‘The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance’Alan Watts
During moments of change in our lives where confusion and doubt reign. A place where we seem to be in no place, or in-between places. In limbo uncertainty and fear mix with other emotions, hope, excitement, fascination. Our worries mix with our dreams.
The desire to leave a job for a new one, a new relationship, fear of letting go and fear of the new. I can think of one in my own life. In my past, I was troubled by a problem with anxiety, psoriasis, and a recurring lung problem. Burdened by stress, doubt, anxiety and fear.
I knew I had to do something, and after years of avoidance I took a leap, I signed up to college to learn about diet and nutrition, learn how to take care of myself better.
That leap at the time was scary, at least for an anxious type like me. Fear and doubts about how I was going to pay for it, how to get there and back, what will I be asked to do.
Mixed with hope for a better future, and some small pride in myself I had dared to try something.
I had pushed aside those doubts because I knew I had to to do something, there was no going back.
Today, again and again, I’m faced with the same choices. Stuck in a job I don’t like, doing work that has little meaning to me. But with a desperate desire, a longing, to move in a new direction.
The space inbetween
‘There is no knowledge won without sacrifice’Jane Hirshfield, poet PBS The Buddha
This place is like being pulled in two directions. One forwards and one backwards. Backwards, is the safe bet, it’s familiar, a rut, a routine. Yet the mystery ahead beckons us.
It’s a place of in-between is full of passion, and fire, of imagination, run wild, of goal and dreams. Of the person, you might become, the places you might end up.
But it’s also a cold place, a place of fear, and doubts. A place of looking backwards not forwards. Of wondering what you would lose and are already losing perhaps. It’s a place that fascinates me because for a long time I have been here.
The future, the mystery beckons of what could be.
But the future, the dream is what pulls us, the part that desires adventure, passion, fear, and chaos. These moments, space are Liminal places.
‘When we look into the void we feel both horror and desire.’
Liminal comes from the Latin word “limens,” which means threshold. To be in a liminal place is to stand between two realities.
A liminal place straddles a boundary, transcends it. This shows our relationships to boundaries, in that they do make us feel safe. Definitions give us our sense of belonging. Without such dividing lines, we feel insecure, uncertainty and afraid.
It’s a point where we find ourselves in limbo. No longer wanting to be where you are, but also you can’t see a way forwards. Liminal spaces defy definition because of this.
A great example of a liminal place can be found in the film, The Terminal. Tom Hanks plays a foreigner who’s country is overtaken in a military coup. His legal status is ambivalent. He can’t be let into the US, nor can he go home. So he’s stuck at the airport. The space in-between.
Symbolically it can also be found in the hybrid species of mythological creatures like the Chimera and the Minotaur. Also hybrid humans like Mermaids or Centaurs. Myths are often explorations into change and growth, and how we as a species live and understand it.
These are times of dissolution and destruction. A liminal place is a place in motion, fluid, malleable, full of potential for new forms, new habits and way of doing things. Uprooted from the past, but yet devoid of a future.
Liminal spaces cover a lot of territory, from politics and culture to art, science, architecture and more. But I want to focus on our professional and personal lives, we transition from one reality to another.
It’s in these places where we change the most. The times can be dark, the darkest we may ever experience. Like Orpheus descending into the underworld. Or the turning point in the Heroes journey where the Hero is at his darkest hour.
But it’s also here our hero sees the path ahead with greater clarity. Here where truth is revealed.
I’ve noted the odd mixture of feelings in these moments. I can almost feel something in me dying, a fear, a limiting belief. It fills me with sorrow and joy. ‘The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I ever had‘ is the sentiment I echo in these times.
Sorrow, because I miss the old self, the old ways. the younger me wasn’t happy, but it was safe, there is a certain melancholy familiarity towards who I was in the past.
But I also see just how twisted that idea is. We look back an only remember the good part, not the bad. If we are being honest with ourselves, those times were not as good as we like to think.
This fits alongside the other part of me that sees new possibilities, new dreams, a rekindling of imagination, and passion. A joyous rediscovery of my more romantic side.
Such a liminal place is where the drive of my childhood hopes of happiness and success are brought together into the present, tempered with the wisdom of years.
‘the old ways no longer work’
Things have fallen apart, the routine we once counted on is no longer what we want.
The uncertainty can feel unpleasant, threatening, as we try to find our place, our ground. Were not supposed to stay in these places for very long.
It’s no surprise these are highly creative places too. Despite all the troubles, it’s here in these twilight places in life where we get to be who we want to be. Everything’s up in the air, alive with possibility and potential.
Liminal places are important in their transformational quality. To grow and change we have to seek these places out. Because its the only place where change does take place.
They’re paradoxical, a place that is both feels empty, and full and the same time. Like a blank canvas, it’s void and full of potential. Like a chaotic cauldron from which new forms arise, a new job, relationship, a goal.
It’s where problem and opportunity are meet. Its a place where we grow, we recover, and become stronger for the risk we had taken, and Antifragile result.
Even so far as to seek stress so when the big catastrophes do come you’re stronger are more like to survive and even thrive.
Times these are a changin’
‘Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one’Voltaire
What I suggest in these moments, when you’re torn in two directions is put aside the noise of the world, and the demands of others for a time. Look inwards, write a journal, create art.
Ask yourself the difficult questions about what you want from life. What do you fear and desire? Face the facts your life is not what it needs to be. You’ve fallen into a rut, that’s not fulfilling.
To be in these places is not easy. The fear, anxiety comes from a need for safety and security. Such fears can keep us from accepting a change is required.
What’s more, we don’t know what we want or need most of all. It’s here some introspection would be useful. All I can say is press on with diligence, trust the answers will come in time.
In such times it’s also good idea to try new things. All life is a set experiments. Try out workshops and classes, go on a break, get away.
In such times it where we can discover new desires and reconnect, a passionate entanglement with life.
During such ambiguity and disorientation a good thing to do in these times is a ritual, like tribal societies still today. Even it’s just for yourself. Think of it a symbolic rite of passage that signifies the change you’re undergoing, the boundary being crossed. A way of letting go of the past.
Insights arrive in these places, new ideas on how to live, what to be. We may come across new companions who will be our friends along the way.
Trust yourself that you will know what to do when the time to decide comes. Don’t push help away when it’s offered, but always be wary of others advice. Their values and needs are not necessarily your own.
Take care of yourself too, eat, exercise, connect to fiends and family because these uncertain times are stressful. You can find yourself descending into addiction and harmful habits because of the ambiguity.
When the time comes to make a choice and act you will know.
Growth has to involve change and change has to involve ambiguity and uncertainty. Liminal places undercut our desire for comfort, uniformity and dull repetition. There usually painful places, traumatic even. We’re taking a risk and that feel uncomfortable, but without risk nothing will change.
Sometimes such places are thrust upon us, like war, famine, and politics. Other times it ourselves as we become dissatisfied with the status quo. But in between those two events, we exist nowhere.
‘We are all works in progress’
In these liminal places we don’t fit or belong, but sometimes that’s okay because then we get to define ourselves. The trick is to not be afraid of such places, but to find a way to use them for growth. Such places are where insight hits us, where new possibilities arise, horizons expand.
Truthfully, we’re always in some liminal place, always in between the person we once were and the person we will be. Those who know how to use them are the ones who will thrive.