The Liminal Space

Heather Platt

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Awakin FeatureWhat do you do when a friend has lost a child and you can’t ease their grief? Or when your partner loses her job and you can’t resolve it for her? Or a client has to make a big decision and you can’t make it for him? Or your church or community group decides to close its doors and there is loss written on everyone’s faces? Or a group you’re facilitating is in conflict and can’t see their way through to resolution?

Though you feel invested in all of these situations, the outcome in each of them is outside of your responsibility and control.

The best that you can do is hold space for the people involved.

It all begins in the liminal space…

The space in between stories is the liminal space. In anthropology, a liminal space is a threshold, an interim space 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 transitioned to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. In liminal space we are between identities, between who we once were and who we are becoming, like the chrysalis stage between caterpillar and butterfly.

Grief, transition, loss, birth, divorce, trauma, job loss, bankruptcy, marriage, betrayal, relocation, graduation, conflict – nearly every human experience has within it some element of liminal space. The liminal space is a space of openheartedness, when we are raw, vulnerable, and exposed. In order to survive without further wounding, we need a container that will hold us with gentleness and strength, without short-circuiting the process or forcing us into the wrong outcome.

Holding space isn’t easy and it can make us feel powerless. We want to fix things, give good advice, control the outcome, or avoid the conversation all together.

In order to hold space for others in our lives, we have to learn to hold space for ourselves first. When we neglect our own needs, we risk burnout, addiction, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Holding space is what we do in the liminal space when we walk alongside another person (or ourselves) on a journey without judging, fixing, belittling, or shaping the outcome. While supporting their boundaries and protecting our own, we offer unconditional support, compassion, and gentle guidance.

Sourced from here.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion of liminal space and our need to be held when in that space? Can you share a personal story of holding space? What helps you recognize and hold space for those, including yourself, in liminal spaces?

Add Your Reflection:

16 Previous Reflections:

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    On Feb 25, 2020 MARIA DEL REFUGIO SANDOVAL OLIVAS wrote:
    El espacio liminal lo vivimos a diario. Cuando nos enteramos de una noticia que trastoca a nuestra sociedad, cuando vemos a una persona en duelo, a una madre con las responsabilidades de crear una familia sola, a los niños en la calle, a ancianos abandonados, a una persona sin hogar, alquien que cae en las drogas.

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    On Feb 21, 2020 Deborah Watson wrote:
    Thank you for this. My sister has been seeking a new job for almost 9 months now and I see the toll it is taking on her. I find myself taking on her depression and helplessness. I realize this is no way to “help” her. Peace to all.

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    On Feb 20, 2020 aj wrote:
    Amen Del!!!! Amen!

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    On Feb 20, 2020 RUBY wrote:
    Well, when i see things around in my world in a helpless state and ugly, i become depressed and helpless. For example, the muslim terrorist shah ruk khan makes a lot of money in bolleywood, but that depresses me to the point to think how duimb Indians can be to promote an enemy of your own country. Idiot indians!!!

    1 reply: Ruby | Post Your Reply
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    On Feb 20, 2020 Del wrote:
    Connecting to the space helps guide us to the truth in the synthesis.

    1 reply: Ruby | Post Your Reply
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    On Feb 19, 2020 Manisha wrote:
    What to say in difficult times is always a question. But its not that difficult to hold someone hands and let him/her know that you are there. Probably you can't do anything to reduce their pain but being there itself is great deal. Recently someone lost her child and there is nothing you can say to console a mother. But time is great healer and with the time people forget the pain or you can say they will learn how to ignore that pain. In this journey standing by with them is the only thing you can do.
    Same theory applies to us when we are in pain. Just be there and keep reminding ourselves that time keep of changing. Good or bad it will change so hold on until then.

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    On Feb 18, 2020 Chris wrote:
    Thanks for a wonderful post, liminal space is a new concept for me and it came to me at just the right time. Thanks also to all the people who posted insightful and open hearted comments, you're beautiful!

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    On Feb 18, 2020 Gururaj wrote:
    When I 'hold' the space rightly am I allowing something beyond my habitual response to 'inform' me ?

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    On Feb 18, 2020 aj wrote:
    "Learning to care and not carry", David, grabbed my focus. Allowing presence, ear, love, time ... to be enough in in this phase difficult sometimes. Your words a very good reminder!
    Amen to Maria's ... "When we try to help, and from a good place, it doesn’t allow the other to go through life’s struggles, learn and become strong and wise because of them." (Yes, yes, yes! We are who we are, in great part, by how we'veOVERCOME thorns in life.)
    So much to ponder here! Thank you!

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    On Feb 18, 2020 maria wrote:
    When you become aware of another in a dilemma of some kind and for them it’s so heavy they can only naturally share some burden so as to ease the load. Not always do they want advice and direction. Yet we can so easily jump in to dosomething to help them, by not just listening and allowing them to vent of this weighted burden, we then start to speak, we advice, criticiseadd our opinions, thinking we are helping, but we are blocking the other persons flow and only keep the unhealthy fire burning by adding some fuel. Even if a situation arose that you knew the person was in conflict with, but never discussed it or addressed there even was a issue or conflict happening. it is so easy to offer advice, an therefore stop the natural flow. when we try to help, and from a good place, it doesn’t allow the other to go through life’s struggles, learn and become strong and wise because of them. to help a butterfly from its chrysalis during its brief struggle to get out, would onl... [View Full Comment] When you become aware of another in a dilemma of some kind and for them it’s so heavy they can only naturally share some burden so as to ease the load. Not always do they want advice and direction. Yet we can so easily jump in to dosomething to help them, by not just listening and allowing them to vent of this weighted burden, we then start to speak, we advice, criticiseadd our opinions, thinking we are helping, but we are blocking the other persons flow and only keep the unhealthy fire burning by adding some fuel. Even if a situation arose that you knew the person was in conflict with, but never discussed it or addressed there even was a issue or conflict happening.
    it is so easy to offer advice, an therefore stop the natural flow.
    when we try to help, and from a good place, it doesn’t allow the other to go through life’s struggles, learn and become strong and wise because of them.
    to help a butterfly from its chrysalis during its brief struggle to get out, would only make it weak. Through struggle the butterfly strengthens itself and it’s wings, like a good work out in the gym
    without this struggle it would be weak and unable to fly, and lose what would have been beautiful.
    we actually help mostly through fear, and a need to protect.
    if we allowed a fully trusted in life just like animals do, then fear would not exist.
    To hold space for someone is to be a standing rock, who listens without input but with compassion and understanding so the other feels heard.
    They would feel so lighter without hard input added. A simple nod of the head or a cuddle and love, supporting them and telling them everything will be ok, would mean so much.
    Be the rock, the strength, the space for them to breathe. We so easily do the wrong thing thinking we are doing the right thing. Times are changing now and we understand more. A whole new way to teach the youngster though.
    [Hide Full Comment]

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    On Feb 18, 2020 Sunil Mor, Bangalore wrote:
    Heartfelt compassion and empathy by stepping in the shoes of the affected may be the starting point.Within our own big joint family crisis maintaining equanimity was the key for resolution. Purification of head,heart and soul thru mindful meditation helps.

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    On Feb 17, 2020 Jayendra Shah wrote:
    Thanks for sharing this post - providing a special name and context when we face such situation. We are tempted to get out of this space not knowing how to do that. Now we can remind us that we are in Liminal space and all we need to do is just hold the space.

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    On Feb 15, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    We're always in liminal space, sometimes more profoundly than others, sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly. It probably helps to be held when struggling in that space. We can never control outcome, but we can be a container by being present in such a way as to provide some safety, care, respect, and support. Holding space becomes more easy the more we do it. It doesn't make us feel powerless -- we're always powerless to change the other. We don't have to anything, for self or others -- we can hold space for self, which is to take care of self, including while holding space for another, which usually helps. When I am present, listening, caring, not judging, not controlling, I am holding space for and with another. What helps me recognize and hold space is knowing how important it is, learning to care and not carry, knowing how to share what I am experiencing in a non-demanding, non-critical, honest and open way, and being supportive of the other being himself or... [View Full Comment] We're always in liminal space, sometimes more profoundly than others, sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly. It probably helps to be held when struggling in that space. We can never control outcome, but we can be a container by being present in such a way as to provide some safety, care, respect, and support. Holding space becomes more easy the more we do it. It doesn't make us feel powerless -- we're always powerless to change the other. We don't have to anything, for self or others -- we can hold space for self, which is to take care of self, including while holding space for another, which usually helps. When I am present, listening, caring, not judging, not controlling, I am holding space for and with another. What helps me recognize and hold space is knowing how important it is, learning to care and not carry, knowing how to share what I am experiencing in a non-demanding, non-critical, honest and open way, and being supportive of the other being himself or herself.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Feb 14, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    We all go though ups and down in our life, feeling high and feeling low, elevatedand depressed. There have been times in my life when I did not know which way to go. The outcomes were beyond my control. The best way for me was to hold space-the liminal space, with non-judgmental mindfulness, and open and tender heartedness. I needed such empathic and compassionate support for me to hold me. It was my responsibility to hold me in that liminal space. I did not feel alone. A deeper loving and compassionate part of myself held me to go through the difficult times of my life. My personal experience has taught me how to provide such liminal space to others when they go through agonizing and painful experiencesin their lives. These are the times when I feel the other is me. I feel deep empathy for the other. As a teacher and a counselor, I often encounter such situations when my students and clients feel stuck in no-exit condition. They feel lost not knowing what to do. These are thee times ... [View Full Comment] We all go though ups and down in our life, feeling high and feeling low, elevatedand depressed. There have been times in my life when I did not know which way to go. The outcomes were beyond my control. The best way for me was to hold space-the liminal space, with non-judgmental mindfulness, and open and tender heartedness. I needed such empathic and compassionate support for me to hold me. It was my responsibility to hold me in that liminal space. I did not feel alone. A deeper loving and compassionate part of myself held me to go through the difficult times of my life. My personal experience has taught me how to provide such liminal space to others when they go through agonizing and painful experiencesin their lives. These are the times when I feel
    the other is me. I feel deep empathy for the other.

    As a teacher and a counselor, I often encounter such situations when my
    students and clients feel stuck in no-exit condition. They feel lost not knowing what to do. These are thee times when thy need someone to hold them and help them go through the difficult times in their lives. These are the times when I help them to hold space, the luminal space, to carve their own path, to find their own internal strength. Such experiences fill my heart with happiness.

    I have learned how to fill the cup of my life with loving kindness, loving awareness and loving compassion. It is an ongoing journey of growing in which I hold my hands with self-compassion and extend my helping hands to others as they are going through theirown journey.

    Namaste!
    JagdishP Dave

































    Life is not a straight line. As we journey through life, we run into unexpected and unfamiliar curves and corners. We are facing ambiguity. We are at the threshold of not knowing which way to go. It is an interim space of ambiguity and disorientation. We are caughtup between two identities-the one who we once were and the emerging identity,"like the chrysalis stage between caterpillar and butterfly." In such experiences, there is liminal space of openheartedness and our need to be held in that space. For helping others we need to learn how to hold ourselves with empathy, compassion and openheartedness.

    As a teacherand a counselor I often run into such situations when a student or a client is in a state of conflict and confusion.They feel stuck. In such situations
    I extend my helping hand to them with empathy,openheartedness, compassion and loving kindness.Such a stance helps them to relate to themselves with openness, self -compassion and kindness. Clarity grows within themselves and they learn how to overcome their hurdles-to move from darkness to light.

    Life is an ongoing journey. There are times when I need loving kindness and help from others. Such experiences have helped me to take care of my self in difficult and trying times and also to help others who may be going throughhard and stressful times.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave





































































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