Smashing Paradigms – Love of Liminality

Latest in the series on Smashing Paradigms. For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. One way of defining a paradigm is “we’ve always done it this way”

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At the start of  December 2017 I wrote “Loss of Control and Growth“, reflecting on the power of getting “comfortable being uncomfortable” and riffing on various examples from different fields.

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Read the Wikipedia definition of the word Liminality below, one that, with our conventional thinking, the paradigm we sit in, we would all tend to want to move through and out of as soon as humanly possible.

What if, however, we learned to Love being Liminal and to have the patience to “sit with” that stage of our lives?  To me that can bring huge value !

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rites when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the rite establishes.

Disorientation, ambiguity, with no set identity, outside time or the community you are comfortable with. Feels unsettled and unsettling, yes ? Want to stay there long ? Perhaps not.

For an alternative outlook, let’s start with one of the greatest listeners I have ever met is Nick Isbister. As you would expect, I recommend to all successful people to invest in a coach, and Nick is a great one to consider for a fit for your own needs.

I met Nick as a liminal stage for myself, and he shared this with me around the word “Liminality”, a quote from  anthropologist Victor Turner :

Liminality can perhaps be described as a fructile chaos. A fertile nothingness, a storehouse of possibilities, not by any means a random assemblage but a striving after new forms and structure, a gestation process, a fetation of modes appropriate to anticipating post-liminal existence”

~ Victor Turner – Are There Universals of Performance?

What rich language Turner uses ! Fetation.. from the formation of a fetus.. Fructile… in state to bear fruit.

This language is positive and anticipatory, and I love it !

So, should we smash the paradigms and get comfortable with being liminal, it can have huge benefits for us as humans at all changes in life stages.

If you are a parent of a university student and they want to take a year or two to wander before settling into a career the way you did, perhaps consider, as Tolkien put it, “not all those who wander are lost” and that this time will serve them wonderfully in their life to come.

If you are approaching or in “mid-life”, my first recommendation is to follow Chip Conley, a leader I would follow anywhere and who is leading thought and action on the concept of the Modern Elder. A key focus for those investing in themselves at this stage is to embrace their own liminality.

Now, to conclude, let me take this out into a broader sense from the individual to organisations at a stage of liminal change, or stretch further to society, nations, global shifts.

Back to the next paragraphs of the Wikipedia definition of liminality first :

“Usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rites. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.”

Read that carefully and then consider where our world is now, with leaders taking us down a dark and fearful path such as Trump, May, Orban, Erdogan, Le Pen, Duterte and, it seems, so many more.

The world is in a liminal change. Instinctively we want to exit from this as soon as possible, yet perhaps we need to sit with it (at a macro level) longer and be ready for the fetation, the fructile chaos, to allow the world and society to gestate before emerging into a truly transformed post-liminal state.

Earlier this week I wrote: “How do you build a movement? Patiently“. For lasting and truly transformative change to occur, whether for an individual, a business, a government, a society, this takes time and patience.

Let us allow ourselves to “get comfortable being uncomfortable”, then transform that to a positive, to “love being liminal” !