The second stage of transformation is the one that I have consistently found to be the most challenging.
It's the space between the death of the old self-identity and birth of the newly transformed one. In this empty space in between, we can only see what the death of the first stage has brought us without having a clear idea of what the rebirth of the third stage may yet bring.
In his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges calls this phase the neutral zone. It is indeed a time of being stuck in neutral with no clear direction of where to go next, which is an uncomfortable place to be in the wake of the loss experienced in the death of phase one.
We are eager to move forward into something new, but that something new has yet to appear.
In my own experience, this phase felt very much like that of the caterpillar's transformation to a butterfly in the chrysalis. The caterpillar doesn't enter the chrysalis to make a few adjustments, like sprouting wings. Instead, the body of the caterpillar is completely melted down into a primordial goo from which the butterfly is then formed.
That primordial goo phase when the caterpillar is no more and the butterfly is not yet even beginning to take shape is exactly what this second phase of transformation feels like to me.
In my most recent journey through this transformation process, it often felt like my entire identity and understanding of life (including relationships, spirituality, religion, purpose, everything) had all melted away into puddle of goo. All that was left was my exposed heart that was now facing all of that pain and uncertainty raw and unprotected.
It was the most painful period I have ever known.
I found myself grasping at any possibility that even remotely seemed available. I tried in multiple ways to cram myself back into the self-identity that had died just to have some protection against the rawness of the total unknown. I relied much too heavily on other people's opinions of who I was (and who they thought I should be) because I could no longer see myself at all.
All of those things only prolonged the pain of this phase for me. It was not until I exhausted myself and collapsed that I began looking deeply inside for whatever might arise from within the primordial goo that I had become that I was able to begin truly seeing what was stirring and forming.
Even then, I would get small glimpses of the new self that seemed to be forming only to have those glimpses obscured again. Some days I thought I would be a pile of goo with an over-exposed, sensitive heart forever, but in time those glimpses became more frequent and more clear, and I eventually found myself moving into the third stage of re-birth.
In the process, I discovered that it was not about me finding or creating a re-birth of a new identity; it was about waiting to see what would emerge from within when it was ready. It really wasn't a process over which I had any control or direction, and it was only in giving it the space, time, and attention that it needed that it could unfold as it needed.
Our culture does not make this easy. Not only do we push ourselves to move on quickly to something new after a loss of any kind, others will also push us to be productive, move on, get back in the action, and keep doing. It's not easy to resist these internal and external messages to allow the fallow time needed for the new self we are becoming to fully emerge.
If you are in this second phase where your old self-identity has dissolved but no new self-identity has yet emerged, how can you give yourself the time and space needed to wait for that emergence?
What do you need to best guard your scared and hurting heart during the waiting from those who would push you to move faster?
How can you best watch for the little glimpses of what is trying to emerge so you recognize them as they come into being?