I have to be honest and say I had never heard of the term, “liminal space,” before. Has this happened to you? I hear or see a word or phrase that I am unfamiliar with and then it begins to show up more frequently. Once it had been brought into my awareness, I started to see liminal space in a handful of places. I started asking friends if they had ever heard of the term liminal space and none of them had heard of it either. My curiosity was once piqued.
I read that liminal space means a stage or state of transition. A place where nothing is certain. You go from a known space to an unknown space. An in-between space. The Latin root word for liminal is limen. Which means, “threshold.” We cross over a certain threshold to get to another state of being.
One example of a physical liminal space could be an empty hallway at a school early in the morning or late at night where there are no students or teachers present. It can be eerie and make one feel a bit unnerved because the halls of a school should be filled with students and staff.
When I worked in a middle school, I liked to ease into my day by arriving early. I enjoyed the quiet before many of the staff arrived. It was a bit unsettling to be in a large school and I would often times find myself alone in a darkened hallway. The hallways would be devoid of students, teachers, and sometimes light. The halls were dark and the lights gradually turned on as I walked closer to the sensors in the ceiling. The censors are strategically placed a number of feet apart. At the end of the long hallway it would still be dark until I got closer to the next sensor and the lights would make a clicking sound that would echo and click on the lights and illuminate the hallway as I walked towards my classroom which was located at the back of the school. I rushed to get to the next sensor so the lights would turn on.
Empty parking garages at night or early in the morning are another example of a liminal space. I feel safer and less afraid if there are other people around me. I have found myself in a nearly empty parking garage and I get out of my car and start heading for the elevator or stairwell as fast as I can. My senses are heightened and aware of this uncomfortable in-between space. You can hear your footsteps echoing around you as you walk hurriedly out of that parking space to the nearest exit or threshold to feel safe.
The parking garage could be attached to a building or the outdoors. It just feels better to me to be able to reach that next space. I find myself holding my breath a bit until I reach a safer, less empty space. Unless, you find yourself walking into an empty staircase with loud sounds from your feet hitting the concrete steps as you hurriedly descend the stairs…because you find yourself in yet another liminal space.
Movies are notorious for adding a level of depth to the fear and discomfort that liminal space offers and then they add suspenseful music to heighten the scare. I know the music helps build that suspense and scare factor into movies and TV shows, but it seeps into our life experiences of actually being in a liminal space in real life and not feeling comfortable in it because of what we have watched on TV.
Yoga teachers hold sacred space for their students in a yoga class. You might find yourself in an emotional liminal space. You come into a yoga class in one state of mind and you leave transformed into an altered state of awareness...hopefully a calmer version of you. The teachers hold that space for you to feel everything that arises within you during your practice. Yoga teachers are not there to "fix" anything, but to allow emotions to flow and move with the body, breath, and spirit.
Yoga teaches you to meet yourself on the mat. There may be times during a yoga class where you are uncertain if you can do all that the teacher is asking of you. Whether it is a challenging pose or sequence of poses, a new breathing technique you are unfamiliar with, or if a hindrance in your own mind rises to the surface from deep within. There are times in a yoga class when you love it and times that are really challenging and you are not loving it and you want to flee. Then there is a sweet release, a pause. You breathe deeply because you have found some space somewhere and you begin to move in a different way. You find a new focus or a softening awareness and you feel a subtle shift or a letting go...a sweet surrender. Perhaps you have crossed a new threshold. I always recommend you stay for the final relaxation pose...savasana...it will set you free. Yoga is a journey into your self. A threshold of tearing down the layers of the known to discover the strength and love you have within and what is underneath those layers you have built up throughout your life.
I took the picture above when I began to write this blog entry on liminal space. I found this quiet, unfamiliar spot in the woods where I could sit with Rosie and begin to feel my way into understanding liminal space a bit more. I was experiencing a time in my life where nothing was certain and I was on the threshold of a whole new way to be and how I showed up for myself in this world. I was crossing a new threshold and living in an in-between space.
I left my job at the middle school to care for a few grandchildren. I knew how to care for children because I had practically done it most of my life. I cared for siblings, nieces and nephews, stepsons, my own sons and then middle school children. That world was known to me. Writing a spiritual blog and sharing my heart through my words, thoughts, and life experiences was uncertain territory. I found myself standing at a threshold smack dab in the middle of a liminal space. I was taking a leap of faith into the unknown by crossing a new threshold into being my most authentic, vulnerable, self. I jumped and prayed the angels would catch me. They did.
I am continuing to surrender my ego to my soul's calling. Breathing deeply. I breathe in trust and breathe out doubt. Trust in...doubt out. I am getting to know myself in this process of introducing my humanity to my soul through writing about my life and writing about ways to heal things that were known and unknown. When the fear of this liminal space rises up...and it does...I have to fill up with trust, unconditional love and compassion for me. I am constantly letting go of the judges that want to take up space in my mind.
I have certainly been in the middle of liminal space many times in my life, but not having known there was an actual term for it. When a relationship ends or you lose someone you love and are filled with grief. That time between the known and the unknown can be very uncertain and heavy and nothing remains the same. I have come to embrace living in the present and letting go of the attachments to what is known. Nothing in life is ever certain. I have learned to find myself in these spaces of time that are undefined, these spiritual initiations, oftentimes have left me raw emotionally, mentally, physically. I have felt untethered and quite wobbly. They come in and shift me and shake my life to the core, redirect me, and I have to surrender the known yet again. I surrender my ego to my soul's knowing and trust all will be well. I don't have to know the details or what the future may hold. I just have to continue to trust there is a divine plan.
Liminal space invites you to feel everything coming alive in a new way and to be seen through a new lens. It is a place where your soul is calling out to you to let you know your life is meant to go in another direction. You find yourself in the space between. A time when your life is cruising along in a certain way and then something suddenly happens. You are shaken awake and guided into a liminal space, a spiritual initiation, and another transition. Life is constantly changing and the universe is conspiring with us to light the way. It just doesn't always feel that way at the time of change. Patience. Learning is happening. Trust that all will be well.
It is a period of transition that you may not want consciously to be in. It feels like you are moving, thinking, walking differently. At first it can be a bit murky and filled with uncertainty. Trudging through thick, muddy waters that you are mired in. You try to make sense of it all. It seems to take more energy and effort to do regular activities. You are being deconstructed in many ways and awakened from your comfortable state of being and slowly constructed and sent in a new direction guided by your soul. Your soul is saying, "Ego, it's time to come home to soul. Trust in your soul's knowing and guidance. Try to enjoy the ride!
Angela O'Brien-Greywitt, Intuitive Mystic
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