Friday, March 11, 2011


A generation of people face depression, despair and meaninglessness as the full significance of the resource constraints of fossil fuels, water, land and food coupled with environmental degradation and overshoot of the global population become a loud noise that can no longer be ignored. This is trauma in the true psychological meaning of the word.  

Many of us will encounter failed attempts when our efforts of the past produce no viable results. In fact, we will experience a disconnect between the then and the now. We will see no light at the end of the tunnel. Filled with the emotionality of grieving, our anger and fear will motivate our choices, narrow our tolerance and send us searching for scapegoats. Many of us will become entrenched in magical thinking and condemn the unbelieving.

This one is a guide to the changes we are going through. Trying to make sense of it.

William Bridges has written a wonderful book called Transitions (with a name like Bridges it is only appropriate). Bridges divides transitions into three parts; endings, neutral zone, beginnings. He emphasizes that we must deal with endings to have healthy beginnings. According to Bridges there are four categories that encompass how we involve in the world. These are: engagement, identity, orientation, and enchantment. They weave together in our lives.

Engagement is the multiple ways we meet the world and the world meets us; our network of kin, friends, work mates, intimates, places, things. The inner aspect of this is our identity. Identity is the working image we form of our self through outer feedback and inner self-consciousness across time. Orientation is the interaction of engagement and identity giving us a social and physical sense in time and space. Enchantment is the cloth of engagement, identity and orientation with the threads that 'this is the way the world works' as the border.

Bridges describes four disturbances experienced during endings. These lead into the transition (neutral) zone. The fundamentals of who we are get disturbed. We experience disengagement, disidentification, disorientation, disenchantment. Experiencing any one of these evokes the others. Our relationship to ourself (identity), others and the world (engagement) have been our compass and map. When we give those up we become disoriented. We don't know how we belong. We don't know where we are going. Time speeds and stands still in strange ways.

Disenchantment is the core. Disenchantment brings a sense of futility. That all we have done is a lie, useless, without meaning. The survivor self will raise his head in rage or "poor me". The defenses will scream to be used. The emptiness of disengagement, disidentification, and disorientation pales next to the feeling of meaninglessness.
What each of these areas adds up to is our vision of reality. They are built on childhood injunctions, fixed false beliefs, family relationships, cultural coloration and societal directives. As they are challenged and as they disintegrate we are thrown into emotions. Fear, or its undifferentiated aspect panic, can seize us. Anger, or its undifferentiated aspect rage, can fire us and cloak other emotions giving a false sense of power. And of course sadness.

It is important not to confuse disenchantment with disillusionment. Jane marries Sam, he abuses her. She finally leaves and then marries Joe. He abuses her. She leaves and then marries Phil. Jane is trapped in her enchantment about how the world is, what she deserves, what relationships are, women’s place, etc. She is disillusioned in each case but not disenchanted as it is being defined here. (The difference between disillusionment and disenchantment is similar to “first order” and “second order” change in Watzlawick,P.; Weakland, J; and Risch, R. 1974. Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. Norton. N.Y.)

Not all change is devastating. Moving from a negative position (say an abusive relationship or alcoholism) to a healthier lifestyle still evokes the need to know and reflect on the previous engagement, identity, orientation and enchantment. This process takes time and has its own steps. The most obvious is the lack of patience with those still contained in similar spaces.

This writing is focused on the changes forthcoming in the availability of energy and materials in our lifestyle. For some this is absolutely devastating and means the end of at least civilization or even humankind. For others this is the answer to the saving of the natural world. And of course there are the many shades in between.
On the other side of our transition, we will be engaged differently; we will fit ourselves newly into the web of our environment. We will be tender. It is important now as always to be gentle with ourselves.

On the other side of our transition, our basic core will still be ourselves. Yet the four aspects will be newly shaped. This time of transition it is very difficult because life does not stop. It is similar to at best trying to change the oil or the spark plugs in a car while driving at 60 mph down the road. So it is important to be gentle with ourselves.

We are talking about "making the river crossing". When we are on the ending or “old” side of the river, we can barely make out the other side through the fog. Where we are is familiar to us. It is the known. To cross, we take a raft. In the middle of the river, we can not see either side clearly. The raft becomes our focus. We examine its making. Perhaps, we question its soundness. We commit its structure, its smells, its sounds to memory. Once upon the other shore, we can see where we have been because the fog has lifted. The beginning is another reality. It is critical that once on the new shore that we don't carry the raft on our back. Adapted from the Philosophies of India. Heinrich Zimmer. edited by Joseph Campbell. World Publishing Co. 1951

This is simply a model. The map is not the territory. It does give some guidance and structure to a very human and very difficult process. It coupled with the awareness that most changes of any magnitude brings a grieving can help understanding. Naming is often the first step in deeper knowing.

by Portia Nelson
I walk, down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewald.
I fall in
I am lost . . . I am helpless
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in . . . it’s a habit.
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

1 comment:

  1. Real answers, Here. Gosh, thanks so much, John; so timely.

    Interesting too that you published this here on 3.11.11. as fukushima was overwhelmed.