It’s been 47 days now. Six weeks since we have been living in what feels like suspended animation or what I like to call a “liminal space.”
I like best how Fr. Richard Rohr, an American author and founder of the Center for Contemplative Action (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico describes liminal space as an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. He says, “It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life, but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.”
Over the last several weeks, the bulk of my grief coaching practice has been focused on companioning people through their anxiety, those with bouts of depression, or of people on the verge of ending relationships. This is not surprising because, taking from Fr. Rohr’s definition of liminal space, it is a state in life which although is uncomfortable, the very vulnerability and openness of it is what will allow room for something genuinely new to happen. Rohr, says, “We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled.”
In this time in our lives, we need to cut ourselves more slack. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and often, because of the uncertainty of so many things, it varies from day to day depending on what is going on in our lives, in our community, our country, and the world. To be extra patient, kind, and tolerant of one another is what is required in order to make it through. The old ways, the pressure on productivity and activity, can not be for now. Fr. Rohr stresses, “In liminal space we sometimes need to not-do and not-perform according to our usual successful patterns. We actually need to fail abruptly and deliberately falter to understand other dimensions of life. We need to be silent instead of speaking, experience emptiness instead of fullness, anonymity instead of persona, and pennilessness instead of plenty.”
It’s not easy, this being caught between our life before, and our life now. It feels so much like grief, and that is exactly what we are going through individually and as a global community. We grieve for all that we have lost, and we continue to grapple with much uncertainty over many things — lost plans, income, changes to our health, new ways of living, and working.
However, it is also this time in our lives that teaches us more than ever to be still, to spend time centering ourselves in prayer, meditation, reflection, and contemplation.
The old ways can no longer be in the new world. This time in our lives requires that we transform in small and big ways in order to make it through. This is necessary so that the new world that will come out of this period will be a much better one than the one we lived in before the pandemic entered our lives.
One of the things that I do each day since the ECQ began, is to watch an inspirational speaker. My choices vary from favourite authors to pastors to inspiring TED talks. One of really comforting and hopeful ones I listened to this week is NY Times author and intuitive doctor, Carolyn Myss.
Myss speaks of a deep spiritual transformation that can take place within us in this pandemic. She says that right now, the entire planet is on a sacred journey, “The nature of a sacred journey is that we don’t know when or how it’s going to start, and what will be asked of us. It simply ignites.”
She explains that we never get to choose the components of this sacred journey and that they just arrive out of the setting of our lives. “Transformation,” she emphasises, “accompanies some kind of trauma. There is something that has to be the fodder within us that has to be changed…It needs to go from this to that.” Myss says that when she hears people say that they want to return to what is “normal” she wants to tell them straight out, “That’s not going to happen. To go back to the way things were is precisely what was needed to transform.”
The planet, she explains was in trouble. “Who knows what worse disaster we could have been headed for if the world had not come to a stand still?” Doctors and scientists will surely try to find a scientific and physical cause for why the virus came to be, but the real, more important question is what was the journey of the world was like that caused it to come to this point in time? What made the world vulnerable?
The virus unmasked what needs to be healed in society in ways that we would never have discovered if it had not come upon us. At the same time, Myss says, “We are dropping our bar in terms of what is of value to us…In one way, heaven is levelling the playing field and giving us the opportunity to start fresh in so many ways.”
Our lives have changed by the new coronavirus disease (COVID19). We’ve known people who have been sick, hospitalized, or died. Now, more than ever in our history, we realise how fragile life is, how much it can change in the blink of an eye. Our values need to reflect that we are here for a very short time, and then, we are gone. “What matters is how we are here for each other. Not collecting stuff, but sharing stuff. That what matters is how well, how deeply we understand that the journey of life is a journey of love, a journey of sharing, a journey of being there for each other.”
This is not an easy period to be in, and Myss suggests that we set aside time for our “crazy time” and our prayer time. “Release it for a few minutes each day. Talk to someone so that you don’t go bonkers or slip into a depression.”
Myss leaves the viewer with questions for the road ahead “What is it within myself that I need to transform now? What is the person I need to be as I go forward now for the rest of my life? Is there a part of me, instead of being a hoarder, I could be more generous. Instead of being impatient, can I be a better listener?”
Myss closes her presentation with a hopeful and affirmative promise, “We will in the end make life better. If we go through this journey right, we will make better decisions for each other. We will be more mindful of healthcare. We will be more mindful of the vulnerable and the choices that society needs to make. Things will change if we heal together.”