Do you remember, during one of those team building times at school or work or summer camp or what have you, doing the obligatory trust fall exercise? Raise your hand (and possibly insert eye roll) if you do! If you don’t, this is an exercise where you have a small group of people and you each take a turn falling backwards (usually from a chair or table or platform of some sort) into the hands/arms of the other group members trusting that they will catch you. Well, I certainly feel like my life is a giant trust fall right now! You got your pandemic, your step out on a limb with a new business/new identity, your starting a new training not knowing how it will fit exactly but knowing that it feels right, your civil rights movement coming to the surface in a different way than before etc. etc. Enter liminal space.
I heard the term “liminal space” for the first time the other day and I knew I needed to learn more about it. Liminal comes from the Latin root ‘limen’ meaning ‘threshold.’ The liminal space is the space of crossing over. It is the space where you have left something behind yet you’re not fully somewhere new. It is where transformation takes place. According to Franciscan Richard Rohr, “Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel ‘graced’ in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. “
With leaving my previous life behind last year by leaving my job and not having another one lined up (or even an idea of what I may do next), I put myself in this liminal space (and actually refer to it as my mid-life pause). In addition to the description above, this space asks us to be patient, to allow, to trust, to be okay with not moving. For an extreme planner (and, let’s face it, at times a control freak!) this space can feel very uncomfortable. We are all currently in a liminal space due to the pandemic and many of us have moments of feeling uncomfortable with the not knowing.
One of the things I do as a coach is to ask thoughtful questions. Through coaching and self-coaching alike, I’ve been asked plenty of questions about the liminal spaces that I’m in and the one that we are all in. I don’t profess to know the answers to all (or any) of these questions. What to do? What to do? Well, I have a suggestion: perhaps instead of continual searching for the answers, maybe we learn how to become comfortable with the questions themselves.
I take huge comfort in the words from poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He suggests that we live the questions rather than having the answers. “Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” Mic drop!
I love coaching because by asking questions of the client, we can help them through their liminal space, stretching them toward growth and to the next step of their journey. Perhaps they won’t even realize it, but planting the seed with asking a question may someday have an impact on someone and help them to live their way into the answer. Wow. I love this concept! I love thinking that I am helping people live their questions in whatever liminal space they may be in. I love that I get to be a witness to that and be their guide (behind the scenes) along the journey.
The transitional moments that exist within liminality are where authentic transformation can happen. These moments, this space, can sometimes be hard to sit with. It asks things of you and can be uncomfortable. But, according to Rohr, without them, we won’t be able to see beyond ourselves to the broader and more inclusive world that lies before us. In other words, it’s worth it folks!
So let’s take that trust fall! Let’s live those questions! Embrace this liminality that we are all living. No one said it is easy but I believe that it will be worth it! Who’s with me?! 🙂
*Credit to Lou Redmond for his inspiration for this post
(originally published July 30, 2020)