Lessons from Limbo
We are in a time of collective waiting. None of us have been here before or dealt with the challenges we're all dealing with. This time of waiting has me thinking about other times in my life I've experienced seasons of limbo, living in a liminal space. My husband, Chris works in sales and due to the nature of his field has dealt with a few periods of unemployment over the last several years. Through these he and I have learned a whole hell of a lot about living life without any guarantees of what will happen next. We wait, we pray, we hope, and we keep working. We trust that the right thing is around the corner even when we can’t see it or hold it or depend on it yet.
This time is reminding me a whole lot of those times.
We are all waiting, praying, hoping, and working with no guarantee of what our new normal will look like.
Then and now, waiting is hard. Limbo is hard, the liminal space we are living in is so.damn.hard. (Also if you think me saying hell and damn is swearing believe me when I say I’m practicing restraint.)
Ya’ll, I’m a ten year trajectory kind of planner, and right now I have no idea what’s happening this month, this fall, or this year. This is a special kind of destabilizing (and not the fun kind of “special.”) I’m not going to pretend any single part of this is easy for any of us. I am going to share the things I’ve learned from my seasons of living in liminal space, they may or may not apply to your situation or life.
My seasons in limbo have always tuned in to a few common frequencies.
My faith has been my north star since I was a child, although it’s certainly grown with me. I pray a lot, for myself, my loved ones, and our world. I pray for direction and peace and healing. I pray that our world comes out of this pandemic with a deeper understanding of our connectedness, with more kindness and empathy. I can’t tell you how many pastors and teachers I’ve heard say “God tells us “fear not” 365 times in the Bible, it’s a command!” Do you know how helpful it is to tell someone they shouldn’t be afraid? About as helpful as it is to tell them to “calm down”, or to “just stop” experiencing mental or physical illness.
I’m going to share what came to me as I was stepping out of the shower, knot in my chest, getting ready for work - because yes, I’m still working. Maybe “fear not” isn’t in the Bible 365 times because it’s a command. Maybe it’s in the Bible 365 times because life gets really frickin hard. Maybe God knew we would need constant reminders that we are not in this alone.
I hesitate to bring my faith up in times of crisis like this because platitudes aren’t helpful. A pretty Bible verse sprawled across a landscape photo isn’t going to carry much of a punch without personal or historical context, and could even feel invalidating. Same with the #faithoverfear slogan. It’s a great sentiment, but sometimes when we distill ideas into slogans and memes we miss the empathy and nuance. But if we remember that those “do not fear” verses were spoken and written into scripture over an oppressed people group, in and out of exile, repeatedly decimated by neighboring armies, who were offered belonging and community in their shared belief… well it gets a little more real.
Fear of our livelihoods and communities being wiped out is something many of us feel deeply, and it goes all the way back to the ancients. Whether or not you believe in God or identify as a Christian, that’s pretty universal. So whatever you name the resonance humming within us (ala Rob Bell), take a moment and remember your rich ancestry of resilience. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, I pray that you find comfort and peace in this time of chaos and uncertainty.
Rituals & routines
I can’t stress how grounding practicing rituals and routines are for me in times of uncertainty. This has been true for me during the times Chris has been unemployed as well as through our recent move, and my own job changes (not to mention, you know, there’s a pandemic out there.) Morning rituals are really centering, but I’m not just talking about that. I’m talking about any space I can create continuity and a sense of normalcy. This has looked like sitting in my car on lunch and listening to audiobooks - which is centering no matter the position or job I’m filling. Even when things are chaotic, for those 30 minutes I practice a ritual I’ve been doing for years. It gives me something “normal.” Walking the dog in the morning has become a centering ritual where I get outside and claim the day for myself before I share my energy with others. At times my rituals have included more intense movement (and ya’ll I am missing MMA like WOAH right now. I can’t tell you how much I want to go practice some throws and throw some punches.)
The magic here isn’t in what I do, but that these are things I do fairly consistently no matter what chaos is swirling, and my nervous system has a chance to recalibrate and come back to a familiar home base.
I mentioned walking, but getting moving in some way gives us happy endorphins, and also can become a ritual. Whatever movement is nourishing is the movement for you. There’s no prescription here. I enjoy a smattering of yoga, lifting, walking, and really anything but running. We are a bit more limited in solitary movement right now but we can still claim those endorphins! It can be a tough balance to find where movement fits in self care when we are in a space like this - I’ve personally been spending a lot of time on my couch playing animal crossing new horizons as well as taking some walks and doing yard work.
This is a huuuuuuuuuuuuuge one. The best. The biggest. Okay but really, I love mindful practice because one of the biggest challenges I face in anxiety is overthinking. Mindfulness gives me a target, something specific to focus on that connects me to the present moment and gets me to come back to my body. This can be a decompressing hug (I’m lucky to have a quarantine partner), the feeling of grass on my feet, how it feels to run my hands through my dogs fur, or on knead bread until the texture is just right. I can focus and savor the smell of dinner cooking, or my favorite candle or bath bomb. I can watch the daily changes in my house plants, or notice when the cardinal couple visits the feeder outside my kitchen window. I can notice how it feels when the sun hits my face and warms up my entire body when I open my door in the morning, or how it feels when the hot water hits me as I step into the shower. Mindfulness is a chain of finding ways to stay in our moments, and those moments string together into present days. They become days that may have been hard, but hold things we cherish instead of days and years we write off as just waiting.
Gratitude practice & journaling
Gratitude journaling is an extension of mindfulness for me. Writing down those moments is a great way to acknowledge them, and it can be so helpful to go back and read during dark days. When the shadow of the depression monster looms large, and we can’t remember what we love about our lives our gratitude journal is there to remind us. I don’t suggest writing glib, hashtag blessed statements, but reminders of specific moments like the ones I mentioned above - or like the time I was in line in the post office last winter (in a hurry to get to work) and the woman in front of me stopped and thanked an acquaintance who happened to be there for sharing her presence and wisdom. I don’t know what happened between them but that moment was genuine and beautiful. We have an ever present reminder of how hard life can be right now in this pandemic, but let’s be honest, it’s likely not any of our first go round. It’s just the first time so many of us are on parallel tracks.
One of the tricks of darkness is to make us forget what the light felt like. Gratitude journaling is a mirror of what is brightest and lightest to us in our own words. This is why it’s so powerful. It has nothing to do with gratitude guilt trips and everything to do with protecting our inner fire and flame.
There are more things that have been helpful for me. Having supportive friends and family has been incredibly helpful. Knowing we have layers of safety nets is a privilege not everyone has. But I hope that these coping skills that have grown from my time in liminal spaces will serve you as well as they have served, and continue to serve me. These coping skills aren’t a recipe for happiness, but they are reflective guide posts to reference as we move through the dark together. If they resonate with you, I’d love to hear about it.