The Terrain: Navigating the Transition
Midlife is a time of transition; a time when we are asked to put our mind in service to our heart. It’s a time to serve ourselves and the world by embracing what is ours to do, and stepping onto our dharma path. This type of transition is particularly challenging for those whose ego-mind has, until now, been firmly in charge. For many, the midlife transition is experienced as a breakdown. It is, however, a spiritual awakening, essential to living a fulfilling, healthy, authentic second half of life. Without this shift, we live in the shadow of what we could have become.
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. in her article Saying Yes to Change: The Anatomy of Spiritual Transformation, and Robert Brummet, in Finding Yourself in Transition: Using Life’s Changes for Spiritual Awakening, clearly articulate the three stages of this rocky terrain.
The first stage is the ending (or separation) from what once was: a job, career, marriage, home, healthy body, etc. Whether the separation was chosen or a surprise, whether it is experienced as “good” or “bad”, it signifies an ending of one aspect of life and the beginning of another. At this point, it is essential to acknowledge the ending or separation and grieve the loss.
The second stage is wandering through the void (or the wilderness, as Brummet calls it). During this period, we are in between. We have left the old, familiar life, but we have not yet been born into the new one. Borysenko calls this “dwelling in the threshold” or “surrendering to the unknown”. It’s a time for going inward, facing ourselves and our histories, and learning to trust in, and surrender to, something that is larger than us, but of which we are a part. It is a time of accepting ourselves and our gifts and allowing them to guide our way. The void is where we learn to cultivate faith and follow inner guidance.
The third stage is what Borysenko calls “the return” – a time of birthing and living our transformed self. It is the new beginning we have been longing for. During the previous two stages, we released beliefs, behaviors, people and places that no longer served us. The strengths and gifts (our dharma) we discovered in the second phase are integrated and offered to our community and the world. In this new beginning, we find ourselves in alignment with our dharma and with the larger whole.
We move through transitions numerous times during midlife, transforming all the aspects of our lives that do not serve us and our dharma path. The endings and beginnings come in waves. The essential changes are made on the inside first, and then reflected in the outer world through our career/vocation, relationships, and physical and emotional well-being. The goal is wholehearted, authentic living where our soul guides our outer expression.
p.s. This post was first published on the blog for Southwestern College.