Open to change: the liminal state

Eight years ago, I got a phone call: a woman I knew asked if I was interested in working for a Buddhist-run business, based in a retail park in Cambridge.  “Are you busy?” she asked. I hesitated: I was standing in a carpark in Bolton, outside TKMaxx. “Not especially.”

I’d just finished nine months of an MA in writing for TV: it was competitive and intense. After study and unpaid work, I needed income, and this was the only job offer I’d had in months. It was in the opposite direction to what I’d been doing: England’s a small country but this was the other side. However, I was a committed Buddhist, I could write anywhere, and this was a fresh adventure.

Eight weeks and a lot of packing later, I found myself in the front bedroom of a shared house off the A14. There were several good luck cards, two bunches of flowers, a sagging mattress and a bare light bulb.  I’d gone from my own home, and car, and aspirations to ‘my London agent’, to navigating bus routes and a kitchen with separate food cupboards. The job, the city, the people, were all unfamiliar. I didn’t have my things about me. I was out of my comfort zone and out of my depth.  The only thing more depressed than me was the mattress on which I tried to sleep, hoping that tomorrow things would improve.

Depression and disorientation

Andre Gide said, one does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. I lost sight of more than the shore. As the excitement of my adventure faded, replaced by loneliness and uncertainty, I think what I found hardest was not recognising myself as this unsure, unstable person. I was disorientated and didn’t realise how much I relied on my internal compass, or how to right myself when it was missing.

People were kind and welcoming but, as the months passed, another factor emerged: I was brought in to create change but met resistance. I’d made my decision in eight weeks; this organisation was conservative, making changes gradually, over years. I hadn’t thought to agree timing, or measures or review: things that now form my contract with clients.

I felt lost and didn’t understand why.  I blamed myself for lack of foresight, when I came across a word that explained everything: liminal, a time of transition, open to something new, but not yet there.  From the Latin for threshold, the liminal state is “characterised by ambiguity, openness and indeterminacy” (Wikipedia). It is that moment on the doorstep, not quite in or out.  As we open to something new, we can lose more than we bargain for; “one’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation.”  Our character is built by patterns of behaviour, formed by choice and environment; when those change, we must get to know ourselves again. Am I the type of person who lives like this? Who does this job?  Although I wanted to make it work, the support I needed was not in place. Nine months later, I came home.


Looking back, that was the start of my desire to understand myself, to find theories that describe how I feel, and share what I learn.  It wasn’t change that hurt me, but the unrealistic idea that I could adapt overnight, and thrive.  This year, I’m developing workshops that bring together different approaches, from Buddhism to CBT, to support and inform us at times of change. I’ll share them and blog what I learn at #OpentoChange