“In other times and places the person in transition left the village and went out into an unfamiliar stretch of forest or desert. There the person would remain for a time, removed from the old connections, bereft of the old identities, and stripped of the old reality. This was a time ‘between dreams’ in which the old chaos from the beginnings welled up and obliterated all forms. It was a place without a name – an empty space in the world and the lifetime within which a new sense of self could gestate.” (From Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges)
One of the problems with being in transition these days, particularly in a community setting such as a church, is that we have lost our sensitivity to the need for any gaps in the continuity of things. We immediately attempt to find ways of replacing any missing elements.
The breakdown of the old image of self, often uncovers a multitude of unsuspected kinds of awareness. The old consciousness-altering techniques used in rites of passage may not have created a different reality, but they may have enhanced the natural tendency to see and understand the world differently in the gap between one phase of life and the next.
The first function during this gap or in this neutral zone is surrender. As members of the church in transition, it is up to each individual to give in to the emptiness and stop struggling to escape it. The process of transformation is essentially a death and rebirth process rather than a mere mechanical modification. As Mircea Eliade has written, “for the archaic and traditional cultures, the symbolic return to chaos is indispensable to any new Creation;” Chaos is not a mess, but rather a state of pure energy to which the community returns for every new beginning.
The second function of the gap between the old and the new is the process of disintegration and reintegration which is the source of renewal. Not something we to want to hear! In keeping with our mechanistic bias, we have tried to make do with recharging and repair, imagining that renewal comes through fixing something defective or filling in something that is missing. The neutral zone is a gift of time – a time of relaxed deep breaths – the source of the self-renewal we seek.
The third function of the emptiness is simply to appreciate the stages of transition themselves. The neutral zone provides access to an angle of vision that can’t be sensed from anywhere else. Such vistas over a period of time produce wisdom.
Honor this time in your life together, it is a particularly rich time for insights.
A Transition Checklist
1. Take your time. We can’t rush change.
2. Create temporary structures while gathering ideas for new forms.
3. Don’t act for the sake of action.
4. Recognize why you are uncomfortable.
5. Take care of your individual selves & your corporate self in little ways.
6. Explore the other side of the change.
7. Talk to each other.
8. Discover what is waiting in the wings of your experience.
9. Use this time for a new kind of learning.
10. Notice that transition has a characteristic shape
(from William Bridges, Transitions)