The Nomadic Limbo Dance

Can we learn to tolerate a life in limbo? What helps smooth the edges of life in this indeterminate state? Try these first steps.

Eve Dance of the NomadI woke up, looked at my bedside, and realized I had no idea where I was. I think that officially qualifies me for nomad status. This has been a summer of ‘go with the flow’. And frankly, life in limbo feels open and liberating—yet ambiguous and at times, messy.

‘Go with the flow’ sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But we tend to have personal habits and rules that can constrict our sense of freedom even on the open road. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place,’ that uplifting homily from the Victorian era, is not only unreasonable; it’s downright impossible when moving from place to place. Tracking your stuff takes energy. At best, it feels random; at worst chaotic.

Even I, who excels at organizational skills, must throw my need for order out the window at a time like this. At one point, my mother swore she’d never share a hotel room with me ever again. For exactly this reason – she couldn’t tolerate the mess. Me? I kind of love the mess. As long as it’s contained in a reasonable time frame. I even taught my sister-of-the-orderly-home that it’s perfectly acceptable to make a mess of a hotel room while traveling.

For many of us, this time of year is a period of ‘liminality,’ a time of movement and shifting. In neurological psychology the liminal state is when you are on a threshold between two planes, a period of transition where normal limits to self-understanding and behavior are relaxed. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, and it can be disorienting. The good news is that liminality can often lead to new perspectives.

If your life feels a little on the messy side: if your child is going off to college—or you’re moving across country to a new job—or you’re retiring from your life’s work, uncertain about your next purpose, it all feels kind of unsettling. How is it possible to feel to be so full, yet empty; waiting for the next phase of life to refill our glasses?

Can we learn to tolerate a life in limbo? What helps smooth the edges of life in this indeterminate state? Try these first steps:

1) Fall in love with your life by accepting it exactly as it is, mess and all.

2) Today, just for this moment, tolerate the disarray.

3) Notice any new perspectives that begin to show up under the limbo pole.

Metaphorically, even in the Caribbean limbo dance, we want to triumph over life and emerge with our head held high.We tend to want to remain in control, by fastidiously writing to-do lists, folding our clothes with perfect creases, setting our intentions and mapping our courses. The truth? Not one of us knows how this limbo phase will play out. The secret may be to lean into the messy middle.

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