One of the benefits of scientific research is that it helps us to understand things better by dividing them into different stages – be that stages of evolution, child development, or project management. Once we can break something down into different stages, we feel that we can manage it better. A common construct we all agreed to is that there is always a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many things in life follow this pattern, whether it is a relationship, or a new career, or a business. There is a beginning, a middle, and, almost inevitably, an end.
But there is another stage that we do not always recognise or acknowledge: the space between the end of one thing, and the new beginning of another. Most of us have been in that stage, or we may be in that space at the moment. Typically, it would be when a relationship ends, or when we lose a loved one, or when we are retrenched, or when our business closes down. It is a very difficult place to be in, because the only thing we know when we find ourselves in that space, is that we don’t know what is coming next, and that can be terrifying. It is that period between ‘what was’ and ‘what will be’. This is also referred to as a liminal space. The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.
Out natural reaction is to avoid this space and move out of it as quickly as possible, because the one thing we cannot handle is uncertainty. We will do almost anything to avoid that. Sadly, one of the greatest disservices we can do to ourselves when we find ourselves in this liminal land of in-between, is to take the shortest route out and grab the first thing that comes our way, just to escape from this place of discomfort. It may sound counterintuitive, but it would be wise rather to consciously face the discomfort and to hang in there. This is because this liminal space is a magical space, where transformation takes place, much like what happens when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Before that beautiful butterfly can emerge from the chrysalis, something magical happens. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar, unable to move, actually dissolves into organic goo. Cells, which had been dormant in the caterpillar and which biologists call ‘imaginal cells’, begin a process of creating a new form and structure. These imaginal cells hold the blueprint of a beautiful butterfly that eventually emerges from that chrysalis.
Every liminal period holds such a blueprint of a new beginning. That is why we should hang in there. There are forces at work beyond our own understanding. Yes, it may feel as though we too are dissolving into goo, and it may be dark, scary, and messy, but if we can learn to stay true to ourselves, to trust the process, and to allow the imaginal cells of creativity to do their work, a new way will open up for us. And at that point we will realise that what we viewed as the end was actually a new beginning, because the imaginal cells were already present. There is no need to escape. It is between the familiar and the completely unknown that genuine newness can begin to emerge. As Richard Rohr reminds us: “This is the sacred space where the old world falls apart, and a bigger world is revealed.”
We are all butterflies. Life is our chrysalis. Just trust yourself and the process.
“Just when the caterpillar thought ‘I am incapable of moving,’ it became a butterfly.”― Annette Thomas