When I went on vacation by myself, I had a lot of time to reflect on the past year. I’ve been busy. I sold a house, left a city that I had come to love, changed jobs and started a new life here. Lots of things haven’t turned out like I’d hoped, and, before I left, I felt really aggravated about that. I felt let down, betrayed, tricked and demoralized. In a nutshell, I felt really, really afraid. And, when I feel fear, I prefer to let myself be angry because it feels less vulnerable. At least if I’m angry I’m doing something. At least if I’m angry, I feel like I have some power to squash something or make a change. But, what I’m really doing is covering up my fear. I was telling my brother about my fear when I finally let myself sink into it, and he brought out one of my favorite books Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I laughed. “I know … I know, ” I told him. But, I don’t even know what ‘it’ is anyway.
So, when I went on vacation, I thought a lot about the prior year … and the year before that. I had come to a point in Memphis where I was ready for something new. So, when this job and the opportunity to relocate came along, I jumped at it. I didn’t really take a lot of time to look at it, I just thought this was the something ‘new’ presenting itself. Perhaps it was just a distraction. I’ve begun to think that I’m in a transition phase in my life … one much bigger than a new job. Funny how jobs and careers can distract us from what is really going on, isn’t it? I settled down a lot after I realized what was really going on. Although a transition is a big thing, it’s nothing to panic over. A) It’s going to take awhile, and I don’t have the energy for a long-term panic and B) reflection and quiet are what I need now.
I picked up some books at the library yesterday. One was mildly helpful. But, I found one called The Time Between Dreams that I have been devouring all afternoon. I’m almost done with it, and I didn’t start it until noon. I can’t put it down. But my head is so full of insights, I need to stop to process some of it. The author Carol Vecchio writes about transitions in life in the context of the seasons. She also gives a lot of background information to back up transitions as a cycle rather than a linear path. Our culture is one of the only ones that sees growth as a ladder … you keep moving up … and up …. and up until you reach the goal. If you get sidetracked or have to back track, there’s a problem. But other cultures see all transitions as circles or cycles. You’ll have to read the book to understand more because she says it a lot better than I can. Her descriptions of the seasons describe exactly what I’ve experienced when I’ve gone through transitions – personal, spiritual or career-related.
Basically, she says the building phase and the high-energy phase of starting something new is the summer. When that situation no longer fits – maybe we’ve outgrown it or completed it – we fight the change, and the season of fighting or denial is fall. When we finally accept that we need to change or somebody decides for us, that in-between stage is called winter. It is during winter when the old is no more, and the new is still unknown. Spring is that time when new ideas start to percolate, and we start germinating our next growth cycle. This makes so much sense to me. I think I was in the fall stage when I decided to leave Memphis but took what she calls a Quick Fix and tried to jump from fall into a new summer. It just doesn’t work. What I skipped was that whole scary period where I have to process the grief of losing what I had and the empty nothingness of not knowing what is next. I hate that part.
I’ve been here before. It was this very space … this in-between space – that I avoided like the plague after my second marriage. I stayed in fall fighting to keep what I had even though I really didn’t want it anymore. The relationship was dead and was quite literally abusive. I just did not want to go into that in-between place. I didn’t know how to do single. I didn’t want to know how to do single. So, I hung on until I had absolutely no other choice. And, fortunately when I set the boundary, he split and freed up my future. I was forced to face it.
So, here I am again. And, I’m not sure if it’s career-related, place-related, personal or some combination. I believe that everything is always internal, though. Any desire for external change is a result of an internal shift. Something in me has shifted enough that even the change of last year is not enough. I know that my writing has shifted me a great deal. I’ve put closure on so many things during the past two years. It’s like the writing hit the accelerator pedal on my path of getting through this fall period. I still fought it, but I haven’t fought it nearly as long as I have in the past. And, I haven’t been nearly as afraid. I’ve done this before.
I realized that this was a transition period when I started to isolate right before my vacation. I no longer had the energy to be social or desire to write. I wanted to be quiet. I actually wanted to grieve. I found myself crying a lot. Now, that I’ve read this book, I can also say that the depression I felt over the holidays and the irritability of the last few months is entirely related to this transition. She offers some great ways to get through the ‘seasons’ and to get through them without throwing your whole life in turmoil. I’m going to pay attention. If there’s one thing I learned in my last major transition, it’s that there is plenty of help out there. I just have to avail myself to it. Interestingly enough, she says we go through a major shift every 5-7 years. It’s amazing that we don’t get better at it if we do it that often. I know that I’ve often denied anything was happening inside me and pushed myself to continue on the same trajectory. Eventually something broke, and I had to shift anyway, but I would have gotten more out of the experience had I paid attention and done the work consciously.
I love metaphor, and the author Danaan Perry wrote a parable called The Parable of the Trapeze: Turning the Fear of Transformation into the Tranformation of Fear. I’ll share it with you below.
As it relates to ‘fall’:
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.
Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.
I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.
But every once in a while as I’m merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.
Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.
And then comes ‘winter’:
Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”
It’s called “transition.” I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.
I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a noplace between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?
NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.