Crossing Thresholds

Several months ago, I got hooked on the concept of liminal spaces, an idea I first saw in the work of writer Suleika Jaouad (Between Two Kingdoms). After surviving a particularly aggressive form of leukemia, she spoke of existing in a liminal space between two kingdoms, the sick and the well.

Hmmm. Liminal space. That’s interesting, I thought. But what does it mean? I knew about subliminal stimuli that exist beneath a person’s level of consciousness that could influence his/her thoughts and behavior. A quick and easy to understand example would be seeing footage of the desert while seated in a movie theater and feeling thirsty.

Some might even compare subliminal thoughts to subconscious ones, but they aren’t quite the same. Nor are they akin to Freud’s unconscious or even preconscious feelings. I mention subconscious, preconscious, and unconscious areas of the brain simply because I’ve been familiar with those for years—decades, and yet I had never heard of liminal or liminality. I was intrigued. Still am.

So what is a liminal space? See if these definitions aid in your understanding. I picked all of them up from random online sources and asking questions.

  • Pertaining to or situated at the limen, the threshold.
  • The sill of a doorway, the threshold of a new position, status, geographical move, or lifestyle.
  • The point at which a stimulus is strong enough to produce a physiological, psychological, or behavioral response.
  • Transitional state between singlehood and marriage, youth and middle age, employment and unemployment, sickness and health, life and death, and so forth.
  • An intermediate place, state, or attitude–becoming a Buddhist, a New Yorker, a transgender person, a widower…the person is at the threshold but hasn’t moved forward and embraced the role.
  • Being betwixt and between.

I hope at least one of the definitions helped. While Suleika Jaouad spoke primarily of being in the threshold between sickness and health and all of the emotions, including anxiety, uncertainty, and hope that entails, there are dozens and dozens of liminal changes in all of our lives. As the school year begins across America, hundreds of thousands of school children cross the threshold after waiting in the limens (so to speak). Others graduated in the spring or summer. Parents of college bound children said goodbye, a situation in which two generations experienced being in liminal spaces. In fact, some may still be there as either the student, the parent, or both go through an adjustment period.

A few weeks ago I read these words spoken to George Saunders by a man in Guatemalan homeless camp: “Everything is always keep changing.” Truer words were never spoken, I thought. We’ve all experienced change, some expected and some unexpected, and we’ve all lived in liminal spaces trying to cross the threshold.

Are you in a liminal space? Tell me about it…or about one you’ve been in. Was crossing the threshold hard or were you Ready with a capital R? Did you recognize the liminal state while you were peeping through the threshold, or did you comprehend it after you’d crossed it?

About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
This entry was posted in personal growth, psychology, reading, Uncategorized, writing, writing prompts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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