These last few weeks, I have felt out of sorts. It’s hard to find words for it; the best I can come up with is that life feels “scratchy”. The image that comes to mind is a snake that needs to shed its skin. Interestingly, many of my friends feel the same way; it seems like there is a scratchiness “in the air”. Why am I sharing this? In the words of psychotherapist Carl Rogers, ‘What is most personal is most universal’. So, I hope this reflection on my experience of these times might also resonate with others.
As I navigate this scratchiness, I find myself drawn to these descriptions …
Zak Stein says that we are in a time between worlds.
Evo Mench says that we’re collectively living a life that no longer exists.
Bonnitta Roy speaks about the wicked mush of the in-between, not caterpillar, not butterfly … mush.
It’s tough to be in the mushy middle, in the liminal space between something old fading and something new not yet born. What makes it more challenging is the cognitive dissonance of privilege: the majority of life still feels “normal”. I’m still buying coffee from the local roastery; my favourite food is still on the grocery store shelves; I listen to music, watch Netflix, visit with my friends, and work. Everything seems fine. AND my news feed is filled with stories of collapse … of people who are not as fortunate: some trapped in war zones, others victims of runaway fires or floods, and still others who are unemployed and starving.
This incongruence between a life that still feels familiar and a broader context filled with evidence of an old regime crumbling creates a sense of personal existential “crisis.” Who am I in this time between worlds? Who am I becoming? Who can I no longer be? What is the proverbial skin that needs to be shed? Does any of this even matter?
It feels like a strange no man’s land between hope and despair. Zak Stein names three stages or states:
- Pre-tragic — a naive or Polyanna-like belief that everything will be okay, and it will all work out.
- Tragic — an overwhelming awareness of how bad things are, to the extent that you can no longer function. Unfortunately, this is a state that many get stuck in, which may explain the exponential rise in depression.
- Post-tragic — this is a state that reclaims some of the agency of the pre-tragic, but awareness and acknowledgement of the Tragic tempers it. This is living in a way that acknowledges loss and suffering without giving in to despair or seeking to escape. It’s about rediscovering the beauty and potential in the uncertainty of the “messy middle” and the meaning of suffering. Perhaps it is a collective invitation for soul expansion, for a shift in consciousness.
Even though this framing is useful, naming things has not made life less scratchy. I am still in discomfort. The skin is not yet shed. I am realising that, for me at least, this is not a time for concepts and words. Our existing vocabulary traps us in the old, unable to quicken the new. This is a time to feel, intuit, and embody- to stay silent so that a new language can emerge. Language that will enable us to reanimate our world, become conscious in new ways, and liberate potential and beauty.
For now, I trust that even though I don’t know how to shed my skin, nature knows …