We helped develop the Transformation Cycle while creating workshops at Sustainable Sonoma County. Fundamentally the cycle integrates the work of several people, particularly Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her theory of the grief cycle as it relates to death and dying. It also draws upon ideas from William Bridges' work on transitions, Harrison Owen's concepts from Open Space, and the structure of The Hero's Journey from Joseph Campbell.
The Transformation Cycle begins when we experience a triggering event. This results in some form of chaos, also known as a break down or the Oh No moment. While we usually associate grief and chaos with involuntary loss and change, such as the death of a loved one or being fired, even voluntary and positive change can thrust us into the Transformation Cycle. Happy events like getting married or getting a new job can be triggers. What is in jeopardy may be our previous life, our identity, particular relationships, or our world view. People's experiences of each phase of the cycle can vary widely. In terms of grief we may experience several of the following emotions and more than once: anger, denial, fear, and despair. If we are to move on from this portion of the cycle, we need to eventually reach a point of letting go. This can take minutes or years and is influenced by many things such as the nature of the issue, our circumstances and resources, our attitude and skills with change, etc.
If and when we do let go, we often feel adrift and without an anchor. This is sometimes referred to as the Void, The Neutral Zone or mythically, a descent into the Underworld. It is through this uncomfortable and precarious process that we undergo a fundamental change and emerge transformed in some way. This point, often called a break through or the Ah Ha moment, initiates an ascent characterized by joy, excitement, and power as we begin to see the world with new eyes and new purpose. We begin to reestablish a sense of order in our life and often a new sense of purpose, direction, or clarity. However it is helpful to remember that we are simply experiencing another phase of a cycle and that change is the only constant. Inevitably chaos will enter our lives again and we will enter into a next phase of the cycle.
We believe this model is useful for understanding both personal and social change. It has helped us recognize emotional patterns and variations at a personal as well as at group and community levels. We are each drawn to different parts of the cycle and often resistant to others. Some people may have difficulty processing emotions like anger and despair, while others may find themselves stuck in these emotions. This can also happen on the other side of the cycle with people having difficulty processing, integrating, or getting attached to these emotions.
The Transformation Cycle serves as a reminder that deep change is a complex, emotional, and difficult process. Its cyclical nature indicates that the painful places where we often feel stuck are not the only points along the journey. Likewise, states like wonder and clarity are not constant and moving through these and all the other emotions is natural. Experiencing all phases of the cycle through voluntary change can help us to become more familiar with the process and potentially better at change when it isn't voluntary.
We also want to point out that this type of transformative change is considered to be irreversible. It involves the birth of a new state of being through the death of the old. Moreover, this new state cannot be known until it takes shape. Transformation is by its nature unpredictable. This is in contrast to developmental change which generally occurs incrementally over time and the steps and outcome are planned.
As our social and natural environment transforms, we as individuals and as a society will be thrust into the Transformation Cycle as well. While we can not know what the outcome of this process will be, we can choose to hold an intent which may have an impact on the outcome.