In my old my old apartment building in NYC, there was a space between the wooden interior door with a glass pane and the outside heavy storm door. You would have to be sandwiched in this space cluttered with symmetrical silver mailboxes, overstuffed with bills and marketing flyers, with reams of Shop Rite weekly ad circulars swiveling around your feet in the cold, while you waited for someone from the third floor to open you. This hallway space felt like a jail cell; it smelled funky. It was a waiting room to get you from the outside world to the inside one and vice versa. That experience of waiting in a tight space between two worlds is known as the liminal space.
I have been reading a lot about liminality or the liminal space (menopause does that to you). Liminality– the term comes from anthropology to describe the stage during the ritual performance where the subject cannot return to the prior state but is not yet ready to enter the next phase. Limen, Latin, literally means “threshold”. It describes those phases in life where one is crossing from one stage to another. The liminal space is the time between “what was” and the next. A place of entering or exiting, a point that marks a beginning and an ending. It is a time of ambiguity, anxiety, and disorientation. Of waiting, and not knowing exactly when the door will open when you will step over the threshold into the new world.
Right now, going through a major life transition, that threshold looks more like the crazy revolving doors on some midtown office building. So many ideas, so many motions at new action, and then the taking back of those actions. I don’t know how to feel—most times I feel angry, overwhelmed, sad. Sad because I have to let go of a part of my life that I will never be able to live again, with all the regrets and glories that came with it. The kind of mind I have asks a hundred questions and rebuts them with a hundred more. From each question splits two or more conflicting answers like some Hydra that then proceed to battle with each other. I have doubts and then doubt those doubts. I feel lost in a state of perpetual indecision, insecurity. Should I stay in NYC or should I move? Should I end this career and try another? But what if I can’t make it? What if I am just fallng victim to the grass is always greener syndrome? Why can’t I be happy with what I have accomplished so far? Shouldn’t I be grateful that I have reached a predictable comfortable level in my career? Why give it all up for the unknown? What about my family? How will they adjust to my changes? Am I too old to start new? What if I am not given the chance to change? Will I be wasting my time and my efforts? Is it too late to become what I always wanted? Should I listen to my gut or should I use common sense and reason?
I am warped by the madness that these changes demand of me. I am stuck in the revolving door of my mind, going around in maddening circles with no chance to go back into the building for to get a break in edgewise to step out of it. On the one hand, the way I have lived my life up to now in the steady predictable rhythms of motherhood, tending to the myriad details of household duties, dovetailing schedules, striking off To-Do lists, slowly inching up salary step ladder, that does not do anymore. There is a discontent, a sadness mixed up with the self-knowledge that while having served others is noble and commendable, it has not served my inner need to meet my potential. I am no longer happy with being someone’s mother, taking care of everyone, being needed.
On the other hand, I feel the nudge of my foot against the open door, I smell the exhilaration of a life wafting with excitement, with the potentiality of living it on my own terms, full of days in sunshine devoted to pen and easel. The new world whose bourn is fuzzy yet emanates with breezes hugging lavender from seaside gardens, and whispers of freedom buzzing underneath bluebells, luxuriates with the open palm of time. That world beckons to me even if it is unclear through the revolving door. That world so magical in its possibilities. Its allure pulls from within the deepest part of me—calling the seed coat to stretch its hairy fingers tentatively to taste the warmth darkness around its earth. The same force that impinges on its containment walls, those fortifications that provide the defense against its own destruction, pulls it out. It is the submerged destiny that calls, like some magic beans that sprout a green highway to the sky. Or when you read an inscription on a wall that stops you in your tracks with the revelation that that message was meant specifically for you.
Adolescence, young adulthood, menopause—it is the crossing over stages, those times of transition that can be hard to pull through. This liminal space is hard. However, it has a magical quality to it. That’s because it is the one place where all transformation takes place. In that crucible, something is changing within and without.
It is in menopause, adolescence—that liminal space that you must submerge your psyche deeper under the folds of blind earth, the subconscious, remain motionless in anticipation. Stay trapped in the folds of the earth, patiently, until a gentle nudge, without even your own sensing, will drive you through the crazy revolving door—out from the crammed hallway smelling of funk and littered with supermarket refuse—out into the brave new world. You will emerge from the dizzying revolutions of the threshold like some Clark Kent superhero poised to fly, to reveal her powers, to seize her destiny. Trust in the process. Stay put.
The ancients symbolically represented the liminal by the snake turning into itself or the butterfly emerging from its pupa. We have lost the power of symbolism in our very practical post-modern culture. We have lost the ability to stay silent to hear the inner workings of our psyche’s seeds groaning with growth. We have lost the sacredness in mindfully acknowledging the passing of the threshold stages.
Liminal space is a sacred space. It is a sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart and a bigger new world is revealed.
Father Richard Rohr writes, “ . . .we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way. This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.” (Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), 155-156. )
If you feel you need to mark this sacred time with more reflection, more guidance, and more ritual reckoning, consider reaching out to me. I can arrange for individual and group sessions that address this transformative transitional time.