Liminality

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“In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between them, there are doors.”  ― William Blake

Ingrid, Pris and I were talking before class last month about Ingrid having recently become an empty nester. Her youngest daughter had just left for her first year at UVA and, as empty nesters ourselves, Pris and I understood Ingrid’s somewhat muddled feelings of wistfulness and hopefulness as she and her family entered this new stage of life.

As we talked about the pros and cons of being empty nesters, Ingrid brought up liminality. It was a term she had heard for the first time in the commencement address given by Dr. Cameron Webb at her son’s graduation from UVA this year. The term was also new to me, and Ingrid described it as a threshold, a sort of in-between stage that takes you from one state to another, and in the process, you usually wind up acquiring something on the other side. Examples are graduation, a new school or job, a wedding, retirement, a cancer diagnosis, the birth of a baby, divorce, the death of a loved one…

“Change is pain,”  said Eoin Finn to his yoga class in a live podcast I used to do when I was first learning to do yoga. There was a pause in his teaching and you could hear in the background the faint movement of students, who at the time were in pigeon pose. “I guess that struck a chord with some of you,” he chuckled.

I agree with Eoin that change often means pain, but I also agree with Dr. Webb, who said to the graduates on the lawn of UVA that it was in liminal moments exactly like the one they were in, that  a transformational power existed, an opportunity to reflect on and ground themselves in their core beliefs and values before they moved on. He said it was easy to overlook a liminal stage, that people didn’t always pay attention to it, but it was a space that had more function than they might realize if only they recognized the moment.

I thought about the liminal stages of my own life, of the discomfort, the joy, the pain… How grounded was I in my core beliefs and values? How much was I paying attention? I also thought about transitions we make from pose to pose on the yoga mat, spaces where many of us don’t fully pay attention as we think about being in the next pose. But I’m finding that the more I pay attention to and ground myself in the transitions themselves, the better the pose is on the other side and the more fulfilling the practice as a whole becomes.

What about you? What transitions of your own come to mind as you read this? Were you more mindful in some than in others? How did the outcomes differ when you really paid attention in those liminal spaces than when you didn’t?

Susan JohnsonComment