Making the changes in your life work for you.
How many transitions are you in the midst of right now? More often than not, when we're experiencing change in one area of our lives, there's a pretty good chance that things are shifting and moving in other places as well. Not Murphy's Law, but probably a first cousin. Even if you're keeping your head above water, I'll bet that there are all kinds of hidden gremlins (unmet needs, unresolved feelings, incomplete conversations) swimming around in the murky waters around you, waiting to grab hold when you least expect it. That's the nature of change.
And if you're a woman living in the 21st century, you're probably feeling pretty overworked and under-nourished to begin with. When the prospect of change looms with a mounting demand on your time and energy, it can simply put you over the edge.
So here's a radical notion: maybe change isn't all that bad. Maybe it can be a vital, sometimes even pleasurable, transformative process. I know, experts say we resist it. Most of us are intimidated by it. Some of us claim we thrive on it, but we're probably lying. Who really likes change? The truth is, when you let go of what no longer fits, the result is very often a change for the better. Maybe it can actually be a life affirming, spiritually directed experience that enlivens us and ultimately brings us more joy and satisfaction. What a concept!
Cycles of Change – the 3 "R's"
I think one of the first steps in taming the stress of CHANGE is to simply understand it better. In my book, Circle of One: The Art of Becoming a SELF-Centered Woman, I propose that change can be considered as a particularly fluid, though very predictable, three-step process; the process is fluid because the stages tend to interact, overlap, and repeat. It begins, ironically, with an ending, or "release". We must take time to reflect on what we're leaving behind, whether it's a relationship (as with a divorce), a way of life (becoming a new mother), or a special place (when we sell a beloved home). Both happy and challenging changes can trigger the transition cycle and it's important to acknowledge them all.
The next stage is a reassessment period, or "retreat". This is when the inner work is done, when what is to come can begin to reveal itself. With the loss of a loved one, it is when our deep grieving takes place. In ancient cultures, the value of this period was understood and the elders of the community prescribed rites of passage in the form of vision quests or solitary refuge. For women today, it can simply be a time of stillness, allowing our "wise self" to do its work in formulating what’s next.
Which brings us to the final stage -- the new beginning, or "rebirth". As we emerge from our retreat time, a number of things can happen. We might be paralyzed by fear … what if I'm not ready? What if this direction or person or job isn't the right one? Or maybe we're feeling overwhelmed at the possibilities available to us. Either way, things are moving again, and even if we veer off the path, it's all part of the discovery process.
Balancing the inner journey with the outer reality
Sometimes a life change starts from the inside. For instance, as you become increasingly dissatisfied with your job, an inner shift begins to happen. You examine more closely what's working and what's not. You begin to look at what else is out there and assess new opportunities. It's as if a new state of mind is developing in you. When that internal process reaches a critical point, you're then ready to make some external changes.
On the other hand, the inner transition can also be set in motion by some important life event. When my father died suddenly, it triggered a prolonged period of self-reflection (my "retreat" stage), which included examining the two closest relationships in my life -- with my husband and my mother. Peter and I started couples counseling and created some important shifts in our communication. I also initiated conversations with my mom that, even though we've always enjoyed a good relationship, took it to an even deeper level.
What about you? What inner and outer transitions have shown up in your life recently? Remember, whether you initiate a particular life change, or whether it comes flying in from left field, you can still count on moving through those 3 predictable stages: Release, Retreat and Rebirth. Let's take a look at some ways that you can navigate all of those phases more consciously, and keep firmly centered in your "circle of one", that innate core of wholeness and wisdom that lies within each one of us … yes, even you!
The four "S's" of change support
In my work with thousands of women over the years both as a Life Transition Coach and Interfaith Minister, I've developed my own little "change-support toolbox". Here are the basic components and I encourage you to add your own special ones to your unique toolkit:
In a society that continues to assign women the role of primary caregiver, the practice of embracing conscious self care is certainly a radical one for many of us. I like to think of it as a 4-legged throne – how will you take care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually during each of the 3 transition stages? Maybe you'll take a parenting course (mind), make a commitment to walk several days a week (body), plan a special girls' night out (heart) or commit to a simple meditation practice (spirit). Play with whatever feels most nurturing and supportive for replenishing yourself during this tender time.
Carving out sacred time and space just to center yourself is essential when you're on the verge or in the midst of a chaotic change cycle. Maybe it's simply closing your office door (or hiding out in the bathroom!) for five minutes, closing your eyes and taking some deep, cleansing breaths. Can you curl up in a favorite chair for 15 minutes and do some journaling? Or if you're really lucky, maybe you can create your own version of a vision quest … even if it's just a few hours in nearby woods.
Symbols are the language of the unconscious and creating simple rituals to release, ground, and/or celebrate enables us to anchor the changes we're experiencing in our deepest selves. Writing down my fears/blocks/negative patterns on an egg and smashing it is a favorite letting-go ceremony of mine. Or carving your dreams and wishes into a big candle and letting it light your way into the next stage is a unique way to keep your goals front and center. Thinking "rite-mindedly" is a fun and powerful way to ground all of the work and new awareness that arises in the transition process.
In the midst of an intense change cycle we too often get stuck in our heads. Activating our senses enables us to stay fully embodied in the process. Imbue a favorite piece of jewelry with a quality you most want to embrace (patience, trust, forgiveness) to create a special talisman or touchstone. Our sense of smell is directly connected to the limbic system, the seat of our emotions and memories – check out which essential oils work best for calming (chamomile) or alleviating depression (geranium). Color therapy works in the same way, and of course music can be used to motivate, sooth, or inspire, too. Do some research and experiment.
By practicing these 4 "S's", as well as understanding the very predictable stages of transition, you can bring a sense of SELF-centered power to life's big changes – whether you're having a baby or getting divorced, receiving a promotion or experiencing the loss of a partner, celebrating a child's graduation or your own. You may not always (or ever!) be able to slow down or stop the roller coaster of change in your life, but you can certainly learn tools to make the ride a little less scary.