what is liminality?

I don’t remember when I first encountered the concept of liminal states, but it created a powerful frame for thinking about handling transformative moments.

It felt like finally, the right word presented itself to capture something that was largely a felt experience inside my world until then.

Liminality is a concept that describes a state, stage, or period of transition.

Liminality explains nothing.
Liminality is.
It happens. It takes place.
And human beings react to liminality in different ways.1

Even though it might sound a bit mystical at first, we all encounter physical liminal spaces frequently in our daily life and get affected by their transitory nature.

Think about the feeling associated with stepping onto a moving escalator.

credits: Nicola Fioravanti

The pace slows down, the body switches off and the mind suddenly has a space to wander.

You’re in transition between two points, with nothing immediate to do and an invitation to notice your present experience.

This also happens on planes, buses or any sort of journey.

Until I heard about liminality, I could never explain why I could not sleep on long plane journeys. I’d struggle with strong emotions and deep thoughts that would rise to my consciousness and demand attention, as my body was forced to sit still through thousands of kilometres.

There is something special to being stuck in between, neither here nor there, that helps us connect with new thoughts or revisit what we might have been ignoring.

In my explorations of liminality, I have become increasingly fascinated with the other type of liminal spaces – those psychological, transformative ones.

Given their somewhat unpredictable and disruptive nature, I started to wonder how can I welcome (or even intentionally induce) such states and learn to navigate both the opportunities and challenges they present.

Just like with physical ones, psychological liminality also varies in size and force.

Every morning when we wake up, it takes our brain around 5-10 minutes to fully emerge from the deep, delta state.

Unless we engage in checking notifications or rushing out of bed, we can choose to enjoy our brain in this transitory state between the relaxed alpha state and the waking and focused beta state.

But there are also bigger, more powerful liminal moments in our life.

Each of us is meant to experience at least several of them in their lifetime – the death of a close one, the breakup of a relationship, change of a job or a mind-altering meditative or psychedelic experience.

source: Liminal thinking

For some, they become a portal to increased self-awareness or new decisions that will alter the course of their life. Others become overwhelmed by the challenge they pose and get stuck in-between – sometimes even ending in death.

Liminal spaces are a nexus of vulnerability and power. They are a locus of potential as they are a release from structural limitations, however they can also be a site of contested power and susceptibility.2

As liminality offers the chance to create new ideas and take bold actions, one individual skillfully navigating their transformation can positively impact the whole community around them.

This is why I find this concept so interesting and important to understand.

Some questions that I’m asking myself as I explore transformative experiences are:

  1. Why is it that some people emerge from liminal moments with more strength while others give up on the opportunity to transform?
  2. How can we enter liminal states more intentionally, by seeking experiences that help us relax our beliefs and acquire new insight?
  3. What tools can we develop in order to prepare ourselves for the challenge that liminality will pose to our life?

I started this blog to explore some of these questions and I want to share stories, resources and tools that I collected during my explorations.

In doing so, I will look at personal growth, spirituality, altered states of mind, the neuroscience of well-being and relationships with the self and the world.

I’d love for you to join me on this journey.

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