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Liminal Space: Living the In-Between Spaces

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

Don’t be almost a river or almost a sea. Be a river, a sea, or nothing” said the lyrics of one of my favorite songs growing up. Growing up, I received hundreds of similar messages that warned me about the danger of being in-between. And so I learned at a young age that the in-between was always a space to be avoided. There didn’t seem to be a place in life for such complexity.

One of my many journeys through the in-between began when I started realizing that my Catholic faith was not as strong as it had been. Something was missing and I couldn’t figure out what it was. What followed were months of confusion, loss and grief. I had always been very active in the church and I had many times proclaimed the unconditional love of my God. But suddenly, it felt as if my entire world was collapsing and the God I so much loved and depended upon was quickly slipping away between my fingers. I tried really hard to hold on to something that would still give me meaning, but found absolutely nothing. I looked and tried to reach out to my community, but it, too, was fading away along with all of my beliefs. I desperately sought old friends, visited new churches, and tried to join new groups unsuccessfully. In the back of my mind I kept telling myself that I was “lukewarm”, neither cold nor hot. I was in-between and suddenly felt my integrity threatened as I attempted to continue living a faith that no longer fitted me. I was trying too hard to stay on known ground, to stay away from the in-between, and to stop walking towards the unknown. As I struggled for months, the God I knew grew silent and began disappearing gradually from my life.

It was an intense period of time and then, one day, I finally arrived on the other side. I called off my journey and named the truth that was real for me at the moment, that my beliefs had changed and I no longer belonged to the community of my upbringing. Interestingly enough, admitting that my beliefs had so radically changed was liberating. There was something freeing about naming a new reality for myself. I still longed for the friends and the community I had lost on the way, but I was finally ready to live my life as the person I had become.

As I reflect back, I now know that the period of isolation, pain, grief, confusion, desperation I felt in for months had a name: liminality.

This word has been used to describe a period of disorientation and ambiguity experienced by those who are going through rites of passage. This in-between space was a space of transition between the person they were before the ritual and the person they will become after it. Experts noticed that participantes of rites of passages in some communities experienced a state of confusion and separation from their communities as part of this process. That space was called liminal space. The challenges faced by participants had a purpose: they were a way to prepare them for the new stage they were going to enter.

However, in modern societies, where we no longer seek to purposely separate individuals as they transition from one stage to another, the only way we often arrive to that same liminal space is through some of our life struggles and crisis; like the pain we experience with loss and unexpected change. In that sense, we have all experienced liminality in our lives: the transition between losing a job and finding another one, between leaving an old identity to the one that better suits how we perceive ourselves, and every time we have had to sit in the discomfort of not knowing where we are going.

Photo by Engin Akyurt at Pexels

Our lives are full of in-betweens that happen both as we transition from one life phase to another, from one place to another, from one way of being to another or from recognizing our complex identities. The experience in the in-between is often uncomfortable and full of uncertainty. It is the space where we recognize what no longer is but are yet to see what it will be. Often times, we try hard to go back to the port we left behind, but that space is no longer available to us. We cannot go back and we cannot yet see the other side in the dark. We’re left on the open sea, adrift, and at the mercy of the current that carries us. Swimming upstream becomes useless and it increases the pain even more. In order to arrive at our destination, we must surrender a bit, accept what is, and let go of the idea of how things are supposed to be. It requires that we let the sea carry us to the other shore and that we allow that experience to transform us. This place of transformation requires patience: it is sacred space. We cannot leave it willingly and without having learned anything. Once there, we can only experience it deeply. When we finally arrive on the other side, we can begin making meaning of what we just went through. In the in-between we are transformed and in that process of transformation we also acquire the tools (skills, knowledge, and/or wisdom) that will be necessary to continue living our lives as the person we have become.

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