At a recent Quaker Meeting where I was speaking, I offered images of liminal spaces that are forever present in our lives if we pay attention. These liminal encounters can be communion with the Divine in spacious silence, a tender moment with another person, special pet or favorite tree where time stands still, and light and love illuminate, just for an instant, what feels like a freeze-framed encounter.
What do I mean by the liminal spaces? I mean that threshold where rational and irrational meet, where the practical everyday moment, task or object becomes radiant with unexplained beauty. You know what this is when it offers itself. You cease all activity in that instant. Perhaps you have experienced it as sunlight streaming through clean windows, the gentle billow as the wind lifts freshly hung laundry on a line, the glow of fresh blossoms on a favorite plant in a garden, a kind smile or quiet tears.
Liminal spaces offer themselves up through prayer but also during times of transition in life when moving to a new location, job loss or gain, falling in love or breakups. These are spaces of creativity and change, of emptying and expanding, which are there for the taking if we pay attention and release ourselves into the awe and wonder that surrounds us that we too often ignore.
As I prepared my message, the autocorrect on my computer changed ‘liminal’ to ‘luminal.’ I liked the sound of the blending of luminous and liminal. Of course, I was quick to clarify the term since I intended the liminal. But as I shared my message, there were puzzled looks on Friends’ faces. I quickly knew that the word ‘liminal’ is not heard often in daily conversation. There was a polite silence in the assembled community, and I realized that ‘liminal’ is outside of the box for many of us. Still, I was commended for this talk, and people noted that it made their hearts hunger for liminality. The word might be foreign but the hunger for those moments dwells just beneath the surface of our skin.
People who come to me for coaching or spiritual direction are motivated by this hunger, the vague sense that something better is available for them in life. That ‘something better’ could be directly related to their work. They want to move into a new field, or, perhaps, they have not been bringing the best of themselves to work or relationships. I see the same thing in my consulting practice, and we work together to redesign their organization or build a new coalition to improve education or health care. Inevitably, the conversation begins with how they want to really Be in the world.
Whether coaching, spiritual work or consulting, individuals come to me for a nudge toward living in the flow of the best of self, which is the finest gift possible. A nudge that helps them face the horns of the dilemma of living true to themselves in the face of the pressure of the workplace and the world.
Sometimes we imagine this pressure as a confining box. Reflect a moment. When did you most recently notice that you felt “boxed in,” or had a sense that the walls were closing in on you? What made up the dimensions of the box? Does work deaden your soul? Was it your desire for more things that you really don’t need but you pretend would scratch the itch inside? Or perhaps a demand from the outside world that conflicts with your values?
I recently had a friend tell me, “I have never fit into the religion box even though I want to embrace aspects of many religious practices!” In my work, I blend aspects of several faith traditions. How could I not? I am a Quaker, raised as a Catholic, with a Jewish parent and many Buddhist and Muslim friends. My practice blends the Quaker ‘waiting in silence’ with a morning yoga session and an evening Lectio Divina based on scripture. My family members are all faithful souls who have blended aspects of faith and practice into uniquely powerful expressions of their gifts of service to others.
Each of us wants to have the freedom and wherewithal to name and claim our values and to transform these values into meaningful actions in our world. We want our worlds to be congruent. We want who we are and what we do to match up, to join the silent spaces with the work we do in the world.
Our bodies know when we are congruent. Deep in our gut, we know wellness. When we are not living in a manner that is congruent many of us have some sort of upset in our bellies. So how might we begin to live in more flow consciousness?
Become available to the liminal spaces.
Start with the easiest and perhaps most challenging step. Try sitting in complete silence for ten minutes a day. Find a quiet place, inside or out, where you will not be distracted or interrupted. Sit comfortably in a position that best supports your body. Just be with this practice of silence. If your nose is itchy notice it and scratch if needed. If you are holding your breath, notice it, take deep slow breaths and exhale slowly. Notice the sounds around you and the thoughts in your head and then just let them flow past because for these few minutes you are sitting in silence, the oldest practice of the mystics, allowing time’s unfolding and heightening your ability to simply notice.
This is how you begin. Notice. Be still. Keep your heart in readiness for the moment when, through the stillness, new awareness arises. The liminal space. That moment when your soul, heart, and mind meet for a cup of tea. When insights arise, and miracles become available. Space where time stands still, the lines thin between conscious and unconscious and hard-nosed reality touches ineffable mysteries.
Try it if you want to journey in a watershed way!