Last time we discussed the first step of initiation, i.e., Separation. Today we’ll conclude with steps 2) Liminality and 3) Integration.
When our former sense of identity is further dissolved, when we’re drifting in uncharted waters floating through a ghostlike existence being ‘betwixt and between’, neither here nor there and feeling utterly lost, we enter the second phase of the initiation called “liminality”. We get bombarded with spontaneous images of death, decay, decomposition, dissolution, nihilism, etc. At this point the instructions are simple, “Don’t panic!” It’s not time to listen to Sartre when he says, “You can chose not to be.” Nor is it time to impulsively “solve the problem” and go for the “quick fix” by getting married, divorced, leaving a job, running overseas, etc.
During this period of liminality the unconscious comes to our aid by delivering dreams with great power, if we can only listen. In the first half of life what we claim as characteristics belonging “to me” become the Persona, what we disclaim as characteristics as “not me” become the Shadow.
Now it’s time to become conscious of all those rejected parts of ourselves (i.e., power trips, arrogance, selfishness, greed, etc.) as well as our yet unlived potential and creativity. The therapeutic response at this stage is neither action nor passivity, but an attitude called “alert reflection”.
The goal is to become deeply aware of our inner psychic landscape including images of the abyss, the divine, purgatory and its demons without identifying with any of it. What is called for is a combination of psychological awareness and detachment. As new soulfulness is painfully and slowly being born, it’s very important for the therapist not to be heroic and attempt to rearrange furniture in the patient’s psyche, but to practice the art of midwifery and provide what author ‘Winnicott’ calls a “therapeutic holding environment”. During this transitional phase the focus is on wholeness not primarily on ego happenings. What is worked on is a transformation of consciousness. The frustrating and painful part is that liminality doesn’t only last months, but sometimes years.
Slowly a new vision is sent to us by the inner wisdom of the unconscious. Our souls send us dreams with symbols of re-birth and images of light in our vast darkness. As liminality comes to a close we gradually feel stronger of who we are and what we want to do. Aimless wandering becomes more purposeful and we see new possibilities for the future.
New and lost creative parts of ourselves, which were “foreign” to us during the separation phase and we struggled with during liminality now become more integrated. If we’re successful, we no longer “play to the audience” in search of external affirmation. Inner validation becomes more important and we become more connected to our own inner personal code of honor. We recognize that wholeness implies imperfection. The Shadow remains, but we’re more conscious and hold ourselves more accountable. We’re both more complex and more flexible. We’re much more aware of our own power trips and how they’ve disrupted our lives.
The incubation period is over and a “new self”, which always includes soulful parts of our old self, has to be tended and nurtured into the external world. We live with less narcissistic self-involvement and do service. We’ve become our own therapist. At it’s best, psychotherapy provides a container for this modern rite of passage and initiation ritual.
Dr. Peter Milhado © 2011