Our lives are stories of change.


Change sets the coordinates on our life path. And the challenges we encounter along the way are often linked to tackling change – perhaps in our day-to-day habits, or at the deeper level of our identity and sources of meaning.


That’s why change is a great topic to explore with a coach or therapist. Even if you’re not initially framing a life challenge or burning issue in these terms, it’s always helpful to shine a light on what is changing, what needs to change – and especially, how are you relating to this change?


Our human tendency is to resist change in various ways. It can be uncomfortable or downright scary to move away from the familiar and into the unknown. Even when change promises improvements in our life, it often comes with a side-dish of disruption, loss and uncertainty, causing misgivings on some level.


Look closely at a family member, friend or public figure going through a difficult life transition (defined by William Bridges as “the psychological process of adapting to change”). It could involve a redundancy, relationship break-up, medical diagnosis or mid-life ageing process. It could be an adjustment to the lifestyle upheavals served up by the Covid-19 pandemic.


You will probably spot some behaviours that look like denial, distraction or attempts to take control. For instance, someone could minimise the experience, put on an armour of positive thinking and try to accelerate through the change process as quickly as possible. Or they might try to rewind the clock, or rewrite the narrative (e.g. with conspiracy theories), or bury themselves in work to evade painful feelings.


We often underestimate the real impact of change – how long the process really takes, how deep it goes into our psyche. The consequence: if we don’t give enough time, space and mindful attention to the big transitions in our lives, we won’t complete and integrate them properly. Instead, ironically, we’re likely to get stuck somewhere along the way. Or we can be doomed to circle for years through the same recurring experience. Incomplete transitions create extra baggage for us to carry, constraining our freedom, vitality and clarity as we try to progress through life.


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Although we can’t always control our experience of change, we can choose how we relate to our experience. This is what makes the difference; this is how we support ourselves (or our coaching clients) through difficult life transitions with more awareness, compassion and resilience.


I particularly like the guidance given by A.H. Almaas and his Diamond Approach – a rich resource that blends ancient spiritual wisdom with modern psychological understanding. It includes a course led by Diamond Approach teacher, John Davis: Life Transitions as Doorways to Transformation.


Life transitions are set out there as a three-stage experience, similar to other change models in anthropology (e.g. rites of passage) and in social/organisational psychology. The three stages don’t usually play out as a neat, linear structure. But they give some coherence to the process, helping us to make sense of it along the way. 


The added value of the Diamond Approach is its mindful tour through the transition experience – its moment-to-moment aliveness. It uses the practice of self-inquiry, repeatedly asking and observing “What is my experience right now? What am I feeling, thinking, sensing, believing?”, with a spirit of curiosity and allowance. The coach/therapist can help by holding a supportive space for this inquiry.


When we turn towards our present experience, simply staying with it rather than trying to resist, control or fix it, we’re able to move deeper into its reality. At some point, there’s a perceptible shift; a doorway is opened into our innate strength and wisdom.


The Diamond Approach unwraps a real gift. It understands the tricky terrain of the self-realisation path, which also accesses the different qualities of our ‘Essence’ (true Self). By mapping this path to the experiences we often encounter during life transitions, it helps us to deal with challenges as they crop up. We learn to recognise the typical inner obstacles and protective mechanisms that block positive change – and to summon the deep inner resources that can support our transition.


Seen like this, life transitions are a source of huge potential for growth. Although they can feel crisis-like at the time, we often look back and recast them as the most significant and enriching periods of our lives. 


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Below are the three stages of life transitions, based on a simplified version of the Diamond Approach’s model. I’ve also factored in my own experiences of working with people through change.


The summary includes: how to recognise each stage of transition; how to support yourself through this stage (and avoid some common pitfalls); and a few powerful self-inquiry questions to help deepen your experience and its ultimate value.


Stage One: Letting Go


“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.” André Gide


All about: Endings, separation, loss – of something we have loved or valued; of something that has been a source of identity and belonging for us.


How to recognise this stage

  • Feelings: sadness, grief, anxiety; sometimes relief – and guilt or confusion at the mix of feelings. 
  • Protective mechanisms: anger and blame to defend against feelings of powerlessness; self-blame and self-pity; ‘shut-down’ mode that cuts us off from intense emotions.
  • The potential: when we turn towards our grief, it helps us find the inner quality of self-compassion; the energy of anger can alchemise into positive resources like strength, courage, boldness and even enthusiasm to move forward rather than cling to the past. 


Supporting yourself through this stage

  • As with all the stages, staying in connection with the body is a good way to stay with your present experience. Notice how the different feelings, emotions and thoughts are experienced as physical sensations. For example, you might get curious about how self-pity feels different from self-compassion (e.g. contracted vs. warm-hearted and expansive).
  • Allow yourself to enter fully into loss and grief, even if ‘reason’ tells you it shouldn’t be a big deal. It is increasingly thought that unacknowledged, suppressed grief can mutate into depression, addiction, heart disease and other disorders. Communal support and ritual are especially powerful forces for healing.


Questions for self-inquiry

  • What is ending for you or being lost, i.e. something you have loved, valued, committed to, invested energy or hope into? What are all the different feelings you have about this ending?
  • How is this experience challenging your idea of who you are and where you fit in the world? In what way are you letting go of an old identity?
  • How are you experiencing…?
    • (The challenge): Sadness, grief, anxiety
    • (Protective patterns): Anger, (self-)blame, self-pity
    • (Supportive resources): Self-compassion, strength and courage, boldness 



Stage Two: Into the Wilderness


“In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning” F. Scott Fitzgerald


All about: A liminal phase, the ‘in-between’; “the old is no longer – the new is not yet”; incubation and metamorphosis.


How to recognise this stage

  • Feelings: disorientation, disintegration: not knowing where you are in the transition is an indication of being in the middle stage; a sense of emptiness and aloneness.
  • Protective mechanisms: trying to bypass or rush through this stage; seeing false dawns or retreating to an old sense of self and security.
  • The potential: the deficiency of emptiness can transform into positive qualities of spaciousness, expansiveness, deep inner stillness.


Supporting yourself through this stage

  • Although the first stage of Letting Go triggers intense emotions, this second stage is in many ways more challenging. Try to find a lower gear and get plenty of rest. This isn’t an ‘active growth’ phase. It’s more like fallow time, when you are replenishing yourself for future activity. 
  • It’s OK – even necessary – to feel disorientated and ungrounded in this phase. That’s a condition for old patterns and bindings to be dissolved. It’s unhelpful to seek the firm footing of a new path too quickly. 
  • We often see ‘emptiness’ as something negative or fearful. But that’s an idea we project on to it, rather than the nature of the void itself. Instead of resisting it, find the deep peace that comes from just allowing emptiness. Let the next stage emerge and unfold naturally from this space.


Questions for self-inquiry

  • What is no longer true for you?
  • How are you experiencing…?
    • (The challenge): Disorientation, emptiness, aloneness
    • (Protective patterns): Depression, impatience, despair
    • (Supportive resources): Openness, expansion, inner stillness, freedom
  • How can you find more space and support (internally and externally) to stay with this stage during its incubation?



Stage Three: New Beginnings


“In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright!”
Arthur Hugh Clough


All about: Rebirth, reintegration; new dawn, springtime – darkness giving way to light.


How to recognise this stage

  • Feelings: joy (simple gratitude or exuberant celebration); freshness and aliveness – a sense of being somehow different from before.
  • Protective mechanisms: self-doubt; false will – pushing ourselves into being/acting a certain way rather than staying fluid and flexible.
  • The potential: new resources of confidence, trust and resilience; a quality of steadfastness – staying true to who we are now, even when old patterns tempt us back.


Supporting yourself through this stage

  • Thorough integration of this new experience, i.e. embodying and expressing it in our lives, requires ongoing support. This can partly be provided by external sources, but true resilience is also about coming to know and trust the deep well of resources within ourselves.
  • This stage marks the end of one transition, but it’s also a preparation for the next transition. It’s helpful to understand that, in practice, this is a continuous process of change, learning and evolution. 


Questions for self-inquiry

  • How are you starting to see your potential and possibilities differently?
  • How are you experiencing…?
    • (The challenge): Day-to-day expression of new learnings and way of being
    • (Protective patterns): Self-doubt, false will
    • (Supportive resources): Joy, trust, steadfastness, flexibility, resilience
  • What values and core purpose do you want to reassess and reaffirm now? What are you trusting in a deeper kind of way?


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