A Reckoning

British anthropologist Victor Turner and writer William Bridges described three phases of transition — endings, middle or liminal spaces, and new beginnings. I have written earlier about the weak signals we receive early on, but often ignore, before the transition process. Between the weak signals and the separation, or ending, I believe there is another stage: a “reckoning.”

The word “reckoning” first appears in the 14th century and means “a narrative account,” or a “settling of accounts.” It generally refers to balancing the accounting between debts and revenue. This can apply to ourselves as well. Life gravitates toward equilibrium, and so do we.

The reckoning is how we walk into our story.

Brené Brown

Transitions often don’t work well because there has not been a proper ending, or closure. The ending can take a long time as we struggle to reconcile ourselves to the change. We must recognize how a certain narrative, or habit, or identity may be keeping us from moving forward.

We find ourselves complaining, or rumbling, about something. It churns over and over in a loop. Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist, asks us to reflect on complaint, the thing that is making us uncomfortable or restless. Often at the core of our grievance is a value we hold that is not being met. We may feel indignant at the injustice of not having our values recognized or supported.

But the true reckoning is not with the outside world that has had the audacity to fall short. We must go one step further, to evaluate what we are actively committing to that keeps us stuck. What are we holding on to, that somehow is serving us yet keeps us from addressing the complaint? How are we spending our energy to keep things as they are? Kegan called this the “immunity to change.”

This is our reckoning: identifying the things we hold dear as possible obstacles preventing us from taking the next step ahead. This “shadow work” is a lifting of the veil on parts of ourselves we would rather not acknowledge.

At the simplest level, any particular expression of the immunity to change provides a picture of how we are systematically working against the very goal we genuinely want to achieve.

Robert Kegan

How do you reckon with your self-created obstacles? Consider your current chief complaint. What sorts of things, if they happened more often, would support your ongoing development? What is your “if only…” statement?

Then ask yourself what is the value you hold that this complaint represents? Perhaps you value loyalty, or consistency, or order. It is the higher ideal to which you aspire.

Then comes the reckoning, the opening of the aperture.

You look past your ideals and values at the deeper motivations that keep you in place. How complaining about a situation allows you to protect some part of you. This is the moment to practice radical self-compassion. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Set aside judgment.

During the day, where do you put your time and energy? And who is the deity that stands behind your time and energy? In whose temple do you serve?

Martin Shaw

We all have a story, and it’s important for us to claim it. Own it. Bear witness to it. The risk is in the story owning us. Perhaps the next step is to turn the camera around and see how we play a role in our own narrative. Only then can we proceed with relinquishing that story to create a new chapter.

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