The Mystery and Wonder of Liminal Spaces

Published: December 21, 2022
Category: Mental HealthMind/Body Well-Being


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In 2001, I took a writer’s workshop on liminality. It was delightful to spend several months pondering this concept and basking in luscious liminality. As a writer, I loved stepping away from my highly choreographed modern life filled with meetings, emails, and deadlines in order to spend several hours exploring the meaning of these in-between spaces.

Liminality is defined as the space located somewhere between “here” and “there.” It is the space inbetween, and comes from the Latin root limen, meaning threshold. It’s the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle of a transition. Surely, you’ve encountered hundreds of liminal experiences—even if you didn’t immediately realize it at that time. There are two liminal experiences that bookmark each day: early in the morning and in the evening as the sun sets. One of the most beloved liminal experiences can be pausing to experience a beautiful sunrise as the clouds become backlit, awash in pink or peach. And people also regularly enjoy the liminal time at the end of the day whilst admiring a stunning sunset pausing for the breath-taking, awe-inspiring moment when the shimmering orange disk descends below the horizon while the sky is still ablaze in a wash of soft technicolor. 

Like a threshold or doorway from one place to another, liminal experiences also often occur as we transition from childhood to adulthood. Many cultures have rituals that mark these significant transitions from one world to another. For example, many Latin cultures celebrate a young woman’s quinceanera when she turns 15 to mark her transition into womanhood. Or, on North Baffin Island, Inuit children go into the wilderness with a parent to test their survival skills in the arctic as a rite of passage to becoming an adult.  

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, clients are taught how to accept uncertainty and think more in the gray areas and less in black and white—how to accept liminal spaces, those in-between phases. Research has shown DBT therapy is effective because learning to pause and accept liminality in life can help to reframe mindsets and lead to greater well-being. For example, accepting feelings of sadness while also seeking ways to improve how you feel right here, right now. I think of this approach as learning how to ”live life on life’s terms” rather than trying to change things that are out of our control. 

Another example of a liminal space are decade birthdays—turning 20, 30, 40, 50, and so on. When we wake up on these birthdays, we are the same person we were when we went to sleep the night before. However, we often feel transformed as we enter the terrain of a brand new decade with awe, gratitude, and perhaps some trepidation. This feeling of liminality—of accepting what is and what could be—is a feeling we can carry with us to numerous areas of life as we learn to appreciate and respect the in-between spaces. 

As we prepare to step into the threshold of a new year, I hope that 2023 presents you with abundant possibilities for expansiveness, liminality, and growth. 

I’m sending you strength and love.

Soaringwords is the power to heal.  


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