Many of us grow up with the belief that life is a process of assembly. Over the years we may gather degrees, friends, partners, children, credentials, possessions, experiences, and (hopefully) insights. Together, we expect, they’ll form a composite that harmonizes with (if not fulfills) the vision we have for our lives.
For much of my life, I believed this to be the case until the story I’d been living began a great descent—first slow and insidious, eventually sharp and dizzying. Within two years’ time, life as I’d known and planned it completely unraveled. My then 3-year-old daughter received a diagnosis that put the future in question. My marriage crumbled. I spent an agonizing year taking stock and trying to figure out what could be next, breaking open to hard truths about myself and our relationship, hoping to salvage our family. When that hope collapsed, I found myself standing at the door of a new home and a new life.
It was change so deep and dissembling that I moved through the world for the next few years feeling raw and whittled down. Still, part of me was relieved. The thick melancholy that I’d lived with for nearly a decade had finally lifted. Life was putting me through my paces, ushering me through many of my most potent fears. And yet, I was somehow more than surviving….
Simultaneous to this process, I was gradually shifting into an entirely new way of being. Nothing in my old way of thinking and living worked anymore. I was in a state of full surrender—not because I intellectually positioned myself there but because I was out of options. Nonetheless, a way revealed itself where no way seemed possible….
I found compassion and connection in totally random encounters. I met like-hearted friends. I began to accept help. I started taking care of myself. I remembered what I liked. I finally acknowledged what I needed to live a sane life. I learned that I could feel at peace—and even find deep joy—in the midst of what seemed like miserable circumstances. I began to understand what was my responsibility to own and how to cast off what wasn’t.
For years I’d expended monumental energy trying to manage my life (in all the wrong ways) to make an unworkable center hold. Only when it finally blew apart was I able to let go and discover what genuine calm and emotional freedom felt like. In that space, new life took root.
In other words, peace for me didn’t come as the capstone to an established, well-ordered life but as the fruit of its disintegration. I found my way through transition not by putting anything back together but by giving up making it cohere.
Life gradually began taking its own shape without my managing it—a shape that fit me better than any of my conscious orchestration could’ve produced…. It ironically took years of moving through wreckage to finally feel whole in myself for the first time. These have been my transition chapters.
And I know my story isn’t particularly unique….
The fact is, things happen in our lives that are too big for our masterminding. Too powerful for our current language. Too encompassing for our existing routine and sometimes even many of our relationships. We’re called—sometimes forced—to grow into a larger vision.
And that’s what genuine transition calls us toward—moving into a bigger vision of ourselves and our futures, often just when we feel at our smallest and most vulnerable, when it seems the bottom has fallen out through some form of loss or chaos.
Transition, as I share it here, is the journey we undertake when adapting to life’s most upending changes, both inner and outer. The events themselves may be the dramatic shifts we’d expect to capsize us—the end of a long-term partnership, the death of someone we can’t imagine living without, the onset of a major medical crisis.
Yet, transition can pull us into its vortex with seemingly less acute modes of reordering—a career shift, a marital conflict/rebuilding, or family challenges. Likewise, less visible but profound transition may enter our lives when we step off a psychic cliff for the sake of powerful internal transformation, such as processing past traumas, adjusting to a chronic physical condition or mental illness (our own or a loved one’s), recovering from addictive or compulsive behaviors, or even moving our relationships with ourselves into a new dimension of self-acceptance. Or very often some combination of these…
The truth I’ve found about transition is this: It’s less about the nature of the event and more about our readiness to be transformed by it.
Living with an “empty nest” may barely register as a substantive adjustment for some people, whereas for others it might evoke a personal crisis that brings to bear decades of emotional conflict or a deluge of self-identity questions. Likewise, one person may divorce and undergo little to no internal change, whereas another may do years of personal work to grow into a different version of him/herself. Something as innocuous as a book or a trip might set in motion a life-changing cycle of self-evolution.
Our stories may look very different in their logistical particulars, but in sharing the inner experience of change, we find a very potent space for recognition—for the infinitely healing and revealing words, “Me, too.”
Because the fact is, shifts in outer circumstances may or may not reflect the depth of our inner process. Even when they do—when events are “dramatic” enough for others to appreciate that we’re moving through difficulties, our experience can nonetheless be misunderstood or criticized. We can feel decidedly pressured by people in our lives to maintain our previous roles and routines or to conveniently “move beyond” a loss or change along a certain timeline, regardless of how deeply the situation impacted us.
Others might “grant” us a phase of introspection, withdrawal, or experimentation but then lose patience when we don’t settle back into normality according to their expectations. The result? We feel isolated as we move through challenging (or exhilarating) layers of new emotional awareness and life adjustment.
The truth is, many of us find ourselves without a model or community in these endeavors. We don’t often see others’ in-between work—the messy, unsure, bewildering stages of inner change. They remain apocryphal chapters in most people’s otherwise public stories.
Understandably, these are some of our most intimate passages. Still, how do we navigate our way through these disorienting episodes that refuse to follow any of the known rules? How do we move in faith during these periods when we have no idea where the sequence of events is leading, when the significance of the path we’re on may elude us—sometimes for years?
These are chapters that can make us feel like we’ve fallen off the pages of our own lives. And yet they’re exactly the passages that may reset our trajectories—often summoning us to the unprecedented work of becoming more conscious, creative, and compassionate versions of ourselves—if we’re willing to venture that potential.…
In doing so, we can find ourselves wholly diverted from socially sanctioned courses of life. We don’t recognize what we see anymore, and others may not recognize us. Still, we move forward, drawn by an inner opening that promises something we can’t consciously identify. There’s no map for where we’re going, and yet we might feel squarely—strangely—at the heart of life.
For me, transition played out less through dramatic events than a succession of everyday stories related to those shifts—an offhanded comment from one of my daughters, an unconscious nightly ritual, a surprising conversation with a total stranger. As I began this blog, I had to question how these random anecdotes illuminated the larger theme of transformation for me. Even today, as a more coherent impression of those years comes into view, the stories themselves retain a certain scattered autonomy.
It’s fitting, I think. Transition continually challenges us to hold varied threads of reflection. We move among vastly different emotions in the space of a morning. We accept forward movement in some areas and seeming regression in others. It’s all part of the jumbled experience of being with loss and change, of letting go of the old and living into the new.
In this way, the overwhelm of transition can be its greatest tool. Instead of imposing order on our experience, we stay curious about what’s happening today…letting it reveal what it will. We live close in and learn to accept the present moment on its own terms.
Ultimately, I think, we open to transformation by trusting the wisdom of those small experiences, by letting them do their work in us. Together they’re our entry points to healing the past and moving into unexpected possibilities.
Looking forward to sharing the journey,