Crossings:  Negotiating Change

Crossings:  Negotiating Change

Transition: Leaving the Known for the Unknown

To live is to come to what the Irish call the ‘thin places:’  the places between this world and the next, between what has been and what will be.  At such times, whether it is the first day of school, the start of a new relationship, the end of an old one, the beginning of a new career, or retirement (to name but a few), we feel much as one who immigrates to a new land.  We have come to a country where we do not know the customs, or reliably speak the language.  Nothing is familiar.  The places, the faces, have all changed.  None of our accustomed, usual ways of doing things hold us in good stead.  Like fish out of water, we flop uncontrollably, aware of our inability to breathe or to hold our own.

Culture Shock

Experts on geographical change call this experience of not knowing where we are ‘culture shock,’ and suggest that it results from a loss of the familiar cues that allow us to be more or less on ‘automatic pilot’ in our daily lives.  But we need not leave home to experience this sense of being somehow alien and displaced  –a stranger in a strange land.  We can feel as though we have crossed into foreign territory whenever we come to a place in our lives where our old ways of seeing and doing things become outmoded or obsolete.

Think of a time when you felt as if you crossed into foreign territory

What had you left behind? 

How did this feel?

What helped you regain a sense of ‘home’?


There is strong evidence that shocking events –whether a bus bearing down on us as we cross the street, the loss of a loved one, the leaving of a beloved home—all have the same predictable effects on our bodies.  Regardless of the initial trigger, the “fight or flight’ response that brings on such symptoms as sweaty palms, racing heart, poor sleep, gastric upset, dizziness, and fatigue happen primarily in response to an accumulation of stressors.  But it does not necessarily follow that the greater the change, the greater the shock.

Assets and Liabilities:  Much depends on what we bring along—our skills, strengths, resources, expectations, experience, and network of support.  As well as on what we leave behind – the excess baggage of outmoded thoughts, assumptions, beliefs, habits, or relationships that might weigh us down with anxiety, fear, shame or guilt.

To travel well, travel light.

Another way of putting this is that whether we are moving to a new home, a new job, or to a new phase or stage in our lives, we do best when we take the time to pack what we need and to leave the rest behind.  When we take the time to sort what to keep and what to let go of.

I experienced this in a rather literal way upon the death of my first husband at the end of 2001, when I had to move out of the company house where I had been living  overseas and returned home to the fourteen thousand pounds of household goods we had stored some five years earlier.  This included the twenty-three-year-old avocado green washer and dryer seldom visited by the Maytag repair man, the twenty-something year-old mattress that SHOULD have gone to the dump BEFORE we moved overseas, but somehow never made it there, and every check we had ever written since 1968.

It was enough to make me want to hide under my bed.  Except that there was already too much stuff under there!

As part of my sorting, I had four garage sales, endless shredding parties, and gave ‘door prizes’ to everyone who came to see me.  Finally there came a day when I could get the car in the garage and shut all the closet doors.  There was still plenty of ‘stuff’ lurking behind those doors, but a sense of ‘lightness’ was beginning to emerge.

Take a moment now to consider the extra baggage you’vebeen dragging around, and allow an image to form. If you had to describe it, would it look more like an overstuffed backpack or a set of mismatched luggage? 


If you took the time now to sort through your luggage, what might you toss?

Chris Rummer Copeland, Ph.D.

(You can find Chris’s blog at


Leave a Reply

One Comment
  1. Terry:

    Interesting perspective… have been at cross-roads many times in my life. Good, bad and mixed… mine have come in assorted colors, flavors and mostly accompanied by strong emotions.