Navigating Liminal Spaces: A Journey from Perceptual Boundaries to Empowered Perception

Navigating Liminal Spaces: A Journey from Perceptual Boundaries to Empowered Perception

Living Happy Extra


JUL 29, 2023

I posted this on my substack last week, but I thought I might share it here, too!

Also, I’m teaching a free workshop at the Writing Barn, August 22. You should come! Here’s the link

I was born backwards and with the caul wrapped around my head. For a long time, doctors thought I was blind, but then, eventually, my eyes reacted to light. At one, I had an operation. But even then, after the patches and then with tiny blue glasses perched on my itty-bitty nose, I didn’t see right. I’d see eight of things, then eventually four, and then eventually two, until the ability to use both eyes at the same time left.

Stuck at age five, still with glasses, but unable to see the world with any depth. I grew up terrible at volleyball, baseball, tennis because I couldn’t judge how close the ball was to my face when it flew through the air. I ran into trees when I raced bikes in the woods behind Deb Muir’s house because I misjudged the jumps they made with plywood. I’d run through my own back woods, searching for Bigfoot and take massive Superman diggers, tripped up by New Hampshire tree roots that I didn’t realize were quite so high.

The bruises collected, but I refused to accept that I wasn’t seeing the world the right way, that everyone else could except me.

a person in a garment
Apparently I was looking for Big Foot in the wrong place. Photo by Jon Sailer on Unsplash

My mother, god bless her, was proficient at fixing broken glasses and pressing cold compresses on bruises, smoking her Marlboro Lights and admonishing me to protect myself.

“You don’t have to always be going and doing, Carrie,” she’d say while giving me a kiss and a hug, removing an ice pack or putting on a bandage. “It’s okay to sometimes just be still.”

My mother, god bless her again, wasn’t very still herself. “You’re going to be the death of me,” she’d say sadly before sending me off with a kiss. I wasn’t. Diabetes and those cigarettes were.


brown wooden house near brown wooden fence during daytime
Photo by Michael Förtsch on Unsplash

I wrote a post over here this morning about my town and liminal spaces—those transitory thresholds in our world, our architecture, our community, our own lives. And it may have sort of done me in, which was bad planning on my part when it comes to this post.

But I’m going to give it a go. When I think about my inability to see the world correctly, in all its full 3D glory, I think a lot about the liminal spaces, the existing in between things.

The liminal space is often defined as that in between. You are not where you were, maybe, and not where you want to be, maybe.

There are a lot of maybes when it comes to liminality. Just like there are a lot of maybes when you move through the world without depth perception.

Liminal means threshold. In architecture it’s often defined as “the physical space between one destination and the next.” 

There are tons of internet spaces (see what I did there?) that talk about physical liminal spaces, but the kind I’m a little more interested right now are the ones in a life.

Some people think liminal spaces have a sense of unease to them. Some think it’s more magical.

silhouette photography of person
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I like to think of it as both. It’s a place where you can feel change coming sometimes and change can be scary as heck but also so magical and full of possibility.

It’s when you just graduate and don’t have a job yet. It’s when you move to a new city or are about to leave the old one. It’s when you apply to college and aren’t sure where you’ll attend or when you are about to go to high school—that whole summer before. It’s when you’re waiting for an operation, when your kids go to college, when you’re about to retire or separate or you need to figure out a new way to make enough money to survive or thrive.

A quick look at word origins shows us that the base of liminal is limen, which is Latin for threshold.

Liminal places are thresholds, stairways, elevators, escalators. Liminal spaces are the space or the moment or the location between one point and another.

Richard Rohr describes the emotional/life journey part of liminality as:

“…an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next.”


a group of people standing around a display of video screens
Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

I think, though, that it can be smaller than what Rohr talks about. You can enter these spaces every day when you pause and notice where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re feeling; when you take a breath between one task and another one; when you connect with just existing instead of focusing on thinking and doing.

Weird, I know, right?

But the way my brain ended up being wired after an illness gave me epilepsy in college is that most of the time my brain isn’t thinking in words or in pictures; it’s just sort of there. Just being.

Shaun, my husband, will constantly ask me what I’m thinking about and I’ll say, “Nothing.”

Super frustrating for poor Shaun, but that’s because a lot of the time my thoughts aren’t in words, they are just in knowings. And a lot of times the knowings are quiet and still. I know! I know! You now know too much about my brain.

Anyway, emptiness is kind of scary. We rush away from it even picking up our phone when we’re in the bathroom to play Wordle, or by scrolling through whatever social media app we’re into when we’re on the couch because it’s too hard to just sit and surrender to doing nothing or to that very big nothingness.

When my daughter was little, she wouldn’t go to sleep easily. I’d ask her why, wondering if she had nightmares. “What are you scared of?”

“The emptiness,” she’d say. “The nothing.”

“When you’re asleep?”

“No,” she’d say, “before.”

That cliff between being asleep and awake can sometimes be full of the nothing that she was afraid of, but it can also be a place where the conscious and subconscious sort of dance together like in a surreal painting.

The cool truth of this world is that we don’t all have to fill our days up and our brains up all of the time. The cool truth of this world is that we can all think and exist and see in different ways or in ways that are the same. The cool truth of this world is that those liminal spaces can be launching points toward something extraordinary.

house surrounded by withered trees and snow
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

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Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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