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#003: Sitting in Liminal Space

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
5 min read
#003: Sitting in Liminal Space

Greetings from New York City! My family and I have spent the last few months in upstate New York, and have come back to the metropolis to finish the summer and welcome our new daughter.

Being back in the city has provided a jolt of energy and ambition, despite the hellish temps and throngs of tourists on Broadway. Eliza, my lovely wife, moved her desk into my office, so I now have a co-working buddy for the foreseeable future. It’s nice to have a companion working alongside me.

We have two weeks until the baby’s due date, and theoretically she could arrive any day now. The nursery is prepped. The new car seat is installed. The go bag is packed. We’re ready.

As I stand in this liminal space and gaze towards the threshold between my current existence and the life that awaits on the other side, I’m reminded of this passage from Arnold van Gennep, the Dutch-German-French anthropologist who in 1908 coined the terms rite of passage and liminality:

“Life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be reborn. It is to act and to cease, to wait and to rest, and then to begin acting again, but in a different way. And there are always new thresholds to cross: the threshold of summer and winter, of season or a year, of a month or a night; the thresholds of birth, adolescence, maturity and old age; the threshold of death and that of the afterlife—for those who believe in it.”

The English poet Willam Blake described these thresholds as “doors between the known and unknown.” My daughter's birth is like a towering gate looming over me, quickly approaching and ready to swallow me. As I pass through, a part of me will die and another will emerge on the other side. With both feet firmly planted on the ground facing this certainty, my body is flooded with emotions—anxiety, fear, sadness, grief, excitement—because I treasure the road I’ve traveled, appreciate who I’ve become, and wonder how things will unfold.

Life as I know it today—stable, comfortable, routine—will soon end and be redefined by my new daughter, the changes that ensue, and my reaction to what arises. The door to the unknown will open the moment Eliza goes into labor, we’ll walk through it together, and then it’ll shut behind us forever. All what will remain are memories. I’ll never have this experience or these moments again—being a family of three living in NYC with good health and ample free time (and sleep!). This thought fills me with sadness because this has been a special time in my life. I’ve begun to grieve what we had.

Once the baby arrives, my life will no doubt be messy, unpredictable, and sleep-deprived. The well worn grooves that formed over the last four years will fade away, like the wind and tides slowly erasing patterns of sand on a beach. With enough time and experience, I’ll carve new grooves to restore a sense of stability and sanity. New routines will emerge. New systems will be designed. New channels of communication established. New habits will take shape. And my relationship with Eliza and my eldest daughter will evolve into something similar yet different. On the other side, I’ll experience a new life with more demands, more late nights, more diapers, and of course much more love.

Even though I’m already a father, I don’t know what I’ll encounter this time around. The world and our context is different. Our lives and careers are different. And our new daughter will certainly be her own person—even my identical twin Dave and I are totally different! Trying to predict the future with all of its complexity and unpredictability would just be a wild ass guess!

Instead of going on a fool’s errand, I’m easing into this liminal space, getting ample rest, and being with all of the appreciation, anticipation, love, grief, and wonder that’s coming in waves.

Where in your life is there liminal space? What’s that like for you?

A special welcome to the 53 new Lightwaves (a.k.a. subscribers) getting this for the first time. I’m glad you’re here.

🎾 Serena Williams Says Farewell to Tennis On Her Own Terms—And In Her Own Words

Earlier this week, Serena Williams, one of the greatest champions ever in any sport, announced her retirement from the game that she’s been playing since she was a toddler. In this honest and moving essay, she explains her rationale for leaving the game she loves, how she’s processing the decision and change, and what’s next for her and her family. Serena sees retirement as an evolution: “I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.” Vogue (10 minutes)

🧘🏽‍♀️Taking Care of Your Inner Environment

A few weeks ago, my friend Ryan Vaughn and I were discussing how we cause our own suffering and can be our worst enemy at times. He asked if I had read any of Michael Singer’s books including The Surrender Experiment. Shockingly, I hadn’t, so I went down a rabbit hole exploring his writing and his podcast. What I discovered deeply resonated with me. In this talk, Singer discusses the importance of taking care of our inner environment and the perils of neglected thoughts and emotions. Hint: Destructive unconscious behaviors. Several of my clients, who I shared this with, said it was “profoundly helpful.” The Michael Singer Podcast. (48 minutes)

🙂 Mr. Rogers on Charlie Rose

If you really knew me you would know that Mr. Rogers is my spirit animal. In fact, I collect his quotes because they make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and they ooze with wisdom and positivity—two essential ingredients for a good life. On a recent Mr. Rogers binge, I discovered this quote from him, "Our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence...And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives." That led me to this interview with Charlie Rose in 1994. Warning: it might make you smile, laugh, and cry! Charlie Rose (15 minutes)

🛣️ Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age

Earlier this week, I finished this excellent book about life transitions by Bruce Feiler, author of multiple New York Times bestsellers. Galvanized by a cancer diagnosis at 43, Feiler spent two years crisscrossing the country, collecting hundreds of life stories of Americans who’d been through major life changes, and identifying the patterns. He provides a fresh, illuminating vision of the nonlinear life, in which each of us faces dozens of disruptors. One in ten of those becomes a lifequake, a massive change that leads to a life transition. The book identifies a powerful new toolkit for navigating these pivotal times.

🚫 Permission to Stop Doing the Thing

I recently discovered a thought provoking newsletter called life:examined by Shanna Trenholm, a writer and creative strategist based in Portugal. In her words, it’s “a weekly invitation to get curious—a collection of ideas, and thoughts about living a creative, intentional life.” In the latest issue, she grants permission “to stop doing the things that make you feel awful.” She even takes it one step further: “Grab a sheet of paper and number the page from 1 to 10. Now, without overthinking it, start writing down the things you don’t want to do—regardless of the peer or parental/partner pressure you’ll experience.” Knowing what you don’t want is just as important as knowing what you want. This is a simple and fast exercise to discover that for yourself. life:examined (5 minutes)

lightwavesliminal spacetransitionevolution

Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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