Deep Change

“Dr. Susan P. Plummer takes us through what can be a terrifying process of losing one’s familiar bearings, living with uncertainty, and then gradually reorienting our internal compass to a new magnetic North….I found it easy to locate myself and my clients within the Seven Shifts of Deep Change she describes. “

 —Philip Brooks, E.D., Associate Professor at California Institute of Integral Studies.

The seven shifts alluded to in my book and my work in general signify the evolving mental, emotional, and spiritual states we experience when we surrender to the beckoning power of Deep Change. They involve a progressive letting go of the familiar and habitual and an opening to the unknown and nonhabitual. The shifts are organically related to one another, as can be seen in the following descriptions.

The Seven Shifts of the Deep Change Cycle

SHIFT 1. The Unsettling

Our desire to change and grow becomes stronger than our wish to stay safely with what is familiar and known. Our deepest selves become engaged with a new way of being in relationship with ourselves and the world that manifests as a free-floating longing. The unfulfillment of this longing in our current lives is experienced as a lack, an inner emptiness. We feel disorientation, disequilibrium, and a strangeness about ourselves and world.

SHIFT 2. The Opening

As we come to fully experience and accept our free-floating longing and inner emptiness, these feelings lead us to previously unknown personal depths. Acceptance and allowing bring us to a new awareness of being unable to move habitually forward and of not knowing what to do next.  This state is in contrast to resignation, which is a kind of abdication.

Water WellFor example, every time one client let herself experience emotional pain in her heart she felt herself descending into a deep, dark, cold, and frightening well. Then one day during a therapy session she found herself in clear spring-fed water and suddenly realized that this life-giving spring was at the bottom of the dreaded well.  As she had allowed herself to feel the pain in her heart and not resist the pull downward, the heartache became an opening to new depths within that had drawn her to revitalization.

SHIFT 3. The Unraveling

Now we undergo the unraveling of our old identities and beliefs that have kept us from accessing the depths of our being from which our free-floating longing will be fulfilled. We often experience this process as a descent within ourselves.

SHIFT 4. The Stilling

We arrive at the threshold between our known selves and world and what can feel like nothingness, with no new horizon in sight, suspended between two ways of being. In this state we wait, with our imaginations stilled, open to the unknown yet unaware of what is to come in the future.

For exaFlower Budmple, over tea a woman who had recently read my book told me that she realized she was in Shift 4 because she had been feeling a suffocating stillness all around and inside her. It seemed like nothing was moving, and she felt dead, lacking motivation and joy. But one day, after allowing herself to just be with this state and resist the temptation to take antidepressants, she noticed new buds on her inner rosebush she had pruned so severely that she thought it was dead. She now experienced new growth and life.


SHIFT 5. The Releasing

After surrendering to facing the unknown and the possibility of experiencing nothingness, we are released into a state of being that is our authentic self. We feel real, renewed, and affirmed. We are now in a mode of fresh freedom and radical receptivity to ourselves and the world.

SHIFT 6. The Spreading

Once released into a mode of fresh freedom, we discover that we have increased awareness to expand into the new world we encounter. This world is one of intense relatedness to everything rather than of emptiness. We experience a deep intimacy and connectedness with the world. We now are able to cocreate possibilities and bring greater potential within our reach.

For insPathtance, a physician in his fifties who had had a thriving medical concierge practice for over thirty years began to feel an inner emptiness. He no longer looked forward to his workdays and even wondered if he should stay in medicine. He concluded that his life had lost purpose and meaning. Then as he just allowed himself to experience these feelings and listen to their messages without acting on them in any way, such as seeking a different vocation, he began to feel free of his usual identity as a physician. With his patients he now experienced an unfamiliar openness. Eventually he realized he was relating to his patients in a different way, spending more time with them and taking a greater interest in their lives, in what mattered to them. He sensed a dropping away of the professional mask that had distanced him from the humanity of his patients and had isolated him. Feeling more connected and real with them, he consequently became a more compassionate and effective physician.

SHIFT 7. The Holding

A more expansive horizon appears, demarcating our new selves and world relationship, which are of greater breadth and depth than formerly. Our free-floating longing that initiated the unsettling in Shift 1 is now fulfilled as we experience deeper meaning and a greater sense of belonging and connection. We discover a new capacity for creativity, as well as an increased ability for spontaneous understanding. We realize we have a stronger inner compass for knowing the “true north” of our beings so we can act more in accordance with our authentic selves.

Four Key Principles of the Deep Change Cycle

  • Understanding the cycle of deep change and the relationship between the shifts encourages a greater faith in facing the challenging experiences of the first four shifts.
  • The pull toward Deep Change originates from the deeper dimensions in the world, which prompt us to discover our more authentic selves and then unite with a more authentic community.
  • The cyclical nature of the shifts of Deep Change reflects how we repeatedly transcend ourselves in order to progress after outgrowing various states of being and relationships with the world.
  • The shifts of Deep Change are also applicable to the collective, such as organizations, groups, cultures, and countries.