In the Meantime: Coping With Life in Transition

In 2017, I started regularly writing in my journal. According to the article, Keeping A Journal Can Be Good For Your Health by F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W, writing in a journal can help you feel more grounded, manage stressful events and find clarity. At the end of the year, I read past entries. I notice how major life altering events lose power, over time. The circumstances did not change, but my perception about the issues and their effect on me were transformed. Somehow instead of being broken, I became stronger. What happened?  At a recent talk about being in the middle of change, author and Jungian analyst Dr. James Hollis, PhD shared a quote by Carl Jung that sheds insight on how we grow from unfortunate situations and manage our lives in transition: “We don’t as much solve our problems as we outgrow them. We add capabilities and experiences that eventually make us bigger than our problems.” How? Let’s discuss...

Life is an Adventure
In a previous blog post, I shared my admiration for Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Facesbecause of its concise narrative and explanation of the hero’s journey. My opinion is our lives are stories full of plot twists, trials, and triumphs. Our unique stories unfold through our relationships with ourselves, families, relatives and communities. We travel a thin line of factors within and beyond our control. Our ultimate goal is to develop a life overflowing with meaning, purpose, and peace of mind.

A major part of our journey is the adventure of moving from the known to the unknown. Whether you are moving to a new city, having a birthday, changing jobs, starting a relationship or ending one, we are constantly moving from what we have experienced to what we have not.

As social beings, we are made to be in relationships with others. Life is about change. The space of time between endings and beginnings can be traumatic. By nature, we do not like ambiguity. How do you handle the space of time after something has ended, but nothing has started to replace it? 

Dr. Hollis advised in his lecture, “In-Between Times: Something Gone, Something not yet” that we cope with the in-between times by paying attention to our inner thoughts and dreams. His perspective is what is right for us is already known by our soul. We already have the power. This concept is illustrated in The Wizard Of Oz: Dorothy already had the power to return home to Kansas. 

What are the ways we can connect with our inner self-knowledge?

In his book, Pathways to Bliss, Joseph Campbell suggests to follow Carl Jung’s example: “observe your dreams, observe your conscious choices, keep a journal, and see which images and stories surface and resurface”(Campbell, page 112). Per Dr. Hollis, “When we sit in silence, eventually it speaks. When we sit with darkness, it eventually illuminates” (2018).

Etymology: Remember
I love etymology, so I had an aha moment when I analyzed the word ‘remember’. The prefix ‘re’- means again. The base word ‘member’ means to be a part of something. So, when we ‘remember’, we reconnect with what already exists that for whatever reason we forgot or moved away from.  

Imagine a boat stationed at a loading dock. Over time, the rope that kept the boat connected to the station unraveled. The boat wondered off, taken away by the ocean waves and the flow of the wind. Eventually, the boat is miles off into the ocean and far from its beginning. The captain rescues the boat. It returns. After some time, the process repeats itself in different forms. 

In this metaphor, we are like boats and the trials we have in life are waves. Our captains are our community, spiritual practices, and our methods we use to reconnect us to ourselves. This process is inevitable and a part of growth. Getting lost is a part of being found. This happens no matter how focused you are in your life. We are constantly in a cycle of forgetting and remembering. This process transcends race, socioeconomic levels, and education: We all have our Dorothy moments: We get lost and have to find our way back home.

Strangers to Ourselves
Your closest stranger lives within you. In his book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, Timothy Wilson says, “There is a great deal about ourselves that we cannot know directly, even with the most painstaking introspecting” (Wilson, vii). This is because our unconscious mind operates out of view much like the operating system of a computer. I have often heard that one purpose in life is to ‘wake up’ to who we really are from the inside.

As children, we are given myths to live by from our relatives, teachers, communities and friends. These stories served us at the time and gave us a meaningful foundation. However, as we grow into ourselves, some stories no longer work in our new environment. As we grow, we add to our foundation to become active contributors to society. 

How Do We Meet Ourselves?
In his talk, James Hollis states that one way to reestablish a relationship with ourselves is to pay attention to that which we resonate with and gives us energy and inspiration. What we care about drives the choices we make. The process is natural, and cannot be forced. What is for us, feeds us; What is not for us, drains us. The inspirational energy is either there or it is not. Some teachers believe that “events in the environment can trigger goals and direct our behavior completely outside of our conscious awareness “(Wilson, 2002). Through self-reflection, writing in a journal, and meditation, we will see patterns in what triggers our emotional responses. Therein lies our true selves, our inner goals and aspirations.

These are examples:

·        Candace Lightner creates Mothers Against Drunk Driving after her 13-year old daughter is killed by a drunk driver. Through their tireless education programs and community awareness, they reduce the number of alcohol-related yearly deaths.

·        Edward Stanley Temple was the Head Women’s Track and Field Coach at Tennessee State University. He turned his concerns about the welfare of economically challenged African-American women into supporting and motivating the Tigerbelle teams. Wyomia Tyus, a Tigerbelle, won a gold medal in the 100 meters at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.

·        Deborah Bial, an educator and youth counselor, created the The Posse Foundation which provides scholarships and support for disadvantaged youth after she heard a youth say, “I would not have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me”.

Candace Lightner, Edward Stanley, and Deborah Bial responded to what resonated within and found a life purpose by providing opportunities for others.

Relationship Cycles: Beginning, Middle, End
Generally, transitions can progress like a three act play: 

Act I Beginning: a new experience. Joseph Campbell talks about the call to adventure. Something within us aches to be expressed. We go on a journey to discover ways to manifest our wants. Expectations are developed. A picture forms in our minds of what we hope our new adventure will mean to us.

Act II Middle: within the experience. You are immersed in a new environment. Gradually, illusions change places with reality. Trials are presented. You question trust and loyalty. An event occurs that causes major life altering decisions to be made.  

Act III End:  find meaning from the experience. The questions that presented itself in Act II are answered and resolved.  Now, you must decide what to do with the new information. You are forever changed from the lessons learned.  

A highest form of love is allowing people to be who they are. Others are not meant to change for us to make us happy or to fulfill a void. A very beautiful moment from a movie is when Jerry Maguire passionately tells his girlfriend, “You complete me.” Yes, it is a beautiful scene, but nobody can complete you. Healthy relationships are formed when people join together for mutual growth and support. Looking for your missing pieces to be fulfilled through someone else is not fair to yourself or the object of your desire. And, it never works. Self-love is an inside job.

Even within successful relationships, including friendships that last for decades, change still takes place. We constantly become different people. Sometimes when I read my journal entries, I do not recognize myself. I am not the same person I was yesterday, and will be a different person tomorrow.  What often remains constant are my values; our lives are a reflection of this truth.

How do we outgrow our problems?
We become ‘bigger than our problem' by acquiring wisdom. We connect with thought processes that broaden our understanding of the human condition. As a result, we increase our capacity to cope with triumphs and defeats. From our experiences, we recognize patterns in human behavior that prepare us for whatever occurs. We set healthy boundaries with others, and practice self-care and reflection. Doing this does not temper our joy, but it allows us to feel it more intensely by being present with what is.  

The first time I climbed a mountain, I remember my body aching. However, after practice and exercise, I no longer feel the same pain as before. I did not solve the problem: climbing a mountain is still an exercise in endurance. However, I built up resilience and perseverance through practice. My desire to climb the mountain was bigger than my dislike of pain. 

My favorite quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."

Endings Can Be Good:
Endings can lead to beautiful new beginnings. Often, we tend to dwell on what left instead of anticipating what is to come. Stories constantly begin and end; this is the cycle of life. We either go with the flow or be overwhelmed. Per Carl Jung, "What you resist, persists." A good narrative meets a peace-of-mind criterion, or the extent of having a story that allows you to look beyond personal circumstances and connect with a higher purpose (Wilson, 2000). Find a story that resonates with you, and find ways to live it. 

How do we serve a higher purpose?

1.       Self-care is imperative. You can only share with others what already exists within you.
2.       Volunteer-connect with a problem you are passionate about solving. 
3.       Write-spell out your goals and aspirations.
4.       Boundaries-establish healthy ways of communicating and giving to others. Help others,   but do not accept being used or disrespected.
5.       Find Your Tribe-connect with like-minded people who share similar goals.
6.       Unconditional Self-Love-whatever trials you experience, remember to love yourself unconditionally.

Find a Support Group:

Most people are recovering from some type of trauma. Whether it is dealing with an unhappy childhood, absent parents, clinical depression, or the death of the family pet. We all experience loss in various magnitudes. Having a support system is an important part of healing and recovery. Be willing to seek out help whether with trusted friends, support groups, or community organizations when confronting life changes that are too difficult to resolve alone.

In the article, 10 Ways to Make it Through Your Life's Transitions, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, suggests the following strategies to cope with life in transition:
  1. Appreciate the benefits of change: Use change to develop new ties, interests and hobbies. 
  2. Focus on the positive: Since now you know what does not work for you, you can focus on what does work. Take this time to reflect on what happened and not why. Sometimes the end of a situation is a sign of positive growth.
  3. Realize that change is inherent to life: When growth stops, decay begins. Be gentle with yourself. Cultivate empathy.  
Don’t Be Sad it is Over, Be Happy it Happened:
Not all relationships are meant to last forever. However, it does not mean that the experience was a waste of time. Surely, through the process, you gained knowledge about yourself, others and the human experience. 

Being in alignment with nature means that we are all connected to a higher purpose. Not everything is about us. If I have a picnic, of course I want sunshine. But what if my neighbor is experiencing a drought?  If we believe that everything is working for our best interest, then we can see that our transitions are here to help us grow to become the highest versions of ourselves.

The lyrics of the song, I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton, illustrate having a positive attitude of acceptance during transitions. The best attitude is to be grateful for the experience and to wish everyone, including yourself, the best-love. Then we can attract new beginnings. 



Wilson, T. (2002). Strangers to ourselves: discovering the adaptive unconscious. Cambridge, Massachusetts:The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Campbell, J. (2004). Pathways to bliss. Navoto, California: New World Library.

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