When we speak of passing through liminal time and space, it is most surely reflected in the material and physical realities of life: natural phenomena, social constructs, humanly created rituals, designated space, and the real time interruptions and discontinuities of disasters. What fully defines something as “liminal,” though, is the way that phenomena create ambiguous and confusing inner space. When one passes from familiar landscapes to the domain of the unknown, the resulting disorientation is an inner one. That is why external events are interpreted differently by different people and are seen as more or less liminal depending on which person is doing the experiencing. For that reason the liminal experience is very subjective.
In relation to external experience our inward consciousness is fairly antonymous and frequently in motion. For experienced liminal guides and deep practitioners of the inner life, this inward journey is often understood as an unwieldy, chaotic, yet purposeful movement from one level of consciousness to the next. In liminal terms we think of the movement from our present structure of consciousness across thresholds into complex and undifferentiated liminal space, from the ego of sensory perception and thought into the shadowy depths of the unconscious and beyond. It is in this thick liminal space – Dante’s dark wood – what is needed is found. The quest cannot proceed without first traversing this wilderness. And the self can only be known through the integration of the many wild elements first.
I like how Richard Rohr puts it in his On the Threshold of Transformation:
In classic spiritual stories from all over the world, the seeker moves through several levels, today referred to as levels of consciousness. The seeker travels from simple consciousness, to complex consciousness. and finally to enlightened consciousness, which looks surprisingly simple again.
The first simplicity and the second simplicity are, in fact, completely different. The first simplicity is necessarily naive and inexperienced. Also, a person in the first stage must split life up – the natural from the spiritual, the light from the shadow, the problems from the easier times. But when the seeker comes to enlightened consciousness and that second simplicity, he or she has learned to include, accept, and forgive the negatives, the problems, and the contradictions that were revealed in the middle stage.
We could say it this way too: as we grow older, we live, love, fail, forgive, read, wait, struggle, and search, presuming that we have to get it right all by ourselves. Finally we discover both the Source and the guidance, and when we place our trust in that larger reality, life becomes simple again.
This causes me to remember the observation of Alfred North Whitehead, that one journeys in order to discover the simplicity on the other side of complexity. To not plunge into the depths of complexity is to remain simple minded. To cross the threshold and swim through the ocean of complexity is to integrate all those sea creatures into a new simplicity of consciousness, a simplicity that exists beyond any dualistic way of viewing self and world.