When The Old Map Disappears: Reflections on Liminality and Healing

Yesterday, something Jane Meredith said resonated deeply. She spoke about how nature embraces liminality as a integral part of its wholeness. There is no bursting forth of spring and summer without the rest and renewal of fall and winter. One season flows into the other because it is necessary and each season is equipped to receive the other because the cycle is unbroken. Fall doesn’t hold on to Summer and Summer to Spring.

A picture I took in Vienna in Maria-Theresien-Platz.

And yet when a season of liminality enters our life, we are not well equipped to receive it.

When things fall apart, we bring to it all of our defences. We blame others and ourselves. We deny it. We rush to get out. We panic. We believe we failed. We hurt ourselves. We do everything but remain fully present to it.

Maybe the reason why we feel so lost in the liminal is because we live in a culture of distraction and constant consumption that values success and exponential growth with no sign of Fall or Winter. However, everything has a price.

The things that I’ve noticed having lived my whole life in a Western society:

  • An emphasis on stability, certainty and linear progress causes us to struggle to embrace liminality fully and to reject or minimise its significance. Ambiguity, uncertainty and transition are seen as threatening and undesirable.
  • By stigmatising uncertainty and ambiguity and associating them with weakness, incompetence or failure, we discourage people and ourselves from embracing liminality and exploring the transformation potential of transitional phases in our lives.
  • Prioritizing progress, productivity, and achievement leads to viewing periods of transition or uncertainty as obstacles to be overcome rather than opportunities for growth and reflection and can cause people to rush through liminal phases without fully engaging with the transformative potential they offer.
  • When we pathologize vulnerability, emotional expression, and moments of existential crisis we view them as signs of weakness or instability. This attitude can discourage us from seeking support, guidance, or meaning during liminal experiences, exacerbating feelings of isolation and disconnection.
  • An increasing commercialisation and commodification of spirituality and rituals that once marked liminal transitions strip these practices of their deeper symbolic and transformative meaning, reducing them to superficial, consumerist experiences.
  • Continual marginalisation of indigenous and alternative perspectives that emphasise the importance of liminality, cyclical time and interconnectedness with the natural world perpetuates a narrow understanding of the human experience and limits opportunities for holistic growth and transformation.

Even though it was not something I saw mirrored in mainstream society, the importance of engaging with liminality is something I have always been aware of. It has always felt like deeper wisdom. Like something within that liminality was trying to connect with me and tell me something important.

Liminality to me is where the psyche recycles outworn metaphors, values and the images that carried them and gives us the space to experiment and embody new knowledge. Although many times a liminal phase felt like the end, it was not the end. It was not a failure. It was a gap. A threshold. A place in which something larger could come through.

What is missing in our lives now is the place of true winter. The winter in which we consciously let go of what disconnects us from a deeper, wiser and transcendent part of ourselves. That part of ourselves which encourages personal growth, the cultivation of resilience and community and can help guide us back onto a more authentic and fulfilling life journey.

So what happened with the old map disappears? When we can no longer live like we used to? When what we used to think no longer fits? We can turn to other tools to help us navigate a liminal space. These tools include art, music, storytelling, movement, ritual, meditation and the use of symbolic resources.

When I found myself facing liminality after the end of my abusive marriage, I completely surrendered to it. I was exhausted and bruised all over from having fought my ex-husband and narrowly escaping with my life. It was a harrowing experience and a catharsis . I had entered that relationship desperately wanting to know what love was only to realise deeply what it wasn’t.

Love wasn’t giving up pieces of myself to prove to someone how much I loved them. And this also wasn’t the answer to making them stay and yet this had been my pattern. The end of this pattern was a crack that fissured down to my childhood and to the experience of my father leaving.

Liminal spaces become more difficult to navigate when we are thrust into them by way of a traumatic experience. Because we are traumatised, we don’t see at first the way liminal spaces can help us renegotiate our relationship to trauma, explore new narratives of identity, integrate disowned parts of ourselves and forge a more resilient self.

When I faced the darkness of liminality, I also had clarity. I understood what had happened and why it happened and at that moment the old map disappeared. After this came a period of adjustment to a new balance.

During this time to keep myself entertained I delved into the Sumerian myths of Inanna. In her, I found an exciting complex female archetype that resonated deeply. She was a female intact, unafraid and alive to her whole being. She is the goddess of love and war. She went on many adventures. She fought. She made love. She got angry She personified paradox and on a soul level, her stories fed me. Especially the story of her descent into the underworld.

The story begins with her placing her ear to the ground. She is curious about what lies beyond the world she knows. To descend into the underworld she needs to give up a part of her identity at each gate until she enters the underworld naked. Within the underworld, there is an exchange. She learns something that resurrects her and she eventually returns to the world with new knowledge. I re-read the myth countless times and found myself using it as a symbolic resource to get me out of the darkness and back into the light.

Like Inanna, I allowed curiosity to replace fear. I became curious about what necessary work this phase of liminality was doing in me. As I let go of old patterns and replaced them with new realisations, I felt a sense of renewal. Winter was turning into Spring.

Overall, liminality is a complex and multifaceted concept that encompasses the transitional, ambiguous, and transformative aspects of human experience. It represents a liminal space or threshold where we can confront the unknown, navigate transitions, and undergo profound change. Finding ways to allow liminality to be a conscious part of our lives is, from my experience, an important key to healing and renewal.

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