Sunday, April 21, 2013

Transitions (and homework)

I'm taking a course this term that has us reading from "Transitions" and "Managing Transitions" by William Bridges. To sum up these books in a brief synopsis, every experience and change throughout life starts with an ending, has you spending time in a transition period also known as "the neutral zone," and ends with the next new beginning. This cycle occurs continuously and concurrently with other changes all throughout our lives.

I'm about three quarters of the way through both of these books and so far they are great. I find that through the process of reading these books and participating in class assignments, I am looking at my life and recognizing the cycle of transitions that have occurred and also cycles that I am currently in. Thinking about transitions has also helped me recognize that changes come in all sizes and the transition process can last for varying amounts of time.

Over the weekend, my class was assigned homework--we had to write an essay in which we apply Bridges' transitions model to a transition in our lives that was especially meaningful to us. The parameters include having personal accounts relating to the different parts of the transition and also citing some quotations from our text. I thought working the quotes in would be a challenge, however once I started writing it was like the words and sentences were just cascading out of my brain and into my typing fingers. We had a 3-page maximum and I had to cut about a 1/2 page out. After the editing, this is what I came up with:

I remember clearly identifying that it was time for a change. I had settled into the dull monotony of my mundane life in Tampa, Florida, and felt unsatisfied. After taking a close look at my friends and family, I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to settle for life on their terms. The time for a change was right—I was an invincible 21-year old and I didn’t have any obligations holding me down. I felt restless and decided to alleviate the feeling by planning a trip around the United States. I had two other friends at the time that also embraced the spirit of adventure and made arrangements to join me, and our travel occurred during June through August of 1995. We purchased an Amtrak rail pass and loosely put together an itinerary based on places we were curious about and had heard were worth a visit. We planned to ride the rails in a large circle around the United States, however my new beginning was going to start at the end of my trip: New York City. Once there, I was planning on moving in with my cousin for an indefinite amount of time.

The Ending

What I didn’t realize at the time when I was planning this trip is that I was floundering through an ending. I was somewhat in a state of denial regarding a relationship that ended six months earlier. This was probably the most serious relationship I had been in so far and our grand love affair ended abruptly, without the telltale prior warning signs. It hit me out of the blue like a ton of bricks, and I had a hard time wrapping my head around how my life had turned upside down. The dissolving of our union thrust me into a mental place where every daily motion and interaction seemed hollow, unfulfilled and foreign. Activities that used to bring me joy didn’t hold the same luster anymore, and with each passing day I felt that I identified less and less with my daily routines.  I started scrutinizing my environment and just about everyone I knew either was a young parent, a criminal, or both. They did not have higher education aspirations or a sense of self-sufficiency, and I felt like an outlier. I felt driven to search for something I could not articulate; not satisfied with the status quo I felt that embarking on an adventure might relieve the feeling of confusion I was experiencing.

With regard to the five aspects of the natural ending experience, I was definitely experiencing most of these simultaneously. Looking back at where I was at that time, I had no idea who Bridges was or that people even experience transitions through life’s changes. I definitely experienced disenchantment in the 6-month space between the relationship break up and leaving home in Florida for good. I also had been disengaging from what was familiar and had been dismantling my old life and routines piece by piece. In “Transitions,” Bridges states, “In breaking your old connections to the world and taking apart the internal structures required by those connections, you also lose your old ways of defining yourself.” (Bridges pp. 115-116). I didn’t know who I was but I did know that what had been occurring wasn’t what I wanted going forward, and life up to that point had become unfulfilling.

The Neutral Zone

I have a vivid memory of the day in early June of 1995 when I closed the chapter on living in Tampa. It was a clear and warm morning; my buddy Neil came down to the train station to wish me “a happy rest of your life” and I think that’s what finally made the ending of leaving Florida a tangible reality.  I remember feeling a concrete disconnect from that environment as I watched the scenery pass by when train pulled out of the station. I had all of my worldly possessions in my backpack and had no idea what was going to happen next. I felt exhilarated at the prospect of pulling into strange towns and relying on maps and guides to navigate and meet short-term objectives. As we traveled to town after town, we had the opportunity to meet many new people and enjoy all kinds of unexpected experiences.

In chapter 6 of “Transitions,” Bridges states: “For many people, the experience of the neutral zone is essentially one of emptiness in which the old reality looks transparent and nothing feels solid anymore.” (Bridges p. 139). Bridges goes on to say two pages later, “[The second] reason for the gap between the old life and the new is that the process of disintegration and reintegration is the source of renewal.” (Bridges p. 141). Looking back at my personal transition occurring, the two-month gap between Florida and New York involved so much more then physical relocating.  I was on a physical journey to see the landscape of the land but also on a spiritual journey to figure out who I was, what I wanted and where I was going.

The New Beginning 

By mid-August, we pulled into Grand Central Station in New York City. All three of us were staying with my family for a couple of weeks however this was my final destination. When my traveling companions left New York, I stayed behind and started the next chapter in my life. I felt no negative anxiety, only excitement as I quickly settled into a new and wonderful routine.

Bridges states, “Genuine beginnings depend upon this kind of inner realignment rather than on external shifts, for it is when we are aligned with deep longings (the real wantings discussed in Chapter 5) that we become powerfully motivated.” (Bridges p. 163). I have first-hand experience with inner realignment driving an external shift. After all, it was a spark from within my spirit that initiated the desire to change how things were. This facilitated a need to change the current circumstances of my life but not knowing what I wanted or how I would achieve that.

Having the ability to go on an unscripted journey for an indefinite amount of time provided the setting and backdrop for internal changes that were inevitability coming. Being in a new physical space was the perfect vehicle to evolve into a more aware state of being. Looking back, I feel that it was easier to assimilate into a new beginning from a new environment. The new environment also made it easier to disassociate from the feelings of emptiness and ambivalence I had experienced in Florida and gave me a renewed sense of living. Living in New York provided some pretty great opportunities and I remember feeling a high degree of fulfillment. I am very glad that I took the initiative and had the courage to embark on the journey during the summer of 1995. I can honestly say that this transition has had a life-long impact on who I am and what my values are.

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