We’ve heard it, read it, or spoken versions of it: “The only Constant is Change”. Scholars disagree on the exact wording of the original, but know that a man named Heraclitus was probably the first to make this observation in his writings around 500 BCE. Let that sink in and nurture your spirit for a minute: we’ve been trying to figure out how to cope with Change for a really long time. It’s a natural and unavoidable part of the human experience, whether or not the changes feel good or bad. Some people thrive on and look forward to changes in their lives; but change brings uncertainty, apprehension and dis-ease to many others.
A certain kind of Change is particularly tricky for a lot of people; I’ll definitely include myself among those for whom Endings & New Beginnings are disruptive and distressing. In the past few years – maybe longer – the Endings in my life have felt like the freeway pileups we hear about, or are sometimes forced to bear witness to. Instead of twisted steel it’s more ‘emotional carnage’. One ending after another. A “domino effect’” of endings.
When Endings come fast and hard – regardless of whether or not they’re unexpected or anticipated on some subliminal level — they wreak havoc. An Ending may be the loss of a life, a job or lifestyle, a friendship, marriage or significant relationship. It can be a voluntary choice, or something imposed on us. Even in the most positive kinds of scenarios, Endings bring, among other things, the need to adapt to new feelings and circumstances. The crucial lesson we all learn about Endings is that there’s a process we must go through, at our own pace, in our own way, according to what feels right for us.
I often think about how, as I grow older, most aspects of Life get so much easier as a result of clarity and wiser perspective. Nevertheless, Change is always lurking. When I’m faced with something really big – an Ending that’s rocking my world and shaking me down to the soles of my feet – I gravitate to people who’ve survived such changes and “lived to tell The Tale”. I want to understand. I want to feel that All Will Be Well; that the Ending will always be followed by a New Beginning. I want proof, in the version of someone else’s story.
Author William Bridges and his book “Transitions” (2nd ed.) is my go-to. Not only does Bridges reassure with Here’s Why You Feel What You Feel, but he outlines the process of self-renewal without sugar-coating what has to happen. Most importantly for me, lately, is the knowledge that following a Big Life Change, the body, mind, heart and spirit need a period of quiet time known as the Neutral Zone. As an example: a friend and I were sharing stories recently about our love of dogs. She’d lost a beloved Huskie she’d had for 15 years and went into a months-long funk. Her adult kids immediately began urging her to get a new pup.
But Mary pushed-back; she needed time to process her loss. The Neutral Zone (Bridges) is a period of rest, and also preparation for a New Beginning. Even if an Ending feels more ‘positive’ than ‘negative’, it’s still disorienting: it involves detaching from Something That Was, preparing to embrace What Comes Next. And whatever comes next may not be clear at all, when we want and need it to be.
I’ve gotten used to Change in my life; I’ve accepted that all manner of Endings will continue. My heart is lifted by the New Beginnings I know will come when I’m ready. In this period of rest and renewal, I reflect on Bridges’ words about re-booting Hope: “To make a successful new beginning, it’s important to do more than simply persevere. It’s important to understand what it is within us that undermines our resolve and casts doubt on our plans.”