Recently, I saw the movie Inside Out – the latest and, in my opinion, the greatest Pixar film yet. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it; especially the main character’s journey through turmoil after her family relocates to San Francisco.
Back in Minnesota, Riley was a happy, popular preteen, excelling in hockey and a willing foil to her dad’s goofiness. In San Francisco, she loses everything that has defined her, save her family. Yet they don’t understand Riley’s despair. They just want her to be “happy.”
We, on the other hand, are privy to goings-on in Riley’s “Headquarters,” the seat of her emotional world, where Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear orchestrate her every waking hour. Through this clever device, we can see how often we are at the mercy of conflicted emotions, particularly when life throws curveballs our way.
Feeling a tangle of anger and sadness, yet having neither the tools nor perspective to handle it, Riley decides to run away.
The Journey into Limbo
How do we cope during a difficult time – a time that St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”? Sometimes referred to as liminal time, it’s also a period when “what was” is no longer relevant and “what’s next” awaits birth.
When I was 11, I lost my mother. I was suddenly uprooted from New Jersey and moved to Miami to live with my father and stepmother. Knowing hardly anyone there, I spent many evenings in my room, crying, lost and untethered. My loving father spent many of those evenings trying to comfort and assure me that things would be “okay,” that I would soon have new friends.
The angst of trying to “fit in” and not be an “outsider” was all thorns and fire. I faced the gargantuan task of reinventing myself – much like Riley – and I wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her, “It’s okay to feel sad and angry about it all. Things will be ‘okay.’”
Because things do become “okay” again. But, like Riley, we must first embrace our Sadness.
Finding Solace and Insight in the Liminal Time
There are many ways we find solace – and insight – as we move through dark passages. They’re different for everyone. For me, time in nature and helping others through my work are two constant sources of renewal.
And while I use other techniques – HeartMath and self-Reiki, among them – my main guide for the past 23 years has been meditation.
Why is meditation particularly helpful?
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is the clock time in which we spend most of our lives. Meditation puts us in kairos – internal time, unaffected by linear time as we know it. It’s during those still points when our soul guides us and the mind has an opportunity to connect to something deeper and perhaps mysterious.
I don’t sit on my cushion with the intent to solve problems, yet insights arise again and again. It’s as if chronos had hidden them away and kairos frees them – releases them to my conscious mind. Back in chronos, it’s my choice as to how to implement them – or not.
Of course, what works for me may not work for you – or work in the same way. What works for one is never the solution for all. So I reached out to some of my colleagues and asked them: What tools do you use to navigate through the in-between time of limbo. A sample of what they offered:
- Reading spiritual and inspiring texts
- Loving kindness (metta) meditation
- Contemplation while in nature
- Reciting the Serenity Prayer
- Deep relaxation practice
- Working with hands
- Practicing gratitude
- Walking meditation
- Guided imagery
- Hiking with dog
- Talk therapy
When you emerge from limbo, how do you know when you’ve crossed the threshold, from “not yet” to “now”?
In Inside Out, Riley has an intuitive knowing that the love she feels for her family trumps the pain that motivated her to run. Even as her bus has already left the station, she chooses to return home. And though life there isn’t instantly perfect, we perceive that her course correction, borne of love, was a wise one. She has emerged from limbo.
And when we emerge? There’s often a return of energy. A feeling of hope. A spark of excitement about that which inspires. A feeling of purpose, including a strengthening of faith in whatever you believe. A feeling of deep gratitude. And love.