navigating liminal spaces

there’s a saying i learned when i was in AA — “the only way out is through”

like many AA sayings, it might not have originated in AA, but that is now my association with it. it came from a woman in a meeting after she described a deeply dark period of heavy drinking and chronic pain in her life.

i’d like to adapt this saying in relation to liminality — “the way through liminality is curiosity.”

i’ve honestly felt like i’ve been in a liminal space since the start of the pandemic. it’s like i’ve been in a perpetual limbo, uncertain how/when to take action.

the thing about the prince of liminality card in the tarot is the figure hanging upside down, hooked by their ankle is cool as a cucumber. not only that, they’re rocking a halo.

so the question becomes, how do you find a sense of calm amidst uncertainty, confusion, dissatisfaction, or a sense of stuck-ness? we become curious about it. we let go of the internal resistance to it (i like to think of this type of resistance as getting in a fight with reality).

anyways, long story short, it’s about acceptance, expansion. instead of attempting to control or change, we relinquish ourselves to it. and in that place of surrender, we find peace.

side note: it’s hard for me to describe something that feels like wisdom without grappling with the sense that i’m spiritually bypassing the inherent human struggle of it. like being like, *in lazily fancy voice* “oh, alllllll you have to do is accept it, my dears”

let me be clear: i will attempt to control with a chaotic vigor before i attempt to reach anywhere near acceptance.

i feel like there’s this idea, and i’m not exactly sure where it came from, that acceptance of reality, of something we don’t want or fear is like giving up. when in actuality, acceptance is always the first step towards true change, right? (can i get an amen?)

the irony of surrender is that it’s actually quite liberating. letting go of control, allowing ourselves to simply be another human trying our best is actually quite relieving.

this reminds me of another AA-ism: Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show.

sometimes when we’re in the in-between, it’s simply because we need to be there. and when i’m feeling truly connected, i see it as Spirit getting us ready for the next step.

alright y’all, i’m gonna end there ❤ ❤ ❤

acceptance as action & attention as worship

note: these musings are inspired by readings from Jessica Dore’s tarot book, Tarot for Change.

tarot pull this morning: the prince of liminality* and the king of swords

the prince of liminality is known for being a space of patience and inaction. the prince is literally hanging upside down and totally chilling, seemingly at peace. it’s a place of calm not because everything is good and has worked out but because we have created the capacity to merely exist with it. we have let go of resistance and control. it’s a place of acceptance.

Jessica Dore does a lovely job relating to acceptance as an action, one that can prompt interest, curiosity, and observation. she offers examples of this:

  • looking at a difficult emotion with curiosity (to hopefully diffuse the sense of it being “dangerous”)
  • extending validation to ourselves when our inner voice is tearing us down
  • finding a sense of expansion to make space for a fiery emotion like anger/rage
  • learning to sit with discomfort, making note of its dimensions, taste, and texture

becoming curious about emotions we’ve typically ran away from can turn us into the observer, as well as the feeler, of the experience. we can become like a scientist, noting the ways in which sadness, loneliness, boredom, and anger unfold within our being and the specific forms they take.

i remember earlier in the summer, making a point to sit with boredom. to let myself simply be with it without changing it. and lord, it was one of the hardest things i’ve willingly done recently. there was so much shame associated with it. being bored make me feel like a loser, like i was doing something wrong, like i was bad at life, a failure.

without curiosity, i wouldn’t have been able to sustain this for as long as i did. and even then, sitting with it and feeling all the shame and fear associated with boredom, i could understand why i ran away from it. it was scary to experience, it carried so much weight. it was hard and uncomfortable.

my point is that learning to sit with the things we’ve been avoiding is both incredibly difficult and possible. especially from the somatic perspective of titration** — taking things slow and steady, like step by step exposure therapy. if your anger terrifies you, set a 5 minute timer to sit with it. and then walk away. because too much exposure too soon and quickly can compound our fear and avoidance as it overwhelms our system.

the king of swords is like the pinnacle of where learning how to hone and direct our focus can take us.

Jessica makes a connection between attention and worship, which i find captivating. this reminded me of an adrienne maree brown quote: “what you pay attention to grows”

the ability to maintain focus on something in the “age of distraction” is no small feat. i think of the commitment needed to stay true to one’s unique personal path — the ability to come back to that place of inspiration and connection with the divine again and again and again.

the most obvious practice for learning how to return to a point of focus is meditation. but to be honest, i find meditation oddly triggering for reasons i don’t need to go into here. and so if meditation is not the practice you feel aligned with right now, let me offer some other options: reading/studying, writing, deep listening, praying – pretty much any moment in which you want to bring your whole mental presence to it.

which doesn’t mean always being in a state of flow. it’s also choosing to come back to something time and time again, no matter how many times distractions get in the way. it’s choosing to not get discouraged by having to begin again and again and again.

so if our attention is like worship, what do we wish to worship? TV, social media, each other, our dog, books, work, stress…? and i don’t say this to shame or judge, because i honestly believe we each get to choose. i am working hard to live in a place of, “it’s not for me to say what is right for you, only what is right for me.” (which is different than asking someone to account for harm done)

on a final note, Jessica offers us a moment of compassion, noting, “I’d suggest we go where our natural abilities lie in order to build strength and competence in things that come more easily to us before we toil in the realms that are more challenging.” this, to me, is telling me: gurl, you don’t need to start meditating and fasting [two very challenging practices for me] today or tomorrow. we’ll get there.

prayer: may i remember that acceptance is a practice, one empowered by a genuine sense of curiosity. may i use my attention with intention and awareness, growing the things i love and care about with devotion and discipline.

<3<3<3 good luck out there

*this card is typically referred to as “the hanged man” but considering the triggering nature of that name, especially for Black Americans, i use this title instead. this insight and new name for the card provided by Sarah Cargill of Tarot for the End of Times.

** Titration exposes a person to small amounts of trauma-related distress at a time in order to build up tolerance and avoid becoming overwhelmed by traumatic memories. In therapy, people pay close attention to the sensations they experience when revisiting a traumatic event and gradually become less affected by them.

what is joy and how the heck do you practice it?

depression is a state i’m all too familiar with. despair, dejection, melancholy.. all of these are familiar mates who have sat with me more days than i’d like to admit.

they visit often, seemingly out of the blue and with no notice. and they sit on my chest, heavy, weighing me down and suffocating my sense of hope and wonder.

as i come to terms with the cyclical nature of my depression (after 25+ years of experiencing it), i’m realizing more and more that hope and joy are a practice as much as an organic state one lands in.

i’m sure there are people out there for who joy comes naturally and levity visits with regularity, but so far, i am not one of them.

and much of my adult life has revolved around self-medicating with various substances in order to connect with these states. which unfortunately and inevitably tends to result in a come-down that brings me deeper into that space i was originally avoiding.

so, as i move further and further away from substances, i’m grappling with the gap left in their absence. the gap between depression and joy, despair and hope, heaviness and levity.

which brings me to the question: what is joy and how do i connect with it?

to answer this question, i’m sure i could take many approaches. a more Buddhist-centric answer would describe joy as a state vs an externally-induce experience. which i don’t disagree with. but for me, it makes the most sense to view joy as a practice.

and honestly y’all, i struggle to name what that practice entails. so bear with me as i parse this out in real time.

today, i felt myself slipping into an all-too-familiar state of despair and sadness. and so, despite my current illness and the 40 degree weather outside, i slipped on some pants, shoes, and a sweater, and i took myself for a walk.

at first, all i felt was the desire to cry. but then i reminded myself to open up to the world around me, to the barren trees and rustling birds and humans fluttering about me. and i began to feel it: that lift, that vibrational pull, that ability to access something in myself that felt hopeful and even pleasant.

and briefly, i was able to sing. which brings me to the next item on the list: singing. i stopped singing as a kid when my sister informed me that my voice sucked, and since then, i’ve been hesitant to open up to my own voice. but over the past year, as i’ve navigated being quite isolated, i’ve found my voice time and time again, often just to keep me company.

and the more i allow myself to sing, the more i believe in the vibrational power of it.

music in general seems like an integral part of my joy practice, because it can connect me with a different mood quicker than almost anything else. and as i try to open up more and more, i try to find dance. but i’m going to be honest, when i’m deep in despair, dancing can feel like an almost impossible task. maybe because connecting with my body on that level feels so inaccessible.

i’d like to list a good conversation as joy-inducing, but i recognize there are caveats around this. i struggle with small talk, and i tend to be more sensitive when i’m in a funk, so conversations can sometimes be counter-productive to a joy practice. BUT when the iron strikes just right, and i find myself in a deep, luscious conversation that allows me to process the nature of being human, my spirit can be lifted unlike anything else.

visiting my family over the past couple of weeks, i found joy in the smile and laughter of my 10 month old niece.

and depending on the day and my perspective, i can find a deep sense of fulfillment in cooking a nutritious meal. (but on the wrong day, cooking can be a recipe for resentment).

beyond that, i’m not really sure. maybe connecting with nature, but oftentimes that experience more so brings me peace than joy.

at the end of my walk today, i considered the trend of people rollerblading during the pandemic and thought maybe that could be another joy practice for me.

i used to practice yoga with much more frequency, along with biking, and i’d like to be optimistic about the potential of these activities, but i also don’t want to force it.

it’s strange grappling with questions like this at my age (30). it feels like i should know the answer to what brings me joy, and yet, the older i get, the more i wonder to what extent i actually know myself and what pleases me.

it’s an odd experience to feel like a stranger to oneself. but like they say, it all begins with acknowledgement.

and so, i remain hopeful that i will be able to come into deeper understanding around what pleases and excites me, what lights my soul on fire.

and until i find clarity, my wish for myself is that i continue to engage with my curiosity.

prayer: may i find pleasure in getting to know myself. may i remember that this is a process. may i let go of criticism and judgement long enough to allow what is true and nurturing to emerge. may i trust that when i open up to joy, it will find me. may i let my soul be the guide.