How to use liminal space for growth and development

by | May 21, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

When was the last time you found yourself in a liminal space?

Liminal is from the Latin “limen,” which translates into “threshold.”

Literally, liminal space is the doorway between one space and another.

Figuratively, individuals can be in a liminal space when they’re experiencing a change. For example, you could be graduating from school, completing a certification, breaking up with a partner, preparing for a wedding, welcoming a child into your home, adopting a pet, or dealing with the death of a loved one.

In an organizational context, you enter liminal space when you or your team are making a transition, such as adopting a new structure, moving into a new role, nurturing a new mindset or related action.

Please don’t tell my high school Latin teacher, but I hadn’t heard of liminal space or the broader term “liminality” until last year.

The global consulting firm, the telos institute, with which I’m affiliated, introduced me to liminality. From an organizational development standpoint, telos defines liminality as “a period of discontinuity that creates an openness to change.”

All too often individuals and teams just move through these inflection points, preferably as quickly as possible. Yet, by taking time to contemplate your situation, challenge yourself, and open up to exploring new perspectives and behaviors, you can adapt and grow more purposefully.

As one of my clients says, “Our goal should be to emerge from our metamorphosis as a beautiful butterfly rather than just a slightly sexier caterpillar.” That requires being intentional and working hard.

Earlier this month at the telos annual Renewal and Discovery event, those of us participating in one or both tracks got to experience the telos methodology of “curated liminality theory™.” (The first day was the track for consulting and coaching staff and the second day was the track for clients.)

The curated approach is designed to work for individuals, teams, and organizations alike, as well as communities and even countries.

In an organizational setting, you can use the power of liminal space to drive transformation around strategy, leadership, and all types of changes.

Before jumping into the liminal space at the Renewal Discovery events, we took time to prepare, which is the first step in the approach. This included identifying our specific intention for what we wanted to achieve.

In my initial first-hand exposure, my intention was very micro: cultivating connections with individuals I was meeting for the first time in person. This intention was helpful on two fronts: preparing me for the second step, as described next, and reminding me to stay focused.

This micro-intention primed me to be open to the catalyst phase. The purpose of this second step is to help you be open to shifts in your perspective and learn new things that you may not have anticipated, especially around your intention.

The catalyst phase has two components: a productive challenge and vulnerability. The challenge encourages you to push your boundaries. Vulnerability involves being open to reflecting on your experiences and then being willing to shift your perceptions.

For our first-hand experience, we coaches and consultants did a group meditation exercise, and then contemplated what it felt like. We also interpreted it from a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual perspective.

Before we closed for the day, we touched on the third and fourth phases: integration and sustainability. These two phases help you review and understand what’s emerged for you during the catalyst phase and then consider how you want to sustain your new perspective and behaviors.

From my point of view, the value of these two steps was confirmation that I continue to dislike sitting meditation. (If given the choice, I’d rather walk for 10 miles in moving meditation versus sit for three minutes of still meditation.)

Another benefit was that I bonded quickly with other participants who also found the 40 plus minutes of sitting meditation difficult and discomforting – which are the points of the catalyst phase. (And I was gleeful to fulfill my intent of making strong connections, even though I wasn’t the ideal student in this exercise.)

When you’re able to stay with the messiness of the catalyst phase – which is one of the purposes of taking advantage of liminal space – you’re better equipped to think about what you’re doing and use your transition time more constructively.

In other words, you’ll start challenging your beliefs, perspectives and habits in a positive and productive manner. As a result, you’ll be better positioned to grow and become an enhanced version of yourself – not just a better caterpillar but a full-fledged butterfly.

From my point of view, I’m still a caterpillar when it comes to liminal space; however, I appreciate knowing its name and understanding its power. I’m also excited about using it more for myself and with clients.

What about you? Are you willing to enter the threshold of liminal space?


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