Book Recommendation : The Way Of Transition by William Bridges

When author Bill Bridges’s wife died from breast cancer, he began to question all his previous groundbreaking work on transitions. Having conducted seminars and written bestselling books (TransitionsManaging Transitions), Bridges had built a reputation as an expert on the topic. And yet, “I felt now that my words had totally failed to match in depth the experience of actually being in transition,” he explains.

56681William Bridges’ lifelong work has been devoted to a deep understanding of transitions and to helping others through them. When his own wife of thirty-five years died of cancer, however, he was thrown head-first into the kind of painful and confusing abyss he had known before only in theory. An honest account of being in transition, this uncommonly wise and moving book is a richly textured map of the personal, professional, and emotional transformations that grow out of tragedy and crisis. Demonstrating how disillusionment, sorrow, or confusion can blossom into a time of incredible creativity and contentment, Bridges highlights the profound significance and value of endings in our lives.

After floundering in self-doubt for months after his wife died, Bridges embarked on a spiritual pilgrimage through Wales. During his visits to sacred sites, Bridges began to see that he hadn’t been misguiding people. Rather, he simply had more to offer on the subject of transition–more depth, more spirit, and above all else, more experience. So at 66 years old he wrote this excellent and highly personal book in which he examines the pain and challenge of transition–how it is a time of letting go of the past while taking hold of the future.

Because Bridges weaves his personal story into the narrative he comes off as a wizened sage rather than a cocky aficionado. “Change can come at any time, but transition comes along when one chapter of your life is over and another is waiting in the wings to make its entrance,” he begins. “Needless to say it is impossible to imagine a new chapter is starting when your wife’s death has just closed down what feels like your whole life. You simply cannot imagine a new chapter….” Overall, this is a book that offers an abundance of insights without faltering into self-help clichés or specific how-to advice. Instead, Bridges examines the events that bring about transition (marriage, death, change of vocation, tragedy, and crisis) and why it’s so important to fully experience these transitions and how they offer opportunities for closure as well as launch pads for enormous personal growth. Readers of The Way of Transition will find an author who manages to be humble, accessible, and highly intelligent as he weaves the writings of Tolstoy, Herman Hesse, Emily Dickinson, Carl Jung, and Anäaut;is Nin into his personal reflections. –Gail Hudson

Rolling with the Changes

“The Way of Transition” is something of a cross between “Passages” and “Tuesdays with Morrie.” Like “Passages,” it describes in simple, easily understood terms the stages one goes through when dealing with an important life transition. Like “Tuesdays,” it draws on a painful yet inspirational encounter with fatal illness – in this case, that of the author’s wife.

Those attempting to deal with big transitions in their lives are likely to find this book comforting and helpful. I did. But don’t pick it up if you’re looking for easy answers, clever techniques, or lists of things to do to turn your life around. As the author himself puts it, the “way” in the book’s title is meant to describe a path, not a technique. So his approach is more descriptive than prescriptive. He wants to help you understand what you’re going through but doesn’t presume to have the answers. He leaves it up to you to figure out what to do.

Bridges’ main point is a fairly simple one: that the rootless, confusing transition period one undergoes following a death in the family, divorce, career change or other transformative event should be embraced, not avoided or evaded. These difficult periods of transition, he argues, are precisely the times when we are most likely to be creative and open to inspiration. He illuminates this deceptively simple message with stories from his own life, especially how he dealt with his late wife’s battle with cancer. He also sprinkles in lots of poignant quotes from others to help get the point across.

At times, the book borders on the spiritual. There is an underlying assumption that each of us has a sort of personal spiritual quest buried within us and that the purpose of our lives – and all those painful transitions – is to somehow coax out this latent quest and bring us a little closer to enlightenment. Most people who read self-help stuff would probably accept that assumption. But those whose temperament and tastes are more clinical than spiritual might find this short volume a little too warm and fuzzy.

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