We are well into our third month of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. I don’t know about you, but I am busier than ever – my inbox can’t be contained, my writing opportunities are fast-increasing, and I am suddenly aware of the home clear-out possibilities that could be done right this very second. Building a coaching and consulting business during this time has its own frenzy to it. I’ve never felt more connected to people whom I almost never see, and I’ve never felt more disconnected from the people I try (tried) to see often. Someone reminded me the other day that this blog site is called “liminal space” for such a time as this. Yeah. I know. Now.
Liminal space as a concept is taking on a life of its own these days. The term is cropping up in the business, academic, social service, and religious worlds. Every day, dozens of articles land in my inbox, telling me and my business to be agile, prepared, flexible, and to mind my supply chains. CEOs need to keep morale high and show just the right amount of vulnerability, but not too much, or people will lose confidence. Anxiety and grief are fine as long as it is fruitful and handled well. Being with the people in one’s care matters. Mindfulness, compassion, exercise, sleep, and support are crucial.
Oh for goodness’ sake. Can’t we just deal with disintegrating for a minute? The calendar is hard to follow (temporal disintegration), meals are not on schedule, work and home life are fused (fragmentation), and today, there’s a tornado watch in my part of the country. None of these things is inherently bad, but they need a lot of space to swim around in for a bit.
Liminal space means “in between” and in between has chaos in it. Trying to control the chaos every second is exhausting. Sometimes, we have to ride the currents even as we’re planning that next executive meeting or sorting out the schedule for workshops, Zoom calls, and the next possible date to get on a plane. This situation calls for a both/and – we have to ride the current and we have to swim too. Tricky. Necessary. But I hope the “ride the current” part doesn’t get lost or we are going to disintegrate into swimming into exhaustion. And I hope the “swim” part doesn’t get lost or we’re going to disintegrate into being feckless, depressed victims of the times.
Here’s the thing about disintegration. Those who have a sense of what liminal space is know that disintegration is the first part of the chaos; things get messier and messier. They kind of fall apart or split wide open. Then we get our footing and look around to see where we are and what’s going on around us. Then we begin to figure out a short-term plan. Then we get to better footing and find a few people. Then we figure out a short term, better plan together. Then we continue along these lines until there is a whole team working on the same thing: the other side of chaos. And then the plan becomes action. Part of the action is medium-term planning. And then the action becomes the new thing, and we have launched into a future that we hadn’t really seen before. Then we plan long-term. That’s the process – coast a little, swim a little, look around, coast a little, swim a little (I feel a song coming on).
That’s the beauty of the pain of liminal space.
That rock that split in the picture above? Look closely at the top of the left half. There’s a little tree growing on it. And that tree’s roots are going to cause another split. Liminal space is cyclical – it’s how we grow, whether we’re hit by a disaster or we sense that it’s time for a change that we can initiate.
I hate this pandemic and what it’s done to the world. I also know that the disintegration will bring new life out of loss of life and normalcy. What will your new life be as you coast a little, swim a little? Only time will tell.