Tag Archives: edges

Liminal encounters

Edges are places of magic. The point where one thing stops and another begins, or the place of uncertainty that is neither quite one thing nor the other. Shores and wetlands are physical exemplars of the idea. The clear edge of where one body meets another, and the liminal emotionality of that meeting.

To be able to find the edges and liminal places, we have to be able to clearly recognise that one thing is distinct and separate from another, even if they blur when they meet. We must know the land and the sea to be able to see the luminal quality of the shore.

The need to divide and label seems to be a key part of how humans make sense of the world. We break things down into subcategories and ever finer delineations. It’s not enough to be a Druid. Reconstruction or romantic? Urban or feral? Contemplative or ritualistic? As though these are all firm boundaries and a Druid is a specific thing, a member of a discreet subcategory. In practice I find that the kind of Druid I am depends a lot on factors like where I am, who I’m with, what’s expected of me, the weather and my mood at the time.

If someone asks me to write a polytheistic poem for them, I will find the means within myself to do that. In the same week someone else could just as easily take some of my essays to put in a humanist/atheist collection (this has happened). I find it hard to wear any belief orientated labels. There are days when the language of deity makes sense to me, and days when it doesn’t. There are days when wearing a warm waterproof coat makes sense to me and days when it doesn’t, and I don’t think that comparison is unfair.

The sea is always itself, but the sea on a gentle summer’s day is not the same as the sea beset by a winter storm. The land is always the land, but in a mild growing season it looks and feels very different to how it is when gripped by slippery ice. Nothing exists in isolation. Nothing is entirely separate from the whole, yet all things are most easily understood when considered in terms of what makes them separate.

The same and not the same. Connected and separate. One great unity, distinct entities. There’s a paradox here that is essential and intrinsic to everything. I am not water, and yet without water, I would be nothing. A dry dust on the wind and no more. To know something is to go beyond what seems fixed and certain. To know the land in all seasons and all weathers, to know it wet, and frozen solid, to know it putting forth life, and decaying away. In the reconciliation of apparent opposites, there is often a new kind of truth.

“Know thyself”.  What is fixed and what is transient, what is of the season and of this week’s weather. Sometimes we need to define a thing to see where its edges are, and sometimes it is the experience of edges rubbing together that tells us about the limits. Skin again skin. Sea against shore.

Walking the borderlands

Edges and margins are always productive places. In a field, it’s the hedge and strip to either side of it that hold the most life and diversity. In a woodland, the edges, and the margins of glades are where life thrives. In terms of humans, being out at the edges is often where we have most scope to grow and learn, but edges are also scary places.

We have our boundaries for reasons. Inside them, we feel safe and we know what we’re doing. There’s a lot to be said for being comfortable, and the more time you spend uncomfortable and out of your depth, the more you come to value the calm, safer waters. Or at least, that has been my experience. Growth happens when we push our boundaries, but we don’t always want to grow. Indeed, sometimes we find that we can’t. We are finite creatures, and when we get excited about pushing the limits and growing, we easily forget that.

A casual acquaintance from a few years back told me that no matter what she did, she could not run more than ten miles without making herself really ill. We speculated that her body just wouldn’t store enough glycogen to carry her beyond that point. We are limited beings, and as John Michael Greer points out in his Mystery Teachings book, this is a good thing. Without limits and boundaries, we would be little piles of squidge! It is our physical limitations that allow us to be who and what we are.

There are limits in all things. Earlier this week I hit a brain burn-out. In the space of a couple of weeks I had written four stories, each about 5k, each with different settings and setups. I’d studied changing thinking on airport emissions and Staverton airport, and put together a piece (It’ll be on http://www.ruscombegreen.blogspot.com in a week or so) and I studied Green policies on housing and land use with a view to writing a report. I also read most of Glennie Kindred’s Earth Alchemy book for review, and read and reviewed some of Jay Ramsay’s lovely poetry. All of that whilst trying to juggle family demands over the festive period, put up a daily blog, manage my online teaching work and deal with the rest of life. There is only so much you can do with a brain before it hurts, and I hit it. I could have pushed beyond those edges, I have before. What it gets me is tired, ill, depressed and ever less able to think clearly, process new information or make good judgements. As this is entirely counter-productive, I took a break.

I can run my mind harder and faster than I could ten or twenty years ago. This whole slowing down as you age thing is bollocks. It’s a matter of use and intent. I’ve had exactly the same experience with my awkward body – I am in better shape than I was ten or twenty years ago, even. Regularly pushing the edges with both things has allowed me to keep growing. However, pushing continually beyond my boundaries just makes me ill. There are balances to strike.

For me the hardest area in which to deal with the boundaries has always been around the darker emotions. Pain and shame, guilt, loss, grief, fear, anger… these are not things I like feeling, and when I get beyond what I can cope with, I tend to switch off, plunging into the safe, numb waters of depression until I don’t feel so overwhelmed. It leaves me with a lot of things I have not entirely faced, and edges I have not explored. Push too hard into those and my whole body shuts down defensively, so it’s got to be baby steps, taken when everything else is calm, and when I know I can retreat safely at need.

Boundaries are good things. They hold us together. Edges are places of vitality and possibility. I get very tired of New Age books that invite us to explore boundless, limitless freedom because that way lies the pile of squidge, the formless, incapable amoeba self. There may be people for whom being limitless squidge would feel like joyful liberation. On the whole, I find learning to manage the limits of my body and mind a good deal more interesting than that kind of amorphous freedom.