete. :-)
      amy gut­man recently posted…This is what tran­si­tions look likeMy Profile

  5. Great post. Going through some­thing of a tran­si­tion myself and it is so reas­sur­ing that it’s not just me being useless!

  6. This post reminds me of some­thing I read once (I don’t remem­ber the source). Our basic impulse is that any movent in life that is not per­ceived as for­ward is con­sid­ered to be mov­ing back­ward. How­ever, some­times what is needed is to move side­ways. It is nei­ther for­ward nor back­ward, and it does not feel like progress, but it is some­times nec­es­sary to get around an obsta­cle. This thing I read even sug­gested to let your­self “drift” side­ways, not unlike your rip­tide exam­ple here. I’m glad you reminded me of it.

    Best of luck in your dra­matic change. It sounds all very pos­i­tive to me.

  7. Amy: what a gift that in the tran­si­tion you can be kind to your­self and to us through the gift of trans­parency and pos­i­tive inten­tion. I’m sorry you are los­ing so much weight. And that real­tor wasted your time — did not put you first! So sorry this is such a hard task to find hous­ing. But you have good resources and are mov­ing into a beau­ti­ful new place in life. Thank you for your exam­ple and my prayers and best inten­tions are with you. PS: did you know that tomor­row, Sept. 10, is the 513th anniver­sary of Leonardo da Vinci’s big dream dying (cre­at­ing a huge metal horse — France invade Milan on that day and wrecked his model and destroyed his men­tor) and the 13th anniver­sary of the com­ple­tion of his dream (500 years later a team actu­ally built it again). These big dreams take time!
    Alle­gra Jor­dan recently posted…The Joy­ful LawyerMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for those affirm­ing words, Alle­gra, and the prayers and inten­tions both are much appre­ci­ated! What a time we will both have to look back on in the years to come. And what expe­ri­ence, strength, and hope we will have to share, to use the 12 step for­mu­la­tion. :-)
      amy gut­man recently posted…This is what tran­si­tions look likeMy Profile

  8. I love the notion that this is what tran­si­tions look like.

    You are doing great, just remem­ber that.

    And soon you will be set­tled here and you can look back and mar­vel at how you did it, just like I do.

    And in the mean­while, you look great and I have gained back my “blow up my life” weight :)
    Molly Monet recently posted…Irres­olute ResolutionMy Profile

  9. The axiom about moth­er­ing the mother is a prin­ci­ple La Leche League teaches their Lead­ers who will be help­ing new Moms. What a delight­ful sur­prise to learn that it’s also taught by Bud­dhist teach­ers! Makes me think of how many truths are taught by many sources. Like “Do unto others … ”

    Take care … of your­self … in the present.

  10. So glad the first day of school went well! One of my grandmother’s many rhyming axioms was “Well begun is half done.”

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