Transition: The path to self-atualization

When I was growing up, I used to accompany my parents to the fields/ farm. One day, on our way to the farm, I saw a rubber like rope like lying along the path. I pointed it out to my dad and asked what it was. My dad said it was a snake’s protective shell. He then told me to hurry up for us to leave the place. Later, I asked him where the snake was and why it has left its protective shell there. My dad told me that, the snake was gone, so I asked why then did he hurry me up from the place? My dad was silent for a while and said, the protective shell looked quite fresh and so it was possible that the snake was not far away. Why was that, and he said, “the snake haven discarded the old protective shell, the new shell was not yet in place so it must wait for a period of time for the new protective shell to form before resuming normal life again. But why did it have to let go off its protective shell? My dad said, the snake has outgrown the size of the old protective shell, so for the snake to grow in size, it had to discard the old one, and develop a new protective shell which is compatible with the size of the snake at its current stage. He continued, the old had serve its purpose and is now beginning to be a liability to the snake, in other words, the old shell was beginning to be limiting and cramping the snake making life uncomfortable and so if the snake failed to shed its old protective shell, it would eventually cause the snake to die.

I also observed that at certain times of the year, the leaves of the trees fell and the trees looked like dead woods but after a while they put on new leaves. Furthermore, I noticed that through the shedding of leaves and putting on new leaves, the trees were growing in size and in strength.

From my own life experience too, I noticed something similar. One day I wanted to dawn on a beautiful shirt and a pair of trousers my granddad had given me the previous Christmas. To my shock and surprise they did not fit. I started to cry, went to my mum and asked her to help me put them on. My mum looked at me and said, “son, I’m sorry they have become too small for you to wear”. I insisted that I would wear them. She said to me “you have a choice: “reduce your size to the size you were a year ago so that you can fit in them or give them to your younger brother and I will get you the size that fits your age and size”.

I loved that shirt and a pair of trousers so much that, letting go of them was like “death”. It hurt me so deeply as if a part of me, and who I was, was gone.

What the trees and the snakes go through may not be seen as simple change but transition.

What these observations and experiences taught me was that there comes a time that some things which have served us well, we may have to let them go, be they material wealth or attitude or self-perception and a belief, if we are to progress to the next stage of our lives. That is to say, one must break with one’s life of the past in order to make way for the new. Therefore, before one can progress to the next stage, it is imperative that one brings the first to an end. The first must die in order for the second to be born. Death to the old way of being, thinking and seeing oneself must die, for the new self to be born.

In most cases what we must let go off is not a bad thing, it is just that its mission has been accomplished. It also means that “what got you here will not get you there”.

The example of both the snake and the trees also teach us that, between the ending and the new beginning, there is a period of waiting, during which there is the experience of vulnerability, pain, uncertainty etc. But it is also a period of creativity, a fertile ground. Just as the snake or the trees cannot shorten this period, so also it is with us humans. We must bear the pain of this period and let it run its course. Letting go is tough, difficult and painful because we have emotional connections with the things we must let go.

Just as the snake or the trees grow in size through this shedding of leaves or protective shells and growing new shell or leave, so we too through letting go, coming through the confusing state and new beginnings, we become who we were meant to become. As William Bridges puts it, “events pile up outside us, and we respond to them internally in ways that leave us changed”.