I recently started reading a book
about why people like new things so much, and why others avoid new and different, and most of us in between are cautiously curious.
It got me thinking about the ways I have changed, what spurred the changes, how I avoided other changes, and how seeking out new experiences and ideas is both exciting and dangerous.
Novelty is a double-edged sword:
“Even when we know we are about to face something new, the change can be overwhelming and unpredictable.”
Don’t Believe What Used to Be So Easy to Believe?
A number of people I know have experienced a dance between their life as it’s been and their life as it could be. They’re reevaluating what they think, what’s most important to them, and how they operate in the world.
Sometimes, those self-explorations nudge them into uncomfortable territory. They learn things they’ve never heard before. They realize that family or friends or communities have shielded them from some perspectives or voices or ways of viewing the world. They realize there’s a gap between what they thought and what’s now sitting right in front of them.
It’s rather confusing. Sometimes it’s funny and illuminating, but usually it’s disorienting, shocking, and even disturbing.
Welcome to your transition.
(You remember liminal space, don’t you?)
Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr explains liminal space:
“It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer….These thresholds of waiting and not knowing our ‘next’ are everywhere in life and they are inevitable.
If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”
You’re stuck in the middle without a clear path to follow. It’s not all terrible and disconcerting, though:
“Liminality is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where people can begin to think and act in genuinely new ways. It is when we are betwixt and between, have left one room but not yet entered the next room, any hiatus between stages of life, jobs, loves, or relationships. It is that graced time when we are not certain or in control, when something genuinely new can happen.”
— Richard Rohr
Your Life is in Transition—the best time to change what you think
A person named William Bridges studied cultures and organizations to create a model that illustrates and informs people about the way to face changes and successfully navigate transitions.
About transitions that often feel uncomfortable and even scary, the model shows:
“Despite these, this stage can also be one of great creativity, innovation, and renewal. This is a great time to encourage people to try new ways of thinking or working. A change is the best opportunity to take another look at the world and adjust your perspective to adapt to reality.”
Poetry for Uncertain Times
Poetry is an amazing way of communicating ideas without instructing, and offering metaphorical solidarity when literalism falls flat.
“You are frightened
when you first realize something
is gone, when the strings that hold now
to then are snapped, leaving you
somewhere above ground with nowhere to land,
nothing to hold onto.”
— James Langlas
“I feel that my vessel has struck
Down in the depths
Upon some huge thing.
happens! Nothing . . . quiet . . . waves . . .
Nothing happens, or has everything happened
And are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?”
― “Seas” by Juan Ramón Jiménez
A Surprise Discovery in Liminal Space
What’s the positive reward of enduring such times of untethered, uncomfortable waiting and wondering? Sorry, there’s no guaranteed treasure. But here’s what you may find:
“When we cross a new threshold worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”
— John O’Donohue
Perhaps if you feel stuck, uninspired, and like you need something different to give you energy and direction, liminal space may be the threshold you need.
“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.”
— Richard Rohr
As tempting as it may be to rush through the ambiguity and try to land on sure footing again, resist. Substantial growth and change is a long, slow process.
“A new moon teaches gradualness
and deliberation and how one gives birth
to oneself slowly. Patience with small details
makes perfect a large work, like the universe.
What nine months of attention does for an embryo
forty early mornings will do
for your gradually growing wholeness.”
It’s not easy to be in liminal space, especially for prolonged periods. Offer grace to others you know are in the middle of such transitions, even if you want to help them resolve the questions or uncertainty they hold. Offer yourself grace and time, too.
A benediction from Kaitlin Curtice, for all of us waiting in liminal, in-between spaces:
“You remind us of who we once were,
who we are, and you challenge us to
become someone new in the days ahead.
For this, we are forever grateful,
because you never let us go,
and you never stop honoring
who we are in the in-between times.”
tbh most days, I don’t know if I should write poetry, curate food and drink and travel recommendations, or just give up and succumb to Netflix. Consider this my own experimental liminal space. If I do anything new, you won’t hear about it on Facebook—but maybe on this infrequent email newsletter. Thanks for reading.