The Timetable of Transitions

Transitions, like grief, have their own timetable. Despite one’s best efforts to rush along the difficult feelings and anxious thoughts, each person will traverse the terrain of transitions according to their own internal needs and rhythm. While major life transitions like getting married or becoming a parent usually follow a two year course (engagement to one year anniversary or pregnancy through baby’s first birthday), this time frame can vary dramatically depending on the deeper issues that are triggered during the transition.

For example, for many people the wedding transition releases deep-seated and formerly unconscious beliefs about love and marriage. If your parents divorced, it’s likely you will carry the belief that says, “Marriage never lasts.” If your parents had a seemingly perfect marriage (there’s no such thing, but it may have appeared that way to you), you may carry the belief that says, “My marriage will never live up to theirs.” You’re probably struggling with beliefs about the fantasy of love that everyone who grew up in Western culture carries. While a significant portion of these false beliefs can and should be addressed during the engagement, for many people the fears run so deep that they continue to need attention throughout the first year and beyond. I’ve italicized those last two words to emphasize that the one year anniversary isn’t a magic marker that sends a signal to the psyche saying, “Okay, it’s all over now. Time to tie up this transition with a nice neat bow and move on now.” You will need to attend to the beliefs for as long as they’re ruling your life, and for many people that extends way beyond the first year of marriage.

If you’re in the middle of a transition right now, I know it’s uncomfortable. I know you long for an answer to the question of, “When will this end?” Anxiety is miserable. Grief is difficult. Psyche longs for a definite timeframe, a hook of certainty on which to hang the highly uncomfortable hat of non-knowing. One of the hardest times of pregnancy, for example, is the last days and weeks when you’re waiting to go into labor and you long to know the answers to the questions, “When? How? Who?” Sadly, some women schedule a C-section to avoid this state of unknown, only to find that, while they managed to sidestep one element of uncertainty by landing on a definite date, the rest of the birth and the entire lifespan of motherhood are a cascade of one uncertainty after another.

Almost any state of suffering is manageable when you know how long it will last. In this sense, it’s the unknown more than the anxiety that creates the suffering. In other words, the anxiety, pain or struggle are exacerbated by the mind’s relentless question of, “When will this end?” Whenever I think about this topic, a poem by Emily Dickinson comes to mind:

If you were coming in the fall,

I’d brush the summer by

With half a smile and half a spurn

As housewives do a fly.


If I could see you in a year,

I’d wind the months in balls,

And put them each in separate drawers,

Until their time befalls.


If only centuries delayed,

I’d count them on my hand,

Subtracting till my fingers dropped

Into Van Dieman’s land.


If certain, when this life was out,

That yours and mine should be,

I’d toss it yonder like a rind,

And taste eternity.


But now, all ignorant of the length

Of time’s uncertain wing,

It goads me, like a goblin bee,

That will not state its sting.


The real freedom arrives when you release yourself from the grip of needing to know when it will end and instead start to develop tolerance for the challenges that you’re enduring. The practice is about focusing on this moment, then the next moment, then the next – taking one moment at a time and not allowing the mind to wonder how long it will last. It’s the practice that midwives and childbirth educators often suggest for managing labor: each contraction is just one minute long with a beginning, middle, and end. Then you have a break. If you can harness your mind into focusing on just this one minute, you can get through labor one moment at a time. The same is true for all transitions.

If you’re suffering through a transition right now – whether it’s a break up, the challenges of early motherhood, or a new job – here’s what I can tell you with 100% certainty: the intensity of this particular transition will end. If you approach this layer of anxiety, fear, and grief with consciousness and courage, it will move through and you will emerge on the other side feeling stronger and wiser than before. But… after spending some time in the calm of the eddy, another current will hit and you’ll be thrown back into the next spiral of challenge and discovery.

So the real question that arises during a transition is this (inspired by my wise friend, Carrie, during our recent interview for the upcoming Conscious Motherhood E-Course): What is your relationship to struggle? Do you resist it and fight it tooth and nail? Or are you working to face it head on and approach it from the perspective of growth and learning? As Carrie says, “It doesn’t really matter what the feelings are or the particular tools you use to address them. The question is: How do you meet the feelings?”

Life is change. As human beings, we naturally resist change and cling to what is familiar and comfortable. When we work to shift our mindset and approach change as an opportunity for growth, it carries the possibility for immense and far-reaching healing and transformation. This is the gold embedded in the challenge of change. This is a conscious transition.

12 comments to The Timetable of Transitions

  • KD

    I think there is something innate in all of us to seek stability/comfort… the world strives for order among chaos. However, we need to push through the muck to fully embrace what is better on the other side. The worst part is not knowing what that will entail and how long it will take to get there. I have faith that the messy journey will be worth it. Thank you.

  • Cori

    Hi Sheryl!

    So glad I visited the site today and read this. I havent been to the site in quite some time, as I have been anxiety free. But, like this article says, it has a tendency of coming back around. This wave of anxiety has really thrown me, I am so perplexed as to how I can be completely anxiety free one week and full of anxiety the next.

    I am seeing that when I hit a phase of needing to go inside myself, of closing up and becoming very quiet and needing time to myself (where do these phases come from?), the anxiety usually follows. I think this pattern comes from a deep false belief that if I am not wanting to be around my fiance, not wanting to talk to him very much, being quiet around him, not feeling those enormous feelings for him, then I must not love him and I shouldn’t be with him. I have the tools to fight this belief thanks to you! I am glad the anxiety comes back around, because without it I wouldnt be able to learn from it.

    Thanks Sheryl, needed to read this today!

  • What I love about both of your comments (which arrived at the exact same minute) is the acceptance of the mysterious messiness of life and even an appreciation for the anxiety! You’re both doing great and it’s great to hear from you.

  • Jill Rao

    This site used to have some excellent video blogs ? Do you intend to resume them at all ?
    Thank you.

    • Thank you – and yes, I do plan to resume them at some point. I’ve been putting all of my video energy into my Conscious Weddings E-Course and now my Conscious Motherhood E-Course, but once I complete this latest one I’ll post video blogs here.

  • KP

    This transition has been challenging me alot. I have never been through what I am experiencing now and how I wish I could stop all the fear and questioning. I love my fiance alot, but sometimes I look at him and wonder if I do. I know I do, but sometimes I just do not always feel it, because of all this over thinking. I wish I could go back to the carefree unquestioning self I was before we got engaged. Before we got engaged everything didn’t feel as much of a big deal as it does now. For example, he’s not a spontaneous dancer it never bothered me before, but now I think it means something. I get so mad with myself! Geeze! I want to be married and stop worrying and thinking, I just want us to just “be” again and be in Love and ENJOY our love and our great relationship. Will I will be able to love him forever ? How do people love one another forever? Sometimes my fear will just be there for no reason and steal away from our moments together. I really hate it. Though I feel fearful I am still moving forward with our wedding plans, I do not feel scared all the time, sometimes I am so overjoyed and feel blessed to have found the man I want to spend my life with. My question I ask myself is, how do you know the fear isn’t telling the truth? What makes you connect with love to remind you that your fears are not real? And why do we have these fears in the first place? I want to move forward and I want to marry my fiance, and I am so afraid to lose him and not be able to overcome this.

  • KP

    Sorry to continue this, but I am alos so afraid that I will or am falling out of love with him! I don’t think this is true but I am so afraid. Is this just a part of the transition?!

  • Yes, it’s part of the transition! Well, let me modify that and say it’s part of a conscious transition. I know it feels like hell right now, but trust me when I tell you that you will look back on this time in your life and feel grateful that you went through it. But you do need the right information and the right support, which you will find on the Conscious Weddings E-Course. Really, I can’t encourage you enough to do yourself a favor and purchase it. You have to ask yourself: what’s the cost of NOT addressing these feelings head on and learning effective tools for managing and healing your anxiety? Can you afford NOT to do this work? Every question you’re asking shows up repeatedly in the E-Course forum. It’s all normal, necessary and healthy – if you learn how to work with it effectively.

  • KD

    KP- I am so sorry you are going through this, but I will say that questioning is GOOD! Who would you be if you didn’t question it? It’s a huge step. And, it’s OK.

    What helped me, and was one of the first things Sheryl said to me, was to get to what is affecting me and my relationship now – not in the future, and not even in the past. What, right now, preventing you from embracing this next step? One by one, address each thing in your mind. I think you might just need to teach him how to dance spontaneously 🙂

  • SC

    Hello, I’m feeling some really strange things at the moment, my boyfriend proposed to me the other day and I accepted and I can safely say I am extatic, he is the loveliest guy in the world and completely swept me off my feet. The problem is I have started panicking about death, I know it sounds weird, it’s something I have a problem with generally but now I’m petrified that something terrible will happen to one of us…. reading your post hints that it’s a normal transition fear that I’m feeling, is it normal? I’m so embarassed about this, can’t share it with anyone… Also because neither of us have told our parents, I have only told my brother and I’m dying to share it with all my friends (which we will do this weekend) and I’m not sure maybe this is making it all worse too. Help 🙁

  • Actually, it doesn’t sound weird at all, which means you’ve found your way to the right place : ) The fear of death is actually at the core of transition anxiety, so you’re quite aligned with the natural feelings that are triggered during this time. The truth is that the moment you get engaged, you begin to undergo a death experience where your single self dies to make way for your married self to be born. I’ve written about this extensively in “The Conscious Bride” as well as in many articles on this site. Just click on the wedding tab under categories and you’ll find a lot of comfort. Keep me posted.

  • SC

    Oh wow, you know I have only read the lead article and already I feel a little better and less like I am losing my mind! My next step will be to buy your book. What can I say other than thank you for answering and thank you for existing! I will definitely keep you posted and look forward to reading everything on this site. Sxx

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