Empty art galleries, vacant corridors, and abandoned strip malls are all examples of “liminal spaces.” If this term is new to you, it seems at first glance to put a positive spin on what is more commonly referred to as existential angst and urban decay.
An Internet search on “liminal spaces” brings up this glib summary. “The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the “crossing over” space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else.
This definition implies that a liminal space is whenever we arrive for a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment, and we arrive to see no one, receptionist included, is there. We expect to see a room full of people awaiting their turn and are instead confronted by a silent room. The effect is frequently unsettling and alienating as if we have momentarily been rendered the last person on earth.
In addition, waiting rooms, empty parking lots, hotel lobbies, and rest stops, make you feel weird if you spend too much time in them because these spaces exist for the things that come before or after them.
Something as mundane and commonplace as a rest stop along a busy highway qualifies as a liminal space. You are expected to use the facilities, perhaps purchase a soft drink or candy bar, and then resume your journey. In this case, the mind and body take a necessary break to regroup before continuing the journey.
The concept of liminality as a state of transition was developed by the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, in the early 1900s, in his book, Rites of Passage. The concept was then later developed by other anthropologists and creative thinkers.
People who are overwhelmed with personal and work responsibilities can greatly benefit by pursuing the creation of their own liminal spaces. It can be relatively simple, such as redecorating your living space by rearranging the artwork on the walls. You can also move your favorite chair to the other side of the room. While your mind has grown accustomed to the furniture in a particular place, its rearrangement can make your mind open to new possibilities.
Waking up an hour earlier than you usually do can also refresh and recharge the mind. With the extra time, you can better prepare for the day ahead by doing light housework or engaging in more “personal time” such as reading and exercise.
Exploring a neighborhood that you are unfamiliar with is also among the recommendations. Checking out new stores, restaurants and exploring the architectural quirks of the residential area can prove to be a fascinating adventure.
In short, these philosophers claim that the deliberate seeking out or creation of liminal spaces can give the modern man the opportunity to regroup before taking on the necessities of the everyday.