Life transition begins when something ends in your life. Most likely, that ending will involve some sort of relationship or role or life structure. Or maybe a change or shake-up in your world view.
Sometimes the ending will be shocking, perhaps an unexpected death or job loss. And other times, you’ll know it’s coming, like graduating from college or retiring from work.
There will also be times when nothing external has happened in your life, but your internal GPS is nevertheless going through some crazy gyrations.
And then, there will be times like now, when the world as we know it is hurtling through transition. When the ground under your feet feels like its shifting and you can’t quite get your bearings.
But no matter what kind of life transition it is, you can count on this: there will be an ending, actual or metaphorical.
And it will probably be hard, because endings ask us to accept a loss of some kind. Even if you don’t expect the ending to be difficult, even if you’ve planned for it, you’ll probably experience some of the emotional repercussions of loss.
So what fascinates me most about life transition is how this pretty much always happens.
In fact, it happens to all of us…
- We enter into transition when something ends.
- We’re called to accept the ending, no matter how hard that may be.
- Then, for a time, we’re wrapped in a blanket of ambiguity and uncertainty, because we’ve entered a foggy in-between place.
Author William Bridges calls this in-between place the “neutral zone.”
For me that term always conjures up memories of dicey Star Trek episodes when the Romulans were making yet another incursion into the Neutral Zone.
I’m guessing Bill Bridges didn’t watch Star Trek, but that’s okay, because I love his work.
Many times I’ve recommended Bridges’ books.
Particularly Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes and The Way of Transition, where he writes very personally about the death of his wife.
And many times I’ve gone back to my dog-eared copies to find solace and hope during my own losses and life transitions.
Bridges’ wisdom also inspired the topic of my master’s thesis 16 years ago. It got me digging into the library stacks, looking for source materials and unearthing an ancient 1908 tome about tribal rituals, adult developmental milestones and rites of passage.
But that’s a story for another day.
So, whatever you call it—the neutral zone or in-between place or liminal space or betwixt and between—it’s very real.
William Bridges called it a time for being rather than doing. It’s definitely not a time for rushing forward, as much as you might like to.
Instead, it’s a time to make space to comfort yourself and love yourself up, perhaps in ways you haven’t considered before.
A time to go below the surface of you and tend to your deeper needs by paying attention to…
Your heart’s need to mend and restore.
We’ve established that the neutral zone comes on the heels of a loss of some kind. So the time is right to recognize your heart’s need to heal from this and give yourself permission to recuperate, whatever that looks like for you. Know that your path to recuperation and restoration doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
Your body’s need for attention.
When you feel stuck in the in-between space you might also be stuck in analysis-paralysis, continually searching for more information and replaying the same questions over and over.
So it’s a good time to get out of your head by giving your body attention right now. Let it have what it needs. That might look like plentiful rest, fresh air, time in nature. Your body is the expert on this, so trust it.
Your Inner Seeker’s need for freedom and space.
The in-between place often brings with it a deep yearning, a sense of longing. But it’s usually amorphous and hard to put into words. You don’t quite know what you’re yearning for.
Yet yearning, in and of itself, tends to activate your Inner Seeker. And more than anything, that Seeker wants to roam, get lost, explore. So now may be a good time to haunt the back roads, stand at the apex of a broad vista or walk along a wide expanse of beach.
Your senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting) and their need to come back to life.
Spending time in-between comes with a desire to attach to something, to come to terms with the attachment that you’ve lost and figure out how to transform it. This can be difficult and confusing, because you may feel depleted and numb. But the good news is your senses carry a wisdom about this.
You may not understand why you can’t get enough of the scent of lavender or why touching a certain something brings you close to tears. But you don’t need to understand it. You just need to turn towards it and let your senses take over for a moment.
Your creativity’s need to partner with you.
Maybe you notice a faint stirring, a desire, to put words down on paper. Or your hands seem to be itching to make something, anything. But it doesn’t really make sense to you.
That’s okay. Let yourself love your creative urges, whether they make sense or not. You’ve probably heard this before: anything that opens the conduit to your creative/imaginative self is healing and nurturing.
And remember what Jung said: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”
The hardest part, I think, is giving yourself over to it.
Allowing yourself the time to just be here, because too often we turn our backs on that. Somewhere along the way we learned that we should be stoic in the midst of loss and life transition, and just get on with it.
But as Bridges says, “the way out is the way in.”
The neutral zone provides access to an angle of vision on life that one can get nowhere else. And it is a succession of such views over a lifetime that produces wisdom. -William Bridges
* * * * *