When I was little, I used to rearrange my room on a regular basis. I never replaced old furniture or décor with new stuff—I simply put the head of my bed against a new wall, my dresser alongside a different door, my pictures and posters in new places.
I distinctly remember going to sleep feeling incredibly uncomfortable each time I did so. I felt creeped-out and weird, my brain thrown off by getting into bed from a new direction, heading toward my desk from a different angle, and looking for posters in places they no longer were.
Then, after a few days, comfort would replace discomfort, and my “new” room would become my old room. My brain would relax, and my entire being would relax into a space of normalcy. Each of those times I reorganized my room, I pushed myself into a liminal space, even if only for a few days.
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “liminal” as something that is “of or relating to a sensory threshold” or “barely perceptible”. Anthropologists define “liminality” as the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.
In all of our lives, we find ourselves in liminal spaces, whether we know it or not. We graduate from college and start working full time. We end one relationship and become single or start a new one. Someone we know dies. We fail at something at which we knew we’d succeed. We learn of a new word, idea, or theory and we see ourselves, others, and our world in new ways. We develop a new inner or emotional capacity, and we see our circumstances through new filters. We lose our filters. We make a new friend and develop new ideas of what it means to be connected. We get married. We get divorced. We make and deliver a baby. We become a husband, a wife, a sister, a mother, a father, a failure, or a success. We fall in love. We no longer know who we are. We become something we weren’t before, but we’re still not who we’re going to be.
Life constantly throws us into the liminal space. Sometimes we stay there for minutes; other times for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. The amount of time we spend there is often out of our control or is, many times, indicative of our willingness and capacity to stay in the unknown.
Last year, I walked El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage across Spain. I walked 520 miles in 30 days. I started my journey by leaving my husband, friends, family, job, city, and material possessions behind (with the exception of the fourteen pounds of clothes and gear I carried on my back). I flew to Madrid, took a bus to north-eastern Spain, and started to walk.
What followed was a constant entering and exiting of the liminal space. Flight to Madrid by myself? Unfamiliar. Flight to another country? Familiar. Bus by myself to a new-to-me part of Spain? Unfamiliar. Bus in a foreign country? Familiar. Alberque (hostal) in new city? Totally unfamiliar. Alberque in Spain on El Camino? Familiar. (I walked another route of El Camino ten years earlier.)
Yet despite some familiar experiences, the entire journey took place in the liminal space to varying degrees of intensity. It blew my mind and rocked my familiar world.
Living in the liminal space, let’s be clear, is not for suckers. It’s for the daring. It’s for people who live life fully, not because doing so is the trend, but because, when they look at it, there are no other options.
Living a liminal life is for the transformers; the movers and shakers; the revolutionaries; the adventurous. It’s for the experiencers. The lovers. The people who engage in the washing machine of life, intentionally or not, and keep on living despite of, and in service to, constant challenge, heartbreak, transition, and confusion.
Living in the liminal space is for people who grow, expand, explore, and look at the world with curious eyes. It’s for people who live life, witnessing and engaging in life’s action and maneuvering, as best they can, through road blocks, barriers, and detours.
I happen to believe that living a liminal life is for everyone. Said another way, I believe it’s something that everyone just does. If you’ve ever gone to an unfamiliar place, changed your relationship status, moved to a new house, changed jobs, changed schools, changed friends, tried something new, traveled to another city, country, or state, read a book that changed your life, had an experience—good or bad—that changed your life, or otherwise found yourself in a state of change, transition, or newness, you’ve lived—no matter how long—in a liminal space.
The liminal space is responsible, in our selves, our families, our communities, and our world—for change. For transformation! For evolution! For revolution! It knocks down structures and rearranges life. It’s for you. For me. For all of us.
This blog is about adventures in liminal living. I hope you’ll join me in an exploration!
With love and liminality,
Annie Rose Stathes