Liminal Light

From Random Inspired Essays

Do you know what liminal spaces are? They are the open spaces between places. Empty corridors, stairways, lobbies, terminals, highways, underpasses… those are liminal spaces. Their openness and transitory nature have always appealed to me, drawn me in. Some people find these places unsettling since they are, literally, the places you do not settle into. But me, I seek these places out. In fact, I find them fascinating. There is a sense of peace, a flow, a meditative focus that comes from spending time in liminal locales.

There are also forms of psychological liminality. These would be the transitional periods of life, long and short alike. They could be the seasons of life like adolescence or middle age; life-altering processes like getting married or divorced; or changes in location or status, such as when traveling, moving, graduating, even suffering periods of illness. These periods of life can be emotional, overwhelming, and difficult, having a dramatic impact on our mental health. They are the various interludes of our existence.

But recently, I discovered a different kind of liminal experience, one I have not seen or heard acknowledged before:

Liminal Light

My husband and I were having an involved conversation in the bedroom the other night—a great, thought-provoking, intimate conversation—and the only illumination in the room came from the bathroom and my walk-in closet. This was not destination light, so to speak. We were both done in the bathroom, and I was done fussing in my closet, but we were still operating under the warmth of the light that radiated into the bedroom. And we hadn’t turned on the big light because we would soon be going to bed. As such, the light in the bedroom coming from the empty bathroom and unoccupied closet felt transitory.

One may be tempted to suggest this to be “mood lighting.”

Only, it’s not.

While the amount of literal illumination provided here may be similar to, say, a candlelit room, the feel was exceptionally different. When there is intent—like romance—one might set the stage with candles, covered lamps, and other forms of diffused ambient lighting. This differed in that there was no intent, only the lingering light of functionality from some other task-oriented spaces. It was ephemeral.

This night, this conversation…we were existing in one of life’s in-betweens. A twilight. Taken out of time and context, we could be getting ready for work. Catching an early flight. Paying bills before bed. Unpacking our baggage, or unpacking our day. The phenomenon was strange and moving and full of wonder! This liminal light was an incredible way to experience an emotional connection, exploring ideas and passions in the moment. Liminal passions, generating an interstitial transcendence.

So, the next time you want to shake things up—be it an important conversation, a passionate encounter, or making something old and tired new again—try incorporating a liminal aspect. Move into a hallway, or simply turn on the closet light. You may find a whole new appreciation for transitory existence.

Thanks for reading.

1 Comment

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  1. I love this topic. It fascinates me. I also love these transitory spaces. I love the vibe in a subway tunnel when you are walking with people who are passing through their busy lives on the way to somewhere. You can feel the energy flow, as people’s minds wander into the tiny passages of their existence.


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