Hangin’ Out in Limbo? – Here’s a Tool That Can Help
William Bridges put “limbo” smack in the middle of any process of transition in his classic (and truly deservedly so) Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.
Bridges found, in his research and in his own experience, that every beginning begins with an ending. He called the markers of that ending disorientation, disidentification, disenchantment, disengagement, dismantling. Big words for big experiences. Whether leaving singlehood to get married or leaving marriage through divorce, whether shifting from being perfectly healthy to being sick in a hospital or recovering our healthfully with a new appreciation for the miracle of being alive, whether leaving a home of 23 years on one side of the country to move to a completely new environment or just landing in a new landscape.
New beginnings begin with the significant disruption of an ending.
Most of us have been hit pretty hard by the disruption of our lives from the coronavirus pandemic. Many, many endings: schools and businesses closing, jobs laid off or cut off from in-person contact with customers and colleagues, sheltering-in-place – no more gatherings for weddings, funerals, graduations.
And we may have struggled with disorientation (what day is it today?) disidentification (I used to be important/needed) disenchantment (with contradictory directives or mis-information from leaders we need to trust) disengagement (from the connections and activities that kept us inspired and joyful) dismantling (of familiar schedules and routines). I would add disillusionment – of how things are “supposed” to be.
And now, as other countries or other parts of our own country begin to re-open schools and businesses, parks and beaches, there’s an uneasiness. So much of what was so normal, so taken for granted before, may have been abruptly and forever washed away. We may have deeply shifted how we relate the old/new conditions and circumstances, to the people around us, to our government.
We may not be bouncing back to what was as much as we’re required to bounce forward to what’s needed now. And it’s that limbo, up in the air, sea change, transitional time in between the endings and the glimmers of new beginnings that finds us hesitant, uncertain, uncomfortable with don’t know mind.
Bridges strongly encourages using the time of limbo, the neutral zone, the liminal space, as a time of reflecting, re-thinking, re-visioning, making room for making new choices for a new time. He does encourage taking time, not rushing into a new beginning, for that could too quickly turn into a patch-work re-do of the old. To trust the AFGO – another frickin’ growth opportunity – to create ourselves and our engagement with the world anew.
Bridges suggests journaling, daydreaming, spending alone time in nature or wilderness, to access the deeper wells of wisdom that might help shape the decisions and choices needing to be made to create a new, more workable future. (I would add long conversations with good friends, a therapist, a coach, a teacher, to spark the exploration and reflection.)
I have found myself turning once again to the tool of mind-mapping, which I use anytime I sense change is a comin’ and I want to move into that change from my own core values, strengths, and aspirations.
Exercise: Creating a Mind Map
Mind-mapping has been around for a long time. Here’s a link to a very modern version of it. I would suggest:
1. Collect one large sheet of blank paper and a set of colored pencils.
2. Identify one specific question or focus you would like to explore. “My Life after COVID-19” might be one example. “What I Hope Will Happen in the Rest of 2020” might be another. Even more traditional topics like “My Self” or “My Work” or “My Relationships” or “What Makes Me the Most Happy?” are excellent choices. (And this chosen focus may evolve over time as you create more mind maps.)
3. Draw one bubble in the center of the paper, title it whatever you have chosen to focus on, in whatever color you choose, in whatever shape you choose, however large or small you choose. (Trust me, your unconscious mind will be making some of these choices for you in subtly revealing ways.)
4. Begin to draw other bubbles representing related intentions and priorities all around the piece of paper, drawing them in many different shapes and colors around or branching off from the central topic. Don’t bother to figure anything out yet, just let your mind “play.” You can add or erase bubbles anytime you choose.
5. Let your mind play and connect the bubbles with various colors and shapes of lines.___, – – – – -, …….
6. Review your process a few times as you go along, creating space for anything you have overlooked to bubble up.
This process, connecting elements radiating out from a central idea, is a visual, natural, fun way for your brain to generate and organize information and ideas; the map easily shows the relationships of many elements to the whole. The visualization process can assist you in solving problems, making decisions, and planning next stages. Mind mapping has been shown to help people retain information like in a business meeting or college lecture; it also helps increase people’s creativity in discovering new ideas. You will use mind mapping here to generate insight into your own values, needs, intentions for new beginnings post-pandemic.
7. Set aside your map for 10-15 minutes, then return and observe. Begin to notice:
– What colors you have chosen for various elements of your map – Bright? Light? Dull? Dark?
– How simple or fanciful the shapes of the various bubbles are. Are you more drawn to some shapes than others?
– Where are the bubbles in relationship to each other? What’s close to the center and what’s far away?
– How strong or weak are the lines that connect the bubbles to each other? Are some bubbles connected to almost all of the other bubbles, some to none?
8. Simply let your mind percolate on your map, noticing especially any new insights that some elements of your life, work, relationships, etc., are more important to you than you thought. Or less. Or didn’t make it onto the map at all.
Tony Buzan, one of the early popularizers of mind mapping, suggested doing a mind map every morning, to clarify priorities before generating any to-do lists. I create a mind map about every three months, just to make sure the life I’m living is coming from the life I aspire to live.
Blaise Pascal used to mark with charcoal the walls of his playroom, seeking a means of making a circle perfectly round and a triangle whose sides and angle were all equal. He discovered these things for himself and then began to seek the relationship which existed between them. He did not know any mathematical terms and so he made up his own. Using these names he made axioms and finally developed perfect demonstrations, until he had come to the thirty-second proposition of Euclid.
– C. M. Cox