The word liminal comes from the Latin word limen, which means threshold. Cultural anthropologists have used the word liminality to describe the space/time between the ritual death and rebirth that occurs in initiation rites. There is a disorienting time between letting go of an old life and walking across a threshold into a new one that accompanies any important change. The word limbo is derived from this same root. Limbo is the place between earth and heaven - a place of waiting for entry. People also use the word limbo to describe a place of not knowing, i.e. "I can't decide - I'm in limbo." The liminal zone is the place between this and that, between what was and what will be, between old and new. It is an exciting time of anticipation, but it can also be excruciating in it's suspense. Liminality can be scary because it is about stepping into the unknown. In the liminal space, we face a gate or a doorway and we do not know what is on the other side. The unknown is something we often instinctually avoid as it conjures up all kinds of anxieties. The ego likes to know it all, and when you are not sure of who or where you are any more, the ego gets edgy and starts scouting for anything that looks familiar. So there you are, not sure what to do or where to go, knowing that you can't go back and yet feeling like you can't move forward even though you know you have to do so.
We need to remember that the liminal space is a place of great potentiality. Since we haven't yet opened the gate and walked though, anything is possible. It is the imaginal realm where the sky is the limit. If we rush through this passage too quickly, we may get somewhere before we were meant to arrive. We may miss some important information or a teaching from life. Sometimes we need to sit still, stay put, and wait for the right time. We need to wait for the fruit to ripen before we move in to pluck it from the vine. "When will it ripen? Is it time yet?" we impatiently ask. The tree has it's own wisdom and so do we. If we slow down and listen, we will be given instruction - in psyche’s time, not ego time.
A spiritual teacher of mine once called this liminal space, "The Courtyard." He said that we dwell here in the courtyard before we enter the portal of awakening. "You may want to reflect before you leap" he cautioned us, since once you enter the portal you can never return. You can't go somewhere and say you've never been. You can't know something and then not know it. With one step, you are forever changed. "But some people hang out in the courtyard forever," he warned. They spend their whole lives looking at the doorway but never walk through. It takes courage to step into mystery. Or maybe the Fool from the ancient tarot is our teacher here. In many decks, the Fool walks happily toward the cliff's edge, anxiety free, ready to surrender to what is. Maybe it is not so much courage that is required, but trust.