In a Developmental Psychology class way back in the early days of graduate school (in the 1960s) I remember learning about the Gestalt Theory of the stages of child development. The notion (at least as I remember it) was that as a child kept on assimilating new information/skills, its existing organization would keep expanding/shifting to accommodate to these newly added bits. Then, at some critical moment, the being’s organization would no longer be able to accommodate the just-one-more-new-bit. At that point, the existing organization would come undone. The child’s behavior would seem to regress for a while.
This coming apart of the existing order would allow for whole a new organization to assemble itself and for the child to suddenly take a giant step forward to a new level of skill and competence. The form of this emergent order would not only incorporate the new bit but would be capable, for a while, of continuing to assimilate other new bits until another critical moment arrived and it would have to disassemble and form yet a newer organization.
Somewhere in my old journals from the 1980s, I remember writing a poem about Coming Apart to Come Together (alas, I couldn’t find it today) that was about this very process as it continues on into our adult lives. I know it well.
For many years I would be perplexed by the arrival, seemingly out of the blue, of the periods of considerable discomfort that still arrive these days (though they no longer perplex me). At these times, I feel exhausted for no apparent external causes. I feel out of sorts, irritable, uncomfortable in my own skin. I go through not being able to find a place for my self. I wander around much like a dog circles and circles around as it tries to find the right spot to curl up in. I feel whiny, antsy, lost; teary for no apparent reason (much like I used to feel when premenstrual). Often, these are times when I find my self unexpectedly doubting or questioning the choices I’ve made in my life, choices about which I’m usually quite clear as having been right for me. These old life issues resolved at earlier times reappear in new guises; the Hatchet Lady’s critical voice, long ago defanged, reappears grumbling some versions of very old litanies.
I can’t remember when I first understood what these periods were about but, when they arrive these days (as they do still, from time to time), I recognize them for what they are: thresholds times. Times when my old way of being is coming undone to make way for some new organization of me to emerge. The pieces come apart so that they can reassemble in a new way for the next season of my unfolding.
These interludes are still uncomfortable but, once I recognize them for what they are, they’re no longer so disquieting. Most times it takes a few days before I’m onto what’s going on and occasionally these between-times do last a while. I’ve learned to be exceedingly tender and loving with my prickly self during such threshold/transition times, to not ask very much from me and to do a lot of resting. The next step/new way always emerges at just the right moment. I’ve learned to trust that and not push my self. It's how we all can better deal with the threshold times in the spiraling journey of growing (see the earlier post: Growth Unfolds as a Spiraling Journey).