How do we manage the uncomfortable feel of liminal spaces in our lives? It’s a question that’s come up in more than one conversation recently with clients, colleagues, and friends in recent weeks. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?
It’s a funky time of year. The days of celebration and family gatherings are behind us. The shiny energy of the new year is fading. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are still mired in the final breaths of winter, as the light remains grey, and the snow continues to fall.
We are on the threshold of spring, yet we can’t yet embrace that real hope that typically comes with the season of growth and sunshine.
We are stuck in the liminal spaces.
We’re caught in a web of hopelessness, boredom, frustration, and even pain.
The why’s behind these feelings are a thread that’s woven throughout the fabric of humanity. Though our modern world often insulates us from the uncertainty of nature, the fact that we can get fresh vegetables at the grocery store doesn’t quite negate the undercurrent of the earth being in an in-between space of winter and spring. In fact, I think some of the trappings of modern life can add to the uncomfortable feelings of limbo: our technology gives us the illusion of contact, but leaves us starving for real connection.
What to do about it, my dear, is what I’ve been pondering. I, myself, have been suffering the effects of this threshold between winter and spring. But this isn’t the only time we feel the discomfort of liminal spaces. It happens to us multiple times in our life and more than once in the course of any given year.
There are the biggies we often recognize: when a school year ends, when we transition from high school to college, when we’re about to marry (or divorce), when we are waiting for children to be born, or when our children leave home to create homes of their own.
There are also the smaller liminal moments we may not recognize as thresholds: as one project ends and another has yet to begin, when we are waiting for someone else to complete a project so we can make our own contribution, when we’re redecorating our home, when we’re meeting a group of friends at a restaurant and we’re first, or when we’re bursting with a new idea but haven’t yet found a way to harness it.
Right now, I am personally in several liminal spaces:
- I’m longing for more sunshine and warmth, but there’s snow on the ground and more in the forecast despite the fact that my daffodils are sprouting.
- My book came out in December and I’m struggling with the next book I want to publish.
- I’m just a couple weeks away from the launch of a new literary / arts magazine.
- We began a couple of small home improvement projects in late January and there are still several weeks before completion.
Part of the human experience dictates that we all rotate in a constant state of being in and out of little purgatories.
Reflecting on all the years of managing liminal spaces myself, as well as those spent helping clients, I’ve come up with eighteen ways to make the management of this limbo space easier on your heart and mind.
- Acknowledge that you are in an in-between space.
- Don’t label it as “bad”, just recognize that it simply “is”.
- Stop numbing your discomforts with food or alcohol.
- However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be indulgent now and then.
- Do allow yourself to experience all of the feelings. Trying to ignore shadow emotions blocks you from experiencing the highs of “good” emotions.
- Express all the feelings by either writing in your journal or talking it over with a friend. Though I’m not a fan of complaining, sometimes you just need to have a five-minute bitch fest.
- Don’t overbook yourself. Being productive is one thing, but being overly busy isn’t the answer because it becomes an addiction and way of life.
- Do get more sleep. In times of change, you need more sleep than normal.
- Toss all your routines out the window and pick a date to begin fresh routines.
- Be kinder. Be kinder to yourself and to others.
- Clear clutter. Tidying up your physical world can be the pathway to making your life feel easier.
- Take some time to ask yourself questions and clear the cobwebs. Get clear on what you really desire.
- Allow yourself to be bored. Research is showing us that boredom can be good for us (and our relationships).
- Create (or re-examine) your bare-minimum minimum standards.
- Spend time with good friends.
- Be creative. Whether you write, paint, cook a beautiful meal, buy a coloring book, or re-arrange your bookshelves, being creative will allow you to move through the uncomfortable spaces easier.
- Learn something new. Read a new book or take a class. (I’m loving these classes from Highbrow.)
- Be flexible – your needs and desires during these times will be very much ‘subject to change.’
While living in the liminal spaces challenges us, and can often feel interminable, it may help to remember that even just the recognition that you are in the in-between places can go a long way toward making them more manageable.
It may also help to remember that eventually, even the greyest, bleakest winter will give way to the vibrant green of spring.