stages of transtion

The Stages of Change

All life transitions happen in three stages. 

  • Preparation- A time of great planning and anxiety where the looming change is approaching and we are separating from our past perceptions of who we are.

  • Culminating Event- The moment of "In between" when we are neither here nor there. The experience during these times is very "here and now" oriented. We may feel overwhelmed like we can't find solid footing.

  • Acclimation- This is the "calm after the storm" where we slowly piece our selves back together. Grief can loom over this stage and thoughts of the past. However, it is also here that we settle into the new patterns of a new life.

Stages of Change Chart.jpg

The Art of Sacrament

Sacrament is traditionally explained by use of the definition given by St. Augustine of Hippo a Christian theologian who was instrumental in many of the formative ideas of the church through his writings in the 4th century. The definition is simple:

"Sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace"

Although it was expressed in a Christian context, I feel this definition can explain why ceremony and rites of passage are so important in all human experiencing. They are the both the evidence of and the facilitators of evolution.

Last month my husband and I celebrated a wedding anniversary with a vow renewal and a party for our friends and family. As I prepared for the event, I wondered why I had decided to celebrate this way.

The details of the event had become overwhelming, food, flowers, travel, schedules, iced tea! I could not remember why we didn't just go to Cancun or something. I mean who cared that we were renewing our vows. Why did it matter to anyone except for us? Why did I feel the need to create such a public display of our private life?

I know from the inside of my marriage how much love we have put in to our partnership. It is extremely hard and beautiful work. We have changed and grown so much together over the years and I am grateful to have a partner who is just as committed to development as I am. We are not the same people or the same relationship we were ten years ago.

By inviting our community to witness and honor our development with us, it becomes a hundred times more real. We are a hundred times more accountable to it. People can see how renewed we are and confirm that yes, it is real. 

The cool thing is when they see that we have grown, they also grow. They think about their relationships, their life ten years ago, the things they have to be grateful for, the challenges yet to come. In that way, our one sacrament shared could set in motion a domino effect of growth. 

Love is meant to be shared...and so is grief, so is joy, so is truth. 

If human beings horde those inner graces (experiences) by keeping transformation and learning private, it all just ends there.

The lesson of the change sits inside the heart like a seed in the earth. We have rites, ceremonies and sacraments because the light of community must shine on that seed in order to fulfill it. 

I argue that to fully receive the grace of the change, we must invite it to be both inward and outward; to become a sacrament.

The script is simple. Stand up in front of those you trust and say; "Look at me...I am different than I was".

Thus a grace is not just confined to one soul's evolution. Everyone who sees and says "Yes, you are", also grows. 

 

 

 

Get Behind Me, Satan

I had a powerful spiritual experience this past month in a group I was leading. It was a watercolor class, designed to allow the participants to relax and enjoy the free flowing fun of a simple medium. But I know, as much as any other teaching artist, that any time you invite people into a creative process you are also inviting something darker...more sinister. 

The course went as planned and all participants seemed to enjoy the activity. It wasn't until afterward that I realized something strange and powerful had happened. As we were cleaning up one of the older women in the class approached me. Her gentle energy instantly grabbed my attention.

"I just want to thank you." she said. 
I listened.
"I am going to say something the only way I know how and it is going to sound crazy.", she whispered.
I nodded.
"I have had this thing lately, this devil. It has been in my way and it has been telling me things; lies."
"go
on", I said.  
"Well, today when we started our class I thought there was no way I could do this, that whatever I made would be terrible. Then I realized it was the devil speaking to me and I told him to get out."
"Then what happened?"
"Well, I loved it. I am so proud of what I made", and she held up her artwork for me to see. 
I smiled at her "beautiful".
"It is. So, thank you for helping me get Satan behind me."
"Oh, I think you did that all on your own. I hope you start to banish him more often"
She smiled.
"He has no power here". 
She chuckled and gave my arm a squeeze.

"He sure doesn't"

Who knew that the strength and might of the very devil could be swayed by simply picking up a brush and dipping it in water!

 

Although I don't often think in terms of demons, I did know exactly what she was talking about. It is what I call the "inner critic", but has had many names throughout the ages. It is simply the part of ourselves (or our egos) that tries to stop us from being who we fully are. 

The devil's intentions are sometimes honorable. This part of us is just longing for survival, it wants to save us (or our egos) from annihilation. Sweet...kind of...because, most of the time we can keep it in check. Sometimes, however, our inner critic gets out of control. It starts working over time, day and night, stopping us in our tracks by letting us know how weak, undesirable, incapable, and unloved we are; lies!

It is in these instances that we must figure out a way to get the devil behind us. We must say "you have no power here" and let him slip out for a coffee break. Once he is no longer blocking our view, we can return to the light and see our own beauty.

 Similar watercolors

Similar watercolors

New Directions

I have decided to persue my LMFT license and to open a private therapy practice. This will be a long and expensive process, but I think it will ultimatly bring me more of the work I love.

It is a big transition for me and I am still in the planning stage. But it makes me wonder, what draws us to these transitions. I think we move towards a new phase of life when the old stuff is just not working for us any more.

I am reminded of that quote "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.".- Anis Nin (who is also just the best writer ever)

Is it always pain that pushes us out to newness? If so, what funny creatures we are...stubborn and yet so hopeful.

I will keep the website updated with test results, suppervission decissions, and new office details. In the meantime, let me know...what motivates you to grow? to take risks? to blossom?

Somethings Happening Here

Is it just me, or have you been having an intense summer as well? 

So much sorrow and anger has been afoot in the world.

I wonder what exactly is happening, and then I remember that in transitions there are three phases. I'll remind you of them.

The first is Preparation; in which our false beliefs and old ways begin to crumble. The second is what I call a "Culminating Event"; the moment that time stops and it becomes clear that everything has changed. The third is the Acclimation phase; when life re-assembles around us and we piece our concept of self back together forming something the same and yet new. 

These phases may take various lengths of time or energy but they are none the less present in any transition. Even in natural science we can see these phases. A caterpillar first eats a great deal, then builds a cocoon, then emerges from the chrysalis as butterfly. Trees conserve their nutrients as their leaves turn yellow, then they slumber naked through the cold, and finally awake with new green. 

As I spin through this tumultuous summer of my own life, in our country, and abroad; I am prompted to consider that perhaps these are the birth pangs, the yellow dead leaves, of a global transition.

If so, and if we are on the cusp of some big shift (and I hope we are) then my work tells me that this is the time to be finding firm ground and consciously building the future. What kind of world is passing away? And what new one do we long for? 

Although life seems in chaos, it can be a time of great revision and perhaps even hope. 

Are you also feeling this pain of Preparation? Will you stand with me in these Culminating Events? Are you ready to Acclimate by taking clear, brave steps towards a bright tomorrow?

I am not sure what those steps look like to you but, if you know where the best parts of you want to go next...please...go there.

By listening to, and taking action from, our core selves we will slowly begin to shape all this murder and rage into creativity and connection.

Death as Transition

Some of life's transitions are more filled with sorrow than others. Recently, I lost my father after a three year battle with cancer. He died at his home peacefully with my mom and me by his side. I watched him exhale his last breath, just as he watched me inhale my first breath. It was circular, and meaningful, and as beautiful as a death could possibly be.

Still, I am sad to find myself in this passageway between life with my father and life without him. 

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Death is a transition both for those dying and for those left behind.

I happen to believe there is life after life. I have no idea what it feels like or about any of the specifics, but I have learned that the amount of mater in the universe is fixed. It does not disappear, it breaks down and transmutes into a new form. So while whatever life he has found on the other side of this transition is beyond my comprehension, my belief that nothing truly ends has been of great comfort to me. 

Something else has been a comfort to me; my passion and interest in the art of transition. In my previous post on the birth of my son I broke down the three stages of transition as I conceptualize them; Preparation, Culminating Event, and Acclimation.

Sometimes the intellectualization of a life process helps us gain footing in an emotional sea. I would therefor like to take a second to breakdown my father's death into this same model. I can not know what it was like for him, and so I am not exploring his experience of the transition, but my own.

Preparation

Those of you who have experience with a terminal diagnosis know that it is very rare for doctors to give you any sort of solid prognosis. We live in a world very focused on keeping the terminally ill alive for as long as possible and no one wants to admit to a person that the time has come to say goodbye. In our case, multiple treatments were available and we started out fairly optimistic that one of them might cure his cancer entirely. However as time went on, it became clear that the treatments were making his quality of life much much worse. My dad, forever an entrepreneur, did not see it this way and kept on trying to heal. 

It was painful to watch his process. But in retrospect, it was a gift my father gave me...I was continually called to hope. It prepared me to practice hope even now, in the midst of despair. My dad never gave up. Even in those final hours on hospice care, he never said "goodbye". A large part of me wished he would, but now I realize it was simply not in his nature. He was not a quitter. 

However, in those years of fighting I was also quietly preparing for his death. I worked with death and dying as part of my graduate studies and I volunteered with hospice. I was getting ready to face the inevitable loss by moving towards and pushing myself to look deeply at my own beliefs. I also have to admit that I pulled away. I unknit my father from my daily life as a way of preparing for life without him. Although this is natural and I felt him simultaneously pull away from me, it is not something I am proud of. 

There was one other very important way in which I prepared. I had a baby. I wanted desperately for my father to feel his own importance and the continuation of his love. I would have wanted a baby anyway, but the desire for him to see his grandchild was deep and strong. His grandson, named after his family, was in his arms during his last lucid moments and that will forever be something I cherish. 

During the preparation phase of the transition my thoughts were on the future. I wondered "how long do we have?" and tried to make myself ready for what ever life might be like without my dad. It was about waiting and making the way for loss. Although it was a painful time, I am so grateful to have had it. So many people do not have long preparations when they experience loss.  

Culminating Event

The day he died I was present, in body and mind. I used techniques I had learned in my hospice work to make him more comfortable, I showed up in time to visit with him before he slipped into a comma, and I pushed back my fear so I could be with him in those not so pretty last moments. The whole time thinking "this is it", "wow...it is happening". 

Time stopped entirely and my mind was focused in the present moment, no where else

Acclimation

Here I am now...still getting used to the idea that he is gone. Kubler Ross's stages of grief abound and could probably applied to the acclimation period of any of life's transitions. (but that is another blog post).

As I move through my grief, I am caught off guard by tears now and then, but I am more surprised by my lack of tears. Life as a new mom is filled with distractions and even now I am cradling a sleeping baby as I write. 

Still, my theory of the stages of transition apply. My mind is in the past, I am overwhelmed with this new life, and my thoughts are "how do I do this...I am doing this". 

 

My life and my mother's life have transformed. My father has transformed, but in all of these stages I have felt his love. Even now that he is gone, the love he shared with me is not. That is a great gift, a great legacy of our relationship and throughout all the transitions in my life it will remain a constant. Love is the beating drum that drives us on through dark passageways to new life. 

 

A Life Transition in Three Parts

One of the biggest and most influential of all the life transitions is upon me. I have recently become a parent. My son was born earlier this month and being a new mother has filled my days and my nights. I am being radically transformed and learning first hand about the way transitions play out in our lives. 

I'd like to break down the process of life transitions in to three parts. I call them parts for the purpose of clarity, but it might be more appropriate to describe them as waves. That is how they feel. They wash over the circumstances of day to day life and move out the old while moving in the essential. We transform slowly as each subtle change shapes our life. Let me use my own experience as a way of explaining what I mean. 

The first part; Preparation. 

This is the wave of pregnancy in my case. For those getting married this first wave is the engagement and wedding planning. For those moving homes it is the search for a new place or the packing up. For those making a career change it is the daydream of something new. No matter what we might be going through, this first wave is the part of the life transition where we prepare.

During this time (be it short or long) our focus is on the future, on what will or might be. For me it was filled with personal reflection about what it means to "be a mom", buying baby supplies, and nesting. It reached it's peak in the last few weeks of pregnancy where it felt like my body and mind were about to burst with all the "what ifs" and excited energy.  

In this initial planning phase our lives start to subtly shift towards the new role we are about to play. The main words this wave fills us with are "be ready, it is coming" and of course..."wait". This is the perfect part of the life transition in which to seek guidance or coaching. The more conscious preparation we do now the better and easier our transition will be. 

The second part; Culminating Event

This is the moment we have been waiting for. It is the wedding day, the moving day, the resignation letter, the labor. It is the part of the transition where there is some sort of public or personal acknowledgment of the transition. We mark this moment as the moment things changed (when of course they have been changing all along). This is the time for ritual and ceremony.  

In this second part, time might seem funny. It may slow way down or speed up, but that is because our bodies and minds are working very hard to remember the events of the culminating event. Our focus is on the present moment. It is the point at which this whole thing feels like a "really big deal". As this culminating event washes rapidly through our lives it sweeps up all our energy. We are allowed to say "wow, this is really happening" and ..."here it is, my life is changing".

The Third Part; Acclimation

In this final phase of life transition things begin to settle. I am currently in this, as a postpartum mom and I wonder if it will take a full nine months on the other side of labor for my life to once again make sense. It really feels as though I am living a completely new life. I have fallen down the rabbit hole and here I am on the other side trying to acclimate to my new role as a mother. My focus is on the past and the integration of my expectations with the current reality. I am telling myself "you are doing this" and "this is what you wanted". 

Our emotions and thoughts may vary in these three waves of transition, but each of them has lessons to teach and gifts to offer. As we move through the passgeways of life, from one stage to another, gratitude is always waiting to be found on the other side. I could write so much more about each of these three parts and the way they play out in our various life transitions. But for now, I have a baby to feed and a new world to learn.