Monday, December 28, 2015

Fertile Emptiness

In the last year my mantra has been ‘everything that has a beginning has an end.’ Sometimes I would turn it around and say, ‘in order to have beginnings, you must have endings.’
This gave me some peace, because it placed Arthur’s death in the nature of things, but I still felt myself floundering. I was focused on endings. All I could see was that everything in my life had ended. I felt a deep and profound emptiness.
Then I met a new friend a month ago, a very loving and compassionate woman named Kitty. When she heard me talk about what I am going through with Arthur’s death she recommended a book that had helped her in the past, called Transitions, by William Bridges. Kitty sent me a one-page synopsis she had made for herself. What really grabbed my attention was Mr. Bridges’ suggestion that transitions include a ‘period of fertile emptiness’ between an ending and a beginning.

Reading that phrase brought a flood of relief. I could see that I had been scared by my feelings of emptiness. I thought I felt that way because there was something wrong with me: I didn’t have enough close friends, or a ‘real’ job to distract me, or family living close. Reading that phrase allowed me to accept the emptiness: this is a fundamental aspect of the transition I am going through.
Many years ago Mr. Bridges was going through a transition in his own life; he had quit a job without a clear idea of what to do next. At this time he held his first ‘transition seminar.’ He discovered that endings and transitions take all kinds of forms. There was a woman in that first seminar who had just had a baby. She seemed out of place amongst all the people suffering from endings like divorce and job loss until they realized that this was her first baby and she was mourning the loss of the childfree relationship with her husband.
Mr. Bridges talks a lot about how traditional societies had rituals to help people cope with the transitions in life. Since our culture has lost these tools, we have to find our own way. But by recognizing the basic elements of those ancient rituals we can get an idea how to bring their essence into our lives.
Think for example of a standard ‘coming of age’ ritual. The young people are removed from their families—their childhood has ended. They spend time apart from the group, often alone in the wilderness. Then they return to the tribe, often with a new name—a new chapter of their life has begun. The section in the middle of the ritual—the time apart—is the crucial element in the story. This is when the young person has the visions that define the rest of their lives.
I can see how I had the assumption that beginnings grow immediately out of endings. Mr. Bridges suggests that this is one of the reasons so many in our culture have trouble with endings; we don’t know how to allow ourselves the space for emptiness. We’ve lost the concept, the wisdom, of fallow time. The ancient rituals allowed for a time out-of-time, an empty space, a fertile emptiness.
Mr. Bridges gives some suggestions to help you in the empty time. Among these are: find time to be alone; keep a journal of your feelings, dreams, thoughts, and/or unusual happenings; write an autobiography, which is a way to get a fresh perspective now that this ending has occurred; and do a private retreat.
This last week I have spent in solitude. I felt the dark days around the solstice calling me to be quiet. In this time of aloneness I sketched out an autobiography and I can feel its power, helping me understand who I am and where I’ve been, readying me to move into a new beginning.

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