Transitions and Thresholds: What Comes After Change?

So many of my friends are in the midst of one transition or another, and in many ways, so am I, as I muse on how to set a healthy pace for this time in my life. As I ask friends (and strangers) how they see “the third thirty years” of life, I find myself drawn to images of openings, and closings—the picture of this gate, on the nearby property of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is a favorite such image.    

The gate

The gate

 In a way I’d not noticed, writing these notes to friends, is part of my own transition to a more engaged, but less hectic work life.  More connection, and a little less whirlwind.  And I’m enjoying the writing, immensely.  It does make my heart sing.  I am experiencing it as a way to be back in touch with people I care about after a long season of fast-paced work, full of blessings--but a season that has kept me from writing notes I longed to write people. Which as you can see, I am now doing.  

And it’s also a way to say “hello” to strangers, and to welcome them to this circle of dialogue, for whom I hope the notes may be of value.  

So for whatever reason transitions are on my mind. Images of gates.  Thresholds. Paths that curve and disappear into new territory.  

A fair amount of my musing shows up in the poetry that emerges in my journal entries during the early daily journal work—poems that then get combed out into poetry collections—(most recently in Simple Gifts)-- when I find the time—So I want to share one of those poems that is about transitions—and then point toward some resources I find helpful for thinking about transitions:


-from Stepping Stones, to be released Fall 2014, contact us to reserve a signed copy.

The skim of ice


The pale moon


To the west,

Dissolving in the

Light of day.

Where there’s no ice,

The surface of the creek

Shimmers as if alive—

We live these

Threshold moments

Between night and day—

Between November and

The cold to come—

Between all forms

Of this and that—

We are forever

Standing on

Some threshold, 

Looking out.

Judy Brown, November 30, 2012

Now about resources for such times: William Bridges whose work on transition came out of his own experience with change in his life, says that change is one thing.  Transition is something else.  Getting married is change. The birth of a child is a change.  A new job is a change. The loss of a loved one is a change.  Change happens in a moment.  On a particular day.  That’s why we recall anniversaries and birthdays.  

But the transition from the way life once was, to the new life, is a transition. And a transition is something more prolonged, more internal, less visible to the outward world, and not in our control.  It’s that transition season that Bridges defines as having three segments—the ending, the neutral zone, and the beginning.   No doubt you can imagine what he has in mind for the ending, and the beginning, each of which take their own sweet time (and you may want to explore his wise writing about each).  But it’s the neutral zone that comes as a surprise to most of us.

It’s this second stage, the in between time, that I find hardest to keep in mind and most important to remember. It has the most potential for our growth and creativity, if we can quell our panic (at feeling as if we are totally lost, and at sea—40 years in the wilderness some might say of it).  And it holds the greatest potential for creativity.  But whether we are in a transition of our own choosing (marriage, job change) or one that is thrust upon us (unemployment, loss of a loved one) the neutral zone has this unnerving “at sea” feel to it.  

Perhaps this is related to my earlier letter about arriving at the edge of all our plans—our plans didn’t include a time of being at sea.  We expected to leave the old life and arrive at the new.  But life has other plans for us.  And harnessing the possibilities, the energies and the creativity of the neutral zone can be a great gift to us. 

What are ways to do that? Some fairly simple processes help: meditative practices, journaling, art-work, long walks in nature—all of these, and similar can yield surprising insights, and can also center us and calm our anxieties at not having “arrived” in the new world yet. Certainly having patience with ourselves, and being kind to ourselves about wherever we find ourselves, is helpful.  It’s not a good time to urge ourselves to “just get on with it; get over it; get over yourself.”  Instead it’s a good time to “get in touch with it, to sit with it, and to get to know yourself”.  Beating up on yourself won’t make the neutral zone disappear; and it will make it harder for you to discover the great richness of that unavoidable season in the midst of transition.