The Space Between

Breathe out, breathe in, Balanced in the space between.
Silence, stillness, Until the breath moves through again.
~ from “Breath” by Lynn Emberg Purse ©2012

A few weeks ago, in Breathe In, Breathe Out – I wrote about “Breath” – the piece I composed this spring as part of a larger piece The Four Elements. Deeply immersed in recording “Breath” this past week, I’ve also found the lyrics to this song moving from my head as an ongoing mantra to flooding my creative veins and taking over my life.  It’s not only about remembering to breathe, it is about finding balance in “the space between.”

So what is “the space between”? When I practice deep breathing, I often imagine the astonishing amount of open space in our atomic structure, the space between the photons and electrons and neutrons, the vast space between the cellular structure of our bodies.

But I also think of the idea of liminal space.

Threshold between gardens

The term “liminal space” comes from the Latin word līmen, which in part signifies the boundary between one space and another, meaning that “betwixt and between” space, the threshold of a door or the threshold between stages of life. This is not a new idea by any means – consider the practice of carrying a bride over the threshold, of the ceremonies involved in the rite of passage from one stage of life to another, the superstitions and ritual practices surrounding the opening and closing of doors, windows, and other passageways. In garden design, the liminal structures of gates, archways and paths become the defining elements of the garden and invite the visitor to move through the space rather than look at it from a distance.

The “space between” – liminal space – also has deeply spiritual and metaphysical connotations. In Christian traditions, liminal space is the sacred space occupied by those seeking the presence of God, either as individuals or as a group gathered in worship. Like breathing in and out, one enters into a space of infinite possibilities, then leaves refreshed to engage in the world. For a thoughtful blog about this, see Rev. Jeff Johnson’s Liminal Space, especially his reflection on the day after Easter.

Fr. Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, had this to say about liminal space. “Nothing good or creative emerges from business as usual. This is why much of the work of God is to get people into liminal space, and to keep them there long enough so they can learn something essential. It is the ultimate teachable space.. maybe the only one. Most spiritual giants try to live lives of “chronic liminality” in some sense. They know it is the only position that insures ongoing wisdom, broader perspective and ever-deeper compassion. The Jewish prophets… St. Francis, Gandhi, and John the Baptist come to mind.”

Window on the galaxy

As an artist and musician, I am always seeking the point of entry to liminal space which, for me, is the marker of creative engagement. Quantum physics suggests that all possibilities exist until observation or intention selects one possibility which then becomes “the” reality. As a composer, this is exactly the process through which I move. I start with an idea, I do research and entertain many possibilities, then I withdraw into that “space between” to let everything cook and stew while I seek to become quiet and receptive and balanced.  I stand on the threshold, poised but not ready to commit.  Stepping through the threshold, moving from possibility to a chosen act or decision, always seems the most difficult part – actually stepping through and be willing to choose “this” but not “that” becomes an act of creative courage.

A series of thresholds

Of course, that is only the first step; it is actually a series of decisions, reflections, and more decisions, an ongoing process of stepping into a threshold, a liminal space, then continuing on through the process, over and over again.  Singer/songwriter and artist Joni Mitchell once drew an analogy between painting and composing – when the painting was finished, it was finished, but the music demanded an ongoing commitment to bring it to life – this is probably true of all performing arts. (Photo courtesy of Joka2000 on Flickr)

The next time I post, I hope to have a piece of music to share. (You can now hear the music for Breath) For now, I stand poised on another threshold, seeking the silence and stillness between breaths that nourishes me, balances me and leads me to the next step, through the next doorway.

Reality is that place between the sea and the foam. Irish Proverb

41 thoughts on “The Space Between

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    • Thank you, Raye! Apparently, I was exploring your blog even while you were in mine. My second moment of synchronicity this morning! Thanks for stopping by and for the follow; I am looking forward to exploring your site at length 🙂

      • Oh geez..for lack of a better word…about that reference to synchronicity….I was going to add in my previous comment to you that…I firmly believe you are supposed to be where you are…when you get there. Thanks for being…there! R.

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  5. Deep breaths and the quiet of the spaces between are always what I need to take the next step. You have beautifully put into words what I know works for me (and most everyone!). I hope the rest of your work comes together just as you’d hoped and turns into something beautiful and meaningful.

    • I think you are right, Paula, it is a universal practice for finding our way through life. Thank you for your good wishes, today we hope to finish the recording and mixing of the piece and I am beginning to work on the video. Saturday is the goal, but I’m trying to remain flexible 🙂

  6. This is a lovely and very interesting post. I’ve always been drawn to those in between places and times. I never realized there was a name for it. Thank you for teaching me something new today, and for this wonderful post. 🙂

  7. What a lovely yet thought-provoking post (as usual) dealing with the interlude, the not-yet-there. I confess to having gone through many of these, none of them easy, so the ‘liminal’ is something of a familiar, yet not altogether comfortable place in my life–most especially when I went through divorce and came out. I will explore this more in my interior thought, and see what you have shown me through your eyes and references. Thank you for your recent visit and loving comments!

    • Lance, your comments trigger a whole new set of thoughts! I think you are right about the uncomfortable nature of liminality space, as it is by its nature transitional and ambiguous, therefore uncomfortable. But an important, maybe essential, part of the creative process. I look forward to hearing more from you on this. Thanks, as always, for taking the time to visit and comment.

  8. Re: “seeking the silence and stillness between breaths that nourishes me, balances me and leads me to the next step, through the next doorway.”

    Thanks for this! Perfect sentiment for me, as I embark on a contemplative retreat which will last for several weeks, in thermal waters, overseas …

  9. Lynn: This piece inspired me so, so much. There are not adequate words that can express how much it touched me. Also, and most importantly, I have just discovered Fr. Richard Rohr and was pleased to read so much more about him through your blog. I’m in love! I’m currently reading “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the two Halves of Life.” Where has this man been all my life? I feel as if I have found an oasis in the midst of a long hard desert. Thank you for adding insight to my journey. You’re the best!

    • Eleanor, your comments always make my day! I did not know about Fr. Rohr until I did the research for this post, so it was a great discovery for me as well. I love his views about liminality and I was considering reading the book you mentioned. I will put it on my “to read” list now! Thank you and have a great trip!

  10. A *highly* through-provoking piece, Lynn. It made me really think about whether the quantum “stepping through the threshold” analogy is applicable to how I make creative decisions in the field.

    • That’s an interesting question, Kerry; I’m not sure that I sense that when I’m taking photos but I do when I’m processing them or creating composites with them in Photoshop. Hmmm, let me know if you notice that when you are in the field this coming week – have a great trip!

  11. Much to ponder here – which is a good thing! I appreciate how you stretched the idea of space while using both micro and macro examples. The transition into quantum physics and spirituality caught me off guard, but I was pleasantly surprised. Bottom line – this is a very useful reflection on the importance of reflection.

  12. what a beautiful expression of that space where creativity – creation – happens. That space between breaths where we exist in purity and wholeness and where we are one with all that is of beauty and delight.

  13. Just beautiful, Lynn, a post to revisit and to share (which I did, on FB). In working/being with the dying, I have pondered and explored how we’re called into shared liminal space during this holy time of transition. Over the years, I’ve learned and practiced many breathing techniques that seem to take me right into a merged energy with the dying spirit…sometimes for hours, we’re breathing together, “communicating” in the holy space and then, there always seems to be a farewell interlude, and I’ll feel myself/my breath gently retreating as the other’s spirit gradually takes leave of our shared space…this can happen over days/hours… and has always been a great gift to my own spirit. Thank you for this profound reflection regarding the reverence we can carry, always, from in-breath to holy presence and then to out-breath…

    • Catherine, your comments made me cry – thank you for sharing such a profound experience. I will be recording the vocal track in the next day or so and your story will stay with me and guide my work, I am sure. Take a deep breath . . .

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