by Kim Post Watson
Sing to the shadows, sing and do not fear
But sing them into love little by little.
Begin the song exactly where you are.
And so I start again here in the middle.
– Malcolm Guite, The Singing Bowl
Some people can remember the exact moment they entered what the mystics call “liminal space.” Liminal comes from the Latin word, limen, which means threshold. Liminal space is that doorway, that threshold, where you leave one place, but have not gotten to a new place. You are simply between.
I like to think of midlife as a journey through liminal space. Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, proposes that there are two halves of life, and the challenge is to traverse the space between. I can’t even remember who gave me his book five or so years ago, but when I read it, it was as if lightning bolts were piercing my body. I recognized that I had travelled right across a threshold and was standing in liminal space. I could not go back to my old life, but I had no idea how to move forward to the second half of life. The main emotions I felt were anger and fear, coupled with a bit of relief.
Eventually, I realized that the combination of a dripping accumulation of losses, a shattered identity around my role as mother, and disillusionment with my faith tradition, had created a huge numbness hiding under the exterior personality of an enneagram 7 (the “enthusiast”). At my best, I kept our family going through a love of life and adventure, but at my worst I could become critical and controlling, always and forever trying to keep everything good all the time. Spinning all those plates was slowly killing me, but everyone wanted me to keep spinning.
My path toward wholeness required that I begin to follow the threefold path of purgation, illumination and union, stripping off what I knew of God and myself, examining my life, and finding the beginnings of wholeness. It was both a terrifying and freeing place, and I did it largely alone in London, accompanied by a growing shelf of books by travellers, like Rohr, who had gone before, coupled with an enneagram group my husband and I joined, a safe space away from our Christian community. In the next few years, there were many days when I could only read poetry, or be outside in nature, to feel anything at all about myself and God.
Carl Jung talks often of the midlife journey, and tells us that when we unmask our False Self, and go down to the bottom of our soul, we will actually find a child there, and we can remember some of who we truly were before we took on all the roles that create an identity. I am definitely not done with this process, but I did something for myself that I’m hoping might create something new for others, too. I went back to school.
I was always loved school and actually started a MA shortly after university, but I dropped out when work and church and babies took all my spare time. 25 years later, I went back and did an MA in Christian Leadership, but most importantly I wrote my dissertation on midlife spirituality. Whenever I hold it in my hand, I feel like it has been birthed from my true Self. My dream is that it will be a companion for my fellow travellers.
One of the echoes I hear wherever I go is that the local church does not know how to support those of us on the path between the two halves of life. What space, resources and companions does the journey require? How can pastors free people to reflect on their life, in order that they might become the wise elders the world needs?
When I ran across The Perennial Gen, I was so pleased to see a place where thoughtful travellers could encourage each other. If there is one thing that is 100% true, it is that everyone’s journey is different. Right now, I have a friend who is aching with grief over her empty nest, and one who is aching to think how her son will find his way to live in the world without her and her husband. Some people are rejoicing in retirement, some are rudderless, and some think they will never be able to retire. I won’t even begin on the challenges of the midlife marriage.
So, I’ve found a co-teacher and together we are stepping into a terrifying place. (Actually, she’s way less scared than me.) We’re going to invite a dozen people to take a midlife journey together. We’ll study the enneagram, contemplative prayer, and the literature I digested in my dissertation. We’ll be honest with each other and walk outdoors. We’ll go slow and as deep as anyone wants to go. Next summer we’ll make a pilgrimage, like I did right before I moved back to America.
And, if you’re interested, I’ll blog here periodically, and tell you what it’s like for our little group to embrace liminal space.
(Editor’s Note: Yes, we’re interested, Kim!)
Kim Post Watson recently discovered that she is an Enneagram 7 in midlife, so it makes sense that she has three children, two dogs, two passports, 57 cookbooks, and an entire closet full of sporting goods. She and her husband keep their table filled with people in San Francisco, and, when they are not visiting their children in NY, LA and Chicago, spend as much time as they can in the Sierra Nevadas and the United Kingdom. She spent the last three years studying the spirituality of midlife and will receive her MA in October 2017 in London. Her dissertation is titled The Midlife Journey: Liminal Space between the Two Halves of Life and, since it felt like birthing a fourth child, she is excited to share it with anyone who would like to read it. Contact us here at The Perennial Gen and we’ll put you in touch with Kim.
Kim mentioned a couple of resources, above. If you use the Amazon links below to order either Falling Upward or The Road Back To You, a great introduction to the Enneagram, your purchase will benefit this website:
Kim, I’m so glad you found us! Michelle Van Loon introduced me to Falling Upward, and yes, some lightning bolts for me, too. I have skimmed The Road but never delved in too deeply. I’m intrigued by your study and can’t wait to hear more about your experience moving (falling) forward (upward). Thanks for contributing! –Amanda, Per Gen co-founder
Kim – I’d love to know about an organized path or the curriculum, questions, handouts, discussion starters, books, et al you’re using at your church. Something transferable for us to use in our communities?
We’re hoping Kim will be sharing some of that in coming months!
Melinda, that is our hope! We are starting with an evening discussion, and then continuing with a monthly group. We will focus on talking about the space between the two halves of life, primarily by looking beneath our roles and identity(ies), to take a breath (literally) by learning contemplative prayer, journaling and sharing. We will rely on the Enneagram to help us go deep. I plan to share everything with the wider church.
Great! I know of two groups of women who would start using it immediately here in the western suburbs of Chicago if something was available. 🙂 We would be happy to test anything, too!