Facing Uncertainties & Transitioning Through Them

March 1, 2012


When I was little, my parents moved to a Seneca reservation in upstate New York while my father, a filmmaker, worked on a documentary there. The tribe adopted us. Although I was only a baby, the depth and vibrancy of the Seneca culture sparked in me a lifelong interest in transformation through uncertainties. As an adult, I studied shamanism and gradually came to realize that the most important rituals of the Seneca and other indigenous cultures take place during key life transitions.

Today, as a clinical psychologist and yoga teacher, I help people transform fear and difficult emotions. Since fear is universal and we can’t expect to get rid of it, what then do we do with it since it causes so much physical and emotional distress? How can we make it work for us rather than against us?

Through my work, I've realized we are most vulnerable to fear and disintegration during life transitions the in-between stages of jobs, careers, and relationships. The frightening thing about these times is uncertainty: We're neither the person we used to be, nor the one we're about to become. The lack of definition is challenging, but there s more to it: In the hugely unstructured space of transitions, we catch a glimpse of the person we could be. The magnitude of that potential is scary. What if we don't get there? What if we do?

During transitions, we contend with cultural and personal beliefs about our limitations and responsibilities; beliefs which often keep us from moving forward. Personally, I grew up thinking that others needs should come before my own and that my creativity is secondary to others expectations. This belief is strong not only because I'man oldest child, but because I'ma healer and teacher. I've had to re-examine and challenge it at every major turning point in my life.

Life Throws Surprises

At 28, I thought my professional path was set in stone. I'd had my doctorate for three years and worked for a group psychotherapy practice in Chicago. I enjoyed the challenge of doing therapy with hospitalized adolescents. They were raw, honest, and confrontational they made amazing breakthroughs. My mentor challenged my boundaries and the way I saw myself. For example, public speaking unnerved me, so he signed me up for as many opportunities as possible. This taught me to survive, and enjoy, speaking to large groups of people.

Just as things were going smooth professionally, I learned that I'd need major surgery, requiring six weeks off and several months on crutches. The owner of the group practice would take care of me. But just two weeks prior to the surgery, they laid me off along with others. It felt like a betrayal. Prospective employers shied away from the thought of hiring someone who would be on crutches for so long it wouldn't be good for the patients. So without work lined up, I faced the surgery. Psychologists salaries were so low that only one of my three internship supervisors still worked in the field. One bought a Kinko s franchise and another left psychology to start a construction company. I had two choices: give up and get a different kind of job, or reinvent myself.

Bo Forbes

The solution came to me suddenly just as my money was running out: I could open a private practice at the same psychiatric hospital where I'd been working! Right away, of course, I had to contend with some large-scale uncertainties and self-doubt: Who was I to think I could do this on my own? What if I wound up with no clients and couldn't make it work? Despite these worries, I met with the hospital CEO and proposed to stay on. She gave me an office, and within 30 days I'd joined forces with a dynamic female psychiatrist who referred patients to me for therapy and psychological testing. My practice thrived, and it gave me more autonomy and creative opportunity than I would have had working for my old company. I began to design continuing education courses for social workers and psychologists, and ran small conferences at the hospital. In retrospect, I never would have left the company on my own. I needed that push that difficult, fearful ending to get there.

It Didn't Stop There. . .

Three years after I launched my business, another transition arose. A multi-state psychology group offered me the job of Chief Executive Officer. I was only 31 years old, and it felt like an opportunity I couldn't turn down. But many of the group s long-term employees were resentful they hadn't been chosen. They sabotaged me at every chance they got. They made snide remarks about my eating granola, practicing yoga, and living a healthy lifestyle. During the 2 years I stayed, I was tired all the time, and my morale was low. My immune system was weak and I got sick more frequently. The environment felt so toxic, I feared I'd get cancer. Eventually, the board and I agreed to part ways.

One day, close to the end of my tenure there, I was standing in line at Whole Foods flipping through a magazine. On the back page was an ad for a yoga retreat center on Paradise Island in Nassau. A strong feeling came over me: Go. The yoga awakened something within me. I felt a huge sense of familiarity. At the same time, in those five days I tapped into a part of me so powerful that it would lead me far away from everything I'd known. It would take years for me to give myself permission to explore yoga more deeply, to let it influence or as sometimes I jokingly say ruin my life.

Responding to Fear

Fear can be all-consuming. And yet, we each possess a built-in, bio-available technology for transforming fear.

Fear is mediated through our autonomic nervous system. This double-pronged system includes two branches: the sympathetic (fight-flight-freeze) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest). These two branches structure our emotional well-being. The more we practice a response, the more we wire that pattern into place. Eventually, it becomes our default mode. So to regulate and transform our fear, we must learn how to balance our nervous system, to dim the lights on the fight-flight-freeze branch and turn them up on the rest-and-digest one. Yet how, exactly, do we do this?

You have the built-in capacity to transform fear right inside your own bodies. Drawing from a variety of sources, from yoga to the latest research in neuroscience, I give my students tools for creating emotional well-being, including meditation, breathing exercises, active yoga, and Restorative Yoga (a relaxation-based practice). We know, through research, that these tools work in the following ways:

Meditation calms our nervous system and helps us stay in the present moment, no matter how difficult, without moving into narrative mode

Staying present in this way without telling the story that we are a loser or doomed to fail is deeply healing, and reduces anxiety

Even a 10-minute daily yoga practice increases stress resilience and helps with fear management

When your yoga practice includes an emotional, ethical, or spiritual component, it balances anxiety more effectively

Contemplative, relaxation-based practices such as Restorative Yoga help reduce anxiety and fearfulness

Deep nasal breathing, especially when the exhale is longer than the inhale, helps slow the heart and calm anxiety

I practice yoga and meditation every day; they ve given my nervous system a new set-point and helped me stay grounded in times of transition and uncertainties. Through these tools, I can regulate my fear and change my relationship to it. I don't aspire to be fearless. To me the important question is: Can I metabolize and tolerate my fear long enough for it to transform?

Unaddressed fear becomes toxic; it erodes our mind, body, and spirit. When we try to avoid our fear, we feed it. When we lean into it, we soften it. The fear-busting practices of yoga and meditation help us lean into our fear. They help us be present with it which is when, ironically, it begins to feel more transient, more a part of the ebb and flow of daily emotional life.

Our personal lives mirror our professional lives, and vice versa. it's important to re-condition ourselves and realize that our times of greatest vulnerability are also when we are most alive. It requires us to be shamans: to go through regular cycles of death, such as the failure of a business plan or idea, or the end of a relationship. To endure uncertainty, and live in spaces that can feel frightening, barren, or lacking in structure. How willing are we to go through the death of old structures in our lives? How ready are we to tolerate lack of definition? The more willing and ready we are, the more we can use fear as an impetus for growth. This, to me, is the true meaning of fearlessness.

Breakthrough Steps with Fear

People often say that when we're paralyzed by fear, we should take small, daily steps toward our goal. But personally, in the spaces where I feel most vulnerable and alone, I find it also helps to think big. Not big as in drastic, life-changing externally-driven moves like quitting a job or moving across the country, but internally big.

When the most intense part of the fear passes, I ask myself: What would you like to do that would make you incredibly happy, even if it feels professionally out of reach?

I'd always had this desire to work with one of the professional sport teams I'd idolized as a kid. It occurred to me that one particular team was under a new ownership. I summoned up my courage and cold-called the team s new CEO. To my surprise, I scored a meeting with him and the General Manager. They scared the hell out of me in that first meeting: They demanded a brochure, which I didn't have, and challenged me to tell them how I could help and why. I was all the way to the elevator, pressing the down button disconsolately, when the CEO came loping down the hallway to invite me back.

Within a year, I was doing therapeutic yoga with the team as they made their way through an historic championship run. That opened up to me the world of therapeutic yoga for sports performance, which I've developed into a system called Functional Integrated Yoga. Working with athletes can be challenging, especially as a woman in a male-dominated field. But it makes me happy. It balances the intensity of working with so much emotional suffering. I've done yoga therapy with baseball and basketball players, and even a race car driver in Italy. it's fun, and that s one of the best medicines for anxiety and for the challenge of running your own company.

Not Belonging Is OK

One of my hardest lessons has to do with belonging. I never wanted to be a maverick. I wanted to belong to an already-established group of psychotherapist yogis, for example. But such a group didn't exist. When I started integrating yoga and psychology, the yoga world didn't view psychology as particularly spiritual, and the psychology community saw yoga as a fringe activity for artsy people.

I've finally come to realize that creativity and success are not about belonging. Sometimes the key is having the courage NOT to belong.

When you re trying to shift paradigms, belonging isn't part of the equation. You will stand out. And you will face uncertainties. People will rarely be indifferent to you, always having a reaction to what you say or do. They may love you or hate you never ignore you.

I want to see our society make a dent in the epidemics of anxiety and depression. I want to see us use spiritual education and practice (like yoga and meditation) as a means for social change. And I'mwilling to endure large amounts of fear, and to devote myself daily to my mind-body fear-busting practices, in order to help make that happen.

More Information: Bo Forbes is a psychologist, yoga teacher, and yoga therapist. She has been exploring fearlessness and transformation since childhood. Learn more about her: www.boforbes.com and www.boforbesyoga.com. Her YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/yoginibf.

Photo by kevin dooley.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary March 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm

“I've finally come to realize that creativity and success are not about belonging. Sometimes the key is having the courage NOT to belong. When you re trying to shift paradigms, belonging isn't part of the equation.”

Thanks for that reminder today, Bo, I really needed it!

Belonging is such a primal, and stone-age need for us humans… But when we’re showing up to the divine spectacle of transition and moving through fear in sporadic waves, we inhabit inner realms of aloneness and intensity that are unspeakable in their emotional depth and far removed from our social niceties and the exterior world. It’s like a cosmic law of birth, with many parallels with the earthly instinctive birth process.

Inhabiting this realm in a wholesome and wholehearted way, rather than the self-deprecation that can easily come if we compare ourselves to everyone else, takes tremendous faith. In Sanskrit there is no english translation for the state of faith that arises moment-to-moment: Shraddha: constant awareness rising from Love.


bo forbes March 1, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Mary, thanks so much for your comment. It’s great to hear from a fellow yogini! You’re right about how seductive the comparison game is–it’s designed to fail, because we can never measure up. Everyone’s doing it- and as you suggest, the only antidote is going inward. That aloneness is rich and alchemical.




Anant March 6, 2012 at 7:46 am

“When you re trying to shift paradigms, belonging isn't part of the equation.”

This helped brighten my day today. Thanks!



Bo March 14, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Thank you for taking the time to comment!


hannah March 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Firstly – thanks for an informative site.There are many types of disorders linked with anxiety and depression, a very common one being emetophobia(fear of being sick). There is a brief, completely anonymous on-line survey at http://emetophobiatreatments.com/blog/ .If any readers are sufferers, please spend 2 minutes to complete the survey


Alasdair March 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm

“It requires us to be shamans: to go through regular cycles of death, such as the failure of a business plan or idea, or the end of a relationship. To endure uncertainty, and live in spaces that can feel frightening, barren, or lacking in structure.”

That’s a really interesting way to look at it. I really liked the way you explored business, yoga/meditation and dealing with fear in this post.


Pooja March 22, 2012 at 2:15 am

Thanks Alasdair! We’re glad you liked it.



Bo March 14, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Thank you, Alasdair. They do all go together, and each informs the others.


Julie March 22, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Wow. The alchemy in this article for me. Great timing and reminder of so many things. I needed to hear these words tonight. Thank you bo


Bo March 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm

A pleasure- and thanks for commenting!


Deb March 29, 2012 at 9:03 pm

The timing for me to read this article is perfect. A lot of changes going on in my life right now; even though I understand change is constant sometimes it is difficult to move out of your “comfort zone.”

I loved how you referenced “….. regular cycles of death” … and “…. endure uncertainty, and live in spaces that can feel frightening, barren, or lacking in structure. Makes me realize that everything is going to be alright; if I allow it to.

Hope to see you at Kripala this May


Bo April 3, 2012 at 11:30 am

Hi Deb, so glad the article is helping you in transition! Everything WILL progress, if you work with fear alchemically. Hope to see you at Kripalu as well- that is probably my favorite Kripalu workshop of all! bo


Jennifer April 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm

So well written. Thank you for sharing this! I have been pretending NOT to be in fear because I have been in such transition, career, single parent, moving…etc I have been holding it together…thinking I have to have it all figured out. I have nothing figured out. Holding it together trying to act as if nothing scares me and forge forward like a whirling dervish in order to cope. I’m scared. I’m in major transition. I don’t know where I am headed. After reading this I just wrote a list of all the fears I have…’lean into fear it softens’ I am holding onto hope that whatever is on the other side of what seems to be life long major transition that it will be better.


Pooja April 11, 2012 at 9:54 pm

I hear you Jennifer. Thanks for sharing your account with such honesty and openness. Do let us know how things go, even though I’m sure they will work out just fine for you. :)

It’s funny because I am at the same stage. I don’t know what I will do at a given point in time but paths seem to build by themselves. Like tomorrow, I have enrolled in a coaching course with a 3-day intensive workshop even though I never thought of coaching until a couple weeks ago. It was always counselling for me. But hey, it’s exciting!

Love and Luck,


Sandy April 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm


Which 3day workshop you are attending? Is it forum?



Pooja April 16, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Hey Sandy,

It’s a Certificate IV in Life Coaching training with TCI in Melbourne, Australia. Are you based in OZ? By the way, if you’re interested, I am offering 3 clients a pack of 3 sessions all pro bono. I have 2 spots left. Details on my blog: http://bit.ly/IQHAMi

And how are You going with your journey? :)



Thomas Edward Mrak April 23, 2012 at 3:29 am

For me, the biggest issue is dealing with people who are afraid of change. Who believe there is one set path. Who believe that “hard work” for the sake or “hard work” improves your chances.

It doesn’t.

I am dealing with a great deal of uncertainty. I’m staying with my family at the moment, who believe that we are guaranteed something if we just “work hard” and that everyone deserves a secure job for life.

I’m pursuing my interest in music along with a bit more of an entrepreneurial approach. Scary as hell. No guarantee of success, but are any of us guaranteed anything in life?

But, I’m 30 now. I figured this would be the last time I’d have a chance, especially since the notion of the traditional career is pretty much dead unless you become a doctor.

Probably insane to do, but I’d rather risk it than grind it out, regretting I didn’t answer the call of my soul.


Christina April 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Inspiring, I have just started a yoga instructor training after having to close my business after 18 years and leaving an industry I have been in since I was 18. I thought I was the only one having such fears and confusion of where I belong in the world. Reinventing myself at 54 is the scariest thing I have done so far in this life but like you said “I have never felt so alive.” Thank you


Pooja April 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Wow Christina, good on you for saying yes to yourself! Let us know how you go with the yoga centre. :)



Bo April 24, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Hi Thomas,

Great that you’re doing this- felicita, as they say in Italy. If you keep on following the call of your soul, you’re likely to find yourself in this place again and again, as I did. It’s never your last chance- but it’s great if you act as though it were!



Christine November 1, 2012 at 10:34 am

The Call Of My Soul…I just quit a job that I was at for only 2 months…working as a nurse in a nursing home. The work was very stressfull, getting the meds for 30 patients out in 8 hours…it didnt leave time to connect. Also my 13 year old daughter started to stuggle with sever anxiety and depression…so I quit my job and here I am trying to reinvent myself. I’ve tried this before but fear doubt and insecurity get in the way. Now I am trying again and hoping to hold hands with the Divine Spirit Within…and I am praying for quidance….and I am reading articles like this that inspire me and remind me that I am not alone. I am risking alot to try and start a business, leading retreats out into nature…the one I am working on now is for Mothers of Teenage daughters. I figure I deeply understand the challenges…I live them. And I figure I can share and teach what I know…yoga, meditation, journaling, hiking…and help people creat a beautiful vision for their relationship with their teen girls.If you are interested in learning more about my new endeavors or supporting me please give me a call at 978-870-2955 Thanks Christine PS I am happy to offer my support to you too! Peace and blessings!


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