What is Liminal?

Have you ever been in between two life-stages and felt lost? Past a threshold but not yet arrived, in the corridor from the old to the new? The kind of feeling you can also get in an unknown airport, an empty parking lot, a windy train station or an empty hall of a hospital?

Empty hall of VUMC hospital, giving feelings of liminality

You’re are not alone. ‘Liminality’ causes this feeling. Liminality originates from the Latin word līmen, meaning a threshold. In anthropology, liminality stands for the disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a ‘rite of passage’.

Researching why people go on ultra long wilderness hikes, I found out that oftentimes they are in between two stages.

Some hikers graduated from college and pause before they start their career. Others quit their job, searching for a new mission in life. Maybe the children just left home. The common ground is, that many are in transition, over the threshold of a past stage, on the edge of a new beginning. They are taking a break. Maybe hoping for a smooth transition?

Conclusion: the Pacific Crest Trail is for many a ‘liminal space’, a corridor from the old to the new.

© Photo by Tim Voors, writer of The Great Alone about his epic journey on the Pacific Crest Trail

A liminal phase normally creates feelings of tension and uncertainty. Why? Because you lost the security of your previous stage while you lack wisdom for the new phase. You might know where you are rationally, but emotionally you feel disoriented.

Well, how do you best go from one stage to the next? Who guides you to adapt your mindset and skill set for your new You? How do you cope with the no-man’s land, the in-between phase?

I believe our society pays way too little attention to these questions.

It seems that an increasing number of people compensate this with a long distance hike. This might explain the ever growing popularity of pilgrimages like Santiago de Compostela.

These modern pilgrims take the time needed to explore their ‘liminality’. And to find their answers. In a surroundings that fuels contemplation, that feeds the heart and mind.

But that’s a good thing! Because I believe you need to dedicate serious energy for this purpose. And chose a good setting that nurtures your mind & soul.

So the next time you are in transition, I want to encourage you to take your time. Go on your own pace. Step by step, pace by pace.

That’s what I am doing, by walking the Pacific Crest Trail.

That’s why the name of my blog is Liminal Pace.

PS: Liminal feelings in the hospital

When I was in the hospital for a few days last year, to get a benign tumor removed, it felt like a liminal space ànd phase.

I did not know this construct yet , but from the moment I walked in and saw the empty hallway, I felt it.

The feeling grew the next day when I stumbled around the hospital while recovering. Doors opened automatically, silently. Hardly anybody was around as it was weekend plus peak Covid time.

When I ‘escaped’ from the hospital on the third day to find a hidden mysterious Botanical garden, it truly felt like I was in no-man’s land. Officially I wasn’t allowed to walk outside as I had a drain, but I was really careful. The hospital environment felt alien and hostile. It wasn’t helping my recovery. They told me in the morning I had to stay another four days.

So I escaped. The hidden gem of a garden I stumbled upon, was closed because of covid, but I sneaked in. Found a hole in the fence. What could happen if I got caught? I imagined the message in the local paper: ‘Confused man escaped from hospital and broke in Botanical garden’. This thought put a smile on my face.

I spend a major part of the day in the garden, enjoying the beautiful plants, smelling the flowers and looking at the sky. I heard the wind rustle through the leaves. I starting to feel a zillion times better then I felt in the hospital.

Ring, ring! My phone rang. It was Lisa, looking for me in the hospital. She couldn’t find me. “I’ll tell you where I am, it’s simple to find”, I said. And she joined me in the garden. Together we laid in the grass, holding hands and looking at the clouds racing by.

When I came back to the hospital, they tested me again. Nurse Jeremy: “I don’t know what you did, but all signs are green now.” Nurse Kelly: “You can go home tomorrow.” I had a huge smile on my face and asked them if I could take a picture of their shoes.

I left the next morning feeling like a metamorphosis had taken place, a change that I couldn’t put my finger. But I felt rejuvenated, ready for something new.