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What’s in a Word?

boy carrying a rucksack walking through a doorway into the light

boy carrying a rucksack walking through a doorway into the light

‘Threshold’ is a favourite of mine. A nice word, a great word! suggestive of a crossing point, a doorway on the horizon that I can gently amble towards – and step over – or take a running jump at and gleefully land on the other side of with a sense of triumph, dusting myself off a little before punching the air.

And take the word ‘transition’. I positively like the way I’ve seen a transition described as ‘akin to the move from day to night; if we follow it by the minute we cannot say, at any moment, that the day has ended and the night begun. Nevertheless, there comes a time when it is completely dark; it is night and we can contrast night and day’. Lovely.

Transitions and thresholds can then seem quite innocuous and inviting from these descriptions – no doubt sometimes they can be.

If you’ve ever experienced or are in throes of any kind of transition, (and who hasn’t?) you will know that the underbelly and beating heart of the experience is somewhat more complex and tricky. The living of a transition is always more than we could ever express in words. There’s a lot going on in our heads and hearts, not to mention our bodies. It’s demanding to stay awake to and be active in.

Name any consciously lived transition and with it – I stake my 54 years of lived experience on it – will come confusion, uncertainty, and variety of emotions, with more than a few threshold opportunities to be met or rejected along the way, decisions to be made or avoided, unpalatable things to recognise in ourselves and others. And the less we feel we are the initiators and navigators of our transitions the more likely it is to be, well, difficult.

You will define for yourself what a transition or threshold is for you and how much you are in charge of it. Each of us have our own story. I like to think in general terms of a transition as a process of change over time and the thresholds as the noticeable, sometimes sudden shifts in our understanding and the resulting felt impact on our behaviours, decisions and actions. Gateways to new ways of being.

Some transitions are inevitable and predictable, like growing older, but our responses to them vary enormously. Actively engaging with our process of transition allows us some opportunity to meet and shake hands with the parents/guardians of our own internal thresholds – “well hello rigid belief!” and shake hands with their close cousins “how are you doing, fear and shame?” (Name your own family members…) So no wonder the experience can be demanding and seemingly easier to ignore or work around.

Most probably we do know when we are in transition and what the transition is, like facing redundancy, moving to a different location, getting used to children leaving home, retirement, dealing with ill health, leaving a relationship – I know of lots of people currently in these kind of transitions.

There is some external recognition that these transitions are often difficult, but the internal experience is sometimes a lonely one.

Some transitions aren’t necessarily so easy to identify or in turn recognised. We may experience a loss of interest or engagement with something, some role (or someone) and know no more than we would like things to be different, we have a yearning for something unfulfilled. We may know what needs to change or we may not, we may be too fearful to allow ourselves to recognise it. We may worry how our preoccupations might look or sound to others. If we take notice, we know that something is in the offing, something new is being called for.

Whatever the context and content, what I do know is that at some time or another we all experience some choice points and some level of uncertainty about what we can or want to actively influence.

Questions inevitably arise about whether we have the energy for what might be needed, how we can get through something or how we can turn more of our wishes and desires into a manageable reality. And sometimes we may not be clear about what we want at all.

Change and transition, whether it is on its way and flirting with you, or has arrived and presented its calling card – welcome or uninvited – can be actively engaged with or not, given the attention it deserves or shifted to the bottom of the priority list.