Liminality is the deep haunting feeling that inhabits us when we reach a point of no return in life. It demands personal transformation in which we must cross a threshold between a familiar way of life and step into the mystery of the life that is waiting for us. Liminality is a harsh and foreboding terrain that conjures fundamental change in our sense of being.
Thus, liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon. – Victor Turner: The Ritual Proces
The word “liminal” is derived from the Latin “limen” meaning “threshold.” It can also mean “margin.” A person exiled in a liminal state is called a “threshold person” or liminoid. That is, they are haunted by a crisis of identity, meaning, and purpose. They have be severed from the comfort of the familiar and cast into a crucible of doubt, uncertainty, and vulnerability.
Liminality effortlessly reduce the mind to a state of rumination. The mental realm of liminality is exhausting and the more we try to think our way out of it the deeper we seem to fall into it. Liminality exposes the limitations of the mind in a frightening yet effortless manner. Our assumptions about how to live become fragile. Our long-held beliefs falter. And our sense of direction in life stagnates.
Liminality also induces an extreme state of emotional vulnerability. Fear is the primary emotion conjured by liminality, and with it comes anguish, distress, anxiety, and depression. Left unresolved, these kinds of emotions are profoundly destructive and harmful. And yet, perhaps it is this confrontation with fear and the unknown that is precisely what we need in order to find our way out.
Liminality transforms the comfort of the familiar into a crucible of uncertainty, confusion, and ambiguity.
As a transformative power, liminality can conjure remarkable transformative experiences that serve to deepen our appreciation of life. However, if we cannot find our way, liminality can also become a source of great personal suffering and harm. That is, it is possible to become mired “betwixt and between” and wholly lost.
A liminal frontier is an experience in life in which we are required to release a previous way of life while being completely uncertain about the future. To be in a liminal state is to fully inhabit the mystery of our own existence.
In his poem Ars Poetica, Czeslaw Milosz alludes to human identity as being a source of visitation:
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
A liminal frontier is the terrain between the life comfort of the life we once knew and the uncertain expanse of life as it now must be. More than a mere change in circumstance, a liminal frontier forever alters the feeling of being alive. It invokes a state of feeling helpless in the midst of a power we cannot fully comprehend. It is on the liminal frontiers of life we we can make ourselves and break ourselves.
The hallmark of a liminal frontier is a mental state mired in confusion and disorientation coupled with raw emotions such as anguish, grief, and angst. We feel as though “invisible guests” from an unknown place have inhabited our body for a time. Liminality presents itself in the body as powerful and sometimes overwhelming feelings that the mind cannot comprehend. A liminal state is a personal crisis that can, if ignored, become a source of profound stress and anxiety.
A frontier is the margin or outer edge between what we know and what can be known. Liminality is a frontier because it demands a journey into the deeper mysteries of our presence here. It is a private crucible of searing doubt that may remain hidden from the external world. Liminality is always a journey into realms of experience that place our status into a state of flux and fluid transience. One of the most threatening and transformative liminal frontiers we can experience is a dark night of the soul.
It’s obvious that suffering is unavoidable in life, but that does not mean life is a constant state of suffering. All meaningful and enduring personal transformation requires various kinds and degrees of suffering. Our natural response to suffering is, understandably, avoidance, denial, or alleviation. However, liminal frontier demands a journey in which we must seek a relationship with suffering in order to broaden and expand our consciousness of life. That is, suffering has the potential to become a profound source of personal transformation leading to a greater sense of well-being.
The Liminal Frontiers of Experience
This site is a gathering place for people interested in exploring liminal frontiers of experience, the transformative power they conjure, finding ways of moving through them, and living an imaginative and meaningful life.
Liminality is the place of in-betweenness, of no longer belonging to the old and not yet of the new. Liminality is also the place of ambiguity and uncertainty, of anxiety and hope, as we are suspended in the betwixt and between.
A liminal frontier of experience will fundamental alter our basic assumptions and beliefs about how to live a life worth living. We can linger inside liminality for too long and risk self-harm. However, if we turn ourselves directly into its lines of force with a spirit of creativity and improvisation we give ourselves the opportunity to make profound discoveries about ourselves and movement through life.
Exploring human experience through the lens of liminality can help to broaden and expand the experience of being alive. Liminality is a fundamental human experience because of its formidable transformative powers far beyond mere change or personal growth.