I mentioned in my empty nesters post that I felt like I was starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel between the phases of life … just a crack of light. That space in the middle there is the liminal space. A place of transition where you don’t sit comfortably in either the young or the old categories.
The word liminal means threshold, it comes from the Latin word limen. The idea is that you are standing on the threshold of something new and waiting to be let in. Waiting for beginnings and endings — it’s a weird place to be.
Sometimes it feels chaotic and uncomfortable like nothing is as it should be (i.e., as it was before) and nothing is as you want it to be … and you have NO control. We are no longer the centre of attention in our little worlds; the kids don’t need us in the same way they did, and we start to drift into the seeming invisibility of middle age. If you are a woman, you are likely going through perimenopause and wondering if it will ever end. So many things are tailing off or ramping up.
You’re aware that you are between places or phases of life, things are changing — stuck in the neutral zone waiting for the next bit to start. It’s very much like entering the last weeks of pregnancy not knowing when the baby will come and wanting it to be over NOW.
I have always likened it to being stuck in a hallway having exited one room with the door slammed shut behind you, and waiting to enter the next room, but that door is also closed, or open just a tiny crack. Enough to get you excited and impatient about what’s next without knowing what is on the other side of the door. You cannot open that door either, it’s jammed. That’s where I am now. There’s a sliver of light creeping out around the edges of the door though, so I am feeling hopeful for an escape from the hallway.
Of course, there are transitions like this all through life, not just the one between the first and second half of life. They are rites of passage like becoming an adult, finishing school, moving to a new place, retiring or when we lose a loved one. It is always a dance between the dark and the light, the hard and the easy, the trauma and the joy that characterises our human existence.
Fear of change
Taking up residence in the hallway can be an anxious time. You feel adrift because not a lot makes sense anymore. Understandably, fear creeps in.
You have reached the edge of the map and are about to head into unchartered territory having spent the last fifty years or so doing much the same things in a familiar framework with a familiar set of rules. Everything is suddenly uncertain. Perhaps the hallway you are in is dark, mine certainly has been. Not dark in a bad sense, just no visibility of what the next step is to be. And it has been disquieting. I am a person who likes to plan and know what’s coming up next. I have had to learn to be patient.
The thought that change is a difficult thing is because that’s the way we’ve been conditioned to think about it and we expect it as such, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We start struggling before we even know what’s happening, or what we are struggling against.
Perhaps you are angry about the changes, and about the uncertainty. Someone once told me that anger is just fear acting out, so take a breather to see if you can find what is underneath the anger. What are you afraid of? What do you think is going to happen? What stories are you telling yourself and starting to believe as truth?
How do we find joy, gratitude and a measure of peace in there?
By approaching it with intention and by framing and guiding our thoughts about the experience at the head of the game, or even when you are neck-deep in it. It’s never too late to tell yourself a new, more correct or uplifting story about the things you are experiencing.
In the liminal space, there is an element of grief that one part of life has ended and that’s a very natural part of the process. We need to be accepting of change and the impermanence of life. To flow with it, adapt, and overcome if necessary. Life is dynamic and undulating. It’s normal to be sad that things aren’t as they once were.
The thing is though, that you must be able to let go of where you came from to get where you are going. But it’s not like you won’t see those things again if you decide you still want them in the second half, and you are going to repurpose the things you learned in the first half of your life as a foundation for what you want to build on top in the second half. Some things will go of their own accord regardless.
Your boundaries have all been moved, so you need to poke around the edges and see what’s in the shadows — evict the stuff you don’t want to carry forward and pull in and nurture the stuff that you really do want to keep.
People have gone from your life for whatever reason; friends aren’t always forever, sometimes they are just for a phase of your life. And that’s okay too. People change and we go in different directions, and nowhere is it more clear in life than this midlife phase. Some friendships will grow and change with you, and some cannot. Wish them well and let them be on their way, trying to hold onto something that is not meant to be is a recipe for resentment and hurt.
Go easy on yourself and exercise compassion for yourself and compassion for others. Letting go can be a difficult thing to do.
Taking time to step back
The transition through the liminal space is a slow journey that cannot be rushed, and it is the perfect time to take a step back and assess where you’ve come from and where you want to go. Be patient with yourself and with the process. Being in that hallway and cut off from both ends can allow you the distance to think a little more clearly about who you are and who you want to be.
This change in circumstance is a great time for setting intentions and creating new habits that support the decisions you make and the life you want to have.
Go back to bedrock: what do you believe to be true, what are your values? Which ones have you chosen for yourself, and which have been given to you by others? Do you want to keep them or weed some out if they are no longer serving you? Are your values ones that you will be remembered for by your loved ones? Or do they simply look good on your resume? Hot tip: No one’s going to be looking at your resume for things to put on your headstone.
Start to work on getting rid of subconscious limitations, like negative age beliefs, cynicism and negativity, or beliefs about yourself as a person that were a result of something ugly someone said to you or about you. Get rid of them! They are doing you no good!
You cannot do this kind of deep work when you are busy flitting from thing to thing and keeping yourself busy so that you don’t have to think about them. It’s hard work and we seem to instinctively avoid going deep into the inner workings of our psyches. Get alone and get comfortable being there in your own head for a bit. There is never a rush to it. Take it a step at a time, your soul will know what to do if you slow down and be quiet enough to hear it.
A gentle reminder: Try not to make any big decisions when you are afraid or angry. They give bad advice! Take the time to name your fears and work through them, and when your head is clear, make those decisions. This step back from everything is the ideal time for this.
Reinvention and transformation
Your time in the liminal space is a great time for re-invention, so be open to all the possibilities!
View this time of change and transformation as a subtractive thing. It is a time to chip away and reveal our inner selves and set ourselves free from people and things that no longer serve us, our values and vision. Don’t just tack more things on the outside to make it look like you’ve changed, you need to make space. It’s a time to slow down, slough off the accumulated rubbish and make time for devoting yourself to your passions. Be real, don’t just paper over a cracked facade. Heal and make the decision to move on.
Set new boundaries for the new people and new circumstances you find yourself in, and that align with your values.
It’s time to set the stage for what’s to come in your second half! Life is short! Meet new people, try new things and see what fits. Learn something new. Experiment!
Transformation is not about getting to some other point; it’s about finding the true you inside. After you have chipped away all the baggage and rubbish it feels like you’re on new ground because you have unearthed yourself for the first time in a very long time.
Take your time in the liminal space to get these things right and then you will be more settled when the next door opens and it’s time to slide into your second half.
But … how?
OK… I hear you say that that’s all well and good, but HOW? Firstly, let’s identify the things in the first half that we can use as our foundation:
- prioritise sleep;
- drink lots of water;
- eat healthfully and mindfully;
- get used to spending time on your own;
- cultivate new friends; and
- have a creative outlet.
Sometimes not all these things are in place very well from the first half, but it’s not too late to start now. Once you have your foundation set here are some tools and pointers that can help as you go deeper to explore the liminal space and find the you that will move forward:
- Rituals can help;
- Document your time there using photos, words, art, or whatever takes your fancy;
- Do a little death planning — have you got everything in order? Great for getting some perspective!
- Stop comparing yourself to the wrong people;
- Surround yourself with the right people;
- Be more flexible in your approach to life — flexibility combined with strength is what makes us resilient in this time of change;
- Focus on helping others to get out of your own head — this doesn’t have to be large-scale, start small and make sure it aligns with your values;
- Listen to your body and give it what it’s asking for … including rest!
- Don’t let others push you around and take up your time unless you want them to — this is your time; you get to decide how to use it.
Wrapping it all up
In the liminal space, there is impatience, and a tendency to force the next door open. There is a transformation in the waiting, in the dormancy, like a seed that has been planted and waiting to burst out of the ground to form into a solid tree.
Transformation is a rebirth — a fresh start with new energy, and one that it pays to be prepared for. The liminal space gives us that time to prepare.
Transformation is shedding everyone else’s expectations and exploring what is natural and right for you.
The point is to choose your next steps, don’t settle for whatever falls into your lap. How do you want to spend the second half of your life? To quote Jean Luc Picard…Make it so! Act as if you’re already there and the rest will follow.
- don’t be afraid of change;
- let go of what doesn’t serve you;
- get your foundation set.
- get ready for transformation; and
- be excited when the next door opens.