Lucas Marang'a

A man at 40

The Neutral Zone.

It’s been seven months since my mzee rested. We miss him much and life often feels bila direction. The more I try to fill the gap he left the more clueless I feel. But mungu yuko. A day at a time. This week my brother was home from majuu. we were excited to have him here. He was last here in May when dad left us. He and dad had a strong connection. Spending time with him has brought dad back to life in a sense. Thanks for coming home brother. It’s made this neutral zone ( the second phase of a transition) more bearable.

That’s what happens when we accept the season after an ending. Dad’s gone and we are slowly coming to terms with that. But having a drink with my siblings and laughing late into the night made me appreciate them more. I found myself thanking my parents for giving me these two randomly special siblings because we are friends who just happen to be related.

The grief of losing my father would easily keep me from celebrating my family and that’s the danger of being in a season of nothingness (my definition of the neutral zone). Maybe if we approached the neutral zone in life without so much trepidation we might see the good in it and why it’s necessary for our personal development. And maybe that mindset may fast track our transition into transformation. Many of us take forever in this neutral zone because we fight it too hard too long. It’s uncomfortable not being in control.

Even the earth we walk on needs to go through the neutral zone. I remember visiting my grandfather in shags as a young chap and I’d be fascinated as to why his shamba looked like a chessboard. He had fenced his farm in small equal portions and some were cultivated while others lay bare. He told me that once he harvested a crop from one plot it needed to rest for some time before being tilled again. Otherwise continuous tilling and planting will lead to exhaustion and finally infertility resulting in poor crop yield. The neutral zone helps the land recharge and get more productive for the next planting season. And that’s how we should look at the season we find ourselves in after an ending.

William Bridges tells that, “only in the apparently aimless activity of your time alone can you do the important inner business of self-transformation.” He calls it attentive inactivity. I like that description because it reminds me of the many times I have stared at the ceiling while in bed as if it were a screen showing an action movie. Or the strong yearnings to get away alone without a plan or agenda.

Though often unaware, we are drawn to these prolonged alone moments in an attempt to reduce the external volume of our busy task and goal-driven lives. That seems the only way out of the neutral zone because we then start imagining what our new beginning will look like.

Folks, the neutral zone is an awkward season. And maybe that’s why we resist it. You struggle to define who you are and what you do. I still fumble when asked the – What do you do?  question. It’s such a guy thing. Do ladies ask that question when they meet? I recently managed to do a business card after not having one for the last few years. That was partly driven by the need to look professional during my last photo exhibition. I like it but am still not fully confident about it. Unlike most cards that define one’s position, mine has three roles. I’m yet to decide which one describes me best. And maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. I see myself as a portfolio kind of guy so it’s fine to be doing more than one thing.

According to Bridges, three main reasons make the neutral zone important. First, the process of transformation is a death and rebirth process. And for rebirth to happen we have to be somewhat formatted to align with the new that awaits us hapo mbele. Secondly, the process of disintegration and reintegration is the source of renewal. That mess in between what we are leaving and what we are seeking somehow brings out the truest version of ourselves followed by what we want to give our lives to. That struggle in the neutral is a requirement to finding our true north. We need it, just the way that an apple tree needs the cold winter. I love that visual described by Bridges.

The last reason for the emptiness between the stages is the perspective it provides on the stages themselves. Bridges concludes that “the neutral zone provides access to an angle of vision on life that one can get nowhere else”. Having been a resident of the neutral zone, I can confirm that. It’s like you come out of yourself to see yourself a new and the path you are about to take. The blindspots begin falling off.

Allow me to encourage you not to rush through the neutral zone as difficult and as nervous as that may be. May we heed Lao Tzu’s words, “ I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness (XVI). Do that which consists in taking no action; Pursue that which is not meddlesome; savour that which has no flavour. (LXIII)”



Friday, December 10, 2021 | Just @40 Things, Reflections |

3 thoughts on “The Neutral Zone.”

  1. Shiko Kamau says:

    This does resonate and especially the part about how much more I appreciate my parents for my siblings….since we lost dad, we cherish moments together so much more and those have become moments I look forward to and live through with my all!

  2. Nelly Ngunguru says:

    Lovely insights on the inevitable neutral zones in life

  3. JOSEPH KAHUKO says:

    Nice read and insights into the neutral zone. I will look up William Bridges

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *