Liminal time

Melbourne has been in Stage 4 lockdown for a few weeks now. Exercise once a day for a maximum of an hour; shopping for essentials once a day and only one person; only within a 5 km radius. And a curfew from 8:00 at night to 5:00 in the morning. Businesses have been severely curtailed, with only essential work to be carried out and workers needing a permit to show they are essential.

Mask-wearing has been mandatory for about a month, and most people are complying.

Our borders with NSW and South Australia are closed.

Fortunately these very strict measures seem to be bringing the numbers down, although our elderly in residential care have had a very tragic time. You might like to read my last post about our Elders.

And me? Thank you for asking! I feel that I have been doing this for ever, and indeed it has been a long time…..Day 47 today. My postcode was one of the hotspots that had to go into Stage 3 lockdown on 2nd July. A little over a week later there was a Melbourne wide Stage 3 order. Numbers weren’t coming down so Stage 4 restrictions were put in place. So 47 days of sheltering at home.

Even looking further back, there was never a time since the end of the first lockdown where I felt really comfortable being out ~ although I did have a chance to meet up with my Mum in June, and that was delightful. So I feel like I have been inside my house since mid-March.

It has been a very odd time. I am sure that every single one of us feels the same ~ this strange time, this between time. This liminal time.

Liminal time is a concept I have just come across, but to me it sums up this time so well, and in a strange way gives me consolation.

Liminality is the state of being between, being just on the verge of something, understanding that this time and place feels out of the normal. It is leaving the known, the familiar, but not being in the new.

Long haul air travel (remember that?!) is an example. Once you walk through the departure gates you experience liminal time, where the old has been left behind, but you haven’t arrived at the new, your destination. You are in a between time, way beyond your familiar.

Richard Rohr says it is “when you have left, or are about to leave the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.”

So the coronavirus has forced all of us to experience liminal time, even those who are not now in quarantine. We have been forced to let go of our old lives and plans, but we have no idea of what our ‘new normal’ will be like. What will the economy be like? Will there be jobs? Will there be my job? Will my lovely Melbourne ever be lively and bustling again? Will the familiar patterns still exist? Will we travel overseas again? Will we ever be free of this virus? Will we……? The questions go on, because we have no idea.

Our sense of time has changed. How often have we said “What day is it today?”? Time feels like wading through sand and yet skidding over the top of the waves. Even our language to measure time is different ~ when this is over; when we have flattened the curve; when we have slowed down the spread, when we are back at the footie/concert/ballet. Or, as I am doing, measuring the time as days sheltering at home, rather than the days on the calendar.

This in-between time is a very difficult time for many people. It is riddled with anxiety, uncertainty, an unsafe time. Someone I read said that maybe this is why humans have built extensive rituals around these times ~ rites of passage, the change of seasons, even things like 21st birthdays, and graduations. The rituals are often guided by the elders and done in the community. To use that very overworked phrase, these are unprecedented times and so we have no rituals to soothe us.

My experience though is a little different. I am not going to loose a job, or be evicted, or be forced into bankruptcy. At this stage everyone I love is safe and secure. I have a comfortable, warm house and I can shelter in place with lots of things to keep me occupied. I feel safe, even though my future is unknown, and unknowable.

But not always easy. It is a sombre time. It is winter here in Melbourne, so the cold, grey, still days have perfectly matched the time. It’s a quiet time and a reflective time, but an anxious time.

It seems to me that liminal time is not limbo. There is movement and change, we just can’t see the final outcome. Like the pupa stage of a butterfly’s life. Which is not to say that at the end of this there will be a beautiful butterfly. Life at the moment is a shit-show and what emerges from the pupa could be mean and ugly. Or beautiful. Or a mixture. All we can say is that it won’t be the same.

It is understanding that I am in this strange between time that anchors me. The familiar has become the unfamiliar and will turn into the unexpected. Strangely, knowing that gives me some comfort, which I think it comes from relinquishing control. All I can control is me, and even that requires some letting go. I am thinking of the shape of my future life, although, because I am in liminal time, it can only be the vaguest of outlines. However, to reach the end of this lockdown I have reduced my expectations of myself ~ things like finding comfort in creating, doing simple drawings and sewing, things that feel right; laughing every day; being in the fresh air; connecting with others. Celebrating making it to end of the day.

I hope you are doing okay in these times. Remember to ask for help if you are not. If you are interested in knowing more about liminal time, just ask Lord Google. You may even come across liminal space, spaces between, like stairwell and schools after everyone has gone. Those places that have an odd feel to them.

I also found this podcast with Alain de Botton really interesting and surprisingly positive. One of the things he talks about is ‘constructive pessimism’ ~ bringing our worst fears into the power of the light. Instead of saying “It will be okay” ask “Will I be able to get through this?”, “Will I be able to bear this?” and “Will I be able to endure the worst?”. The answers will probably be “Probably”.

Stay well, stay safe.

By anne54

Botanic artist

48 replies on “Liminal time”

Beautifully written (as usual!) Anne and I love your labeling it as liminal time. Like you I am fortunate enough to not need to worry about my job, my home – my pension comes in automatically whether I stay in bed all day or work my socks off and my home is bought and paid for. Like you I have plenty to keep me occupied.

I know from experience that it is healthier to face fears head on, acknowledge how scary they are and then work out what I can do to deal with them. Some time ago I decided to plan for my advanced old age whatever that may look like and however long I live. I looked at what might go wrong and how I could build my resilience. This pandemic has been the first big test and whilst not perfect my strategies have worked well enough. Knowing I had a plan was a great help to relaxing and riding it out.

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Demon fears need to be brought into the light. My greatest fear is that the Fella will have to go into hospital, and that I would not be able to be with him. I had to work through that, including the emotion of it, and it has helped me face it. I also worked out a plan.
Your idea of a plan for living your life as you want is a great one. Maybe I should use some of this time to work out options.

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I completely understand you worrying about the fella’s health at the moment. Having someone you love in hospital is hard enough without being unable to visit.

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Liminal time does pass differently, don’t you find? At a different speed, with a different texture, with more hooks and barbs to snag your attention on the minutiae of life. ‘Normal’ life is a smooth, swollen flood in which we bob along at speed, scarcely noticing what’s happening to left and right as we navigate the racing waters. I do miss ‘permission to touch’. Humans are meant to be, are designed to be, tactile creatures and I’m not sure we aren’t slowly being made a little crazy by having this basic need denied.

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That’s a perfect description, Kate. I wondered if much fewer (if any?) restrictions in FNQ meant that you would see this time differently. Apparently not. I guess there is still the sense of waiting for a vaccine, until this is over.
Not touching is hard. I feel for those in nursing homes, where the only touch is often someone unknown kitted out in full PPE. Of course they do their best, but it is not the same as having your daughter hold your hand. However, it is not really a problem for me at the moment, as I am not seeing anyone but the Fella. The temptation to hug friends and family is not there!

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I really like the concept of liminal time – thank you. πŸ™‚
Like you, I’m safe and comfortable, and all my irritations are either teensy weensy, or political. The former are not worth worry about; the latter has to be chewed in small bites. I have to admit though, I have no idea how long it’s been. At this point I’m just happy if I know what day of the week it is. πŸ˜€
Stay well.

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Humans love to label and categorise things, don’t we? I find it reassuring to know that there is a name for this. It will be interesting (there’s that word!) to see what out new life is like.
Oh, the politics of all this! In the first wave, when we really were all in this together, it was heartening to see the federation working. Now I can’t bear the blaming and individual jostling. I have to just let it wash over me.
I am glad that all is well with you Meeks. You stay safe too.

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Yes, labels and categories. They give us the illusion of control, and I guess that’s how our brains are hardwired too. What bothers me is that reality isn’t made of those neatly delineated ‘boxes’. Reality is a messy continuum like the spectrum of visible light. Put it all together and it’s ‘white’. Look a little closer though and it’s every colour and shade of colour imaginable. And that’s just the light that our small, insignificant species can actually see.
My Mum used to have a saying – “I wish I could be 20 again with the head I have now”. Meaning wisdom and experience. If I could be 20 again and starting out as a teacher, I’d stop drumming facts into kids heads and make them see the ‘rainbow’.
Hmm…I’m blaming you and the bright sunshine for that foray into philosophy! lol

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That’s a vivd description Meeks. I will have to sit with that one.
Hmmm, I am blaming liminal time and the gloomy days we have been having. Today looks like it has chased any sunshine away. ~hugs~

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Gloomy here as well. Hard to believe it was bright and sunny just a few days ago. I keep telling myself that the sun will return soon enough and then we’ll start praying for rain but…even I’m ready for some sun now! lol


Excellent posting with much to think about. I will be googling and reading up on liminal time πŸ™‚ Thank you for your thoughts. It’s hard to think of you experiencing your winter while we are in summer and a level 4 is pretty intensive restrictions. But worth the prevention of more spread and deaths

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I am pleased the concept resonated with you Sharon. I would be curious to know how it fits with your life and thoughts at the moment. Stage 4 is intensive, but I am relieved that our government is taking this seriously, and getting numbers down. I suppose you have the added anxiety of knowing that the virus is circulating in high numbers.
Stay safe.


How interesting that just before I woke up this morning just before reading your marvellous post, in bed with a coffee as is my habit I dreamed I was in an airport and was entertained enough until I wanted to leave and couldn’t find my way out.
An apt analogy for the liminality of Covid restrictions. I’m pleased you are faring well enough. We are similarly placed in the present moment, although not under lockdown, but we are cautious. Hotspots of known cases are popping up within NSW and we are realistic about the existence of unknown cases. It feels very strange on the few occasions we venture from the safety of home… initially trepidatious, then exhilarated, quickly satiated by our circumscribed activities, afterwards grateful to return to our bubble tired from the extra vigilance that is now habitual, a hint of our new normal. How quickly accustomed we’ve become to providing and preferring the majority of our home comforts rather than looking externally for the few we outsourced pre-covid. Right now we are focussing on garden and projects. But forever? What of plans and people? An unknown future awaits us but we will navigate that part just as we have this.

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Oh that’s a most appropriate dream!
I understand your caution, and your pleasure with your bubble. I miss being able to do the simple things, like sitting and chatting with friends and family, like meandering through the city and art galleries, like sitting on the tram and seeing the world go past. I am hoping that they can be included in whatever the new normal is. Obviously I will have control over some, like meeting up with friends (but will our favourite coffee shop still be there?). However, I fear that Melbourne will not be the same.


The idea of liminal time resonated as soon as I heard about it, as it seems to explain so much. So I am pleased that it helps sort out some of the mix-ups in your mind. It is a very difficult time, and I think we are scrambling to make some sense of it. The airport analogy is a good one, but not an original one from me though. There is a lot of interesting reading about liminal time if you wish to dig deeper.
Stay safe.


Across the ditch in New Zealand, community cluster resurfaced and bingo we are back to L/3 in Auckland region and L/2 rest of the country. The general election has been postponed. The regulations I’m trying to follow but it’s still very jumbled, as it’s not much like the previous L/3!

During the previous L/4 – I finally managed to carve out some type of life, although when we got to L/3 & 2 & 1 my head space got a deep fog. I’ve only just surfaced from that a week before this new arena kicked in and now ….I’m just doing the best I can!

I seem to be on top (most of the time) on time and day – the date is only because my computer tells me. I know where to get things from – via contactless delivery but at the moment, all good on food stuffs…and I do have enough art supplies πŸ™‚

Like Anne, it’s still winter here – although we’ve had some nice next season days, today looks blustery and cold – out of the window. That’s why I leave my walk until early afternoon…spend an hour in my now restricted local ‘hood – no nice lake or beach or even wooded area like many have access to but that too will come again…

I can’t seen to see that the “liminal time” will actually come to a close, if we keep skipping back/forwards on the Levels which each time don’t seem to quite the same. And of course “my hair needs a cut” and I’ve a bit older possibly wiser.

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It must be quite disheartening Catherine. New Zealand had been doing well. However, the early, tough stance you are all taking will get things under control. The in-and-out of restrictions does seem hard, doesn’t it, and must be so much harder for someone trying to run a business. In a strange way the tough rules are comforting, because they are clear. In other levels, or even none, we are constantly have to make risk assessments for each encounter.
I am wondering about the end of liminal time too. How will we know we have got through this? When we are all vaccinated? When the economy has a good chance to get running and stay that way? When we can mix confidently? When we feel stronger, less anxious?
Keep creating my friend!

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Thank you Jo…there is so much there to think about. I will certainly follow the link. And you have made me wonder about artists and liminal time. Each time we begin a piece we are leaving the familiar and entering into the unfamiliar, and usually don’t have a clear idea of where we will end up. So is liminal time a creative time? Now I realise you spoke of liminal space….another layer to think about!


I have just read the article Jo. It helps me understand so much more, especially why I feel that while I am waiting, I am not being passive. Thank you again for the link.


I am so sorry you are stuck in stage 4 lockdown -it sounds tough but at least you can take exercise. I have found since I can walk again (after breaking my leg & ankle in March) that it helps my mental health enormously! Thing is we all know that we could be facing this again very soon too! I hope the numvbers drop fast and the lockdown ease soon!! At least you will be heading into spring/summer soon and that might help.

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It must be so good to walk again, Emma ~ although I wonder if you have gone back, or will go back, to that place where you had the accident. You must have traversed liminal time when you were immobile. Exercise is a wonderful thing, and I am grateful that I can walk beyond the streets.
The not knowing what restrictions are coming is a very unnerving time….but seeing numbers rising too is also a time of anxiety. Stay well.

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Yes, it great being able tomove around under my own steam even if it is slow and tires me out. No I havent been back to the woods where I had my accident. Strangely, I dont feel the need to. Lockdown was odd for me because I was pretty much limited to one room for 3 months. I was very envious of people who could go outside to take exercise. I hope the numbers of cases around you start falling off soon.

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They are falling, but not enough to lift Stage 4. That is still a few weeks away. It would have been a strange experience to have been isolated in isolation. I am glad you are able to move now.

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Thanks for the reblog 😘 … and the shout out about my art ….not that there is much happening there. I am pleased that the thoughts about liminal time resonated with you. I hope you are doing well, my friend.

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…interesting, and possibly depressing thoughts, if one lets them be so. I am sorry for the situation in Melbourne. I love the few vignettes/photos of the place, and much of your art… be well….that’s saying a lot these days….


Thanks for your thoughts. It is difficult to see Melbourne empty and lifeless, but something will emerge. Not that I have been out of my suburb for many months!


‘Tis most unusual to arrive here via ‘Letters from Athens’ since I have lived most of my life in Australia and am domiciled in the Southern Highlands south of Sydney. As all of us have, methinks there has not been a day since the word Covid first arrived in our lives that I have not read some thoughts on the matter. I have perused your post twice and enjoyed it (if I ma use the word) and related to it more than at any other time before. I can so accept the word ‘liminal’ and like its use in describing an aeroplane journey . . . the time we are ‘in between’ ! That actually feels very positive for me . . . we know the plane journey wilt come to an end I also have been fortunate working from home as always, studying, buying on line . . . my way of life . . .I also am a ‘touchy-feely’ person but somehow can smile as yet another mail drops in from overseas with a pile of virtual flowers and a ‘hug’ . . . that will do . . . meanwhile this will go to some friends who will enjoy . . .


Thanks for dropping by. I am glad that this concept resonated with you too. I am still exploring the idea, even in my art. That’s something I have never done before. Jo’s link, in a comment above, is really interesting. It is an article that I will come back to.
What a lovely surprise it must be to have those virtual flowers in the mail. We take comfort from so many different ways now, don’t we?


Wow, Anne! This is beautifully written and thought-provoking. There is a lot to think about. I was not familiar with this term before reading your blog, though I can recall many times when I felt this way. Travel is a great example, and I think crossing time zones or changing clocks, too. For those of us in our later years of life, it’s hard to imagine what the future holds. Of course, none of us are guaranteed a tomorrow, but we live by planning and looking forward to the things we enjoy. Thanks for writing this. It’s resonated with all your readers.

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You are so right, Alys, to say that nothing is certain or guaranteed, even in the best of times. However, I think that we felt we had some control over our lives and a sense of where we were heading. Now that is all out the window, at best any plans are put on hold and at the worst the future looks very bleak. We are grieving for our lost lives and racially the lost dreams. However, we can control our own thoughts and actions, like you are doing with your amazing, practical support for homeless women. ~hugs~


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