Liminal comes from the Latin word, limen, which means threshold. It designates a particular item that exists at the entrance to a room or building, separating two distinct spaces. Often this item is overlooked as it is passed over or through as we move from one space to the next. But there are times when this space becomes apparent, like the carrying of a bride over the threshold on the wedding night. It is about entering a new space, a new time or phase in life that is distinct from what was before.
Liminal is about the space in-between, a space that we often experience when something happens that knocks us for a loop. Negative aspects of this space include feeling lost, un-grounded, having a fear of the unknown, feeling out of control. The way forward may appear dark, eliciting a fear of the unknown to come. But there are also positive aspects of this state which can be inaccessible to us if we are in the grip of the more negative aspects. These positive aspects include creativity, freedom, alertness to the present moment, opportunity for change.
It seems that as we age these threshold experiences become more apparent, evolving into ‘phases’ or ‘transitions’. They are no longer something we just pass over without consideration, but become something ‘to get through’, to ‘get over’ or ‘to overcome’ so we can move on into the next stage.
At the threshold we are leaving as well as arriving, sometimes escaping from danger or sadness, sometimes moving toward security or peace.
As we pause at a threshold we begin to notice and to feel both sides at the same time. If we look around we can see that how we move forward hinges on this moment. It could be that we have rushed through so many times before that we didn’t notice that this space has value in itself. In this space we are neither where we were nor where we are going to be. But being in a space like this is also like being nowhere and this can be very uncomfortable at first. In fact, it can be so uncomfortable that we push on through as quickly as possible to what’s next.
In a counseling session it is often helpful to shine a light into what is coming, and to get to know it in detail. It is also helpful to reflect on what has brought us to this point. Doing this can help to alleviate fear about what is changing, while at the same time building confidence in one’s ability to face it well.