Thresholds, Part 4: Thresholds and The Liminal

Hello all!

Last article, we explored how when we stand in a threshold moment, many things can enter that space – both from from our pasts and our current situations. A door opens and we are faced with possibility and with the echoes of our trauma and tenderness. A door opens and memories open, too. 

Not just the difficult, though. Other memories open as well – sweet memories, tender ones. For example, around Sam’s 21st birthday last year, the memories of my 21st birthday flooded in – an amazing weekend spent with friends on a wild road trip. So much laughing and desire to be in the world. To be alive. 

Other things can open, too, when we are in a threshold – things from the liminal spaces, things from the places where dreams come from.


What do I mean by liminal? It is a word that is tossed around about many things. Of course [you know me], I turn to the etymology of the word. The root of liminal is something like “a place at the limit of a boundary.” I love that – how there is a space right at the edge of a boundary or a border.

In the physical world, spaces that are the edge of borders often have their own ecosystems. Meaning, when the border of two ecosystems meet, something happens at that edge –  something entirely new. A combination of the two.

These systems between two other systems are called ecotone. AH! Another great word, which basically means a place where two ecosystems meet and create tension.

Beach Scene by James Hamilton, American [ca. 1865]

A beach, of course, is a place where land and water meet, tension is created and entire ecosystems are created, including animals and plants that have evolved to thrive in such an environment.

Another kind of liminal space is something we create in more human landscapes. Places between places where human rules are different. I think of airports and train stations. How, when at Penn Station in New York, for example, we are between arrival and departure and the train station has its own environment and cultural expectations. I love airports and train stations – amazing places to people watch and let myself be between.


When we are in a threshold moment, our past that has led us to the moment and our future that is about to be formed and changed by that moment, combine to create a place of interweaving and tension.

And this opens up the liminal spaces of our spiritual/inner lives, as well. Not just what comes from memory [be it lovely or difficult], but what can arise from the same liminal space as dreaming.

The dream, of course, is another liminal space in its own right, but the liminal space of a threshold moment is one that can arise in our waking consciousness. 

It is the space where intuition, “magic”, synchronicity, other kinds of “knowing” can arise is us. 


When my mother was dying and finally went to a beautiful hospice center, we had many moments where “things” happened. 

One moment I remember so clearly – I was sitting with my mom when she noticed there were empty birdfeeders just outside the window. As soon as she noticed, birds started coming to the feeder [it was a gorgeous summer day], including several red birds. 

My mom gasped and started to cry because my grandmother, her mother, had a special relationship with red birds and our family says that when a red bird arrives, it is grandma coming to say hello.

Here we were, the birdfeeders quiet until my mother looked and then red birds arrived. It was a moment of magic – like my grandmother was come to visit my mom at this scary moment for her. 

Like my grandmother had come for me, too. 


There are moments like this at many thresholds that I believe we have all experienced in some way. This kind of grace or magic that a threshold moment, perhaps, helps us to be more aware of outside our regular, routine lives.

Or perhaps the liminal opens because we are opening, because we let ourselves be open to the change in our waking world – which opens change in our “magical” worlds. The same way dreams work with us.

The Red Bird (Zhu que 朱雀) by Hua Yan 華嵒
(1682–ca. 1765)