When you’re in transition, you may feel very, very uncomfortable. Whether you’ve lost or left a job, become a new mother, buried a loved one, divorced a spouse, found yourself with an empty nest, or been diagnosed with an illness, you’re likely to find yourself feeling constricted, at least at first.
You gut feels tight. Your heart hurts. You curl into a ball. You shrink. It’s like a mini-death.
You mourn the loss of your former self, letting go of your identity as Mrs. Such-and-Such, or the mother of [insert your child’s name], or the expert in [insert your job title here], or the healthy being you were before your illness. You must say goodbye to a part of yourself that will never be the same again. You are irrevocably changed -- whether you like it or not.
And even if that change is a positive one, it’s likely to hurt.
The topic of our conversation was “Transitions,” and given that I’m in the midst of yet another transition, having just left my medical practice, I eagerly anticipated our gathering. Rachel’s words about the subject moved me so deeply I wanted to share what I took away from our meeting.
When we are in transition, we go on our own hero’s journey, of sorts. We start out in our usual state -- which may be simultaneously comfortable and miserable, as it is when a marriage is falling apart or you leave a job you hate. No matter how unhappy you are, at least it’s a known quantity. And many of us prefer a state of known unhappiness to something completely unknown that lies on the other side of a transition.
And so we often stay unhappy, choosing what we know over the mystery of the unknown. Until the pain of staying put exceeds the fear of the unknown. Or until we get pushed off the cliff against our will, as happens when someone dies, or we wind up with cancer, or someone divorces us.
When the crisis happens, we begin to transmute. Like the caterpillar becoming the butterfly, we must cocoon into a small place before expanding into whatever is next. We must squeeze through the narrow place in order to get to the other side, and being squished into someplace that small can hurt like the dickens.
It’s kind of like giving birth. When you’re a fetus, you swim happily around your home -- the womb -- until you’re close to your due date, when you start feeling tight and uncomfortable. There’s not much room for you anymore, so it’s time to leave your mother and enter the great big world -- perhaps life’s biggest transition.
Labor begins, probably against your will, and suddenly you are squished down into the birth canal. The entry into the pelvis isn’t so bad. You can still move your head from side to side and kick your legs around during labor -- until a certain point. And suddenly you find yourself in the narrowest part, the part that you must get beyond if you’re going to make it to the other side and begin your new life, the part where the walls around you are so tight you can barely move.
When faced with this narrow, squished place, you may be tempted to retreat in the opposite direction, back into the tight, uncomfortable place of the womb. But doing so would be counterproductive. Babies who go too far past their due date outgrow the life expectancy of the placenta, and the blood vessels that feed them shrivel up. Ultimately, if the baby isn’t born, it dies.
At some point, the inevitability of the forward movement is obvious. There is a point of no return, and you simply can’t go backwards, no matter how much you want to. So you have two choices: you can surrender into the narrow place and transition into what’s next, or you can get forever stuck in the small part, thwarting your destiny and ultimately, dying.
This happens to some people in transition. They never recover from losing a loved one. They can’t let go of love lost. They give up when they find out they are sick. They get stuck in the narrow place, without ever knowing there is this expansive new world on the other side.
Getting through the narrow place takes courage. You have to knowingly go someplace that hurts. You must face the great unknown with no promises of what lies on the other side.
But a gift lies in the process, a gift we may not recognize when we’re in the narrows. When you’re stuck in the narrow place, everything gets boiled down to its essence, and if you pay close attention, this is where you discover the thread of who you really are and what really matters to you.
When people face death, they talk about having their life flash before their eyes, and in that moment, many see the thread. They suddenly realize exactly what matters and why they’re here on earth. If they make it through the narrow place and avert death in that moment, they emerge reborn. Only now they hold a precious gift -- the thread.
When you’re in transition -- as I am now -- you have this opportunity to find your thread.
If you’re brave enough to make it through the narrow place, you’re certain to be rewarded. For on the other side, lies a whole new life. You will be reborn, but you will now hold a great gift. In your hands will lie the thread you discovered in the narrow place. You will know what matters. You will have boiled things down to their essence.
And the next time you find yourself in the narrow place -- since we all endure many transitions in our lives -- you will be able to hold that thread like a lifeline. You might even be able to inch yourself through that narrow place, hand over hand, to speed up the process, so you’re stuck in the narrow place less long.
And even when your world grows to be more expansive, such that you can spin and dance and cartwheel, you will still hold that thread.
And you will never again be lost.
Have you been to that narrow place? Have you found your thread? If you’re in the midst of a transition, I invite you to sign up for this free mini e-course. May it help you find your thread, so that you might find your way out of the darkness and into the light.
Finding my thread,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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