Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Liminal Spaces

This piece by Kris Drummond discusses cultural taboos, the kind that can get one fired from one's job if discussed too often or seriously, and it seems to be the issue that many are thinking about yet skirt more than religion or politics. As a few brave individuals make the leap out of their liminal spaces, they wait for the masses to join them on the other side. Is the internet, the place where individuals exist apart from their physical selves, helping us make that leap?

by Kris Drummond

In my last entry, I discussed the notion of living autobiographically, or put another way, that what we are as human beings is an accumulation of cultural stories, internalized and self-perpetuated by the bard of self.

Within consensus parlance, this idea is relatively true.  It’s tough to argue with the assertion that our mass of humanity is one giant particle collider of story interacting with story.  A simple inspection of one’s internal landscape is enough to witness the totality of that functioning narrative:  “I’m hungry right now, I wonder what I am going to eat…pizza sounds good, eh maybe I’ll get something healthy, oh shit I forgot that I have some work to do, why am I sitting here listening to myself think….” And on it goes.  

The idea that our identities are not only complicit with story, but actually based entirely within fallible language is often disconcerting, and you won’t make many friends at a party by championing the illusion of personal identity in casual drunk-talk.  Because it’s uncomfortable, we culturally disown the realization and all agree to never talk about it or think about it, and if this strategy works, life seems to work out alright.  However, an increasing number of people around the world are becoming radically disillusioned with the story their mind is telling them, and as a result, a collective shift in the perception of our human experience seems to be taking place.

Because the subject itself is taboo, the dissolution of one’s personal narrative can be a confusing experience.  I can personally attest to this confusion, as at the moment I seem to be witnessing just such a breakdown of my self-narrative.  The feeling is both exciting and frightening.  Every puff of weed seems to take me to a new, deeper fixation point, and the dreams just keep getting stranger and stranger.  The other night, I dreamt that Anubis, the Egyptian god entrusted to the safe passage from life to the afterlife, was about to chop my head off with his staff, and then I woke up.  The symbolism spoke to me.  I realized in that moment that one phase of my life is indeed ending, a painful experience to be sure, but the promise of reconfiguration pulls me along, prodding me to look ever deeper.

To the best of my knowledge, it seems that like so many others, I am dropping into what Joseph Campbell described as the “Liminal” space.  This space is defined by a “quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.”

The liminal space is a place of curious calm.  One mode of being, or story, has reached its conclusion, and the reality of that is accepted.  At the same time, the new mode or story is not yet in place, although the potential is certainly felt; something is happening.  As a culture, or perhaps only a minuscule microcosm of a culture, there seems to be a shift into this mode of curious unknowing taking place on a global level.

To me, it feels like the internet subcultures, forums, podcasts, and other sources of digital connectivity are serving as a kind of womb or cocoon, facilitating a simultaneous dying/emerging.  The “belly of the whale” according to Campbell, the place of transformation from lower to higher, the ritual as simple as typing in a username and password.  The paradoxical notion of embracing the destruction, allowing the self to fall apart if it is so inclined, is picking up speed.  I see it more and more every day in the various corners of the internet that I frequent.  Depression, anxiety, fear, mistrust, feelings that seem to need “fighting” are beginning to be embraced.  Instead of a running from, I notice a diving into.

Where this all leads is anyone’s guess.  I myself don’t know what each successive day is going to hold, let alone each year.  Although this is can be an extremely uncomfortable position, I notice that the more I relax and simply allow a space within myself for the unknowable to move, the more I become OK with the uncertainty.  So, from one crumbling story to another, I say enjoy the journey.

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1 comment:

  1. I love this, Aj :-)

    I wish, right now, I could add to it. But, I would like to say, you hit on something I had begun to see, that we live by stories.

    I know I certainly do... I have, for as far back as I can remember, seen myself as the hero protagonist in my own story. Since I was 4 and someone asked my name, and I said 'MacGuyver', I have compared myself to all of them.

    It is sobering to see it your way, but I can see where you are coming from...


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