When Flyers Fly: Listening into Liminal Spaces

It’s mid-May and the hummingbirds have finally returned. I am beside myself with relief and joy knowing we’ll be together for the next four months (and yes, I am counting). Their journey of flight is extraordinary and I love to provide nourishment – and to be a small part of their grand migration.

I”m noticing flight lately, perhaps because it evokes a feeling of weightlessness, free of uncomfortable or unpleasant (yet equally valuable) emotions that accompany life and growth.  

When Flyers Fly

Recently I was reminded of the early years in my first business. My business partner, Alesia, and I were young and in debt, with a nearly non-existent marketing budget. Yet after months of planning and raising capital, our business was OPEN. It was a momentous accomplishment!

Until the sense of accomplishment evaporated to be replaced by the deadening external silence of customers and orders trickling in while incessantly internal thoughts chattered: Will this work – will we go belly up – are we fools after all?  

On bad weeks, when making payroll seemed highly improbable (unbeknownst to staff), we’d flip a coin — heads or tails — to see which one of us would approach the next customer and entice them to buy stock in our high-risk company.

Once we created flyers to put in every mailbox of an upscale housing community. Except there were no individual mailboxes, so instead we stuffed them anywhere and everywhere. After we left, the wind blew and the flyers flew — up into trees, plastering windshields and splattered on driveways. We did not reach our objective to win friends and influence neighbors. Rather we received angry calls from residents and the property manager who threatened us with our apparently illegal act.

It was truly an uncertain and uncomfortable time. Luckily when one of us was ready to throw in the towel, the other was there to fortify and stand steady. And eventually, our reputation spread and our business took flight.

The Liminal Space

We were betwixt and between many times as the business grew. This is a place I find myself in repeatedly, personally and professionally, and so do my clients.

I was moved recently reading the thought that transformation happens more frequently not when something new begins, but rather when something old falls apart.

This is the liminal space, which literally means the doorway between one space and another. It comes from the Latin word limen which translates as the threshold between one state and another. At a threshold, we can’t know what is between the old —  that which is no longer – and that which has yet to be. Feelings of chaos, uncertainty and low-grade malaise are entirely normal.

In Times of Turbulence: Fly Loose

Author Cameron Trimble writes about her airplane instructor who taught that when in turbulence, you actually make the flight less stable and safe if you tighten the grip on the steering wheel. Thus, the instructor’s command: In times of turbulence, fly loose.

Trimble, a UCC minister, expands this analogy and counsels: 

By getting lost and welcoming the reality that we do not have the answers or know the way forward, we enter a space of liminality and emergence. We are not attempting to fix “broken systems” but are, instead, summoning entirely new worlds….Richard Rohr, May 5 Newsletter

Ah, but who among us goes into this space willingly?

Listening in the Liminal Spaces

It makes our inner journey so much harder when these liminal spaces feel outwardly taboo. Surgeon General Dr. Vivke Murthy in America has a Loneliness Epidemic noted: You can feel lonely even if you have a lot of people around you, because loneliness is about the quality of your connections.

It’s so true, isn’t it?

Too often our connections are not focused on co-creating and building relationships because we are caught up in our own agenda. So we plunge in to fix the person according to what we think is best. But does this really help? Is unsolicited advice ever regularly welcomed? Additionally, in our own discomfort, we may fall victim to offering toxic positivity, a mindset of rigid gratitude that only makes things worse. (Check out Susan David Calls Bullshit to Toxic Positivity with Brene Brown.

As an alternative, what if we were to welcome these clumsy and difficult spaces as a threshold to change and growth? What if we were to listen generously, to acknowledge and be present with all of it – the joy, sorrow, weariness, fears, triumph, darkness, hope and resiliency that we share together?  

What if we didn’t offer advice???

The irony and wonder are that when we listen with presence to others, we validate more fully their journey and our journey of composting and renewal. We step out of the loneliness epidemic. And, yes, it is generally a messy middle, like when flyers fly.

Emotions don’t make us fragile. They make us more fully alive and able to journey into the liminal spaces and out into new possibilities. To listening in liminal spaces, to ourselves and others,

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