How to live in liminal times

The corona virus has enormous effects on all aspects of life. So much, you can say the world is in a liminal state. A liminal state is one where the order of things has been suspended.

Liminal? Liminal:

1 Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process

‘We are in a transitional and liminal time: this makes everything unsettled and awkward, and most of us feel tremendous unrest and a sense of urgency.’

‘We are in this transitional, liminal phase, of waiting to see what are the appropriate questions to be asking about human possibility and about the human condition.’

In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.

More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rites. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. (wikipedia)

Liminalilty is a state that marks the in between of a transformation process. You are not what you used to be when this all started and you do not know what you will be like when this ends.

It is the big puddle of chaos of not knowing. The pupal state of the butterfly, when the caterpillar gets all mushy in order to get its wings. The caterpillar does not have any clue of the butterfly it will become. The world seems to be in this state. The state of not knowing, the state of the in between. Uncertainty is what is certain. The world is transforming and we are transforming with it. Everything is liminal.

Maybe you have noticed you have lost track of time. That you feel more emotional and also more connected to others. Being liminal makes you more loving towards others. Liminality makes your brain function a bit differently.You give more freely. To anyone, including people that are not part of our normal social structure. Music and art feel more intense. Songs matter more, art is being shared. You experience nature more intensely. Your memory is more vivid. You will remember this time for the rest of your life. You also might start to question your life, and the world around you. These are all effects of liminality.

You might feel resistance to this liminal phase. You got thrown in. Nobody asked you to just take your life and shake it around. There might be anger. And frustration. You might be in a bad place because all of the current changes. In a facilitated rite of passage process enrollment is essential. It helps to surrender to the process when you feel it is safe and the process is being well taken care of. Well, that did not happen, did it? But, here you are.

The in between or liminal state is not very comfortable to most people. We like to be certain of things. And now nothing is certain. All of the things that were normal to you suddenly are not. Liminal can feel very unsafe. That’s why us humans probably made extensive rituals around it. Guided by elders and done in community. If done well, it is a state that gives high speed, super fast spiritual and emotional growth. It holds the possibility of changing the beliefs and stories you have made or inherited about yourself and the world around you. But just like the caterpillar you need a cocoon that keeps you safe.

With our company Sacred Time we facilitate these processes. We give you that safe cocoon so you can grow your wings. But as you can guess, getting people together for their personal growth is not really the thing to do right now. But, we can still offer some advice. About how to go through a liminal phase. How to feel a bit more comfortable in it.

A well facilitated rite of passage gives people the ability to transform from one stage of life to the next.

Transformation is very different from change. When you move house, you can always go back and live in your old house. Transformation means you tear the house down brick by brick and build a completely new house. Same bricks, different stage. Change means you can go back to the previous state, transformation means there is no going back.

A transformation process has 3 phases:

Separation → transformation → integration

Or:

Going in → changing → moving forward

When we facilitate a transformation process, we take you through 4 steps. These steps are at the core of almost all Rite of passage rituals in the world. Pretty solid stuff. So in the middle, at the phase of transformation, we work with these principles:

1 Story

2 Challenge

3 Vision

4 Honouring and celebrating

Rite of passage rituals are about the circle of life, about letting go of the old to give way to the new. These steps allow you to do that.

Rituals

A rite of passage or threshold ritual is a ritual that is extensive, intensive and happens only once, or a few times in a lifetime. They are about big life changes. Like transforming form child to adult, becoming a mother or father, or the ultimate life changing event: death.

But rituals are everywhere. By ritualising (make something into a ritual by following a pattern of actions) our behaviour we give it meaning and that helps us process change. It is a way to shape our social reality and identity.

Rituals matter. Not just in liminal times. Rituals make you aware of where you are in space and time. As we lived most of our human history without clocks, we used rituals to know where we were in time and space. We have rituals for the seasons, for the beginning of the weekend, for the end of the day. Rituals make you feel you belong with others or the place where you are.

If you have a job that now runs from home or you have stopped working, your normal routine will be completely different. Rituals can help you get a grip on things. In my quarantine household we have a few. I start the day consciously with my son (he is 6 years old). We stretch our bodies, take a deep breath and say ‘hi’ to the day. In the evening we relax our bodies and take a deep breath and say ‘bye’ to the day. On the weekend he is allowed to walk around in his onesie all day and watch Netflix in the morning. It is a big thing now, the weekend ;-). So, daily rituals help make a new rhythm. How would you like to start and end your day? How and when do you contact your loved ones?

And there’s more you can do. You can make rituals around different things. You can let go of things, grow something new, wash things off, burn something, light a candle. If it is a daily thing, make it simple and repeatable. If it is a one time thing you can make it bigger and more intense.( If you would like to dive deeper into the world of ritual design I recommend the work of Viktor Lysell Smålänning. You can find him at Ritual at work )

A transformation process needs a container. Like the caterpillar has its cocoon. You need a space where you can get mushy or changeable. Our home is one. The silent world is one. You might be very busy with remote work, homeschooling your kids, or constantly working because of your profession. Maybe you feel there’s no space to go do some personal growth stuff. Remember you are liminal anyway. And you will be processing change. If you can, make some space for it. It can be in small moments in the day, or make a designated space where you can be still, if only for a few minutes.

It’s ok to disconnect from the world. Watch less news for a while. It might be beneficial. And gives you more time to do inner work.

Steps in transformation

As I said the phase of transformation has 4 steps: story, challenge, vision and honouring/ celebrating. These steps can be adapted to a longer process of transformation and can also be used as steps within a bigger process. Like a rhythm. Like the rhythm of a day within the rhythm of a season. I will go through them one by one and give my thoughts on how you can use them.

Story

Telling stories is an essential way humans learn from each other. The world is filled with stories. We like stories. We make sense of our world with stories. Our fairytales have great stories about transformation.

When we listen to stories together or share our stories, we feel more connected to ourselves and others. In a facilitated Rite of passage process this is the part that makes you feel liminal, more open to change and in connection with others. If you add nature, separation from your normal life, campfires & rituals you can create a liminal state.

Sharing your experience with others in a good way is the thing to do in these times. At dinner, my son, husband and I will tell each other what we liked and did not like about the day and what we would like more or less of tomorrow. The golden list that Arne Rubinstein made is great too. You can use it together with your loved ones or for yourself. ( Arne Rubinstein has been working with transformation rituals for 30 years and is the founder of the rite of passage institute. )

G how am I going?

O what has kept me occupied?

L what did I like and enjoy?

D what has been difficult?

E what is coming up next that I am excited about?

N what are my needs?

Share one by one and do not interrupt each other. It is good just to listen and be heard. It does not have to be a deep conversation. Just knowing each other’s needs makes it easier to get along.

The online campfires I host help me in this. Every week I share my story with others. It makes me feel connected and less overwhelmed if I know others are experiencing similar things.

Sharing stories make you feel connected with others. And we really need that right now.

Challenge

Well that’s kind of obvious, right? You must feel challenged all the time. The whole being in one place, keeping your distance is a big challenge.

I see a lot of challenges online. Yoga challenge, book challenge, exercise challenge. Maybe it helps you keep yourself occupied. It gives you something to accomplish and celebrate. It might also be a sign of you being in a transformational state. When we are at the beginning of transforming we search for a challenge that helps us get to the next stage of our lives. In normal times you might start running the marathon. Or get a tattoo. Climb a mountain.

Personally, I find that keeping up my mood, trying to keep a calm state of mind, while worrying about my work, is challenging enough. No need to add more to that.

It seems to me the real challenge in this time is endurance. To be in one place, to not move. To find layers beneath what you think you can handle. To keep going and peel off the habits and beliefs that do not serve you or the world we live in. It’s about being still until you can’t and then go on and be still some more.

I feel I am challenged in letting go of beliefs that no longer serve me. Beliefs like: I am useless because I don’t work. I need to buy stuff to keep myself happy, I need to travel to have an adventure.

What are the things you are letting go off in this process? Let them go in a way that feels tangible. Maybe use a ritual that allows you to give meaning to the experience. You can write it down and burn it when you feel it is time. Or flush them in the toilet :-)

Vision

After this huge challenge we are going through, there will be space for a new vision. If you let go of things, what becomes possible for you? How do you see your life after this? Of course in the middle of this liminal phase we do not know yet. But maybe, when the end of this is in sight, you might want to work towards a new vision. Make plans, envision, write down, plant, seed, draw. Make stuff that can remind you later on of how you felt and thought about your future.

Honouring and celebrating

Honouring what is good is very important. You have to focus on the good stuff to be able to endure. That supports your immune system and makes you feel better. What did you like about the day? What did you do well? What did your partner or kids do well? Did another week pass? Voice it. Celebrate it. Have a friend remind you of your gifts and talents online. Share with your friends what you think is great about them. Write a letter to your loved ones. Honour your creativity, honour your unique talents. Honour your resilience and that of others. Honour nature.

Celebrate what you lost. Thank the things that are no longer with you. Thank yourself for letting them go. And celebrate your new beginnings. When your time in lockdown or quarantine ends — celebrate and honour what you went through.

In the circle of life, death is part of everything. If we do not allow things to pass, we can not make space for the new. I feel in this corona-liminal-time we have the chance to let go off a lot of things that no longer serve us anymore. We can say: thank you, there was a time you were useful and good, but now it is time to move on to a new future. And we cannot take you with us.

That is the fertile compost on which we can start to grow something new.

I wrote this piece from my perspective. And I realise that my perspective is one of privilege. I have a great house with lots of space. I have a garden, and my husband’s work can keep going so we have income. I am healthy. And I live in a wealthy country. I have healthcare insurance. I feel deeply for all the people that go through this that have very different lives. And I hope, I really deeply hope, the world will change and become more equal. I hope my work will add to that purpose.

About Sacred time

Sometimes you want time to stand still. So that the daily worries are kept at bay and the things that matter can get to the surface: connection, contemplation, deep listening. We call it Sacred time. Sacred time is not measured in minutes, hours or days and is necessary for our wellbeing. We believe people should have more Sacred time. We create it, guard it and celebrate it. And we invite you to do the same. Find us at: www.sacredtime.nl

Holding space to allow people to grow, rites of passage, ritual design, systemic work, facilitator. https://sacredtime.nl/

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