Saturday, 26 December 2015

Inbetween Days: Liminal Space

So here we stand on the hinge of another year. The winter solstice has passed, Christmas has been and gone and we find ourselves in those in-between days standing at the threshold of a new year. Yes the day light hours will increase over the coming weeks but still we must face winter. January and February can be difficult as we feel stuck in the cold on these dark winter evenings.

Winter is not an easy time, so many of us want it over as soon as possible. We want spring and the new birth and life that it brings, but that is not the way to live and we know it. To live, always holding on to the spring yet to come, is to fail to fully experience what is present now. There is such richness in the dark cold of winter and we need to feel it and allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness. There is a beautiful wonder about winter that we would do well to embrace. For it is in this cold stillness that change can begin to form and grow.

There is a beauty in those in between days as we stand on the threshold of something new, in that space. As we stand together between the worlds in the changing of the light.

The truth is though that we are always standing at thresholds, at times of change. Each beginning is actually the end of something and each ending is the beginning of something new and what stands in between is threshold.

Over the last few months I have kept on hearing a phrase that I was not really consciously aware of before; it is phrase that has kept on knocking on the window of my consciousness all this year, staring right into my soul. The phrase is “Liminal Space”. Now what on earth does it mean? You may well be asking. Well “Liminal Space” is a threshold, a space between things.

The word “Liminal” comes from the Latin “limens”, meaning “a threshold.” A threshold is a doorway or the entrance, it is a place or point of entering or beginning. In psychology the term “Limen” means the point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to begin to produce an effect.

So “Liminal Space” is that moment when something changes from one state to another. Such as the dawn of each day, when the morning sun rises high in the sky bringing daylight. Or at dusk, when the evening sun sinks into the horizon bringing nightfall.

“Liminal Space” is that moment when we move either into or out of a deep fog, whether physical or one made from our own minds. Sometimes in that fog we find a complete stillness and in that stillness a new truth can be revealed. As we do we come out of the fog once again and step into a new clear light. Similar to those moments when we awaken from a deep sleep, when we are not yet fully awake but no longer asleep. And at the other end of the day that state when we move from being fully awake and conscious into deep sleep. Then there are those moments of life’s transitions, between life and death itself. The following reflection by Victoria Safford, describes this beautifully.

“In Between” by Victoria Safford

"One afternoon some time ago I brought my little baby out to visit a very, very old neighbour who was dying that year, quietly and gracefully, in her gracious home. We were having a little birthday party for her, with sherry and cake and a few old friends gathered round her bed. To free a hand to cut the cake, I put my baby down right on the bed, right up on the pillow - and there was a sudden hush in the room, for we were caught off guard, beholding.

It was a startling sight. There is the late afternoon light were two people side by side, two human merely beings. Neither one could walk, neither one could speak, not in language you could understand, both utterly dependent on the rest of us bustling around, masquerading as immortals. There they were: a plump one, apple-cheeked, a cherry tomato of a babe, smiling; and a silver-thin one, hallow-eyes, translucent, shining, smiling. We revellers were hushed because we clearly saw that these were dancers on the very edge of things. These two were closer to the threshold, the edge of the great mystery, than any of us had been for a long time or would be for a while. Living, breathing, smiling they were, but each with one foot and who knows how much consciousness firmly planted on the other side, whatever that is, the starry darkness from whence we come and whither will we go, in time. Fresh from birth, nigh unto death, bright – eyed, they were bookends there, mirrors of each other. Radiant.

Cake in hand, and napkins, knife, glasses, a crystal carafe a century old, we paused there on the thresholds of our own momentary lives. Then, “What shall we sing?” said someone, to the silence, to the sunlight on the covers, to the stars. It was the only question, then, as now, years later. What on earth shall we sing?"

“Liminal Spaces” are “Thin Places” occurring on boundaries between things. This brings to mind a beautiful song by Justin Sullivan. Please listen to a version of it here...

“Liminal Space” is a boundary. Think of fences, walls and trees between property. It is the edge between things. Such as water and land, a valley or a hill. When I think of where I come from in West Yorkshire, such boundaries are everywhere in those hills and valleys of green and grey. Another example is in the change of the shape of the land, just look around you then next time you are out and about where you live . Another example is the East Coast of Yorkshire , around Filey and Flamborough Head where the cliffs are eroding and falling away into the North Sea. It is amazing to stand there sometimes and stare out into the sea watching the waves hitting and then retreating from the coast . It is that moment of contact, just before the sea withdraws once again that is a kind of “Liminal Space”.

“Liminal Space” is not only physical in nature though. It is that moment, which may last a lifetime, that lies between the known and the unknown. It is a moment of transition a space of heightened intensity when we cross the threshold of what we think we know. That moment of abandon when things change and are never quite the same again. Moments that can change us forever. Moments that change everything. We all have them, it’s just that too often we are not fully awake to them. We all of us stand in that space, between the changing of the light. Between every sunrise and every sunset a whole new world of possibility is born.

Now sometimes we enter such times, “Liminal Space”, willingly, as a result of a decision to try something new. But there are also others times when we just drift into them a bit like driving into a fog on our journeys somewhere, not knowing when the fog will clear. Such moments are filled with uncertainty, they are times of transition we did not ask for at all. These can be confusing times and such confusion can cause fear and anxiety. We humans do not like uncertainty, we like to know the ground that we stand on is solid and secure. We want the path to be clear, we want our goals to be certain, we want to rush through the fog and enter once more into the light as soon as possible. This is why so many of us don’t like the cold and darkness of winter, spring is so much more appealing, but we cannot have the joy of spring without life’s winter. We want certainty, we want firmness now!!! This though is not realistic, this is not life.

The French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin captured this perfectly when he wrote: “We are quite naturally impatient in everything. To reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – And that it may take a very long time.” He urged us to be patient, to embrace this time of uncertainty, to allow it to unfold naturally as we evolve into what we are meant to become. The key it would seem is to be open and to experience everything, because everything matters you know, even the experiences we don’t want to feel. We need to experience the thresholds, so as to learn all that they offer. To stand between the worlds in the changing of light. To pass through the “Liminal Space” and become all that we were born to be. Born again and again and again in each moment of life.

This year has been one of great change for me. This year has been one when I have come out of the mist of threshold into something new. New dawns have emerged and new beginnings have arisen. New truths and experiences have come to me. My life has changed on so many levels. In every sense. There has been the obvious physical change as I have lost over a third of my body mass. That said there have been other changes too in terms of my understanding of life and it’s meaning to me. These changes have been mental, emotional, spiritual as well as the physical one.

My understanding of my own spiritual faith has opened and awakened to new levels too. There has been one phrase that comes from “The Sermon on the Mount”, from Matthew’s Gospel, that has been taking shape in the soul of me all year long. The phrase is “You are the light of the world”. That this is the real message that was brought to the world 2.000 years ago and that it is our task to bring this to life in our mortal lives. That it is our task to incarnate this love in our world. That we are responsible for this our world. That we are the ones that our world has been waiting for. It is up to us you know, it’s up to us to bring this love alive.

Last year as I stood on the threshold of the year I did not know what was to come. None of us did, did we? This year we all stand at a new threshold uncertain of what is to come. As we stand in the coldest darkest days. Let’s not rush through these in between days and wish them away. Let’s instead appreciate this “Liminal Space” for what it is and when we are ready, let’s step into the days of the new beginnings and truly give birth to the love that is within us all.

I will end with this beautiful meditative piece by Kath R Walker...Best wishes for the days ahead and may you experience all that lies inbetween...

“In Between” by Kate R Walker

In between, liminal, that space where we wait.
Between moments; events, results, action, no action.
To stand on the threshold, waiting for something to end,
And something new to arrive, a pause in the rumble of time.
Awareness claims us, alert, a shadow of something different.

In between invitation and acceptance.
In between symptom and diagnosis.
In between send and receipt of inquiry and question.
In between love given and love received.

Liminality, a letting go, entering into confusion,
ambiguity and disorientation.
A ritual begun, pause … look back at what once was,
Look forward into what becomes.
Identity sheds a layer, reaches into something uncomfortable to wear.

In between lighting of the match and the kindling of oil.
In between choosing of text and the reading of words.
In between voices and notes carried through the air into ears to hear.
In between creation thrusts ever forward.

Social hierarchies may disassemble and structures may fall.
Communities may revolt or tempt trust.
Tradition may falter or creativity crashes forward.
Leaders may step down or take charge.
The people may choose or refuse.

In between, storm predicted, the horizon beacons.
In between, theology of process reminds us to step back.
In between, where minutia and galaxies intermingle with microbes and mysteries.
In between, liminal, that space where we wait: Look, listen, feel, breathe.

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