May 14, 2022

The Impact being in a Liminal Space has on our Sense of Self.

I have often thought that I would love to live for a long time in a hotel, just to experience the sense of self in a space outside the context of my life.

With empty armchairs, soulless art on the walls, no personal decorative memorabilia, and nothing to remind me of my life’s timeline. No past, just an infinite present. Inside a hotel, you are supposed to stay over a short time—it is a transitional place. I wonder how long it would take for me to start to feel unsettled.

Let’s say you travel alone in your car. It’s late—possibly around 11 p.m.—and you are driving on a deserted highway. At some point, you notice a middle-sized suburban hotel on the side of the road with flickering lights. It signals a stop you must make, just to rest for the night. You enter the hotel, however, you see no one at the little reception desk—only empty hallways. You feel you must wait and you start feeling a bit sick in the stomach.

This is an example of liminal space (from the Latin word “limen” which means “threshold”—being on a verge). You are not supposed to spend a lot of time here. Liminal spaces are designed to function as transitional locations. They feel oddly familiar and nostalgic as they reflect memories of life being around and they create an eerie, otherworldly sensation. Their emptiness is numbing and things feel as being slightly off—an altered reality. 

A parking lot at night. A deserted highway. Schools’ corridors on a Sunday. Rest stops. Airport halls after midnight. Empty waiting rooms and hallways.

Think about the films of David Lynch and how often liminal spaces act as transcendental zones in chronological disorder that provide a dreamlike quality—quite similar to this bizarre phase we are currently in. We are awake, yet not fully conscious.

We, humans, need context. Our sense of self needs an orderly and concrete timeline. Being in a “waiting,” in-limbo mode, can be unnerving, as there isn’t any flow happening and the space-time continuum feels fuzzy. 

When we travel for vacation, we consciously offer ourselves a certain gap, and we are aware that we are open to the unknown and brand-new possibilities. But we don’t feel unsettled as we have planned the dates and more or less the things that we want to do. Generally, we are quite prepared for the whole experience. Pausing deliberately is another thing. It constitutes a choice, and it reflects a decision. 

When we are in a liminal phase in our life, we simply feel stuck. We feel that nothing happens. We have this feeling of “having to become” rather than “being.” The lack of activity and sense of purpose is prominent.

This phase can be the best ground for reflection, but it needs recognition and proper care. We can easily get trapped in a close circuit of unconsciously overthinking and ruminating. This numbs us more and prolongs the stay in this fuzzy zone. We need context by default. So we start fathoming up explanations, trying to feel the gaps with thoughts, feeding this paradox of analysis paralysis that sustains our inability to move. So even decades can pass without a significant move—such a state of being when unattained can be a space for ghosts.

This radicalized ambivalence is necessary for our growth and it can be kindly witnessed in its ritualistic dimension such as the rites of passage in some traditions. Rites of passage marking important events customarily include all three stages described by Arnold van Gennep: separation, transition, and reincorporation.

During separation, we leave behind what was familiar. Throughout transition, we are facing all growth challenges and by the reincorporation phase, we return to what can feel like home again—a kind of wonderful rebirth. 

In the wondrous world of particle physics, “a field can fill ’empty’ space. The Higgs field extends throughout space. Elementary particles acquire their masses by interacting with this field. It is kind of like space is charged and particles get mass through their interactions with this charge.”

In other words, the form can be created out of the void, just by entering a certain field that is almost impossible to detect, as it is part of the void.  We cannot see all the possibilities floating in the atmosphere with the naked eye, but the void is as important as context since it creates its field for it to emerge.

We should never forget that even a slight conscious movement can smash the thin, transitional ice and help us enter the state of flow—as the next movement will gravitate toward the previous one, naturally. 

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