On living in liminality…Part One

I received a long email from Michael yesterday evening, where he shared his thoughts on the concept of liminality that I’ve been bandying about so much. While I will wait for his permission before I share his email publicly {michael, perhaps you would post relevant parts of it in the comments section that you would share}, his questions and his observations were so insightful that I was compelled to wait until now to formulate my response.

On living on the edge, in limnos… Part one, Part two, Part three.

I would like to start with restating the definition of limnos, that was the springboard for my thoughts, then I will attempt to explain what I mean when I say I’ve embraced living in liminality. Finally, I will end with articulating how I think that "dancing in between" can be effective for innovation, or managing the new, in this time of flux.

the Greek limnos, meaning "threshold," liminality describes an
in-between time when what was, is no longer, and what will be, is not
yet. It is a time rich with ambiguity, uncertainty, and the possibility
of creative fomentation.

When I embraced living in liminality, and truly there is no word other than "embraced", that is to take in, wholeheartedly, within your worldview and allowing it to alter your perspective on the world around you, this was the paragraph that resonated with my experiences.

Remember first that one of the defining themes of
the internationally mobile childhood is frequent change. Consider,
then, that for every experience of change— by their own mobility or
another’s— nomads experience a parallel process of psychological

William Bridges has written
extensively on the three developmental phases that compose this
internal process: the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning.
Movement through each varies from individual to individual. Different
members of the same family, engaged in the same change process, may
have different transition experiences. It is influenced by the
individual personality, the kind of change precipitating the
transition, and the broader environmental support (or lack thereof)
offered the individual in terms of both the change process and the
transition experience

What Bridges called the "neutral
zone" is what we are calling liminality.
When a person is in liminal
space, he or she is on the threshold, no longer part of the past and
not yet part of the new beginning. For many global nomads and their
families, in particular for multi-movers, the experience of liminal
space becomes the most constant, lived experience

So, my sense of what liminal space means is that "neutral zone" between the old and the new, that time of transition itself, in between leaving one place or state or physical location to settling into another state or physical space. When your life has been one long transition, after all if San Francisco is #10 in the list of cities I have called home in my not quite forty years, then embracing liminal space as the state of being can be liberating. I don’t have to be "from somewhere" moving here. I can just be. And using another’s words again to explain, what "to be" means to a global nomad,

Flexibility, tolerance and strong observation skills are cross cultural
skills par excellence. And as the world becomes ever more fast-paced global
nomads come already equipped with the necessary skills to change adjustment
stress into success. As cultures and communities come increasingly into
contact, global nomads know how to respect, observe and learn from cultural
differences. We don’t assume that our way is the best or only way. We are
life-long learners, and the world is our classroom. These are critical skills
in a world looking for economic prosperity and peace, when in the past there
has been a tendency to destroy what we don’t understand and annihilate those
who are different.
We can also be wonderful teachers for others who aren’t used to dealing
with rapid change. Global nomads tend to think quickly on our feet and can
take the initiative to troubleshoot — but we often do so in a context of
understanding the currents and observing the situation first. Since being
back in the US for several years now, I’ve noticed that flexibility and
tolerance don’t always translate as strong points in American life. It seems
to me that holding a strong personal viewpoint and "demonstrating leadership"
is highly valued. A person’s forceful thinking and handling of a situation
garners kudos. Observation in particular seems to be underrated. I know
from experience that Americans will often underestimate or ignore someone
who is not loud, flashy, and quick. Many cultures point out that we have
two eyes, two ears and only one mouth. . . for good reason. The Japanese
have a saying, "Silence is golden". Global nomads try to figure
out which way the river is flowing before we jump in. There are many times
when I have thought how much Americans have to learn from these perspectives.
Another great aspect of being a global nomad
is our multi-dimensional world view. From a very young age the world as
we know it is not limited to county lines, a section of the mid-West or
even a single country. […] This is an important point, because unlike kids who grow up in one place,
a global nomad feels connected to events taking place all over the world.
When an earthquake toppled highways in Kobe in January of 1995 and killed
over 5,000 people, I wept with the rest of Japan. When floods destroy parts
of Bangladesh and typhoons sweep away hundreds of people in India, I think
of my friends, and their families, and I pray for their safety, just as
I do for people killed in mudslides in Seattle. We recognize that people
everywhere share the joys and pains of life. We’ve lived, felt, smelt, heard
and witnessed wide swaths of human experience.
Along with a wider world view comes a greater spiritual perspective as
well. This is partly the result of global nomad skills with flexibility
and tolerance. It is also because we observe that different people’s experience
has created different truths in their lives — from how to relate to self
and others to how to relate to spirituality. When you spend your childhood
observing and experiencing so many wonderful variations on how and what
to eat (most Americans won’t touch raw fish and visibly cringe at the idea
of raw pork), how to speak and dance and organize in groups — it’s easy
for the global nomad to question those who promote a belief that there is
only ONE way to nourish a spiritual life. Rather than be threatened by different
belief systems, global nomads often relish the beauty in the diversity of
religious systems, taking something from everything.

I will summarize the relevant points in Part Two as this is probably on the edge of too long a post. Part three here!

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One Response to On living in liminality…Part One

  1. Perspective says:

    Part Two – Characteristics of limnos

    continued from On living with liminality, Part one. Part three here. I’m going to highlight key statements that articulate the characteristics of a person who embraces liminal space, Cross cultural skills such as flexibility, tolerance and strong obser…

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