Friday, March 15, 2013

Liminal Spaces

There was a course I took in college in which we discussed the concept of liminal spaces. It was probably just a day or so of discussion (who can remember that far back? side note: I've been having dreams nightmares lately of being back at school, and something is always "off." Last night it was that I couldn't find my schedule, couldn't get to the first class in time, etc. Why are those dreams always so anxiety-producing?), but it stuck in my mind.

The idea of a liminal space, in a nutshell, is that it's a threshold of sorts, an in-between space and time in which we exist temporarily. Our professor equated it to a doorway, I believe. I've felt like this has been my permanent residence for so long now, I can hardly remember what it's like to not live in the in-between time. I've been thinking about this lately.

It seems like we're always in a time and place where we're halfway looking back, and halfway looking forward. I think having young children is especially conducive to that sort of mindset. Being nostalgic for what was, while dreaming about what's coming. Even on a micro-level. It's thinking about bedtime while looking forward to nap, or being hyper aware of what comes next in the day, so you can try to be one step ahead of the kid. As a new parent, it seems you always hear two phrases from more experienced ones: something along the lines of "cherish every single moment, they go so fast" or "oh, just wait until [xyz thing happens]." Both of these tend to rub me the wrong way. The first puts this unattainable pressure on otherwise frazzled, but love-drunk new parents: you should enjoy every single wonderful moment, if you don't, you're sure to miss out on the beauty which is parenthood. When did every single moment become wonderful? Last I checked, there is a lot of crap we wade through (albeit willingly) as parents, and even with recognizing that some moments are pretty shitty, we still understand why time and time again, people put themselves through this experience: overall, it's totally worth it. But to put pressure on "enjoying every moment" is unrealistic and undermines the emotions of the person who is thinking "this sucks right now." The latter "just wait" statement, to me, seems to especially point out the new parent's naivety, but almost in a condescending tone. Like, "you're happy now with your precious offspring, but wait until they stay out past their curfew with their questionable friends - then you'll question why you ever wanted to do this at all." What's the point of that kind of warning? And both these phrases seem to miss out on simply being present, in the moment, good or bad, not looking backward or forward. 

Pregnancy makes me feel eternally stuck in this limbo. I'm counting down the days and weeks - they make the end feel so far away, yet I'm acutely aware of how quickly this time has already gone.

Here's my bottom line though: I think allowing us to sink into this kind of thinking gives us an excuse for not fully living presently in the moment. If we're residing in this in-between space with one foot behind us and one foot in front of us, aren't we missing the moment of now? I really hate that realization - knowing how fleeting our time here is, how can I be better at being fully present in all moments? How can I appreciate the past and  prepare for the future, while still being fully present (and not resentful) of living in this fleeting moment, which so often carries the uncertainty of what might come?

Working on improving over here, one second at a time....


  1. READ Buddhism for mothers of young children!!! I promise, it's worth it. It's by far the best parenting/life book I have ever read!

    A few of my favorite quotes (from the first chapeter alone):

    "Young children live in the present moment, oblivious to the past, unconcerned about the future…If we let them, children can teach us the value of time with no objectives, a skillful kind of laziness free from the need for productivity"

    “At times my inclination is to see the day like a big checklist hoping to get to those parts that I ‘enjoy’, like my walks or my art. But then I am only really living for an hour a day! With mindfulness practice I am so much more alive, even during the so-called tedious times.”

    "Accepting the inevitability of chaos and imperfection can relieve us of some of our frustrating efforts to make family life problem-free. It also relieves us from the pressure to to be a perfect mother. Family relationships can improve when we remove the need for family members to be flawless, and when we accept that problems and human flaws are part of the package. Letting go of unrealistic expectations of family life frees us to spread our energies into other directions, be they other relationships, or involvement in our communities."

    I need to re-read this book monthly. Or put her quotes up around my house..I am working everyday to be more mindful and in the present moment. It is a very big challenge!

  2. This one is too good to not share too:
    "I was driving home with my younger daughter. We were still twenty minutes from home but she was hot, tired, and hungry and started to melt down. The minute she started to whine, I began my usual routine of trying to stop her, using a variety of techniques that never work. Whining became screaming. I started to get really impatient, stressed, and found myself shouting, 'QUIET!!!' She screamed louder. Then it occured to me, I can't stop her from being cranky because what she needs is lunch and a nap, and she'll get that in twenty minutes.

    The main reason I am so stressed and angry is because I am trying to make this moment something other than it is. Some moments simply suck and we just need to let them pass like clouds through the sky. Fighting them is the source of suffering. I needed to stop trying to change the moment, just let it be what it is, and breathe. And didn't my daughter have the right to be cranky, anyway? Didn't I forget to bring a snack for her? So I breathed in, out, in, out. She still screamed, but much of my misery was gone.

    So often with children we can see the moment of choice where we say to ourselves, I do not need to be so emotionally entangled in this situation. My aversion is causing the dukkha, the stress.'s not about passivity. We do whatever we can to improve a situation, yet we avoid clinging tightly to any particular result. After taking what action we can, if any, we work on accepting the result."

    I know this passage speaks to me daily.

  3. Good post! I've never heard of this but it makes perfect sense. My kids are 20 months apart and some days are harder than others, but overall I try to enjoy the present time with them since it is so fleeting.
    Also, having moved recently and not feeling totally comfortable here makes the looking back/forward phenomenon that much stronger. Just gotta stay strong!