Five Pillars Yoga

The Cycle of Transformation through Awareness

Constant Change for Constant Growth

One of the off-the-mat tools I find myself using again and again ties back into the ancient concept of Samsara, the continuous wheel of death and rebirth that we explored in an earlier post.

I received this tool from one of my dearest teachers, Don Stapleton, co-founder of the Nosara Yoga Institute. I am indebted to Don and NYI for many lessons and epiphanies, as well as a deepening understanding of how the way we live in our bodies shapes our emotional and mental wellbeing. But, if I had to pick one teaching that continues to resonate, it would be The Cycle of Transformation through Awareness. 

This cycle has a direct antecedent in Joseph Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey, a narrative pattern that Campbell identified and codified in which a hero sets out on a transformative, symbolic quest. On this challenging journey he meets with obstacles, discovers guides, and ultimately returns to where he started, wiser and victorious (see: Star Wars).


If Campbell’s arc is something you’re interested in, be sure to read Maureen Murdock’s complementary text, The Heroine’s Journey. A woman’s quest, Murdock argues, must take into account her starting point, a society in which she has been defined according to masculine values.


Back to the The Cycle of Transformation through Awareness. Don has a gift for distilling big, universal concepts and questions into easily relatable truth bundles: Esoteric ideas get rooted in the every day and life’s mysteries seem less mysterious. He also makes great posters:


There are seven stages in the cycle.

  1. Normal Flow of Life

  2. Challenge

  3. Confusion and Chaos

  4. Fertile Void

  5. Inner Resources

  6. Integration

  7. New State of Being

The Cycle of Transformation starts when life is normal. This is the status-quo, everything’s-buzzing-along stage of life with predictable routines and and schedules.

Stage Two often enters with a bang. The challenge can take the shape of something unexpected—an illness, a death, a breakup. This test could also come in the form of a new job, a move to different neighborhood, or the start of a relationship. Whatever it looks like, Stage Two disrupts the schedules and routines in which we’d become comfortable. Our initial response may be to scramble to attain normalcy and make our lives look the same even though something major has shifted or changed.

Stage Three, Chaos and Confusion, is when any semblance of normalcy slips through our fingers. The map we’d been using is out of date, the tools in our toolbox are rusted, and everything feels topsy-turvy. Stage Three is when the foundational tasks of everyday life, like cleaning the kitchen and balancing the checkbook, likely get pushed aside. Internally we are out of sorts, unmoored, and possibly depressed or angry.

The Fertile Void is a wide chasm. In Campbell’s paradigm this stage correlates with the part of the journey that happens in “The Special World” or the world that exists beneath the one where we live our surface life. The Fertile Void is an alternate landscape; we move through it almost without moving, a time of waiting and contemplation in which the initial shock of the Challenge and the upheaval of Stage Three have passed. Not quite ready to leap, this stage is where the concept of leaping—of seeing possible paths, of refilling our energy reserves—feels, little by little, possible.

Stage Five is when we embrace that the only way through the trial is by using our Inner Resources. Help may come in the form of teachers and friends, but ultimately we possess all the tools we need. The hibernation of Stage Four gives way to guidance, in the form of messages through dreams, wisdom from guides and books, and clarity through meditation and journaling.

The next phase is when the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel gets brighter. Integration occurs when we incorporate the tools we’ve uncovered and the messages we’ve received into our life philosophy and action plan. The Challenge that upset our daily course of actions is a surmountable obstacle.

In the final phase, Evolution Into a New State of Being, we transform. It may be obvious or imperceptible, but our outlook and approach have changed; perhaps even the way we dress or present ourselves is different, and our frame of reference has shifted. We’ve been through an ordeal and come out on the other side, tempered by the hardships but also surer of our ability to persevere.

This is when the cycle starts anew. We will have some time in our new skin and our new lives to establish routines and get comfortable before a new challenge rises up to meet us once again.

If this continuous cycle sounds exhausting, take heart in knowing that it is, literally, how the world works. Every calendar year the earth goes through a parallel rotation of life and death, challenge and growth.


In my own life I have found the ability to step back and ask myself where I am in the Cycle of Transformation at any given moment to be incredibly comforting and illuminating. Use it as a tool in your own life to bring clarity to difficult passages or to remind yourself of the necessity of change in order to grow.

Images: Wheel of the Sun album cover artwork; the Hero’s Journey; the Heroine’s Journey; Don’s Cycle of Transformation; the Sun Wheel