by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.: My topic is about transitions or the stuff out of which life is made, liminal and archetypal situations…


The word “liminal” refers to being over the threshold but not through to the other side. It comes from the Latin word “limen” meaning that place in between. When you’re in a transition zone, you’re neither who you used to be before you got into this transition, nor have you crossed over that threshold to where you will be settled next. Sometimes those transitions are very long, as when people talk about being in dark tunnels and taking a long time to even see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is always an ending of one phase of your life in order to develop and grow into another phase.

I’ve been interested to pick up along the way what people are saying about transitions. The cocoon is a place where the caterpillar totally dissolves; it is insolutio in the alchemical model of dissolving into the water, or the emotional side of life. Then it moves on, and from that beginning a butterfly forms in the chrysalis — that in between place that is neither caterpillar nor butterfly. I’d like to examine that whole notion of the middle phase. You don’t know whether it is the ending or the beginning. You don’t know whether it is a womb or a tomb. This is the whole image of the return to the earth. In the beginning is the end and the whole cycle.

Every time there is a major transition in your life, and you are in that in between place, you are in the chrysalis and you haven’t yet emerged into the next place. What is interesting to me is how you gather those pieces together when you are insolutio. What you chose to keep and what you chose to leave has a lot to do with what pieces form and move into the next stage with you.

There’s a very simple myth that applies to all of us at every major stage of life (when we want to be approved of, to be accepted, to have the right friends, or get into that right club or degree program, etc.) Whenever we have an idea of goal, whenever we have a feeling, it’s about destination and not about journey. Then we encounter and live out the myth of Procrustes and his bed — a very short myth.