"Liminal space... It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control."
I’ve been feeling restless lately.
I was out walking through the snowy sludge yesterday and the phrase “the nowhere between two somewhere’s” popped into my head. My dear friend Lynn* uses it to describe how it feels to live between the ending of one thing and the beginning of something else.
As I walked yesterday, I could feel the pull of an emerging future that doesn’t yet exist - the plans, the ideas, the next steps that are unfolding, but haven’t yet come to fruition. And with the excitement, there is a grieving for what will have to change to make room for that new reality. But for now, there isn’t much I can do except live with the restlessness of nothing being wrong, yet having a deep desire for resolution.
Meanwhile, my day-to-day goes on seemingly the same, only with an undercurrent of restless anticipation. In fact, I didn’t even know it was there for a while. My body felt it before it became conscious – fitful sleep, a kink in my back, a tightness in my throat.
I'm guessing you know this space, too. You have visited nowhere many times in your life, just like many of my clients who are…
Waiting for a baby to come
Waiting for the re-org or promotion to be announced
Waiting for someone else to make a decision that will impact them
Waiting to start the new job
Waiting for the test results from a health scare
Even if you’re not experiencing this in-between state on an individual level, there is no denying that there is a collective restlessness as COVID has thrust all of us into a proverbial waiting room. We have nostalgia for what was and a longing for what is to come, but we don’t live in either world. This state is often referred to as liminal, coming from the Latin word meaning “on the threshold.”
Yesterday as I splashed through the grey puddles (literally and metaphorically), I could feel myself grasping for something to do. I wanted to push, assert, influence the outcome, even as I knew that the right answer was to wait. Whatever actions I was contemplating had more to do with not wanting to be in my own discomfort than about actually influencing the outcome.
Each of us responds to it differently. To over-simplify a concept in Buddhist psychology**, there are three personality types: grasping, aversion or delusion. I know I tend to grasp, so can I recognize it and relax my grip? What do you know about what you do in uncertainty?
And this is what the liminal state offers us- not a chance to do, but to be. It can teach us how to wait, to listen, to allow and to pay attention to what wants to emerge...
“When we find ourselves in liminal space, does it matter whether we are pushed or whether we jump? Either way, we are not where or what we were before, nor do we know how or where we will land in our new reality. We are, as the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920–1983) wrote, betwixt and between. In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely. . . .
But what if we can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as . . . a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation[?].
We get to choose whether to distract ourselves with mostly meaningless activities OR we could pay attention to who we are when the ground moves. My invitation is to recognize that waiting can be just as important as what happened before or what will happen next.
To staying awake,
*Thank you my dear friend Lynn Schoener for the poetry of who you are.
**The Wise Heart, A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield