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  • Gavin Conochie

Crossing the Territory of the Liminal

Updated: Oct 28, 2019


“Mankind owns four things That are no good at sea: Rudder, anchor, oars, And the fear of going down.” ― Antonio Machado


We've all had the experience of facing a genuine dilemma in our lives. The decision we face has the power to alter the course we take; it may have far reaching consequences, many of them positive...yet we find ourselves frozen, unable to move forward and unable to go back. We experience a crisis of indecision. In our culture of doing - where we are told we are supposed to 'have it all together' - we flounder in the face of feeling uncertain about what action to take. 

The trouble is that authentic solutions only appear where we are willing to allow a degree of chaos to creep into our lives. We have to be willing to risk some dissolution. To step into the territory of dissolution is to step into a place of not-knowing. The traversing of that liminal territory can feel profoundly unsettling. It is a breaking down of what we previously thought we knew. Bobbing around among the flotsam and jetsam of our previous certainties, we feel that something must have gone terribly wrong. 

What we may have forgotten is that sometimes we need to allow ourselves some time of not-knowing. We need to hold space for the ground of feeling lost, disconcerted, confused. We may have to put away our old maps – it’s unlikely they can help us here. To some part of us, it can feel that if we surrender to this process it will mean the end of everything. We find ourselves plea bargaining, offering ourselves up for a lesser challenge but not wanting to give ourselves up entirely to the journey ahead. If we do not know, or cannot trust, that what we are going through is part of a bigger generative cycle – one that is happening to us all the time in smaller ways – then our sense of this experience as an ordeal will be greatly heightened.

Life as a process is both creative and destructive. In order for the new to appear, there has to be a breaking down of the old - birth follows death. If we try to only live one side of the equation, sooner or later we will find we have become stuck. Slowly but surely, life will stagnate and we will likely find ourselves wondering why, perhaps blaming it on circumstances or unseen forces outside our control. If we are to become unstuck, at some point we will have to face the fact that we have an unconscious attachment to the status quo, to the known way of things. We  are the thing that is stopping the process moving forward.

Sometimes there is no choice, not really. The boat is waiting...not all of what lies ahead will be easy, but in willingly surrendering ourselves to it we have already expanded our sense of who we are, of what is possible for us. All that remains is to find the courage to push off from the shore of the known world and trust the deeper currents, some of which lie outside our understanding, to take us where we need to go.

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