Saturday, June 16, 2012

On Transitions

William Bridges'
Excellent Book

I’ve been thinking about transitions my entire life.  From the birth of the universe to the birth of my two daughters, transitions have meant that we see life come into existence, develop, change, grow and ultimately move on.  In terms of cosmological transition, with the Big Bang, we have a universe which is 14 billion years old and began from nothing other than the natural laws which are foundational and govern all matter, space and time.  Of course, I know my growing children slightly more intimately than I do, say Jupiter or some distant spiral galaxy. As they age and as I grow towards my own future and eventual non-existence, I can’t help thinking about what really unites our species and the universe is the process of transition. The process of transition is the way nature made all of us biologically and chemically. I conclude that we cannot escape, nor should be want to delay in any major way, our own psychological and physical transitions so long as we can be of sound mind and body when making such decisions.

My eldest child and I just spent three days at Boston University. She, like several thousand other children of parents in transition, will begin as a freshman at the school this September.  She has grown into a fine and beautiful young woman and I am so proud of her.  My younger daughter is just three years behind, and will be off on her own academic and life journey soon as well. She too, is an intelligent, vivacious and fine person. Their transitions impact my own transitions and choices as they move into full adulthood and I move closer to my own next phase of perception and reality.

One of the best books I’ve ever read about personal human transitions was actually entitled, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. This book in many ways changed my own life and perspective and I recommend it highly.  It is written by William Bridges. The stories, ideas and solutions the author provides those involved in life are startlingly accurate and surprisingly comforting.  Bridges notes for instance, that in order for a transition to happen, something must end, and then there is a neutral space where choices are made (for human choice free-will or something close to it) and finally the last phase is the time when something new begins.  This is true if we are changing jobs, partners, seeing children off to college (or welcoming them back when they can’t find a job) or in many aspects of our social, psychological and economic lives.

In the big picture of transition, nothingness had to end for the universe to come into existence. The transition to an oxygen atmosphere was needed to support and grow the myriad of life forms that have at times existed on and shared the plant. Millions of species evolved and then became extinct in order for our own accidental species to reach a level of consciousness. Our species learned how to communicate and also describe our cosmic and Earth-bound environment, as well as learn about our individual emotions and motives. Consciousness, language, our large brain and walking upright were all transitions from earlier non-, or lesser states of being. This has lead our species to create and embrace culture – with all its beautiful positives and harmful negatives over several millennia.

But our own species hangs by a thread and as primates we cannot forget that the end of humans will lead to a new beginning for some (or several) other species on the planet.  This is not a linear chain or a “Great Chain of Being” there is no higher purpose. We are part of the web of life that grows, withers, dies, and renews itself with every successive generation and which has done so unconsciously and without a deity to guide, interfere or operate the known universe.

As I proudly watch my daughter at College orientation, I see the transition process continue and I am ever so slightly (and somewhat secretly) jealous of the fact that she has more time than I do and will see much more of the world unfold in the future that I can or will. But this does not really bother me as I reframe and focus on the bigger picture. In fact, it actually fills me with joy to know that she will inherit a world and will be given opportunities and will make independent choices regarding her life and those who she will touch in the future.

So as I, we and the universe continue to transition some will ask a non answerable question, “What does it all mean?” This is why religion is so important to so many people. Religion offers answers, assures and comforts in ways that science cannot. Faith will respond, “You get to heaven and you go on if you lead a moral life,” science cannot make such claims.

This is because faith requires no evidence and relies on hope to manipulate emotions in those who believe or want to believe in fantastic stories and ancient ways of being. While science relies on what is describable and testable to make claims about reality. Heaven is not reality, it cannot be tested, measured or scrutinized, and thus it does not exist nor can be part of what we teach as science. Same goes for the god concept which has gone through many transitions as well - from animism, to polytheism to monotheism in multiple cultures.

In closing, please let me leave you with this very positive quote from William Bridges and thank you for reading this post. It has been as much about my own therapy as it is about sharing and building community amongst all of you out there is the virtual world.  Depending on how we individually view transition, this can be enchanting or scary and filled with negativity. Here is the quote:

Most people also create new situations in the present (or are brought to them by circumstance), new hopes for the future, and new ways to realize these hopes. The image for such a life is not an upward-trending diagonal of increasing achievement but a spiral of linked cycles – the completion of each leading to a new cycle of experience and activity based on a new dream.


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