The Power of Peaceful Decrease—Discovering Meaningfulness in Transitional Moments of Life

By Ken Wells - 01/08/2021


Recovery inevitably engages the experience of transition. The stages of life also create change, both wanted and unwanted. When life changes and things are different from what they once were, we can become vulnerable with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. We might crave for past relationships and the way in which things used to be or fix our focus on how things might turn out in the future. Sometimes in transition it is so hard to sit with the present and the way things are. 

I remember when I accepted a role as a pastor in Mesa Arizona. I had worked in a very large church all of my days previously. Busyness was part of that church’s DNA. A time study revealed that on a 24-hour daily basis, 60% of the church facility was in operation with some activity. It was crazy. Then, I moved to this small church where the only activity during the week was me taking out the trash from my office. How I longed to be anywhere but there! The quietness was shocking compared to the resounding activity to which I had become accustomed. It was a transition to a new experience in life. I remember being afraid that I had been cast aside into the Sonoran Desert and the only way back to significance would be to perform some great ministry with lots of activity and the involvement of many people. I was tempted to immerse myself in a barrage of ministry functions to escape the unsettled insecurity that was buried deep within. I was facing transition with very little skill to cope. 

Transitions are unnerving. Addicts who partied all the time and now find themselves needing to face the transition of recovery and stop. It is a brand new world. It can be cold and lonely. There is too little instruction sharing about how to manage these difficult experiences in life.

It is so hard for most of us when our power, influence, status or finance is diminished. Losing the clout of power and significance is difficult at every level of living. Being an addict, empowered by liquid courage or identification as a party animal and transitioning to a 12-step “newbie” is a shocking adjustment for any addict in recovery. Many do everything possible to avoid this painful experience. Yet, not just addicts, but everyone must face difficult transitions throughout life.  

Ultimately, the experience of death is the quintessential transition. People tend to do everything possible to avoid the inevitability of death. In truth, if you don’t you are vulnerable to the misunderstanding of loved ones who don’t understand why you don’t do everything possible to avoid this transition. There is a phobia about the transition of death. It is difficult to admit that life and death are in charge and you and your medical team are not. Medicine and palliative care have advanced to a place where it is now possible for you to live longer than necessary. In the work of caring for people who are dying in a death-phobic culture, medical science strategies and professional caregivers offer compassion with encouragement not to die, even though by hanging on there is very little to live for. Often, more time means more symptoms and more medicine. For many, the old nightmare was that I am afraid I will die while the new nightmare is that I am afraid that I will not die when things become unendurable. Unexpected death and transition can be prolonged. It has become an iatrogenic nightmare — a malady created by the cure around death and transition. Grief counseling and training often focus on how to reduce or eliminate grief rather the practice and engagement of grief. When it is your turn to die it is important that you and your loved ones practice grieving together.  Many times loved ones don’t know how to mourn, choosing to champion the dying to be positive and fight against the reality of impending transition.

Addicts in recovery must learn the peaceful power of decrease.  Recovery requires the discovery of meaningfulness in the transitional moments of life. Here are a few reflections that make sense to me:

1. Embrace the power of decrease

In the New Testament, John the Baptist declared “I must decrease and he must increase”. For me, the Bible is a metaphor that points to a permeating hidden awareness of truth. John was saying that he and the identification that others attached to him must diminish. Why? Because there was a greater awareness present. Diminishing ego is always beneficial to addict recovery. When you allow your ego to diminish then something is removed that ultimately was not who you essentially were but rather a false self that you identified with. It might have been a position of status, material possession or physical appearance. Embracing decrease means to let go of this false self in order to connect with who you really are. John the Baptist was emphasizing I am not this outward identification ascribed by others. Rather the “he” that must increase is this inward awareness of inner brilliance which is the “being” of self not the outward doing of status, position or clout. It’s the “being” of self that is the unrepeatable miracle of the universe. The spiritual paradox is that it requires a decrease of outer attachment and identification to increase the awareness of authentic value. The tension is where the ego demands a strong identity, negative or positive. The ego will take misery any time over being nobody. Mother Teresa said that “one of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” Embracing the power of decrease will create a vision of being somebody deep within that connects to the body of universe in all of its significance.

2. Stillness provides meaning in moments of transition

Transition triggers a noisy collective mind. Questions, rumination, racing thoughts, self-consciousness, self-criticism and judgment all swirl within during moments of transition. In stillness we embrace our being. In religious tradition and recovery groups, people often reach for shibboleths and rely on surface observations during times of transition. Stillness is filled with words that are generated from the discomfort of insecurity. Yet, stillness insists that you quietly reflect about what the universe is trying to say to you in your moment of transition. In the quietness of an ambiguous moment, personal growth, insight and individual maturity is developed. It is in the obscurity of silence that you learn your way and deepen your wisdom. It is necessary to build a solid foundation on which you can center. Stillness becomes an internal stronghold whereby you can know and live by your personal and heartfelt values. In stillness you will be able to anchor your belief with poise and quiet strength that enables you to do the next right thing. 

3. Gratitude is a key toward finding meaning and understanding in transition

People usually do not handle transitions very well without gratitude. I notice older people around work grumble about younger people advancing and encroaching upon their work. Sure, young people often lack insight and awareness that experience can offer. Yet, many times those older veterans complain from a source in reality that it is time for them to move over, make room and eventually move on. 

I see it in 12-step meetings when older guys become defensive and bark advice to younger people as a way of protecting position and personal status within the group. Decreasing space in areas in which you have enjoyed a place of influence and empowerment is always difficult. I have watched older athletes struggle to give way to younger, better athletes. I have walked alongside their struggle to find significance as they attempt to re-purpose their lives and future. I have observed owners struggle with letting go to a new generation. Often, the complaint is that the younger age lacks the necessary attitude, wisdom, or whatever is in question. I have watched individuals as they age out of job responsibility etc., clutch and grasp for power and significance. It is always sad to notice. People who have been great in what they do but can no longer be effective in the way they once were and refuse to embrace transition are heartbreaking to observe. They become childish, bitter and irritable with short-sighted perspective about their own significance. 

Gratitude allows for release, surrender and acceptance. In transition, what used to be is over and will never be again. You will evolve to a new reality about life. When you try to hang on to what is over you get stuck in yesterday. Everybody ages. As your body ages so to do your mental capabilities. We often talk about someone who is in their 90’s and we remark how sharp their mind is or how remarkably mobile they may be. Yet, for all of those incredible older folks who are amazingly independent, the truth is that none are as effective or efficient as they were 20 years ago. Transition requires that you be flexible, humble and willing to let go. Gratitude is the emotional oil that takes what is and makes it more even when we have less or cannot do as much.  All of us are evolving. Transition is a reality of life. Looking back and hoping for yesteryear is a hope in futility. Yesterday ended last night. Gratitude helps me to find increase in my decrease. It is the way to find meaningfulness in the transitional moments of life.

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