Time to Sacrifice the Queen: Transition and Transformation

I first came to Wales at exactly this time of the year, when the countryside was at its most luscious, verdant green.  Though somewhat overcast, it was hot, very hot, as it can be in late May. I had rented a car at Heathrow, having just got off the 10 ½ hour overnight flight from Los Angeles.  I drove all the way to west Wales without stopping, mostly because I didn’t know how to negotiate the roundabouts should I leave the M4.    On the last lap of this odyssey of a voyage, when I had finally ventured onto the A road taking me to my destination, and hoping for a short cut, I turned down a tiny unmarked road, a lane really, lined with tall hedgerows on either side. I realised that I had probably taken a wrong turn and in my attempt to turn the rental car around I realised I didn’t know how to put it in reverse. So there I was, in my car, half way turned, stuck across the road.  The intimacy, the very smallness of the lane, made me less worried than I might have been. Two women came along eventually, in a four wheel drive. They had obviously just done their grocery shopping and I felt just a hint of reassurance in the familiar sight of grocery store shopping bags piled up in the back.  Both of them got out, dressed in shorts and small tops. ‘Where are you from?’ one of them asked, noting my black long sleeved silk tee shirt, leather skirt and tights.  ‘San Diego’ I responded.   ‘Dear God you must be hot,’ the other said.  ‘Well, it was a lot cooler in southern California when I left than it is here. . I’ve run into a bit of a problem as you can see. I can’t seem to put the car in reverse,’ I remarked a bit sheepishly.  One of them got into the car, positioned herself behind the wheel, jiggled the stick a little and instantly the car reversed.  She showed me the trick. They wished me well and we all went on our various ways. 

How grateful I was to these kind women, part of a global sisterhood, who, in their matter of fact way, took charge, solved the problem, without flap or judgement. Their generosity took on for me a symbolic meaning, a trust that a helper, a guide, an ally with slightly greater wisdom will emerge during the most arduous part of the journey.  I was in transition.  Life changes had dared me, compelled me to step outside my familiar life, to test my metal, to leap into the unfamiliar. It was a time of anguish, loss and utter disorientation.  I was desperate. So I left a career, a reputation, a community, a life behind.  I sacrificed the queen. 

 There is a story in the chess world, about one of the most famous moves of all time made during an international competition by a player called Frank Marshall.  He was under serious attack and it was thought he would move his most important offensive piece, the queen, to safety. Instead, he sacrificed the queen, an unthinkable move, to be made in the most desperate of circumstances. Ultimately, this turned out to be a brilliant move and his opponent conceded the game. What is important and relevant is not that he won. The learning is that Frank was able to suspend standard thinking long enough to consider such a bold move.  He took an imaginative risk, based on his judgement and his judgement alone.  I didn’t know what was ahead of me, but in this liminal state of transition, this freefall place, I was willing to place myself in a cauldron of transformation to learn what I really was and who I could be.

Of course, not everyone can take such a leap of external change –of continent, country, culture, work and home during their stay in the zone of transition. Often, the transition is sparked by something entirely internal and we have to carry on in jobs and in life. It could be that you have already made a decision about something of which you are not quite aware nor is anyone else. This can make it all the more confusing and painful.  The neutral zone, as William Bridges calls this time of transition, is inevitably a period of internal waiting, of restlessness. It’s almost always a lonely time, of emptiness, uncertainty, and without a sense of something to hold onto. Former life seems to have lost its meaning. It is often an unfocused and unproductive time, a time when life feels stuck between the end of the past and the beginning of the future.

When you are in the zone of transition you are at the edge, the edge that we talk about and work with at Edgework, this zone between the known and the unknown. This is life’s most fertile time, life’s vein of gold. It is the source of growth, creativity, transformation.  What can you do to make the most of this time of repair and recharging, rebirth and renewal? Patience and curiosity have been among my most reliable allies, as they can be for you.

  • Embed the intention – I will learn from this.  This has probably been the single most sustaining thing I have done for myself. At the time, I had no idea what the learning would be, nor perhaps will you, but setting the intention offers a sense of continuity, a reassurance that there is a future to which I will take this learning.
  • Write.   Keep a journal in which you create a living log of your neutral zone experiences. You can capture the tone of a day or a week that goes beyond the usual daily routines. What’s large in your awareness right now? What is its shape and size? Tastes, textures, smells? What are your hopes? What are your dreams both in sleep and awake. What synchronicities show up? Draw a picture of your world right now.
  • Write an autobiography.  I worked through much of Ira Progoff’s book ‘At a Journal Workshop’.  It was immensely helpful for me to identify patterns, to evoke buried thoughts, feelings, longings. The very act of writing, made these real and helped me reclaim myself.
  • Acknowledge what you really want. Consider directly if you can, what you really want without the inevitable ambivalence, guilt, injunctions and expectations from the world around us. Ask yourself the question: how do I know what I really want?
  • Find some time to be alone. You don’t have to move across the world, to a remote region of West Wales. An hour, carved out of the day, that you can count on, an hour when you are allowed to be the self that is in transition, can be very soothing.  
  • Try something, anything new. Something you and you alone have chosen. This won’t necessarily move mountains, at least not right away, but the ripple effects are real.

Finally, I share with you this piece that came across my desk many years ago. I don’t know who the author is but I have kept it with me all this time and it has always inspired me. I hope it will inspire you too.

Fear of Transformation

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments of my life, I’m hurtling across the space between trapeze bars. 

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment.  It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (o not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging towards me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.  Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed by unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.  And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It is called transition.  I have come to believe that is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing”, a no-place between places. Sure, the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too. But the void in between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through s fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.  Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives our incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored.  Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to ‘hang-out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying, it can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.  (Source: Anonymous)

Warmest wishes,



Bridges, W. (1996) Transitions. London: Nicholas-Brealey

Progoff, I (1975) At a Journal Workshop