Exploring the Liminal State

The liminal state describes those times in life when, surrounded by significant change or loss, we find our self immersed within a physical and mental space of uncertainty, disorientation, emptiness, confusion and anxiety. 


These are transitional times, decision-making times and positive times common to all.  Yet these are times when the canvas of one’s life may feel blank.  Because of changed circumstances, the liminal state has brought us to an unfamiliar space within our existence.  An indescribable emptiness or loneliness can arise.  It may be difficult, perhaps impossible to make decisions.  Energy is lost and random fears emerge as mere tasks assume the mantle of massive challenges.   It is difficult to describe one’s ‘self’ in these times. 

The typical liminal spaces are ever present in life as the image here indicates.


Liminal State


This man is a lone traveller.  Emptiness and an eerie quiet surrounds him as he waits:  doubtless the train will come.  But the train is no-where to be seen in his ‘now’.  An isolated environment and he must feel tremendous uncertainty.  No other person to assure him that he’s at the right place, at the right time and for the right reason.  He has only himself to trust in that emptiness and very likely he may be losing self-confidence.  Doubt springs to mind as a visitor to this man.  He has made a decision and currently is unable to retreat or move forward.  His life is at a threshold of change and he is an example of the many times in our life when change challenges us.  From birth to the end of living, we move through change.

While positive change is exciting, negative change of course brings pain. Either can take us to the space of uncertainty for a time.

We may also experience the liminal space (or state) quite fleetingly.  Everyday life examples of this include locations such as elevators, stair wells, lonely corridors or empty rooms … those sort of ‘creepy’ moments when we inexplicably feel unsafe. 

My own experience of liminality has varied over the years but one recent one remains clear if I choose to recall it.  It was the day of moving house.  We had arranged the assistance of professional packers to ease the somewhat weighty task of downscaling the family home of many years.  I had taken myself to our new address with a number of boxes and returned to the home we were leaving to find numerous strangers apparently undoing the life we had built within our home at that place for a very long time.  My reaction was shock and a kind of anger.  I felt a sense of physical hurt and personal damage that people unknown to me could invade my home with such abandon.  In that emptying space, and fighting tears, I wanted to stop them then and there.  Somehow reason prevailed.  The decision was made and there was no turning back.  Though quite bewildered, I fled to my car, a familiar, safe place.  After some minutes of ‘stillness’ to realign myself, I was then able to go forward to claim our new home with a different but positive view of the future.

The liminal spaces and the liminal state they evoke remind us that within our lives, change must occur. 


Life never remains the same while every experience offers meaningful understanding of our self and of our place in life. 

In the liminal state there will also likely be grief and maybe the pain that surrounds personal and spiritual growth.   This is when we need to trust – sometimes a challenge. Trust is our friend.  It can open the way to insight into who we truly are, what might be our life purpose. And the immense value of reaching and conquering each new and sometimes improbable mountain, all in good time.

                                                                                                © Pauline McKinnon, May 2022