Sometimes things happen that just knock us off the place in the world we thought we were standing on — death of a loved one, a health crisis, loss of a job, divorce, or even things we might choose like retirement. These abrupt changes can feel like a sort of death in and of themselves; our old familiar identity disintegrates, the dream of what we thought our life would be crumbles.
In anthropology, there is a concept known as the liminal phase describing how, in cultures that have clear rites of passage rituals such as moving from boyhood to manhood or from initiate to mid-wife or priestess, there is a period in which the initiate has lost their old identity and place in society but has not yet been granted the new status or reintegrated into society; that in between time is what is known as the liminal phase.
More recently liminality has crossed over from anthropology into psychology and is used to describe when a person suffers major life upheaval that shakes us loose from our familiar identity and position in community or society. This is usually a very challenging space for a person to remain in because it is detached from known routines and social interactions and support. The sense of liminality, of being in between the old and new way of being, often hits during sudden, intense life-changing events.
As I share in my upcoming book, When Life Blows Up: A Guide to Peace, Power and Reinvention:
“I was a couple of months into my public shaming experience when someone first shared the term liminality with me and I cried as I recognized and resisted the space I’d been forced into. On some subconscious level I was terrified that the upheaval and uncertainty would be permanent and I’d be trapped in a purgatory of pain and isolation for the rest of my life.”
My initial reaction to the bomb blast was to scramble to capture up the pieces and try to put things back together somehow, to keep my work going, to force my way forward, but the events had been too catastrophic and at some point I just had to give in, to surrender to the fact that things were never going to look the same again. I finally stopped working and allowed myself to be worked on from within and that’s when I struck gold.
For those of you sitting in what feels like an identity blast zone take heart, the terrible upheaval won’t last forever. And have courage because there is tremendous transformative power in in giving the liminal uncertainty some time to work its magic.
Being initiated into the deeper levels of ourselves often involves being willing to sit in the field of uncertainty for some time as our inner landscape shifts and new currents begin to move. It’s like the eagles who flow with the wind, carried in one direction then the other, until finally the wind itself lifts them up above the turbulence.
In my Launch Your Next Chapter program I work with a lot of people who are navigating liminality and transition and are determined to come out the other side with greater clarity, peace and power. If this sounds like you I invite you to a complimentary empowerment coaching session – just click here and pick a time that works for you.
In the meantime, here is a beautiful meditation called The Space Between.
And remember, a butterfly pulled too soon from the chrysalis never fully forms its wings and so never flies. Our world will be so much more beautiful when we all are flying.