Seeking the Liminal: It Starts as a Search for Self

Seeking the Liminal: It Starts as a Search for Self August 25, 2018
a portrait of a woman with white paint streaked across the canvas
Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

Everything that is creative is spiritual. It can be argued that the reverse applies—everything that is spiritual is creative. Which isn’t to say that spiritual means religious, because that’s not it at all. Rather, creativity taps into something liminal; a venn diagram centered between reality and imagination and, when good, blends them into a seamless space.

One might also posit that the space where ritual—of any kind—is played out is a similar place: there is structure and reality and what is, and then there is the creation of the words, gestures, placement, altar, whatever you are using. There’s the unspoken communication with whatever you are trying to reach, be it gods or spirits or boddhisatvas or the internal you. There’s the space of the mind and soul that can’t be defined or even, in many ways, described.

Ultimately, there comes a merging of the two. That liminal area where the borders of what is and what can overlap. It’s a balancing act, one that weighs what is is known with what is unknown. It’s easy(?) to do with characters in stories, with art or with movies, right?

I can do that. I can find that space and make it gel; take you along for the ride right there with me.

What I can’t do is find that spiritual place inside myself. The one that blends the here and the me. Why?

You Are What They Tell You

There are few humans in this world untouched by the expectations of the people around them. It comes from many places: family, tradition, friends, bullies, media, social norms and, ultimately, our own fears. At some point, we take on those expectations and make them ours—expectations of ourselves and of others.

It takes time, so much effort, and a growing sense of self to break free. And it starts, with the utmost of fragility, by snapping single threads.

For many of us, that progress is often hampered. We are rebound by guilt, fear or by force. We flail once free and retreat back to where we were most “comfortable”—the devil we know.

a streetlight button, with an arrow pointed left
Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

But I’ll wager that you know a few people, or more, who have managed to fight, struggle or carve their way out of that stifling space, don’t you? Maybe it’s you. Maybe you are inspired by them. Maybe you’re still struggling.

I am the latter. And ultimately, I think it’s this state of being that is blocking my efforts to find that liminal space I know is there. It’s hard to run with an anchor on your back, to dance with weights on every limb. Impossible to grow when there’s shackles on your soul.

Want to Buy Sense of Self; Please Send Tell

I’m no stranger to the concept of outside expectation; as I’d mentioned, it happens to damn near everybody. We are more susceptible as children, and before we know it, we programmed—yes, programmed—to accept it as we grow older. We attend school (peer pressure!), we graduate and join the adult world (capitalism! judgement!). Maybe we get married (settle? compromise in their favor? give in…)

Maybe we don’t even realize it. Maybe it takes something big, something earth-shaking and shattering, to push us to struggle against the prison we are bound in.

I’ve been through hell. So much that when I finally got a foot out the cocoon, it took me years to get the rest of me to follow. I lost part of my family to my choices, I have aggravated another part by my insistence that they have to acknowledge them or we’d have no relationship. I’ve sacrificed freedom, things, people…

Ultimately, and somewhat to my shame, I had no more choices but to get out—or, as was more the case, fall out. Adapt or die; a couple years later, and I’m still adapting.

Is it this pre-liminal space that made me really look at a way of life and spirituality I’d been ignoring? Very likely. After all, a transition is about crossing the between, right? Which means I’ve taken a glance and now I want to dwell there. So I took some first steps.

I came out nonbinary. I changed my name to suit. I stopped paying attention to what other people said I should be—admittedly, I have a habit of going against it with deliberate glee. More recently, I got out of the city I’d spent too long in, smothered to hell and back, and am now flourishing. I am subversive in my art, transgressive in my platform. I feel like I belong there…which is a start.

Heron Michell of Witch on Fire wrote,

In order to succeed at the more advanced spiritual skills of Witchcraft, you’ll need to be well-balanced on the more down-to-earth levels, first. (Seekers of Witchcraft can be Anybody, but not Everybody: Prerequisites for Training)

One cannot be a professional dancer without first wiggling, jumping, waving limbs around in awkward freedom of self, and then learning how to ground it in stability and strength. One can’t be a musician without learning to read the score. And nobody can be self-sufficient without owning one’s potential and limitations.

I have some major limitations—ones that exist no matter how much I strive or struggle. I’ll never be free of mental illness. It affects every decision I make—do I watch this TV show or will it cause a PTSD flare-up? can I find a job with a supportive, positive culture or will the only places that don’t mind my service dog have an environment that is, for lack of a better term, dead inside? (To explain: Type II Bipolar is affected deeply by environment. A smothering workplace triggers anciety, deep depression and, ultimately, self-harm ideation.)

This makes me very, very aware of the the expectations I feel—from society, from people closer to me, from the industry I work in, from myself. In those regards, I am a failure in nearly every way. Nor am I financially solvent; it’s a work in progress. I don’t feel wholly independent, despite my enormous strides.

a single clear marble in an open circle, surrounded by many other marbles
a different kind of same? // Pixabay CC0

This fucks with my sense of who I am. What’s worse, it fucks with my sense of who I am supposed to be. And if I don’t know what ‘self’ is, it’s all too easy for other peoples’ sense of my ‘self’ to creep in again.

In the same article, Michelle continues with a statement that made me stop everything else I was doing at the time (still sorry, cold coffee) and take note.

Are you physically healthy, secure, independent? Do you currently have the resources you need to survive and thrive, with enough left-over time in your day to study and meditate? Witchcraft is a demanding pursuit that takes time and attention. Do you have enough of those resources to spare?

Do you have the education you need to do the paying work you’d like to do, that will put food on your own table, and a roof over your own head? Witchcraft demands radical sovereignty…that means you are authentically in charge of yourself. That can be a lifelong process, but before you jump head-first down the rabbit hole, ask if you are sufficiently sovereign in your life, such that you aren’t controlled by someone else for your survival. Can you be authentic about your witchery without fear of reprisal? (Seekers of Witchcraft can be Anybody, but not Everybody: Prerequisites for Training)

In a word? No.

Well, holy (ahem) shit. That explains everything. Or at the very least, it explains so very much of my struggle and ongoing failure. What I learned from this single statement, from step #1 of Michelle’s process, is this:

My Tower’s going to fall on my head—either via absolute and crushing (ahem!) failure and utter loss of self-esteem or a serious fuck-up in something I try to work—if I don’t build a solid foundation. And that’s where I was getting it wrong. This isn’t just about a foundation of knowledge.

It’s about a tangible, real and material world independence.

I have so much work to do. Do you?

About K. C. Alexander
K. C. Alexander is an SF/F author and very proud of smearing her bloody fingers all over the lines. She writes aggressive transhumanist sci-fi, co-wrote Mass Effect: Andromeda: Nexus Uprising, and may or may not be a witch. Like what she does? Want to see more? Pledge on Patreon or Subscribe on Gumroad to see her tarot reads and behind the scenes glimpses of her new projects. Every offer helps a genderqueer author make ends meet. You can read more about the author here.
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  • DesertRose

    This article really speaks to me. Self-sufficiency (particularly but not exclusively financial) is a tough point for a disabled person (which I am). I also feel like no one is an island; we all depend on each other in visible and invisible ways. (Like, we depend on taxes to have roads on which to travel and services like fire/EMS when we need them, though of course we all hope we don’t, but if ever there was a case of better to have and not need than need and not have . . . ) We depend on family (of blood or choice) and friends for support and connection.

    But we do have to own ourselves. We have to own our triumphs and mistakes and growth.

    I’m going to cogitate on this article some more. I may have more thoughts later. Thank you for writing such a thought-provoking post.