Printed in the Fall 2017 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Herbert, Barbara, "Viewpoint: Transitions" Quest 105:4(Fall 2017) pg. 8
By Barbara Hebert, National President
It is said that the only constant in life is change. Transition, change, can be both exciting and terrifying. It can also hold a variety of other feelings, including sadness and joy as well as guilt and anger. There is no end to the number of feelings an individual can experience during a time of transition.
When we think of transition, we frequently think of death—someone transitioning to continue their journey in those invisible worlds which few of us know. In mid-May, one of my dearest friends and a true sister of the heart, Carol Keay, died. Her transition was very peaceful, and it seemed as if she just simply stepped out of her body. While she had been sick for many years and had recently experienced a time in the intensive care unit, her death was a surprise, because she had seemed to be improving a bit. Her family and friends grieved the loss of her physical presence, but all were grateful that she had been freed from the constraints of the physical body.
Many other feelings were involved in Carol’s death, however—sadness, relief, loneliness, happiness, and even fear and guilt. Her husband lost the physical presence of his partner and best friend of almost fifty-five years. Her children lost the nurturing influence of their mother, while they and her many friends also lost the guiding influence of an incredibly spiritual person. Along with the expected myriad of feelings experienced when a loved one dies, we might be surprised to find a feeling of fear, but it is not really surprising that some of Carol’s family and friends might feel fearful about life without her physical presence and without her wisdom. Guilt comes into the picture as well, with some thinking, “Perhaps I should have spent more time with her, perhaps I should have [fill in the blank!].” Carol’s transition did not simply affect her; it affected everyone who knew and loved her.
Clearly, transition is not an individual experience! Not only does it impact the person making the change, it has an effect on everyone who knows and loves that individual.
There are other types of transition, of course, such as transition from one job to another or from one home to another. A young friend and her husband recently bought their first home. She experienced feelings of joy and excitement but also feelings of anxiety and trepidation. The responsibility of owning and maintaining a home was overwhelming, although the idea of creating her own nest also provided a degree of happiness and contentment. When she finally moved in, she said, “It feels good to finally move, both physically and emotionally.”
Our international president, Tim Boyd, and his family have also just completed a major transition. As Tim completed his term as president of the Theosophical Society in America, he and his family moved from the TSA headquarters in Wheaton back to their own home in Chicago. Tim continues with his service to the Theosophical Society as international president, so that consistency remains; however, he and his family have experienced the transition of moving and of leaving friends in Wheaton. The staff of the TSA has had to deal with the loss of seeing and working with Tim and his family on a daily basis. Tim was much loved, and his absence leaves a hole in the day-to day-activities at Olcott, our national headquarters.
Along those same lines, the staff has had to contend with the arrival of a new president and all of the changes that are inherent in this transition. The staff at Olcott has gone above and beyond to make me feel welcomed—from signs in the dining room and in the administrative office to flowers in the president’s office. This transition must elicit a number of emotional responses, very much like the other transitions mentioned.
My own transition from my former position as executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center–Hope House to this current one of president of the Theosophical Society in America has definitely produced a number of emotions—excitement, trepidation, and hope that I can facilitate the work of the TSA as it continues to promote the spiritual evolution of humanity. Leaving my home, family, and friends in Louisiana to move to Wheaton and our national headquarters has also been a major personal transition. Many Southerners tend to be home-centered and live in the same part of the country in which they were born and raised. My own family goes back multiple generations (on both sides) in the small Louisiana community which I call home. Therefore, moving almost a thousand miles away is a difficult concept for many of my friends to comprehend, and their responses ranged from concern (are you joining a cult?) to confusion (why would you move so far away?). The thought of moving away from family and friends provoked a number of feelings in me as well, including sadness at not seeing family on a daily basis, intermingled with feelings of excitement regarding new beginnings. Fortunately, I am a third-generation Theosophist, so my family does not struggle with the concept of my move as they might have. They have always known that the Theosophical Society, its concepts, its focus on spiritual self-awareness, and most importantly those Great Ones who initiated the formation of the Society have been the guiding light in my life.
Even with the understanding of my family regarding this transition, it created challenges for all of us. Why is transition so difficult for us as human beings? Why do we struggle with change, whether it is our own or that of someone close to us?
Transition is change, and very few of us really enjoy change, especially major changes. Change forces us to look at our attachments: attachments to friends, to family, to concepts and beliefs, to things such as home. In a talk called “The Urgency of Change,” J. Krishnamurti observes, “The more one is attached the greater the dependence. The attachment is not only to persons but to ideas and to things. One is attached to a particular environment, to a particular country and so on. And from this springs dependence and therefore resistance.” He goes on to say, “In your attachment there is pain.” As human beings, we attempt to avoid pain as much as possible; therefore, we struggle against change. We resist it. We want everything to remain the same so that we do not experience pain.
Interesting, isn’t it? We try to avoid those expressions that make us fully human and that provide some of the most valuable lessons in each lifetime. It’s also interesting that when we push away uncomfortable feelings, we use a great deal of energy and we still feel the feelings anyway! But as Anne Frank, in her young wisdom, writes, “Feelings can't be ignored.”. And in agreement with Anne is Virginia Woolf, who writes in her book The Voyage Out, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” Feelings are simply a part of the physical world—part of our physical incarnation—and if we are to move toward conscious awareness of the unity of all life, it is useless to attempt to avoid life’s difficult aspects, including painful feelings. Not only do they not disappear when we resist them, they seem to become stronger!
What do we do, then? From a Theosophical perspective, we do what we must: we move forward, facing and experiencing the feelings engendered by living life in this physical world. We work to recognize that this component of our physical incarnation can facilitate our spiritual growth, if we allow it. When painful feelings arise, it is useful to become aware of them rather than immediately push them away. Once we are aware of our discomfort, then we can simply acknowledge what we are experiencing. Acknowledgment is a step toward acceptance. Once we acknowledge and begin to accept painful feelings, it is almost as if they lose some of their sting. Why? Perhaps it is because we have taken a step back from the feeling. We have stopped fighting it, and we are slowly becoming an observer. We are looking at the entire issue: the feeling, the situation from which the feeling arose, our response, the attachments that caused our response, and so on.
Krishnamurti, in almost all of his teachings, encourages us to become observers of ourselves. Of course, becoming the observer is far more difficult than it sounds and requires a great deal of energy and focus. In a 1967 talk, Krishnamurti says:
We can only understand something when we see the totality of it, when we see its whole structure and the meaning of it. You cannot see the whole pattern of life, the whole movement of life, if you merely take one part of it and are tremendously concerned about that particular part. It is only when we see the whole map that we can see where we are and choose a particular road. So we are not concerned with individual salvation or individual liberation, or whatever the individual is trying to seek but rather with the whole movement of life, the understanding of the whole current of existence; then perhaps the individual problems can be approached entirely differently. It becomes extremely difficult to see the whole issue, to understand it—it demands attention. One cannot understand anything intellectually—you may hear words, give explanations, find out the cause, but that is not understanding. Understanding—as one observes oneself—takes place only when the mind, including the brain, is totally attentive. And one is not attentive when one is interpreting and translating what one sees according to one's background. You must have noticed—obviously most of us have—that when the mind is completely quiet—not demanding, not fussing around, not tearing to pieces the problem, but is really facing the problem with complete quietness—then there is an understanding. That very understanding is the action, the liberating force or energy, which frees us from the problem.
Understanding occurs when one is totally attentive: a simple concept and a difficult feat. Yet this is such an important goal, isn’t it? To live our physical lives so that we may become conscious of our unity with all life. In that state of conscious awareness, we will begin to realize that what happens to one of us happens to all of us, because there is no such thing as one of us. There is only One, which is ALL. Therefore, as we deal with transitions, attachments, feelings, all of those things that encompass living life in the physical world, we must work toward living with understanding, living in a state of total attentiveness.
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Random House, 1977 .
Krishnamurti, J. Talk, Paris, April 16, 1967; http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/krishnamurti-teachings/view-text.php?tid=18&chid=591&w=freedom&s=Text; accessed July 5, 2017.
———.“The Urgency of Change”; http://www.jiddu-krishnamurti.net/en/the-urgency-of-change/1970-00-00-jiddu-krishnamurti-the-urgency-of-change-dependence; accessed July 3, 2017.
Woolf, Virginia. The Voyage Out. New York: Random House, 2001 .