Happy New Year to you all, it feels like we have crossed some arbitrary threshold based on the Gregorian Calendar from the debris of 2023 into the unknown and precarious expanses of a new year and who knows what it will bring, but my prayer is for peace – both personal and global for all of us, and a shift towards a mature response towards planetary health and global conflict.
So, what does it look and feel like to enter the liminal space passing over the threshold. In my book Wild Life I talk about what happens at the threshold as being the place where the golden corn is brought in, the place where the whole community gather to witness and participate in an ancient ritual; a metamorphosis, and it is this metamorphic aspect that is key to understanding threshold experience. When corn/grain is cultivated it is growing ‘a golden treasure in the field’, rooted in the soil, drinking water and sunlight, it is still in the domain of the wild gods; of Pan, Ceres (from where we get cereal) and John Barleycorn, it is untamed and inedible. By harvesting it, bringing it to the threshing floor, we literally beat it to death with sticks and then grind it up to powder, to alchemical gold dust, it is transformed into the domesticated flour to make bread; the staff of life. When we cross the forest threshold we are, in a sense reversing that process, undomesticating ourselves, rewilding our psyches, re-membering our wild mind, foregrounding our instinctive self that seeks connection with life in all its manifestations.
There is no way to predict or pre-determine this transition, it is distinct from the very deliberate threshold of intention we may set individually or with a group, where participants have a choice to leave their worries behind and step over a physical boundary. Both can lead to the same outcome – it is the threshold in the mind that needs crossing to enter this imaginal realm.
As practitioners sometimes all we have to do is to offer permission, to make the subtlest of suggestions, merely an indication of welcome, of stepping beyond, that invitation to regain the magic freedom of childhood, and to shed skins, like heavy–laden old overcoats thrown off – unshackling ourselves simply by passing over and across the threshold that is in physical representation. Our participants are eager to step beyond the mundane, beyond the chronic coping and conforming, and into a curious surrender, handing over control to the wild force.
Here is an excerpt from one of our graduate’s sessions introducing threshold to a client:
‘I got as far as finding a Threshold to step/climb/crawl through, and Kate* was off. I did continue to explain that we would examine it, touch it, come to understand it, before stepping through, yet I could see that Kate was no longer with me – she was utterly absorbed in finding her Threshold.
I abandoned trying to explain ‘my’ Invitation, as it was obvious she had a clear and compelling journey of her own in mind, that presented itself to her in that moment, and I needed to stand back and let her shape it.’
*not her real name.
The feeling is one of being led by the hand through the forest without conscious control, senses become acute, noticing things sharply as never before, each phenomena glowing with iridescence and sentience. This is animism at play, our sensory apparatus reaching out into unseen realms of consciousness and vitality, and being met with the warm embrace of Woodbine, Ivy and Honeysuckle. The Christian mystic writer Cynthia Bourgeault, when describing the imaginal realms, is similarly enchanted by this quality of light and aliveness…’interpenetrating, cohering, filling things with the fragrance of implicit meaning…’ she proceeds to describe how these imaginal or more subtle realms of energy can influence us.
‘Experientially, received within one’s own quiet subjectivity, it appears as an allusive aliveness, a meaning presenting itself in “glimpses and visions,” a foretaste or reminder of a higher order of being to which the human heart actually belongs to and from which it responds, with infinite tug. The imaginal nudges us, beacons us, corrects us as we stray from our authentic unfolding, rewards us with dazzling glimpses and reassurances of that “other intensity” to which we truly belong, and in whose light the meaning of our earthly journey will ultimately be revealed, like the treasure buried in the field.’
A question may then arise of who is the crosser of the threshold, who is this person and how are they different on either side of the portal or membrane, what qualities of being and aliveness do we encounter within and without ourselves in this experience? How are we changed, and ultimately how may we retain a small reminder of this ‘aliveness’ when we must return to our ordinary lives?
We hear about returning via a threshold of incorporation, but I strongly resist this idea, preferring to let the magic unfold organically, not needing to signify the transition back to everyday existence, like leaving the salt on your skin after a glorious dip in the sea. Another example of how I’m affected by the forest is that I don’t sense any energy discord when I enter, but struggle with roads and technology and urbanism when I leave the woods behind, so something has shifted, softened, recalibrated – if only we could stay in that state.
Our complex, harsh lives may gradually erode or pollute our sensitised bodies, and so we must return again to the woods as Thoreau reminds us: ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’
This realm that we enter, or seek, or fall into, this land beyond the threshold is real, it is an objective reality, not merely a psychic manifestation. It is a subtle place beyond the margins of ordinary consciousness and yet it comprises an ontological reality, a generative causality that initiates significant shifts in consciousness and influences our outward reality when we are ready for change. It can come to us in dreams, visions, metaphors and symbols – think of the early Christians and others who may spend days alone in the desert or wilderness, or on an island or in a cave. Nature communes with the communicant, offers graciously the Eucharist.
At this time of year we often construct elaborate New Year’s resolutions, and like me draw huge spider diagrams and lists of various departments of my life, seeking to concretise our hopes and ambitions for the year ahead. Yet to change can be so hard for us, we may want to change, understand the need for change (get out of that destructive relationship/stay and commit to that loving relationship and stop the pattern of running away etc.) and may see how we are sabotaging ourselves, but somehow all our efforts to change merely lead us back to where we find ourselves enmeshed in conundrums and cages of pain and limitation.
I think our efforts to change are thwarted because they arise from the same level of consciousness that happily maintains the familiar status quo, John O’Donaghue comments on this too –
To change is one of the great dreams of every heart – to change the limitations, the sameness, the banality, or the pain. So often we look back on patterns of behaviour, the kind of decisions we make repeatedly and that have failed to serve us well, and we aim for a new and more successful path or way of living. But change is difficult for us. So often we opt to continue the old pattern, rather than risking the danger of difference. We are also often surprised by change that seems to arrive out of nowhere.
This reluctance or resistance to change can be frustrating for those around us who can see only too clearly what we need to do, and I think it is because we cannot step outside of ourselves and see the whole picture, see our patterns of habitual self-sabotage or limitation, we cannot see an alternative to our patterns of dealing with life, our personalities resort to the known and trusted methods of avoiding change, whilst attempting to initiate change.
Crossing the threshold then becomes a potent opportunity to stand outside of ourselves, to witness our existences from an angel’s perspective and have compassion towards our suffering. We are not imprisoned within our conditioned perspectives in the liminal or imaginal space in Nature, we are able to see, to have vision, and take that gift back with us, that glimpse of higher us.
This is not a selfish act of individual transformation, this is the Universe speaking direct to our hearts, this is part of our collective evolutionary journey as participants in the universal story. When we are attuned to the offerings and messages within Nature we can achieve heightened states of consciousness without resort to entheogenic substances – we simply plug direct to source as part of our planetary and inter-planetary unfolding. Nature encourages us to open and soften our hearts and I will leave the final words to the wonderful John O’ Donoghue –
‘Each life is a mystery that is never finally available to the mind’s light or questions. That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be. To sense and trust this primeval acceptance can open a vast spring of trust within the heart. It can free us into a natural courage that casts out fear and opens up our lives to become voyages of discovery, creativity, and compassion. No threshold need be a threat, but rather an invitation and a promise.
Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust.’