Neutral Zone – Phase 2 of Transitions

Confused! Rudderless! No sense of purpose! Can’t do (or remember) anything! That’s how the Neutral Zone feels. The neutral zone occurs after an ending, a letting go. Neutral zones run on their own time – one cannot predict when (or how) they will be replaced by a new beginning. However, neutral zones are absolutely required to have a successful transition – successfully leaving an old way of being behind and embracing a new one.

The neutral zone can be understood in 3 different ways. It can be a time of:

1. Emotional reorganization – one’s psyche is busy re-examining all past experiences, knowledge, feelings, etc., and trying to come up with a different way to organize them, because the old way of organizing, of “being”, is now gone. So most of one’s energy, or bandwidth in computer terms, is going to this reorganization. That means there is not as much available to focus on anything else.

2. Inner healing – healing from whatever loss was incurred in the letting go. The deeper the loss, the deeper the healing required.

3. Re-tooling – trying new things, developing new capabilities, getting ready for whatever new beginning will eventually occur.

All ancient cultures have stories of a hero(ine) leaving a place of certainty and going on a journey into the unknown – wandering through a wilderness, discovering friends and foes, learning who he/she is through those experiences. They eventually emerge as a more powerful being. Christian tradition contains two obvious examples of this: 1) Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness as he started his ministry, and 2) after Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday (ending), on Holy Saturday the disciples were utterly lost, not knowing what to do or where they would go (neutral zone). Jewish tradition has three: 1) Abraham leaving Ur and journeying to a new place (he didn’t know where), 2) Joseph being sold into Egypt and undergoing tribulation there, and 3) the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years after they leave Egypt.

One excellent analogy for the neutral zone is a lobster or crab – after they have outgrown their old shell and shed it, they hide under a rock for a few days until their new shell hardens. During that waiting period, they are much more vulnerable. That’s equally true of a person in the neutral zone – they are much more vulnerable. Here are 5 ideas for coping with being in the neutral zone:

1. Recognize that it is natural, and normal. I first learned about neutral zones when I was in the middle of one. I was so relieved to understand that this is a normal process for human growth.

2. Let go of as much expectation as possible – allow yourself time to wander, to wonder, to do nothing. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to be distracted. Pretend you’re taking a medication that warns “may cause drowsiness – do not operate heavy machinery”. Refrain, where possible, from making irrevocable large decisions.

3. Be gentle with yourself, and deliberately choose to be around people and in environments that will support you during this time. Likewise, intentionally avoid people and environments that require more than you can currently give.

4. Have the courage to remain in the neutral zone until the new beginning does occur (and yes, it does take courage). Think of other times in your life when you’ve been in a neutral zone, and remember that a new beginning occurred each time. Therefore, a new beginning will occur for this one as well. The neutral zone can be viewed as a faith journey. Trying to force the neutral zone to end before its time is naturally up can be very harmful.

a. One can try to go back to the “old way” – forsaking the growth and blessings that the new (as yet undiscovered) way will provide.

b. One can forcefully create a new beginning, but it won’t be the one that “should” occur, and it probably won’t work very well.

5. Journal, so you can learn from your journey and share your journey with others.

The motto for a neutral zone: “This, too, will pass. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

What additional ideas would you like to share with me? What has worked best for you when you’ve been in a neutral zone? What have you tried that didn’t work so well?

Next week’s blog: New Beginnings

Gary Langenwalter

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