In the liminal space
You can listen to this essay as audio here
Happy Sunday, Soothers. This is normally the time I’d be sharing an intentional gift guide with you, or my process to reflect and plan an intentional year, but, uh… yeah. Don’t feel like those quite hit the right notes, right now. (Though you can still access past versions of those if they are something you need! Review process; how to give thoughtfully)
The topics and routines and end-of-year reflections I often write about or offer just seem a bit silly, given that we’re in this very strange liminal, in-between, turbulent and uncertain phase, a phase which has lasted the better part of an entire year.
Do you know the world liminal? I love it and all that it encompasses. Liminal is one of my favorite words and liminality is one of my favorite concepts. Some definitions:
- : of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold : barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response
- : of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : IN-BETWEEN, TRANSITIONAL
- It comes from the Latin līmen, meaning “threshold.” In its literal sense, a threshold is a doorway. Liminal is often used to describe the threshold, or gateway, between two stages. When used in a general way, liminal is often used to describe in-between spaces, places, and feelings.
- And my favorite, from Wikipedia: In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.
I sometimes refer to a liminal moment in time like this, whether it’s 2020 itself, or another transitional moment in life, as a “snowglobe” moment; everything has been tossed, shaken, thrown up into the air, and we’re in that liminal space where it’s not quite sure how it will all land and settle, disoriented, floating in the ether.
The truth is that 2020 has not been a very difficult year for me, which feels strange to admit. I’ve been lucky, more than lucky, in health and work and circumstances and privilege and my gratitude runs so deep, but I think it has more to do with that: it’s that I’ve, for my entire life, felt very much that I was somebody who was actually often more comfortable in the liminal and the transitory than the grounded and certain.
In fact, with structure, rigidity, rules and even with absolute knowing, I often suffer more. Some of the most difficult years of my life have been the ones when the map was laid out and I knew exactly how it would all unfold and I was internally shouting in terror at the prospect, but couldn’t find the courage to get myself off of the path.
Since then, I’ve worked to lean into the liminal, the snowglobe toss up, the threshold, to allow myself to be led and guided, while also developing grounding practices that keep me tethered to the earth and my soul and my heart and body, but not attached to outcomes.
We don’t know what 2021 will bring, or the next year, or the next day. And so I urge you too to cultivate groundedness not in the certainty of your calendar or your salary or your status or your appearance or the external circumstances by which you allow your worth to be measured.
I urge you instead to search for groundedness in presence of the unfolding moment. In the connection to the knowing of your body. In the love you feel for your people and in the way you speak to yourself. In the coming home, over and over again, to the certainty of YOU, yourself, you both as the boat on which you are carried and the light that guides your way down the river.
These, our bodies, our breath, our attention, our presence, our gratitude for whatever is, our allowing of all that is unfolding, our witnessing, are the true and only anchors we will always have.
They are what do connect us to the earth, and if you have those, you can know this: it’s not passive fate that will dictate where and how the snowglobe settles or what lays beyond the threshold for you. Because though you may not know exactly where you will land when the soft, white snowflakes and glitter drift down, you can know you will be on your own two feet, ready to move forward for whatever is and whatever will be.
If you’re looking to practice being with and learning from the liminal, I suggest marking the upcoming winter solstice for yourself. Winter solstice is both the darkest day of the year and the return of the light, thereby being a living marker of this in-between stage.
On the solstice, if you can create the time, consider going on a threshold-nature walk, a practice I recently learned about here. You simply choose a spot in nature to walk in contemplatively for a bit, asking yourself, what shall your intention for the coming year be? As you walk, look around where you are, and search for something that can be a threshold. It can be a gate, a fork in the path, a small stream to cross, etc. If you can find nothing, you can build your own threshold out of sticks or earth. Hold a moment before the threshold, contemplating the insight you have decided upon and holding it tenderly in your heart. Then, with intention, cross the threshold. After you cross the threshold, set the intention to then mindfully look for “mirrors” in nature; these simply mean items or things that catch your eye, from a pile of rocks to a cluster of berries on a tree. Pause before the “mirror” that has caught your eye, and ask, “What is this reflecting back to me?” With that in mind, walk home to a nurturing meal or cup of tea and some warm blankets, knowing you have passed the threshold into something new.
I hope this practice inspires and supports you as we all float about in this snowglobe together.
Also, this is my final Soother of 2020. I am taking December off for my own reflecting and shedding process; I will shortly be going off social media, too (I unfollow everybody on Instagram once a year so that when I return I can intentionally rebuild my following list) and heading down to a cabin for a week of inner journeying. I have so much gratitude for those of you who have joined me in this space over the past few years.
I wanted, as I power down a bit, to leave you with a few things:
- I’ll be doing a Soother podcast dedicated solely to reader questions and thoughts, where I respond to and answer anything you might like to know. If you’ve got something you’d like to see me address, something you need help with, or just a general question about life, enter it here (it’s all anonymous) and I’ll gather and share answers soon.
- You can access all Sunday Soother archives on my Medium.
- I am batch recording a lot of Sunday Soother podcast episodes that will publish throughout December, so if you need your Soother fix but haven’t checked out my podcast yet, head on over to listen.
- I’m sending out a snail mail letter! I’m going to write a year-end reflection letter for print only and mail one out to anybody who would like it. If you want to get a reflection letter in the mail from me, just put your mailing address here and it will come sometime late December or early January!
I’ll be back in January. I wish you safe reflection and peace in the coming month as we cross the threshold into whatever 2021 holds.