Liminal space is when you are standing with one foot on a dock and one foot in a rowboat. The slightest wave or wind will topple you into the water. You are feeling unstable, uncertain, and disoriented. You want to get out of this precarious position, but how? Should you step back on the dock or step out onto the boat?
Liminal Space is a threshold.
While transitional periods are probably not new to most people, liminal space is less common and has a different feel about it. It’s like being untethered and stuck at the same time, restless, anxious, and uncomfortable yet, paradoxically, immobilized and lethargic. The way forward is ambiguous; the way back, unnavigable.
And like the threshold of anything, it is, by nature, transitional and dislocating. It’s the demarcation line between where you are and where you will be next; it’s the in-betwixt or in-between place that nobody wants to be in for very long because it’s neither here nor there. And yet it seems all-consuming.
What puts us in the liminal space?
That depends a lot on the person and the particular contexts they live within. Some examples: a relationship has ended or gotten very stale; an identity or purpose is ghosting on you; the status quo is deeply unsatisfying and unsettling; a career is going nowhere; or, you may be transitioning into or out of something without a clear sense of how or why.
What moves us out of liminal space?
This is also difficult to determine but here are a few questions to consider.
- Change. Do you need to stop or change something significant (e.g., a practice, tradition, job, relationship)? Do you need to start doing something, even if it’s difficult or scary?
- Healing. Are there unresolved regrets, disappointments, failures, or grief to be worked through? Why is your health being compromised? Who is most invested in you staying put or moving on and why?
- Explore the territory you are in now. How did you get here and who is here with you? What do you love and hate most about being where you are now in life? Where do you want to be one or five years from now?
- Explore meaning and purpose. Are your core values and beliefs being integrated into your life or are you living someone else’s life? What is preventing you from being the best version of yourself?
What resources do you have?
- Who could mentor or counsel you about what is possible—whether that is a business decision, lifestyle or relationship change, or a move in location? Who in your community of care could speak wisely and truthfully to you about your current situation?
- What is the most interesting and thought provoking area of the world around you right now? How could you stretch your current knowledges and experiences? What would happen to your beliefs about yourself and the world if you adopted a beginner’s mindset or an unjaded standpoint?
- How have other people journeyed through liminal spaces? How could you position yourself differently in the current narrative of your life? How could you engage your non-cognitive skills in an exploration of the current territory?
Liminal Space is not a great place to hang out.
To be frank, it usually sucks. It requires radical self-examination and tough reflection; it demands more time than anyone would ever want to spend, and it probably creates some mental anguish. However, it might also propel us toward a new alignment with our self and the world. And it holds the promise of meaningful and authentic growth, freedom, and expression.
Sometimes it’s worth it to rock the boat for a while and appreciate what shakes out of your pockets.
Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC