Liminal spaces

We are all presently residing, to one extent or another, in a liminal space. The Cambridge dictionary definition of liminal is “between or belonging to two different places, states, etc. the liminal state between waking and sleeping.” So we are in all presently in this place that is somehow ‘in between.’ To a large extent we don’t know what the future holds, we are also beginning to disconnect from how things were ‘before’ and to live very much in the moment, day to day, whilst everything just kind of unfolds around us. 

Other liminal spaces that we are somewhat familiar with or can be aware of might include, dawn and dusk, also the place in the morning and the evening when we aren’t quite asleep but we are also not fully awake. It is also found in the space after the out breath, before the in breath arrives. Another place where we are ‘liminal’ is in the practice of Yoga Nidra and also during meditation.

This liminal space, the times of day in particular, are traditionally the most recommended time for Yoga practice. As Yoga originated in India this would have been the same time, dawn and dusk, all year around. It is of course more challenging in the west as the hours of daylight change throughout the year, but we can still retain a gentle awareness of the special energy that we feel in the fading or dawning light of each and every day.

Why is this liminal place considered so special? In between day and night, not light and not dark, neither the moon nor the sun is dominant. Everything has a kind of dreamlike quality about it, making it more challenging to grasp and be overtly animated. Even nature feels this energetic shift, birds waking or settling, flowers opening or closing, the whole of nature tunes in. In this dream like quality we can find that our practice can feel more focused, as we feel more detached from outside interruptions or distractions, we exist for a while in the in between dreamlike places. It is very beautiful. 

As we now find ourselves in every day life in this between existence, a liminal space, what might be the challenges to our using this as an opportunity for more regular or even daily Yoga and Mediation practices? Although the Yoga texts are over 5000 years old, they often speak of obstacles and of our human traits, which are still relevant for us today. What stops us from practicing something which we inherently know is so beneficial for us, so holistic and healthy? 

In Yoga philosophy we talk about Kleshas. These are ‘afflictions’ that stop us from being kind to our selves, they are mental distractions and ways that we function as human beings that stop us from realising our true potential, even when we have the best of opportunities to do so. 

Avidya or ignorance, this is the primary problem, from which all of our other challenges manifest. If we can overcome our ignorance then everything else can be resolved! Sounds so easy doesn’t it! Our ignorance causes us to believe that everything will last forever, including ourselves, this crates pain, emotional pain especially. We cling on and become attached to people and possessions, seemingly unaware that actually, we can never own anyone or anything. 

Asmita orI-am-ness. This is all about the ego. The internal image that we all have to some extent of who we are, the ‘I’ that we identify with. We believe that this is who we are, this mental picture that we have painted of and for ourselves. We give ourselves labels and a sense of purpose, place, importance, our status in society. In reality, none of this actually matters. But it’s very challenging to even begin to misidentify with all of this ’stuff.’

Raga or attachment is closely linked to the ego (and remember everything is linked to ignorance). We truly believe that acquiring things, and a place in society, as well as relationships, will bring us happiness. Even when we know that this isn’t the case, we still have the desire for beautiful objects, and for human company. When we loose what we have desired, we feel suffering. When we feel suffering we seek more pleasure, thus creating more attachment, more gratification, in order to relieve the suffering. Then we again loose this newly acquired source of ‘happiness’ eventually (because eventually we loose everything) and so the cycle continues. We are never ever satisfied. Dvesha or repulsion is the opposite of attachment, This is aversion towards things that may give us suffering. We do not want to suffer, and yet suffering is an essential part of our existence. How we react to what we perceive as suffering is up to us. We need to accept that suffering happens, it has always happened and it will always continue to happen. So we need to find a way to live with it, to accept it.

Abhinivesha, the will to live, is the most massive one of all. None of us wants to experience death, in ourselves or our loved ones. We are afraid to die. All of the other kleshes are also about this one. We are overly attached, we do not wish to suffer, we wish to remain ignorant to all of this, because the ego believes itself to be invincible, we want to avoid death. And yet this is inevitable.

Guess what, death resides in the liminal space. When we find ourselves in a liminal space, with no distractions, we end up sitting with ourselves, as we really are. This can feel incredibly difficult sometimes. It all gets a bit real. because then we instinctively begin to notice that we are human, that we have our suffering, our attachments, our pain and pleasure. We can also begin to see that all of this is a mind game that distracts us from who we really are. Maybe we begin to question what it is all about, and to want to do things differently. However can we begin to grow more comfortable with this liminal space? How can we learn to begin to let go? It can all feel quite intense and overwhelming I know.

We can begin with Yoga. We can begin by noticing these in between places and by not shying away from them but by embracing them. We can being by learning to be with ourselves, wholeheartedly and without compromise. Put the ego aside. Take a walk at twilight, meditate at dawn, sit with the pause after the out breath, practice yoga nidra and meditation, sit for a while and be with yourself, with all of your pain and suffering, sit with yourself and be patient and kind. Then maybe you will begin to settle, and begin to make friends with the liminal space.