I was eighteen years old before I realized that the classic 1939 Wizard of Oz movie was not filmed entirely in black and white. I had watched it every year of my childhood on our sturdy black and white television, enchanted every time by the magic of the Land of Oz and Dorothy’s adventures there. When I returned home for Easter vacation from my first year at college, I settled in front of our new luxury item, a color television, to watch my favorite movie. Of course, the movie starts in sepia tone, close enough to black and white for me not to notice the difference, and I dreamed along with Dorothy as she sang of a land “somewhere over the rainbow.” Imagine my shock and surprise that matched her own when she opens the door of her wind blown house and stands breathless before the colorful landscape of a new world.
Dorothy looking into Oz
Like Dorothy, I feel as if I am standing on the threshold of a new landscape, though I must pass through the long storms of winter before I can step into it. The Christmas decorations are put away and the house has lost its festive air. The romance and beauty of fresh snow fall has degenerated into rough trampled paths through the woods punctuated by dark bare trees and a leaden gray sky. It is the black and white and sepia tone world of every day life. But the seeds to this year’s garden have arrived and I feel very much like Dorothy, standing in her monotone world while peering into the vibrantly colored Land of Oz.
It may be a long passage of winter months before I can cross that threshold into the rainbow land of my garden, but the seeds I hold in my hand become a magic carpet in my imagination that will eventually carry me there.
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 wordlīmen, 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