Liminal Spaces: Naturally-Occurring Opportunities for Breakthrough
Updated: Jul 18, 2018
Liminal space is often referred to as ‘no man’s land’. These experiences are happening to us, in our lives, constantly. Some are piecemeal and ordinary, such as waking up in the morning.
Some are purely psychosomatic, like the moment before falling asleep. And yet others are happening in obvious and outwardly-evident ways,. They include different stages in one’s life, how we mark significant events including accomplishments, endings, psychological states, physical injury, hormonal states, and myriad other examples.
Throughout history, in every society, without exception, there have been built-in ceremonies and rituals to mark these transitional spaces. However, in today’s society that is consumed with speed, entertainment, anxiety and dread, and the overall devaluation of process, content, phenomenological experience and the sacredness of our lives, we find ourselves in a macrocosmic liminal state. We only need to look at changes in our environment, professional demands, and, of course, mass consumption of relatively useless applications of technology to see that the entire modern world is in a transitional period, a liminal space.
This transitional period brings with it high costs. It is no longer guaranteed when people receive a college diploma not to mention a high school diploma that they will be able to support themself upon embarking on the next stage of their lives. In many sub groups of society, being physically injured or receiving the ‘bad news’ of some sort of unfavorable diagnosis is regarded as an inconvenience; not just to the people who are experiencing them most intimately but also to those around them. When people are divorced, they exceed levels of stress that the human body and mind were evolutionarily adapted to cope with and for many people, they are ill-equipped interpersonally to change, adapt, and grow under what could be quite a fallow period.
It is my impression that what were once regarded as sacred periods have been relegated to back-burner status. It’s as though these rare opportunities to form new identities, new identifications, new relationships to people, body/mind/spirit, have now been overtaken by the pharmaceutical industry and well-meaning physical and mental health care providers who are outmanned by the demands that these transitions place upon people in the modern context. If we look within ourselves we can see that this is not enough.
In a recent interview with journalist and author Michael Pollan, he noted that since the SSRI revolution in the 1980s which promised a response to rising levels of depression in our society, that the efficacy for anti-depressant medication crescendoed. There have been nearly no new advances in psychiatric science to address. In my own observations, as a drug and alcohol counselor, one of the most noteworthy areas of maladaptive coping has been with regards to the oft-publicized ‘opioid crisis’.
While many people in all strata of the world are recognizing that we have a vulnerable populace that is resorting to life-threatening addictions in order to cope, the response is strikingly shallow: we need more mental health providers, more treatment centers, and so forth. The breakdown in society points to the need to reintroduce significant and meaningful rites of passage.
In the liminal space, these moments in time represent rare opportunities for growth, introspection, broad-scale relational development, pairing back on stressors for extended periods of time, cultivating one’s spiritual connection both internally and externally. To reorganize and to reconfigure. And actually to step back, prioritize and re-assess how one wants to move forward with one’s life.
Having personally experienced many of the varieties of liminal space available in life and, in many instances, having the internalized experience of ‘going it alone’ or overrelying upon a small nucleus of people in the BEST circumstances, I have a made much of my mid-life a contemplation and inquiry: How do I want to be in the world? How do I want to help others be in the world? What types of supports do we need in order to take these difficult events in one’s life and transform them into opportunities for deep-rooted and lasting growth and transformation in our lives.
It is in the liminal state that El Puente Dorado meets its participants. And we are committed to using our limited time in wise, compassionate and long-sighted view of what it does and will take to bring a person from the life raft s/he is currently grasping onto for dear life and helping usher them to a space which is more resilient, stable and capable.