Covid-19: What’s My Purpose? How Can I Belong?

Living Liminality

Apr 16, 2020

odern culture venerates the new. Yet, there’s a reason wisdom from the past is still part of today’s discourse. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about struggle, conflict and pestilence. They would have recognized Covid-19 as a plague, just as we do. Yet, we also have an opportunity to use their wisdom to clarify our purpose in the face of it. They used rituals, such as rites of passage, to find belonging and purpose in times of uncertainty and large transition. Because that’s what the global Covid-19 pandemic is: a liminal experience, where we are between who we were and who we are to become, as a society.

The Liminal Collective team, in collaboration with Collective contributors Preston Cline, Sue Phillips and Peter Rea, has taken the opportunity to share insights from ancient wisdom to shed some light on our current situation. This is the first in a series of articles on the topic: What’s my purpose? How can I belong?

The reality of the Covid-19 threat is being realized across nations, communities, families, and at a personal level. Its impact has rapidly engendered a new existence characterized by daily struggles; at its worst, grief or trauma, and at best, uncertainty. People we care about - strangers we learn we care about - are being struck by the death of loved ones, the challenge of caring for the sick, the fear for family on the front lines, and concern for an unknown future where necessities like food, employment and housing are at risk.

This situation has profoundly challenged our ways of being and thinking. People are searching for meaning and purpose, because those seem to promise a sense of stability. They are looking for tools that can help them navigate difficult, uncertain times. They are seeking to reconcile a former reality with a diametrically different current reality. Where is their life narrative, their understanding of family, community and society, and what will the uncertain future hold? In short: What does all this mean? What is our purpose? How can we belong? This could also be expressed as Who am I? Whose am I? and What am I for?

While we cannot pretend to have all the answers, across the Liminal Collective community, we have the privilege of learning from many individuals who have, in their own way, navigated periods of uncertainty, loss and chaotic change. Their experiences inform a number of insights on what we’re all living today. We thought we’d share them.

Go easy on yourself. Go easy on others. Tell your tale. Try and do a few things well. We’ll get through this. 

Living liminality

When we formalized our community under the name Liminal Collective, we did it consciously.

We borrowed the term, liminal, from the Latin limin-, which carries the meaning of “threshold” or “intermediate state”. The concept was popularized by Van Gennep in his study, Les rites of passage (Van Gennep, 1909), as one of three phases that comprise rites of passage: préliminaire (preliminary), liminaire (liminal) and post-liminaire (post-liminal). The liminal phase was subsequently carried forward in the studies of anthropologist Victor Turner at the end of the last century.

Liminality is significant to the Liminal Collective team because of our many personal experiences of transition across boundaries or thresholds, and our leadership of others in intermediate states and similar circumstances. Helping others through phases of liminality is what we do.

We would also suggest that liminality, under Covid-19 lockdown, is significant to you. If you are asking why you are feeling so disconcerted - if you’re seeking meaning in what is going on - then one answer is that you are living through a transitional period in your life. You are living liminality.

Go easy on yourself and tell your story

It’s clear that if we are living liminality, we are undergoing a period of transition. It should help just to acknowledge that fact, because putting a name on something makes it more tangible. It should also help to know that this situation will not go on forever - a period of transition is necessarily temporary.

So what else might you do to get through this period of transition?

We think there are two answers to this question. Both are practical, because - while searching for meaning can in itself be a destabilizing, uncertain endeavor - taking action carries a sense of direction:

1. Give yourself a purpose

A purpose gives you something to do. Everyone gets to decide what their purpose is in this transitional time - spend more quality time with the kids, change the way we work, care better for the elderly around us, be more community-spirited..the list is inexhaustible. However, this is a marathon, not a sprint, so we would suggest you go easy on yourself. Many of us have gone from trying to live the perfect, productive life - perfect parents, perfect professionals, perfecting ourselves as we dash from one task to another. Nowadays, we’re doing less dashing, but many of us have yet to release ourselves from the pressure of perfection.

2. Seek ways of belonging

No matter how unique or challenging your personal situation, others are going through unique and challenging situations for a similar reason. AsMatthew Crebbin says, we all are driven to tell our story and to belong to part of a larger story. And this sense of belonging is healthy. Since the earliest times, when our ancestors told their stories around the campfire, they have been weaving their tale into the bigger narrative of community and humanity. Today, Zoom or Instagram or a simple phone call may be our campfire, but the experience is equally as warming.

Go easy on yourself. Go easy on others. Tell your tale. Try and do a few things well. We’ll get through this. 

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