Cogitating on Liminality

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Liminal Space, Liminal Beings

Change. Transition. Liminality. Words that can strike fear in the heart of many people. The idea of change alone can bring about physical reactions from sweating, dry mouth, fidgeting, and much more. Additionally, there are the psychological reactions, the vicious cycle of depression, anxiety, and despair. For some this liminal space is ‘life threatening’, for some it is exhilarating. Why do some people find this scary while others welcome it? What do we teach our children that brings this form of reaction? How do we overcome these feelings? I have not reached any answers but I have found a few interesting points that may help you.

Liminal Space in architecture is described as the space created for the transition from one point in a building to another. Put another way its the journey. It’s the movement involved from one state to another. For humans, this is simply characterised as change and the journey we take through that change. Society talks so much about ‘the end’, ‘the destination’, the outcome of the actions not the space between the two points. Conversely, there are those saying it is about “Enjoying the Journey”, or “It’s about the journey not the destination”. So why do we become so scared, anxious, about this movement?

If we are Liminal beings, are we being taught to focus on the end that never materialises, or is only here for a fleeting moment? What if holding on to the end results causes us to fail physically and mentally? What if we are supposed to occupy this eternal cyclic space?

Some societal constructs show the detrimental effect of gripping tightly to the goal, the destination, the end result, and not letting go, resulting in the physical and mental health problems that arise from addiction, hoarding, routines, and many other examples. Let’s start with routines. We seem to like routines to keep us “on track”, to get things done efficiently and repeatably. For example, I have built a morning routine for waking up, practicing yoga asanas, meditation, and journalling. This is a great routine and I deeply enjoy it, until the other day I deviated from my routine! I went outside, changed the yoga asanas, meditated in nature, and I felt a massive difference. It felt like a breath of fresh air. My routine was not inherently toxic, but it had become stayed.

What about hoarding? Keepsakes, momentos, etc. We keep them to help remind us of past times, past moments, and memories. Again not inherently toxic but it expands to hoarding stuff we do not need. The danger is becoming attached to objects, and associating those with happiness. There is a reason people have been moving to a minimal living, and Marie Kondo (KonMari Method) who has written the excellent book ‘Spark Joy’.

Then there is addiction. The act of becoming physically or psychological dependent on a substance due to the feeling or result it gives you. I like chocolate. You could say I was addicted. I like the taste on my tongue. The sugary, coco, and milk melting. The simple rush. I enjoy the end result of the chocolate. However, this can lead to rotten teeth, weight gain, and an energy dependance. Clearly, drug abuse from childhood trauma or alcoholism from domestic abuse as a way to escape. The list can and does go on, and all show a person stuck in a state, or end state.

Stuck In Between

I was watching a YouTube video by Sean Tucker “Stuck Between The Old & The New (Liminal Space)”. In which he talks about his experiences. The video was so well constructed and very eloquently delivered. Here is a clip from the video I would recommend you listen to it before we move forward.

(Watch from 8:49 to 9:39)

Sean talks about “digging into anxiety deprives us of the potential opportunities” and I liked the line “…these emotions are signposts on the journey…” which made a profound impact when I was watching him tell his story of the liminal space. So many times we do not look up, or search perspective to our current situation. We ‘dig in’ to the problem instead of viewing the arrow that the sign post is pointing out. I have found myself many times looping situations, going deeper into the problem, only to find that when I spoke out loud about it, the sign post appeared.

Sean then talks about the idea of human growth from the journey, stating that “…someone suggested that we only grow in the liminal space.” Again another point that we tell ourselves is true but rarely are we willing to utilise this space to learn. When we are in these moments we become myopic and develop blindspots to the facts, signposts, or learning points sat in plain sight.

Light & Shadow — monk Restaurant

I recently started reading a book from Yoshihiro Imai, monk: Light and Shadow on the Philosopher’s Path. This is an evocative and personal chef monograph rather than solely a cookbook full of recipes. Imai goes through his journey and what it still means to him as he is on that path.

His restaurant is in Kyoto, on the Philosopher’s Path. Every morning he travels to the Ohara area to pick his ingredients for the menu that day. He collects these ingredients from the local mountainous area of Ohara, the local market, even going to the wilds to get herbs and flowers. He talks in depth about his process, and what it means to him to create a menu for the people who will visit his restaurant that day. A few parts stuck out to me when he says “…this menu, this food, these people, will only happen this way once…”. He embraces the transient behaviour of running a restaurant. He compounds this when he talks about the theatre that is created between the kitchen, the staff, and the patrons of his restaurant. Each show will happen for that day, for these people, and never the same way again. Finally, he tells us about watching the food as it moves from the light to the shadow. How the prawns ‘life’ goes from one state to another, or the vegetable transitions from a raw product to an integral part of the dish.

Imai describes the constant change, movements, and transitions we face everyday. He wholeheartedly embraces and observes these changes in his restaurant, in the fields as he watches the seasons move gracefully from one to the next. I have experienced this when gardening. Creating the environment for the seed to sprout. Encouraging it to grow. Dealing with the constant changes in weather and pests. Happily watching as I can take these plants, and introduce them into the food I prepare for my family.

Embracing the Liminal Space

Do we need to learn the ability to embrace the journey? Allow things to emerge, slowly, meaningfully, and see those signposts to guide us in our decisions. Change is inevitable. Liminality is eternal. We will always face obstacles, challenges, and issues along the path of our lives. If we embrace the transitional space and encourage the change, we move to a place of growth.

Challenging yourself to face the fear, move towards the unimaginable, step into the light or the shadows, can inspire us to be more. The idea of standing atop a cliff is physically and mentally daunting*. It may take more effort to reach the top, but the reward for taking that journey to look out over that vast ocean and know you pushed through that fear.

My experiences recently have shown me that gripping tightly onto these fleeting moments and trying to find this stability, leads me to have blindspots to opportunities, to learning, and my own personal growth. We need to embrace change, we need to live in that liminal space, but not too long or it will simple become ‘normal’.

Below is a poem that helped me understand the path we take, the loses we endure, and that being ‘lost’ is not inherently bad, just a moment to grow and find yourself again. I wish you well on your journey, and hope you can embrace the liminal space.

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner

Thank you for reading!

Warm regards,

David

*obviously there are some who have vertigo and I would not expect someone to climb or walk to the top of a cliff.

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