A butterfly and pupas of different hanging on something

Lately, I feel as though I’m waking up from a deep sleep. There is a clear sense of something ending. At the same time, I don’t have a clear feeling or vision of where this is leading, which is both painful and exhilarating. The awareness of my attitudes regarding race and coming to terms with my responsibility is a major catalyst for this waking up, for this transition. I’m beginning to see and feel how I’ve avoided my personal discomfort and cultural pain in this area. Some deeply held assumptions, personally and culturally, are being challenged. Many are being shed.

I’m staying with this practice, the best I can; the practice of noticing what needs to be let go of. And I’m paying particular attention to what is ending. William Bridges in his book Transitions, which was first published in 2004, points out that transitions almost always begin with something ending. He highlights the importance of recognizing, owning, and appreciating these endings.

There’s something valuable about paying attention to our transitions. One way to think about transitions, leaning again on Bridge’s work, is that they involve three distinct parts:

  • Endings: something is ending, shedding, being let go of
  • Not knowing: there is a period of not knowing; a period of discovery
  • New beginnings: solutions, opportunities for change, and next steps begin to emerge

This framework can be useful with the many transitions we find ourselves in whether it involves changing roles or careers, engaging with loss and difficulty, navigating changes in important relationships, or any number of other transitions we or those around us are facing.

Recognizing and naming the process of transitioning can be helpful. It can also be supportive in facing and more effectively understanding and shifting our attitudes about things like racial justice, environmental justice, and climate change, motivating us to pay more attention, deepen our understanding, and take more effective action.

The practice of paying attention to endings, whether voluntary or involuntary, requires opening our hearts to what is instead of what is most desirable, comfortable, or convenient. It means staying with our discomfort, eliminating complacency, and seeing the harm that is being done by not letting go.

What transitions are you in, right now? What is ending and what needs to be let go of?

Practice #3 in my book, Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader, is Don’t Be An Expert. None of us are experts when it comes to transitions. Not knowing means being willing to deal with the fears, the emptiness, the lack of clarity, and the lack of a plan.

How do you stay engaged with the practice and the discomfort of not knowing? 

New beginnings can’t usually be rushed or forced, as much as we want to get to it. Somehow, solutions and changes begin to emerge. We may find that our hearts are larger and more resilient than we thought.

What is emerging for you during these most unusual times?

I’m moved by the work of James Baldwin and his insight on the importance of paying attention, of directly facing what needs to be let go of, and what needs to be changed. To quote Baldwin in The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (2010): “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

* P.S. Thanks to everyone who responded to my recent newsletter on Struggle and Progress. I have compiled some resources on racial justice here