January: The Liminal Month

The holidays are often a busy time of year where you can expend a lot of energy in directions that may or may not be fulfilling. You may have attended many parties or socialized with friends and family in smaller gatherings. You may have spent money on gifts and received a nice pile of nifty new toys. You may have over-eaten or over-consumed in a variety of ways. The old year comes to a close with December’s bang and against the blank slate of a new year, heralded by the quiet month of January, we’re often left with an emptiness that causes us to wonder, “What now?”

January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of the doorway. We walk through the final month of a year and then through the doorway of January, a new year. But as January is a doorway it represents the liminal month of the Gregorian calendar, an in-between time when we’re no longer in the old year but haven’t quite adjusted to the new one. You experience the liminal (limbo) zone when you’re moving and your old house is packed up and empty but the new house is vacant as well. You experience the liminal zone when you’re a few weeks away from your wedding, no longer single but not quite married. You experience the liminal zone during the final weeks of pregnancy and as a new mother when you’ve left the old life behind but haven’t yet grown the new identity of mother. The liminal zone is when “the egg is no longer and the chick is no yet.” (Martin Buber)

Emotionally, the liminal zone is defined by a sense of unreality.  How do you manage feeling out of control, ungrounded, and unsettled? If you’re like most of the human race, I would venture to guess that your answer would be, “Not very well.” Humans like stability, certainty, and familiarity. We are creatures of habit and will resist change at all cost. We like solid ground and balk at the prospect of our familiar surroundings being altered in any way. And this is why transitions are so unnerving for most people: they’re emotional earthquakes that force you from your safe, familiar ground and thrust you into the unknown.

Yet there is great power in the liminal zone. It’s during this stage when the veils of our familiar defenses are loosened and we’re offered a clarified window into our true nature and our wounds. In this uprooted, out of control state, we’re caught off balance, and in this softer, less guarded place, we have an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly and, if we seize the opportunity, to transform aspects of ourselves that are no longer serving us.

But in order not to become completely undone by the liminal zone – whether it’s an engagement, new motherhood, or the month of January – we must find our places of solace, ground, and nourishment. The healthy depression that often accompanies the liminal zone only bears the fruit of consciousness if we find the courage not to run from the emptiness, but to view it as a gift and embrace it with curiosity. What does this time have to offer? What windows of awareness are opened when we slow down into ourselves after the flurry of December and walk through this January doorway with an intention to learn and grow? How can we meet the feelings of grief or loneliness, boredom or fear, that may live inside this slowed down month with loving attention instead of fearing them and pushing them away (which only intensifies the uncomfortable feelings)? Where can you sit and be with yourself in silence, even if it’s only a few minutes a day?

For me, water is my solace, my ground, and my place of nourishment. It’s why I spent a lifetime searching for this land that backs to a creek; I knew that if I was going to honor the yearnings of my soul and live a fulfilled life I needed to be close to water. I needed a natural body of water easily accessible – not a short drive away, not down the road, but in my back yard. When life pulls me in a hundred fractured directions, I only need to sit by the creek for ten minutes to feel whole again. When the emptiness threatens to pull me into an unnecessary depression, the fullness of the flowing water reminds of that I can ride the quiet places of my soul back to a place of meaning. When I’m feeling like the energy of my life extends only outward as I give to my children, my work, and my home, the Great Mother who is embodied by water cloaks me in her archetypal nourishment and reminds me that replenishment is only a breath away. When I sit by water, I am restored.

What helps you feel grounded and nourished? What are your places of solitude, where you can make space for the deep rest that the soul longs to experience during this season? What is your doorway? Take a few minutes right now, in this moment, to find out.

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