The Liminality Project
An Open Horizons Appreciation
So what is liminality, anyway?
Where can I go to read more?
Who's behind the Liminality Project?
Where's the blog for it?
There are many, many affinities between the kind of sensibility explored in The Liminality Project and the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, for whom "moments of transition" are the very building blocks of the universe. For Whitehead every moment of our lives is betwixt and between two things: (1) a past actual world that influences us in energetic ways, but that lacks the subjective immediacy -- the experience of immediate aliveness -- that it once had, and (2) a future that is open but not yet actual, not yet decided, and that will partly depend on what we do in the present. We ourselves are always in between these two realities remembering the past and anticipating the future, but somehow different from both of them. This place in-between -- this liminal space -- is by no means dead. To the contrary it is filled with its own aliveness, its own subjective immediacy; and the immediacy consists our feelings in the present, including our physical feelings and our intellectual feelings of our bodies and surroundings as well as the past and future, along with emotions that clothe these feelings (such as fear or hope or longing or affection). The liminal present also consists of an act of de-cision, that is, an act of cutting off certain possibilities for responding to what we experience, in the very act of actualizing other possibillties. Whitehead suggests that something like this is happening not only in our lives, but also in the lives of other animals, in living cells, and in quantum events within the depths of atoms. Thus, for process thinkes, the very idea of liminality has a kind of ontological ultimacy.
Zen Buddhists tell us that this liminal present is our true self. It is not a “thing” or an “object” we experience; it is who we are in the immediacy of the moment. Here's an example from a classic text, the Recorded Sayings of Lin-Chi, who died in 866 CE.
"If you want to freely live or die, go or stay, to take off or put on [your clothes], then right now recognize the man who is listening to my discourse. He is without form, without characteristics, without root, without source, and without any dwelling place, yet is brisk and lively." (Discourse XIV)
We might call the liminality of ordinary experience in daily life “brisk and lively” liminality. It is the here-and-now, always different, always changing, yet always here, right where you are and who you are.
But there are other kinds of liminality, too, both pleasant and unpleasant, voluntary and involuntary, that arise in the course of life, and the Liminality Project treats them:
And then there’s God. Let “God” be a name for that spirit of creative transformation in the universe which helps us live with courage amid the painful liminalities, with gratitude amid the pleasant ones – a spirit which we experience in the form of fresh and surprising possibilities for responding, emotionally and actively, to the liminalities of our lives. And let the spiritual alphabet below name some of those emotions and practices. You can think of more: “C” for courage and “P” for perseverance and “L” for lamentation and “Q” for questioning (which itself is a kind of quest).