I always like to visualize the liminal space as one of a “fertile void” – like a seed underground – it may seem like nothing is happening but in the darkness a great and powerful transformation is taking place. I truly believe that with each challenge comes opportunity to make things better. Even if I REALLY resist the change at the time! ~Jen Rolston
The word “liminal” has Latin roots from the word “limen,” meaning threshold. Liminal space is that literal or figurative space we reside within that is transitional–the space between one point and another. The time in which we embody liminal space is called liminality, which is a time at the middle point in a passage from one stage to the next. This middle point time can feel like a deeply disorienting time of ambiguity. It could be a time and space that we are thrust into unwillingly, or one that we choose to undertake. Either way, it is the point in the “hero’s journey” when the hero, left without the devices that have served her or him in the past, is forced to pause and enter a kind of void in time–“betwixt and between,” as anthropologist Victor Turner wrote. While it may seem like nothing is happening above the surface, if we refuse the desire to be too hasty in our moving through it to what lies in the space beyond, the seeds that are under the surface will have their appropriate resurrection time, when the casing of the seed can break open and the life that lies within can root and rise.
A great illness, death, a global pandemic–certainly these are happenings that propel us into liminal space, into the threshold of uncertainty. I experienced this deeply last summer when it felt like I had only come up for a gasp of air from being submerged under by one astonishing death to have my head thrust under the surface again by the next monumental death. Grief pushed me into a liminal space and grief held me still there. I couldn’t rush past anything because I was weighted by the heaviness of it all. And now, here I am with all of you, weighted again in place by the pandemic. Would I rush past if if I could? Probably. I like to get to the meaning of it all, figure it all out and attach a nice little bow around the lesson. I think, though, this is likely the equivalent of ripping a tiny bud of plant, just before it reaches the surface, up into the light just so I can see what it looks like, anxious to behold the plant in my time.
I include this from author Sheryl Fullerton, “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[?] …Like Jonah in the belly of the sea monster, we are led where we do not want to go—not once, but many times in our lives. Dwelling in unsettling liminal space, whether we are pushed or we jump, we are led to draw on resources and possibilities we may not have tapped before. In the unknown space between here and there, younger and older, past and future, life happens. And, if we attend… we can learn to let reality—even in its darkness—be our teacher, rather than living in the illusion that we are creating it on our own. We can enter into the liminal paradox: a disturbing time and space that not only breaks us down, but also offers us the choice to live in it with fierce aliveness, freedom, sacredness, companionship, and awareness of Presence.”
The story of Jonah that she references is one that can remind us that the heroes journey doesn’t often look pretty or perfect. The heroes journey is one in which obstacles arise again and again, thrusting one into a space where breakdown may eventually offer breakthrough–though not if it’s forced. Speaking of obstacles then, I think of two deities of transformational, liminal spaces in the Hindu pantheon. There is Agni, god of fire, who resides in the liminal space between heaven and earth, igniting old ways, stagnation, that which is dying off in order to awaken the inner eyes that the feet may proceed forward in right direction. Agni places us in the liminal space of the ashes–between death and life. Then there is Ganesha, who is said to be the remover of obstacles and one who ensures success or the placer of obstacles when one’s ambition has become destructive. This idea again reminds me of the story of Jonah, whose obstacles arose in the wake of his great destructive ambition.
I spend a lot of time living in the illusion that I am creating life, and so I would love to create something now. Yet I feel that I’m being held back and somehow reminded that, dare I say it, I am not in control and never have been. I can’t help but wonder now, what is on the other side of this great obstacle that’s fixed us in this liminal space? It is unsettling to stay here, yet I have discovered in this six weeks resources and possibilities I didn’t know existed. I have discovered a kind of companionship with humans that is richer even than the togetherness of being in the same room. I’ve discovered that healing in transformative times comes because I journey through the dark emotions, and by “dark” I don’t mean negative. Darkness is so often used as a derivative term; however, the dark emotions, i.e. grief, suffering, ambiguity, disorientation, have a way of plunging us into the depths of our self, into a heroes journey through liminal space that can lead us to a new and greater understanding of life itself. These times of liminality, times of obstacle and descent into darkness, hold also the energy of profound healing and renewal. To transform and grow, we must first be willing to journey through.
One breath at a time then. Like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, I feel the stop of time as I pause, breathe, listen, wait to respond until I know the response is made in love. In the mean time, I cultivate the fire of transformation within me with poses and breath so that I can awaken all that has been stagnate below the surface. I await the fire within to awaken my vision–a vision for something new and lustrous, something gleaming with vibrancy. That is the path my feet will take. When the time has come to transition onward, onward with love will be my path.