This stage is one of the more challenging ones in the transition process. It usually follows the stage of Old Fulfillment, and is all about dealing with change — which many of us resist, avoid or delay. Even writing about it is more challenging , it gets right into the heart of taboo topics. Here goes…
Death and Re-Birth, and the space in-between, the Unknown are all part of this one stage. We often have a foot in each one of these pieces so it can feel incredibly overwhelming. It seems so much easier to stay in the previous stage of Old Fulfillment for as long as we possibly can. We stay because of the financial security, because it pays the bills, because it is comfortable and familiar. We stay even when it is stressful and affecting our mental and physical health. We stay for so many reasons.
What we might not realize is the tremendous potential for personal transformation that lies hidden within the dark folds of this stage. It requires work and sometimes that kind of personal growth work that feels too daunting and scary to pursue but it will take us into new places of self-awareness, confidence, vulnerability and personal leadership.
In the sub-stage of Death, the work is to recognize what is ending or dying: a dream, a role, a belief, an expectation, a core personal value, and/or a part of ourselves. It is here when we mourn and are tasked to acknowledge what we are letting go, shedding or releasing. Sometimes simply recognizing all the things that are changing can help us understand why we feel as much or as shitty as we do.
When we are faced with death and grief in a transition, what can be really difficult is when our family, culture and society discourage us from being open about it. It is hard to explore our loss and grief when we do not have permission to be in it and process it and instead are supposed to mask what we are thinking and feeling.
Before we can move into Rebirth, we have to go through The Unknown. It’s the part where we don’t know, where we ask ourselves “What’s next?” and “Who am I?” so naturally there is a lot of anxiety and un-rootedness here. It brings up our discomfort with not having answers, feeling lost, and not knowing the outcome. Is it any wonder that many of us stay with what is familiar and do not make a change? Learning to accept the uncertainty while not spinning off into the emptiness and anxiety is an ability, a skill, a kind of knowledge that deepens with each transition we experience and each time we face The Unknown.
Rebirth involves being able to see and believe that it is possible to create a new life and a new identity. Birthing — a new aspect of ourselves, a new core value, a new role, or a new identity — takes energy and hard work. It really is labour, we are giving birth to our new self. This requires beginning again, dealing with feeling incompetent sometimes, knowing that we will be asked to take risks, and in so doing, grow our confidence and courage. What can be better than living our life being true to ourselves?
Some things that can help:
It can help to balance out the dark intensity and overwhelm with lightness, comfort and kind self-care. Have a few things or habits that are easy, do-able and familiar: have your morning ritual of drinking coffee, make time for favourite leisure activities, wear your favourite clothes.
It can help to create and be creative when we are feeling lost and lossed: write, garden, cook, bake, play an instrument or your favourite music, dance, draw, make a film, take photographs, journal, make a collage, sculpt, make a mandala, etc.
It can help to clear new space for your new self: recycle, donate, give away, toss what you are ready to let go of. This happens in layers of readiness so do what you can, even if it means re-organizing a drawer or closet. It does not matter if you don’t use the empty space for a while, just having it creates space and energy for you to imagine and dream of new possibilities.
It can help to do things that are spiritually grounding and emotionally centering: spend time in nature, spend time with animals or pets (borrow one if necessary), connect with like-minded folks, read books that are spiritually meaningful.
It can help to be grateful for what we have during this stage when the focus can be on what we are losing. Louie Schwartzberg’s video “Gratitude” is a beautiful affirmation on appreciating Life.
It can help to surround yourself with positive, supportive friends and family members and to stay away from negative, energy-draining, judgmental people.
It can help to explore your experience of the Unknown. Go into it, see what is in there that scares you and learn about yourself in there.
And when you feel so stuck in grief that you can’t take steps towards self-care or to move forward, it can help to get support from a qualified professional. Qualified counsellors are available through many workplace Employee Assistance Programs or referrals for counselling can be made by your family physician.
The following is a list of books and resources that might be helpful as you transition through this stage of Death, The Unknown and Rebirth.
Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges, 2009
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, 2000
The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, 1990
Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend, by Valerie Estelle Frankel, 2010