Blaise Pascal, 17th-century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher, wrote:
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
Often, I can fully embrace that philosophy. It aligns with one of the foundational concepts of Transformational Presence – the Potential-Based Approach.
Yet if I’m honest, there have been times when I have felt far away from whatever that something incredible was that was waiting to be known. In those times, I’ve felt caught in a liminal space where nothing was certain, nothing was clear, and everything that I had thought was important to me seemed to be on hold.
The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” The liminal space is the “crossing over” space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. It’s a transition space.
One kind of liminal space is that time in the early morning when you are floating in and out of sleep. Deep in the night, it seems that there are no boundaries between realities, time, space, and thoughts. Everything swirls together. Entering the liminal space between the dark and the light, you might vacillate between that boundary-free dimension and the world of form and structure. You aren’t sure where you are, what is real, and what is imagined. Then as daylight ushers you back into three-dimensional awareness, you reenter the linear, somewhat orderly world of structure and form.
However, the concept of liminal space is not limited to short-term transitions. A liminal space can also exist as a much longer space-time continuum than simply crossing a threshold from night into day or from one room to another. The threshold space becomes a liminal space when, for whatever reason, you feel caught. Much as you might like to move on, you realize that something is going on inside, and you can’t hurry the process. It will take as long as it takes.
The liminal space is a waiting space. You could land here for any number of reasons. Perhaps a particular event or circumstance has interrupted the life you were living and now everything is up in the air. Or maybe something is unfolding around you that will have a significant impact on your next steps, yet you have no control over that circumstance and its timing. Or perhaps you are clear about your next steps, yet somehow you sense that now is not the time to take those steps. And you don’t know when the right time will come.
The liminal space can bring us face-to-face with our inner fears about who we are, how we show up in the world, our strengths and vulnerabilities, and our successes and disappointments. It can cause us to question the very core of our beliefs, practices, and identities.
Herein lies the power and the gift of the liminal space. The liminal space shakes us out of our habitual lives. It draws us out of what we have known, yet does not allow us to know what is coming next, or when. It’s the chrysalis stage for the caterpillar. The caterpillar may instinctively know from its genetic programing that it must weave itself a cocoon, yet it probably has no conscious sense of why, for how long it will be there, or what will happen in the cocoon. In a similar way, we may instinctively weave ourselves into a liminal cocoon, yet at first, not even be aware that we have drawn this space around us, or know why it’s important to be here.
The liminal space is an invitation to surrender – an invitation to give over to something larger than self and trust that we will be held and supported with whatever we need in order to navigate the uncertainty. The degree to which we are comfortable or uncomfortable has to do with how we choose to be with what is happening. We can choose to fight against the liminal space and struggle, or to flow with it by listening, sensing, and responding.
Transformation happens when we are not in charge. It can’t happen when we are holding on to control. Sometimes we need to be shaken loose from our foundations in order to be open for something bigger. This is the space where a new reality can be born. It’s a space where we can finally let go of an approach, a way of being, a role, an identity, or a belief, so that something new can be created.
Landing in a liminal space from time to time is essential for our own transformation and evolution. Although it may not be obvious at first, the liminal space has an agenda for us. And that agenda is usually about letting something dissolve so that we can then discover the next iteration of our lives that is waiting for us.
I’ve heard people describe liminal space as “crazy time.” When you don’t understand what a liminal space is, or that you have landed here for a reason, it can indeed feel like “crazy time.” Yet if you are willing to listen, sense, and feel what is waiting for you in this space – if you are willing to let go of control and surrender to a greater potential waiting to unfold – the shifts in awareness and personal transformation can be enormous.
Every time I have landed in a liminal space and have chosen to flow with it, it has become a turning point in my life. It’s definitely a practice, and I won’t sugarcoat it and say it’s always easy. It takes focus and intention. Having an established reflective practice and the diligence and fortitude to stick with it helps. Yet the more I trust the flow and evolution of my own life path and work with it instead of fight against it, the more I know Blaise Pascal’s words to be true:
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
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