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Liminal States and How to Enter Them

As I cross the old wooden bridge that straddles the trinkling Rio Fernando, I enter the home of the trees and their soft shade, the lichen covered stones, the mycorrhizal webs below my feet, water striders, swallowtails and all the other nature beings seen and unseen. I hear the sounds of birds and the breeze through the leaves. I feel the warmth of sunbeams on my skin. I smell dried pine needles on the forest floor. I can taste a mouthful of water as I slurp from my canteen. I am in my body again, I am home. I relax and welcome the world around me through my sensory experience. The trees greet me with a wave of their branches, and I sense that they are calling out to me. I stop to have a conversation. As I listen, I feel an overwhelming emotion of joy and find myself suddenly in tears. I begin to sing a song I’ve never heard before that drifts from my lips effortlessly like an ancient chant. No, I’m not on psychedelic mushrooms, I’m in a liminal state.

Liminality is a sense of being between the worlds or two states of consciousness at once. A liminal state requires a shift in awareness that usually occurs when we are fully present in the moment. Your attention might sharpen to the details around you. You might suddenly notice sensations that you did not feel before. Your mind might open to new possibilities that earlier seemed irrational.

You may have experienced a liminal state of heightened awareness before while deep in a creative project or spending time in nature or meditating or in a movement practice such as qigong, yoga or ecstatic dance. I’ve heard people say they experience liminal states while trail running or mountain biking, when everything slips away but the next rock, the next step, the next moment. It’s like having one foot in and one foot out of the mundane world. You might imagine this as your body still very much in the physical realm, but at the same time your consciousness is adrift on a sea sailing through exotic lands where the imaginal can be real and the real can be imaginal.

Liminal states are both ordinary and magical. For example, you might be working on a painting, something that you do regularly as a hobby, but at the same time your awareness might be embedded in the brush strokes and the formation of shapes. You might feel a sense of channeling a mystic muse from somewhere beyond your body. Liminality allows us to experience magic in the mundane and to encounter the world in a new light.

There are many doorways into liminal states. These doorways are called thresholds. How do we enter these liminal states? What are the thresholds in our lives? As you go through your day, notice where you might feel your attention shift; it might sharpen to the outside world and soften within like the case of a hiker or yogi, or it might soften to the outside world and attune inward like the case of a meditator or artist. You might feel as if you are in a dream-like state and when you’re in these states, allow yourself to sink in and truly notice what’s around you. Let yourself receive your imagination fearlessly without worrying if you’re crazy and making it all up. When you discover where you enter these states, notice the threshold to entering them. Perhaps it’s stepping on the trail. Perhaps it's a cup of tea before you meditate. Perhaps it’s pulling your guitar out of its case or opening your notebook. These can all be thresholds and as you enter the threshold allow yourself to enter the waking dream. For every threshold in, there is also a threshold out, so notice these too.

The liminal state is a great place to tap into your intuition. This is a perfect time to ask any questions that you have or to solve any problems that you’re having. You might notice you receive answers more easily. You might also discover unexpected paths to healing.

In pagan traditions Samhain is considered a time when the veils are thinned between the earthly realm and the spirit realm. This is probably why the Americanized version of Samhain, Halloween, is all about being spooky and scary, including ghosts, skeletons, jack-o-lanterns and costumes of zombies, witches and vampires, creatures evoking a sense of the otherworldly. This time of veils thinning is a liminality in a larger sense. The season is liminal as we are in transition from light to dark and from growth to death.

This holiday is a time for communicating with the spirits from beyond. Because the “veil” or barrier between the dimensions are thinner, intuition is enhanced, and Samhain is a time for trances and divination and communicating with ancestors. Is it coincidental that Mexican culture also celebrates the Day of Dead at this time? For Dia de los Muertos the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31st and Mexicans welcome back the souls of their dead ancestors for a night of joyous reunion. Again, the veils between the two worlds thin and we enter a liminal and magical realm. Perhaps that’s why I love this time of year so much.

Whatever you celebrate, I wish you a blissful autumn across all realms of time and space!

How to enter a liminal state:

· Notice the thresholds in your daily life that shift your attention into a more receptive state

· Liminal states are most likely to occur when we feel safe

· Participate in activities that help you get out of your rational mind like art and movement

· Slow down

· Welcome your imagination when it arrives like an old friend, do not shun it for being silly or irrational

· Tune into your 5 senses one at a time and then all at once, notice how your awareness shifts

· Trance/journey/guided meditation/visualization work

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