Transitions & Thresholds: Wisdom from the Closing of a Season
In my early 20s, I discovered John O'Donohue's various writings on transitions, thresholds and 'thin places'. Thank goodness for his ability to bring forth language about something so ineffable. He speaks/writes such clarity directly into the heart of the particular and unique experience of these spaces and places 'in between'; of the things and times that are 'neither this nor that,' and yet, are also not really 'both'; and of the moments when we have moved from where we were, and have not yet arrived at where we are going (and perhaps, haven't even made it to a marked pitstop along the winding road of the journey).
One of our greatest teachers, both of how subtle and graceful, as well as how fierce (and still graceful) transitions can be is Nature Herself, and in particular, Her seasons.
A lot of people are going through 'it' big right now - whatever 'it' is - and as I've sat with people, talked with people, been a listener for some and confided in others, one of the themes, threads and through-lines of so many peoples' stories and challenges right now is transitions and thresholds. More 'obvious' ones like moving homes; entering or leaving relationships of all kinds; family members, friends and/or pets dying; giving birth or being witness to new life in some explicit or implicit new way; feeling stuck in the midst of a huge project that has come too far to leave behind, and yet, doesn't seem to have traction to move forward. And other more subtle ones (though they often don't feel so subtle): "It feels like there's something 'more' I'm meant to be a part of or doing, and I don't know what it is" ... "My body/health is going through what feels like a total breakdown and restart, and right now, it seems to be getting way worse before it's getting any 'better', and I'm scared." ... "I'm stepping more fully into authentic community - leaning into trusting others more deeply and opting into belonging - and I don't quite know how to do that because I don't feel like I've ever been taught..."
It's not my way to cover over moments like these with 'frosting' or little quips like, "all you have to do is trust the process..." or "just send the situation into the Light..." For one, these are disrespectful and degrading to say to someone in the midst of something big, something with weight and density that they are really grappling with. And secondly, those kind of statements suck the Life right out of exactly the moments and opportunities we are being shown and invited to live inside of and through. And let's not be fooled, friends, nothing about what Mama Earth shows and teaches in deep-fall-leading-to-winter is about going into the Light; it's about uncovering our roots, going into the shadows and the underworld and being present in our darkness.
Thus, what I've been sharing are the practices I myself am doing this season.
One of my mentors and Founder of Shakti Rising - Shannon Thompson - recently reminded me that transitions are wrought with possibility: possibility for healing, grace, magic and more wholeness, as well as possibility for total chaos, breakdown and some level of tragedy. And let me be clear, the former is not void of discomfort or even big emotions like anger or grief. The difference, Shannon shares, is our orientation to the transition (of course, right?!). And in particular, she says that the number one difference between a grace-filled transition - again, even if it's still really challenging and filled with uncertainty - and a totally chaotic and destructive one, is completely dependent on our willingness and ability to be present through the whole thing. As soon as we start avoiding the discomfort thinking something like, "oh, if I just don't deal with the transition, maybe it won't happen"; trying to move through it 'faster and better'; or letting our minds go down the road of 'problem solving' or 'figuring something out', we are missing the whole point of the transition.
Do you think the trees spend the fall 'trying to figure out' how to not drop their leaves? Or animals who hibernate in winter curse the cold weather for having to work so hard to harvest and store food? Or the flowers and food in our gardens that die and go to seed spend this season 'wishing' they didn't have to die ... this year?
So, what to do? Practice presence. I mean, totally practice presence everywhere and as often as you can and remember ... AND, spend some extra time this season on your cushion. And I'm not even going to say 'on your mat' - even though I'm clearly a huge fan of yoga and believe in its power to transform - because there is something important to be said about this season and stillness ... sitting in stillness: you, yourself, your breath and the work of transitions, however it's showing up for you. And then expand your cushion-practices as the remedy in moments of discomfort and transition in your larger life. When you feel your body tightening, or your heart starting to race because you're nearing some threshold moment, affirm to yourself: "Okay, I may not know what's next; this feels very uncomfortable and uncertain; this is new ground and new territory and I feel like I don't have the perspectives, tools or skills yet to navigate this ... AND, my one real task, here, is to stay completely present and embodied through the whole darn thing..."
I have also been using these questions from John O'Donohue's writing on Thresholds from the book To Bless the Space Between Us (with an **added question from Shakti Rising's work re: remaining connected with our inner and outer/community resources while in transition):
At which threshold(s) am I now standing?
At this time in my life, what am I leaving?
Where am I about to enter?
What resources are uniquely available to me right now?**
What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold?
What gift would enable me to do it?
Finally, as you, and all of us, traverse the territory of transitions and thresholds during this transition from fall-to-winter, remind yourself you're not alone! Both in the sense of the ways so many of us humans are in the midst of wild and crazy transitions, and then also, look out your window or go on a walk, and notice how, if you can grow a slightly bigger perspective inside of yourself, your life is actually miraculously matching and mirroring exactly what the rest of All of Life is doing, too.
Blessings to you as you traverse this seasonal transition with both discomfort and grace, Bre