"If at times it seems insane-
all the tears in searching;
Turning all your joy to pain-
In pursuit of learning."
~ Paul Weller (The Jam), Into Tomorrow
We are ever challenged to know where we are going, and exactly where we stand. In this culture of time-management and stereotyping, those who dare will fashion their apportioned hours to include quiet contemplation, and will consider the individuals around them beyond the limits of job descriptions or outward identities. And when our steps do not trail a clearly-delineated track, or even one that repeats an avenue familiar to our own personal experience, the prospect of one of those large tourists’ illustrated You Are Here diagrams might be consoling. Indeed, though a leap into the unknown, it is still more inviting to realize the metaphorical map as it unfolds. Perceptive fans of The Jam recall such rapid-fire syncopated statements as those quoted above, with respect to many of the tones of the New Wave’s advent- as something between cynicism and adventurousness (both were strong motifs in their era). An argument could be made for our persistent state of discontent. It makes sense. And it is easy to see what is lacking, more than what is really present and at our doorsteps. The pursuit of learning may taint the safer forms of happiness and status quo, however the pursuit itself can be a joy. Might the more daring perspective be to comprehend this day as a developing fulfillment of our longings already navigated? What of the palpable spaces that are between definable places?
Autumnal light and air exemplify transition. With each passing day of the early notices of the season, there is something of a surprise in the long shadows, chills, and earlier-than-expected receding light. When we long for change, its arrival could not be fast enough, and when change surprises us, we think ourselves unprepared. It is as though our days travel at varying speeds, deviating from our prescribed watches and calendars. And I’ve learned not to wish away time, particularly while noticing this rare opportunity to dwell within the process, to inhabit the voyage. At this moment, the challenge is in finding the sufficiency to distinguish between memory of what has been real, and unreasonable longings for fantasized notions. It’s good for me to call to mind that my humblest day-to-day life is something many people in significantly lesser straits wish they had. The pressing call is to revel in this often painful journey of joining place with place- and that demands quiet pauses. This morning, I remembered how one of my photographer friends, whose speciality was working with film, would lodge himself inside the processing machinery. He would routinely enter the network of cogs, pipes, hangers, racks, and tanks- in complete darkness- analyzing and making the process happen. It always impressed me, and this memory reminds me of how development occurs in sequential steps, and the value of being entirely present to the critical parts of the process, not just the "before and after."
This time, recollection is unlike previous meditations in which I needed to know my basic purpose. At this moment, it is to recall the valuable desert voyaging of the past in order to appreciate what is present; remember the distance covered while inhabiting the sense of arrival. Recalling the descent, when embodying the ascent. All of which is to say liminal spaces are to be appreciated, even the ones that make us squirm with anticipation. So I am attuning myself to thresholds as I recognize them. Being the spiritual life, a provisional, interim stage may be a physical place, a situation- or a way of experiencing life. Gas stations, laundromats, and store checkouts draw new connotations, as well as my response to the tint of today’s thickly overcast sky. I once had a figure-drawing professor who used to pace the room while all of us were furiously scribbling with our charcoal, saying, "enjoy your mistakes, and keep going." I thought he was crazy, because in my naïveté mistakes were something to avoid at all costs and they revealed nothing more than weakness. But wait. Training oneself to enjoy the liminal spaces is to not be so quick to assess the worth of life’s moments. The retraining is to unlearn the need to instantly judge all I see or experience, even if that’s the most reflexive response. Reveling in the journey means savouring the steps. And if I can clearly re-visit liminal spaces of a year ago (or two, or five, or ten), it becomes possible to courageously appreciate transition, and that vital sense of surrender is in welcoming change without judgment. Even if what I’m doing now is not what I could’ve imagined myself doing years ago. Isn’t that the essence of change?
Revisiting familiar threshold places helps to put the present into perspective. Not that it’s necessary- or even possible for everyone. There’s always been an element of both mystery and history when I walk by a former workplace, or apartment, or some location with personal significance. The element of meaning is entirely personal, and it is for us to choose to have our own "register of historic landmarks." Admittedly, the downside is a vulnerability in wishing to turn back the clock and live the past with these precious here-and-now moments. The upside comes in simply recalling places and life’s chapters, recognizing the value of "this or that happened, and I once worked there." In fact, the moment of this writing takes place on the front stoop of my home of twenty-two years. This massive 140-year-old Victorian granite stoop casts a dark silvery grey against the evening brick sidewalk red and the heavily-clothed maples along the paths. I am enjoying this space on its own terms, with nothing resisted or wished away. And what comes to mind in this twilight, after a most saturating work day, is an accumulating gratitude for a lifetime of safe passages, and the inevitable benefits of ground already covered. Amidst throes of overworked stress or depths of grief, it had not been possible to take such stock, but right now I can- right here on my well-trodden front stoop. Liminal spaces may be as tangible as 19th century masonry, or as fine as holding thoughts that came to you at the moment someone unwittingly said precisely the words you needed to hear. Indeed, transitional is definable place, rather than an empty void of "neither-nor" between events or circumstances we might sooner consider meaningful. Renewed perspective demands reflective time, so that outdated ideas might be redefined, and what had been can evolve into what can become. And returning to our own sources, the ones that speak most pronouncedly to us, provides reinforcement and renewing definitions of what adventure is, while we advance.