“If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”– Richard Rohr
Betwixt and between the used to be, the no longer and what is to come. That is what it means to live in liminal time. The word ‘limens’ is translated from Latin as ‘threshold’; as in standing in the doorway, waiting to be ushered in.
It helps to have a working definition of what time is. It is a mental construct by which we measure instants in our lives. The Greek concept of Kronos vs. Kairos reflects the difference between sequential or chronological time and numinous or spiritual time. The former has us keeping up with schedules and punching in at a time clock, while the latter invites us to get lost in the moment and hang out in the ‘zone’. Kairos is invoked in creativity or a passionate embrace with a lover. It is when we are in the flow state in which we feel like we are safely ferried down a stream and need not paddle.
The call to live in liminal time could be the period from diagnosis of a disease to healing from it, from one relationship ending to another one beginning, from being knocked on your butt from a loss to feeling like you are back on your feet, from losing one job to starting another.
It carries with it a sense of ultimate uncertainty and invites a willingness to surrender outcome. Not easy for anyone with a need to control their destiny or at least a desire to have a say in how it unfolds.
For this recovering control freak, it is the most daunting period imaginable, with sleeplessness, heart pounding anticipation bordering on anxiety and countless conversations with the Divine; that I refer to as God wrestling. I question the wisdom of the ‘just don’t know’ aspects of how my life unfolds at times. It would be so much simpler to be working the levers like the Wizard of Oz and knowing that I could make the fire flash up. The reality is that I am only Professor Marvel; a mortal who uses smoke and mirrors to make it look like I am ultimately in charge.
In my 57 years on this planet, I have dwelled in the ‘dark night of the soul,’ over and over, during which I questioned my decisions, intentions, dreams, visions, abilities and actions. I have lingered in the subterranean depths until I was called to surface; sometimes of necessity and survival.
In the Hero’s Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, those who live in liminal time face the Supreme Ordeal. In movies and books, it could be capturing an enemy or defeating a demon. In my life it is coming to terms with the one I call Perfectionista who sets the bar way too high and expects me to hurdle over it and look graceful while doing it. She is the one who snaps and snarls that I can not possibly do enough or be enough and so keeps me on treadmill without destination; just clocking the miles. Sure, trekking on a real treadmill can get you in shape, but a metaphorical one tends to be exhausting and burns no calories.
So how to live in the time and space between here and now/there and then? That hanging out in the sometimes cold vacuum of space “where no one can hear you scream.”
There is a two word question I have asked myself when major shifts have occurred.
Since I am typing the words, you can’t hear my voice inflection, but imagine the words, “Oh my God, NOW WHAT?” I always have a choice to reframe it to, “Okay, NOW what?” As in “What is my next step? How am I to address this one?” My friend Peter has said that his shakeups are his wakeups. I have been jolted awake more times than I would prefer and each time I have shifted my perception from the first to the second, which so much more practical. A response rather than a reaction.
It also helps when I remember that I have survived everything that has ever happened in my life since I am here to tell about it. And then there is the word ‘ambiguity’. The late comedian Gilda Radner had referred to it in this way that provides some measure of comfort while I am the waiting room between the no longer and the not yet. It is the not-so-simple act of being present to what is in the moment, accepting that for now.
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” -Gilda Radner
Doorway photo available from Shutterstock