Catching a few hours of freedom, I chose, as usual, to go to the mountain. Dark clouds moved across the sky in waves and the lightest sprinkles of rain were swept in on the wind. I welcome the rainy weather—it usually means I have the place to myself. On this day I reached the top and sat down to enjoy my customary thermos of tea. Suddenly I became aware of a great clamoring in the eastern section of the sky. At first I thought it was a murder of crows; then I thought I heard geese, then the sound seemed to merge into an undefinable howling. I strained to see where it was coming from, but the clouds obscured the source of the noise. Still, I could tell it was moving westward across the sky and for a brief, startling moment I felt that if I stood up and spread out my arms I could join them, those howlers on the wind. A chill ran up my spine, despite the fact that I was clutching a hot thermos of tea, because whether or not the makers of the sound were crows, or geese, or both, they were also something else. Part of me knew then that the Hunt was on the ride and for just a moment, it had called me. The wind blew, the rain prickled my face and then the moment was lost with the sound, receding into the western cloud banks.
I sat like stone, a long time, before drinking my tea.
“Shit just got real!”.
People often say that when something intense happens in their life. I always thought that was funny and kind of nonsensical. The way I look at it, when something intense and potentially life -changing happens, well, then, shit just got unreal. “Real” is your mundane, day-to day-living. When something crazy happens, you are thrown into a temporary state.
Shit just got liminal, in other words.
Whenever something nutty or intense happens to me, whether it be illness or getting a sudden amazing opportunity, I know that I am hitting the liminal target with a bull’s-eye. That target has a lot of potential, but also, a lot of pitfalls. Its a chaotic neutral state, a kind of misty, time-suspension zone. Day to day thoughts and actions aren’t going to apply. There can be a lot of joy, but also, a great deal of pain. Decisions will be made and new pathways will open, oftentimes whether a person wants it or not. These are the rites of passage that life, and the gods, throw at us.
Even if you are not a religious, mystical type, you will have these liminal moments and they will probably change you. If you are a mystical type, then these unreal moments open up a whole kaleidoscope of opportunities to interact with your gods and pathways. There is often an intensity and clarity that you will not have in your day-to-day dealings.
So, next time shit gets unreal, know you are in the liminal zone and that it will pass, but while you are there, you can really get some work done—and pass into the real with a new outlook.
Driving out in an area with a lot of pasture, I suddenly noticed masses and masses of small shadows crossing the pavement. Looking up, I saw a huge flock of starlings banking and wheeling in the sky. I pulled over and got out of the car to take a picture and as I did so, I suddenly became disoriented. The action of the flock, as it turned and flowed in an achingly blue sky, was so like a school of fish that I was briefly unsure of what I was looking at—was I looking up in the sky at birds, or down in the water at fish? The phrase “As above, so below” came to me with an intensity that almost knocked the breath out of me. I stood there then for a long moment, just letting the shadows of that vast flock flow over me
I recently finished the Neal Stephenson novel “Anathem”. Some characters that especially stood out for me were the Valers—martial arts monk types who had an important part to play in the mind-bending, multi dimensional worlds where Anathem is set. A central tenet in their collective narrative is the concept of “an emergence”, when all their training and skills are forced to the fore and the deployment of these skills brings about a major change. An emergence, which is anticipated and even welcomed, usually happens in the context of a crisis. Which got me to thinking about how the words “emergence” and “emergency” are so closely related. Tough times can often be a catalyst for transformation. We often don’t choose to be thrust into difficult situations—they can be painful, or even obliterating. However, a crisis can also can be a chance for an emergence, no matter what the outcome.
Lately I have felt tired and sluggish, like a creature in the earliest stages of awakening from hibernation. This is the in-between zone where there is consciousness, but also still a dream state. Various mundane stressors, mainly family-related, have intruded on both my wakening consciousness and the limbo of my subconscious world. For some reason, I dreamed of peacocks and wine last night. A quick tour of the symbolism related to peacocks revealed they were common decorations on grave stones—and symbols of immortality. Wine, of course, is a long-time symbol of life, strength and happiness, but also an agent of obliteration. I wonder then, in this season of the turn towards spring, (the daffodils are already out in my yard!) if I am primed for an emergence of my own.
One of my liminal practices is thrifting. Thrift stores themselves are liminal zones—a central place where a stream of items with a variety of histories arrives from former homes and incarnations and then departs to different homes and new usages. I thrift for several different reasons—as a hobby, for income purposes, to find things I need and…for magical purposes. I’ll give an example: shortly before starting this blog I found myself in a thrift with a friend and I was attracted to a large pile of black and white vintage photos. I picked them up and was looking at them with partial attention, as I was listening to my friend talk about a doll she had as a child. As I stood there, one photo dropped out of the pile I had in my hands and drifted to the floor, landing face up at my feet. I gasped aloud. All of the sudden I couldn’t even hear what my friend was saying. I just stared at this picture on the floor. It was a visual distillation of all of the thoughts I had been turning over in my head about liminality, passageways, and the “haunted child” concept. This one thing, out of the gazillions of things in the store, had made itself known to me. It was the only thing I took home that day but it had a profound effect on me, as it prompted me to start this blog and move forward on my ideas about liminality. I never go into a thrift store with the idea that “I’m going to have a mystical experience!” It just happens. I am however, always open to the experience. Whether it is a spiritual outcome, as in the account above, or a commerce related outcome, like the time I suddenly veered off course (“heeding the call” as long-time thrifters say) to go to a tiny resale store and found a cache of rare prints, it pays to listen to subconscious directives. This attention and openness to the magical flow that is around us, even in what first appears to be a mundane setting (a dingy thrift store, a highway underpass, a small city park), is the basis for a very powerful spiritual practice.
I wish I had those eyes
Those eyes that look like stone
Could travel far and wide
Eyes of stone, eyes of stone, eyes of stone
Gruntruck Eyes of Stone “Inside Yours” 1991
The winter holidays are a very liminal time—crossing from autumn into winter, crossing from dark into light, kissing goodbye to the frost-rimed Holly King, welcoming back the green-wreathed Oak King. Enjoying and/or enduring the secular celebrations. There is usually time off of regular activities, like work or school, and then the jarring reality of return to said activities. There are boisterous New Year’s celebrations tempered by sober New Year’s resolutions.
Then there is the space in between, when a glance at the frozen moon or the flit of a bird in bare, knobby branches stops the world. When all of matter and spirit can be reflected in a single sheet of winter ice.