Transition and Transformation
Articles By Alexandra Hepburn
Let yourself be silently drawn By the stronger pull Of what you really love.
Changes, changes, changes — and on top of that, an accelerating rate of change! This is one of the favorite descriptions of the current state of affairs in our world. On an individual level, many people these days describe themselves as being "in transition." It's difficult to know whether, as the Buddhists tell us, life is inherently change, or something is really different about our times.
As a therapist and educator who works with people in transition, I have found it useful to make some distinctions among different kinds of change. Yes, life is full of change; life is flux. In this phenomenal world, everything that has a beginning has an end. This is especially true on the surface of things. Appearances change; the body changes; feelings and thoughts change. But to paraphrase Gregory Bateson, what are the changes that really make a difference?
We can have more or less of something, do something better or worse, feel happier or sadder; we grow older, learn more, forget more, and sometimes become wiser. But as we look beneath the surface, we find that many changes and transitions are more like rearranging the pieces on a game board than amending the rules of the game, or even shifting to a different game altogether. There's nothing wrong with rearranging pieces, but one may begin to find this ongoing process less than satisfying, and ultimately, it does not facilitate the kinds of fundamental changes that are needed if life is to survive and thrive on this planet.
This is where the notion of transformation comes in. This term, too, is glibly tossed around these days, but I want to make the case that true transformation involves radical, fundamental change. I think there are several senses in which this may be true.
The ultimate one is the transformation of self-realization, or awakening to the truth of our being, in which "the self becomes toast," as Ken Wilber puts it. There is a dying to what was before and a rebirth into the essence of being; rather than rearranging pieces or changing the game rules, the game is dropped altogether. This is a relatively rare type of transformation, but seems to be taking place more frequently; this awakening from the whole dream of consensus reality is clearly possible and available, and I know many who burn with a longing for it.
The second sense is a developmental one, and involves a shift to a level of consciousness that transcends and includes what went before. We may be familiar with this kind of deep-structure change taking place several times over childhood and adolescence — as adolescents, for instance, become capable of abstract and hypothetical thinking — but we may be less aware that numerous transformative shifts are also possible through adulthood.
Some of these may be described as taking place at a personal level, some at the transpersonal level, beyond the personal. This kind of developmental change involves a process of dying to an old identity and meaning-structure (dis-identifying) and re-identifying with a new structure of consciousness that includes a new self-definition, a new worldview, and a new way of making meaning. Usually this takes places gradually over time, and like most births, involves some pain and grief as well as joy and celebration.
Finally, there is a kind of transformation that I call an expansion of aliveness. This refers to a radical increase in the use of human potential. We normally draw on so little of our possible resources: sensory and kinesthetic awareness, extrasensory and physical capacities, creativity, and more. These are sometimes referred to as "multiple intelligences," and Michael Murphy devotes a huge volume, The Future of the Body, to exploring the evolution of some of these capacities. In this kind of experience of opening and becoming more fully alive, we discover a different self living in a different world. There is still a player, but it is a whole new game.
It's important to see that these kinds of radical change processes do not just happen to individuals; always there is an interweaving of transformation in both self and world. Under normal circumstances, we tend to be so absorbed in our own personal dramas that we overlook the reality that self and world are always interwoven. Transformation brings this truth from the background to the foreground, because when we undergo transformation, it involves giving birth to a new self living in a new world We see the world differently, and in Annie Dillard's words, "The gift of seeing is the pearl of great price."
We may not understand the ultimate mystery of how transformations occur, but we may contribute to — and cooperate in — their emergence. This is one of the most exciting arenas for exploration in our time. Through conscious, integral education and counseling, offering both support and challenge, we open up new possibilities and realities for others, for ourselves, and for the world. This is profound work, work of the heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.
These words are an invitation to consider what lies deeper than the onward rush of superficial changes. Change is always with us, but with some maturity and wisdom (which is not a product of years) — and if we are lucky — we are no longer satisfied with the surface of things. We are called to go deeper, to let go of the old and familiar forms and surrender to the deeper tides of transformation that have their source in the Mystery and pull us home.
Alexandra Hepburn, Ph.D., founder of Tahoma School of Transformative Studies, is an educator, counselor, and hypnotherapist whose work focuses on spirituality and psychology. Her practice is located in Edmonds and in the Green Lake area. She has taught at the graduate and undergraduate level for over 12 years, and has also had extensive experience in hospice and bereavement work.
Keywords: Transition and Transformation, expansion of aliveness, Alexandra Hepburn, intuitive, Intuition, Articles, UK, South Africa, Cape Town