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Life Transitions: How To Navigate The "In Between" Time

Nov 26, 2007
Have you ever been caught in the "in between" of a life transition? A time when instead of excitedly moving forward to your next chapter in life, you were stuck, confused, lost, and adrift?

Frustrating as it can be, this is a natural and normal part of life transition and you can learn to navigate this "in between" time with less trauma and more ease.

What's Going on?

A life transition is a passage from one phase, state or stage to another. Over the course of your life you'll experience many transitions, each one a process with something ending, a time "in between", and then a new beginning.

The ending can be triggered by events such as job loss, retirement, illness, death, divorce, "empty nest", and so on. Endings can also be initiated by a state of mind, by something inside us shifting, changing, falling away, or coming apart.

Eventually we find our way to a new beginning. Beginnings can take many forms: new relationships, projects, places, work, goals, passions, feelings, or self-image.

In between the ending and the new beginning is a gap, a space between what was and what will be. In his classic book "Transitions" William Bridges calls this the Neutral Zone. Susanne Braun Levine, author of "Inventing the Rest of Our Lives" calls it the Fertile Void. Whatever you call it, it is an important and often challenging phase of transition.

In our culture, the process of transition -- ending, in between, new beginning -- is seldom recognized or valued. This makes it harder to navigate our way through what is a natural, normal process. We think that we (and others) should just "get on with it!"

In the fall, a Japanese maple sheds its lacy leaves. Nothing you do will make new leaves appear before their time in the spring. So it is with our life transitions. They have their seasons and their phases. We can't force ourselves to be done grieving. We can't will ourselves to know what we want next. We can't make ourselves stop feeling empty or confused. What we can do is live our way through our transitions.

Living Through the "In Between"

The "in between" time seems to be the least understood part of transition. The pain of endings may be sharper but at least we expect pain with a loss.

The "in between" is more surprising.

When a chapter of your life is ending (whether by choice or circumstance), where the heck is the new chapter? Although something stirs in you to do something new, something different with your life, the next chapter not only has not begun, sometimes you don't even know what you want the next chapter to be!

Welcome to the "in between" time, the Neutral Zone, the Fertile Void.

Disturbing, frightening, and frustrating as it may be, there is much to be gained here. It's the chaos from which new beginnings will emerge and the foundation for self-renewal.

This Fertile Void offers a pause to listen to your life, to take stock, to see what really matters to you now. It is a precious chance to nurture yourself and to explore new possibilities. It is a time to re-evaluate and make new choices. It offers an opportunity to connect more deeply with your internal GPS that will guide you to your passions, heart's desires and true life path.

Your life can be transformed during this time.

Still, many of us struggle with the amorphous, empty, unsettled nature of the Neutral Zone. And when you don't realize that what you're experiencing is a normal, natural part of transition the struggle deepens.

In Your Life

Here are a few suggestions to ease your way through the Neutral Zone and make the most of this Fertile Void:

* Remember this is a natural part of transition. Feeling stuck, confused, lost, and uncertain is normal here. And although it may seem never-ending, it is temporary.

* Surrender. Stop resisting or struggling to escape it. Accept it and do your best to settle into the experience.

* Give yourself a regular time and place to be alone. Take forty-five minutes with a cup of coffee before the rest of the household wakes up, a quiet walk after lunch, or whatever else will get you away from your everyday distractions so you can tune into your inner guidance.

* Make extreme self-care a priority. Be kind, gentle, and nurturing towards yourself (get a massage, walk on the beach, take a hot bath, whatever works for you).

* Discover what you really want. Notice what you're curious about, what energizes you, what resonates with you and follow those clues. Nurture even a tiny flicker of interest. Ignore the voice that says your dreams are silly, impossible, or selfish.

* Savor the present moment. There will be a new chapter in your life eventually. In the meantime, don't miss what's in front of you. What joy, beauty, love is right here right now?

* Take a few days away. Okay, women, pick yourselves up off the floor! If this idea shocked you and seems impossible, all the more reason for it.

Create a quiet, simple time for yourself without books, magazines, TV, computer, agenda, schedule or any of your usual busyness. Just you (and perhaps your journal) living in the moment, connecting with yourself, and reflecting on your life, this transition, and what matters to you.

As Suzanne Braun Levine writes "The Fertile Void is the long, slow deep breath -- the gathering in of strength -- that precedes a daring leap into the unknown."

You are sowing the seeds for a wonderful next chapter in your life.

About the Author
Bonnie McFarland works with women at midlife who are bored, stuck, or restless and wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. Visit www.labellavia.com for her free e-book and ezine to create more pleasure, passion, and purpose in your life.
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