Embrace the gap!
Visitors to London who have used the Underground railway system there will be familiar with the recorded announcement that sounds out as the doors open at certain stations:
“Mind the Gap!” “Stand clear of the doors!” “Doors closing!”
I’m pretty certain that whoever dreamt up that series of admonishments to warn passengers had no idea of how symbolic that series of exclamations are for the living of life.
Many years ago I had the privilege of being exposed to a model generated by a wonderfully astute and eclectically well-read man called Frederic Hudson. In his Adult Cycle of Renewal, Hudson shared that the impetus for the model came upon his realisation that the notion of a “steady state”, the attaining of our goals and dreams at which point we could put our feet up, was a rapidly disappearing concept. Instead, we humans needed to strengthen our capacity for constant renewal.
If we get good at constant renewal, we have to get good at transitions. Transitions are the opposite of certainty. And for some reason, we can tend to have a bit of an addiction to certainty. We like to think we know where we are going and what it will look like when we get there. The profession of coaching, and many others beside, are predicated upon the notion that this is:
(a) possible and
(b) a good idea.
I’m not necessarily disagreeing with either (a) or (b). There’s an old Chinese saying that if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there. (Or words to that effect!) So, there’s plenty to be said in favour of planning, and the well-worn, tried and tested theories around milestones, and chunking of goals into smaller achievable outcomes, and so forth. All of this is not the point of this month’s newsletter.
I can’t really know if I’m unusual, or whether it is a function of a particular stage of life, but my life consists of a lot more transitions than it does of steady states. And I love thinking about plans that I might have, but the reality is that when the time for the implementation of the plan comes, a whole host of unforeseen factors, that could not have been thought of at the time of the planning, have entered the picture. Instead of colours by numbers, life is much more impressionistic. Liminality is one of my most favourite notions.
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete...
So, I’ve been pondering whether my experience is unusual, or whether (and this, I suspect is the case), many people are finding themselves in liminal waiting rooms more often than they are standing on the podium receiving a gold medal for their perfectly executed plans.
Now, let’s take a look at language for a moment. The language of liminality includes the following words and phrases:
Disruption of the status quo
Not yet sure
Anxiously floating in the in-between
The language of planning, goal setting and achievement is a very different kettle of fish.
I must say I am feeling much better about life as I write this! No wonder, if I, like many of you, am an optimistic proponent of the transitions required for a life of growth and fulfillment, that I sometimes feel a tad unsure!
For those of you that are regular readers of my newsletter (thank you so much, I appreciate it deeply!) you will remember that last month’s missive touched on slowing down, and July’s thought-provokers have carried that theme. Slowing down, I observed, brought feelings to the surface: feelings of the messy kind. Liminality is pretty messy as well.
I suspect that, as in Chaos Theory, there is an underlying pattern at play in the liminal spaces of our lives. As theologian and author Richard Rohr says of liminal spaces, they are ...
where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.
So, maybe instead of trying to idealize normalcy, or expect certainty, or live safely, we could invent a new set of slogans for the liminal spaces on the underground railway of our lives. How about:
Embrace the gap! Straddle the thresholds! New doors opening ahead!