Sometimes in life we have let go of what is familiar, without fully knowing what will come next, and live in an in-between place. It’s that time when we are moving from where we are now to where we want to be. It can be in between jobs, homes, relationships, goals, behaviors, feelings, or health issues, and it’s hard to leave what’s familiar and step into the unknown. This isn’t fun but it is necessary for our health on all levels. We might even feel like we are standing still, but we’re not – we’re in the in-between place and still moving forward.
This came home to me when I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma breast cancer, and I knew my life would never be the same. It was time for me to let go of what was familiar and embrace the unknown (easier said than done), which brought a steady flow of change in the form of in-between experiences. I chose to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction, so first there were three weeks between my diagnosis and my first surgery when I wondered if something more would be discovered during the operation. That was followed with time between 5 further surgeries, healing time between each surgery, and learning how to take care of my new breasts (we’re good friends now). It’s hard to prepare for the unknown and unsettling to live with it.
Living in between usually stirs up our emotions, and among the first to arrive are fear, apprehension, and anxiety. As soon as I received my cancer diagnosis, I went right into fear. I asked my Higher Power for something to hang onto and immediately came across the following quote from Parker Palmer: “I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears, for I have other places within myself from which to speak and act.” That became a well-used mantra. Then I read this written by Mark Nepo: “More than anything, fear blinds, and only by stepping without hesitation into the next inch of the unknown can we build confidence in the life we are about to live.” Mark Nepo understands cancer from personal experience. In working through our emotions we may feel like we are falling apart but it is in the falling apart that we are put back together again with new insights and clarity.
Letting go of the illusion of control goes with being in between. We can’t alter the timing of what is happening, or rush the process we are in. Trying to force change to happen quickly is just as ineffective and destructive as change that comes too late. Wisdom, knowledge, and clarity can’t be forced. We can’t gain perspective before the time is right. How our present circumstances will work into the larger scheme of life is not yet clear. Melody Beattie writes, “We can let go of our need to figure things out, to feel in control. Now is the time to be. To feel. To go through it. To allow things to happen. To learn. To let whatever is being worked out in us take its course. In hindsight we will know. Perspective will come in retrospect.”
One of my favorite authors, John O’Donohue, wrote an insightful poem on the interim period that I’d like to share with you.
FOR THE INTERIM PERIOD
When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,
No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of dark.
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out:
The way forward is still concealed to you.
The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.
You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.
Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
May you be granted the courage and vision
To work through passivity and self-pity
To see the beauty you can harvest
From the riches of this dark invitation.
May you learn to receive it graciously,
And promise to learn swiftly
That it may leave you newborn,
Willing to dedicate your time to birth.
Life is cyclical and, if we’re open to what each cycle brings, we can make the most of each time we enter living in between. If we are willing to dedicate our time to birth, then we can trust the process we are in. By trusting the process we become like a flower ready to blossom. Mark Nepo says this: “For the flower, it is fully open at each step of its blossoming. The simple rose, at each moment of its slow blossoming, is as open as it can be. The same is true of our lives. In each stage of our unfolding, we are as stretched as possible. For the human heart is quite slow to blossom.” Nature takes time and patience, but if we’re willing to let it unfold naturally, its full beauty can be seen. And, if we are patient with our own transformation, we will also see its full beauty. Living in between is a gifted time offering us more than we can imagine. Things will work out – all is well.
Until Next Time – Sylvia