They say the only thing you can count on for sure is Change and for people who like to maintain the status quo, that can be more than a little unnerving. Even when change is welcome, it is accompanied by an underlying psychological process that can often be surprisingly tumultuous.
As William Bridges says in his book, when any change occurs, it isn’t the physical change that is difficult but the psychological process that goes on when we leave one situation and enter a new one – and this is what he calls Transition.
Transition, he says, occurs in three phases (and this applies to any change) first there is an Ending, then we wander around in the unproductive, disconnected space known as the Neutral Zone, until ultimately we embrace a New Beginning.
Whereas change is usually focused on the attainment of a new goal, transitions begin with a letting go of something, and that something is usually internal. It may be a belief, an assumption, or the way you view yourself, others or the world. The change may be your own choice (such as leaving your job or relationship) or someone else may decide for you, but regardless, the process is the same. Even when you decide to make an outer change in your life, that change is simply the outcome which your transition has prepared you for.
Bridges suggests five aspects of the natural ending experience:
disorientation. The process of letting go of the past can bring up feelings of sadness, grief and loss as well as some relief or anticipation about the possible new future.
The Neutral Zone:
To me, this is the crux of the whole thing. The neutral zone is that in-between place where we lose our sense of relatedness and purpose. So much of who we are is tied up in the old way of life that we feel lost and empty without it. At this stage, there’s nothing new to anchor us or to give us any context or meaning, and that can be difficult, confusing and painful. Bridges suggests that many people literally go off into the “wilderness” during this phase. There’s a strong desire to be alone, to think and regroup. A lot of people report heightened intuition, personal insights and almost “spiritual” awakenings. I can readily recall The Turning Point in my own life and personally vouch for what Bridges describes in the neutral zone. I would wake up in the middle of the night……..every night…..thinking and analyzing, took up meditation, yoga, chanting, dived into astrology and spent a lot of time going for long walks on my own.
For most people, the neutral zone is a decidedly uncomfortable place to be. People around you wonder what’s going on, and make comments that you’re not yourself. They might wonder when you’ll “snap out of it”. The most important thing I’ve learned from Bridges is not to try to rush through this phase. It’s important and necessary, but for a lot of people the natural response is to grab a hold of something – anything – new, in order to get out of that uncomfortable place. If sufficient time isn’t allowed for the dust to settle and the pieces to fall back into place of their own accord, the wrong decision can easily be made.
Finally, after the endings and the wading through the neutral zone, a re-birth happens. There’s no prescription for deciding when it’s time to re-enter the world or how to choose the next “right” path to follow of all the possible options. Bridges suggests that a new beginning can happen as a result of an external cue or an inner signal, but when it presents itself it will resonate with you. You will hear the `clunck`. Out of the formlessness of the neutral zone, a new form starts to take shape and step by step, you start to build a new reality with a new sense of self and possibly new ideals, beliefs and values. Bridges rightly points out that trying to start anew without doing the hard yards of endings and neutrality is a futile exercise that will only lead to more frustration in the long term. It’s like the person who jumps from relationship to relationship without stopping in-between to reassess why the same patterns keep occurring. But when the hard work is done, you can enter a new phase of life with energy and vigour.
I highly recommend this book.