Liminal Space

You can define liminal space in several different ways. It comes from the Latin root word “limen,” which means threshold. Liminal spaces are transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next.

Often, when we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of just being on the verge of something. Liminal space is, of course, a literal space but there are also spaces of liminality in our mental states. This, too, is a type of liminal space. In some cases, the same place may be at one time liminal and at other times not. Other places may feel like a liminal space regardless of the time of day or year you visit them.

A recent visit to the doctor’s office, which was a two-hour wait had me thinking about liminal space. I read for the first hour but the second hour waiting in that space of people sitting in silence bar a few coughs or chatter from the front desk was very uncomfortable. Self-awareness is heightened as people are getting impatient, shifting in their seats, eyeballing whoever they think may be called next in the unformed “queue” of other patients. There was an uncanny strangeness when I looked up from my book to see the same faces from an hour before with one or two newbies dispersed through the seats which were typically fixed around the perimeter of the room.

Whenever we are at a place during a time that’s not usual for that space, it can feel unsettling. Or if we’re in a liminal space for longer than necessary to pass through to our actual destination, we may experience that same feeling of something being “off” that we can’t quite pinpoint.

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