Limbo. It’s a word that should bring about imagery of fun party games for adults – ok, fun party games for extroverts – but somehow all it does for me is conjure up dread and memories of not being settled.
I think I’ve been looking to get out of limbo for many years. But like all things in life, the thing you wish to escape is what you get more of — what you resist, persists; where attention goes, energy flows, etc etc etfuckincetera.
So here’s a little advice for you today, based on a conversation I had with a good friend who is in limbo within a relationship. But first, let’s start by figuring out what kind of beast we’re dealing with.
If you’re in limbo, it basically means you’re floating between stages that are comfortable. Perhaps you’re leaving an old comfort zone, and while you know you’re not at the destination you’re walking towards — you’re currently on that awful part of the game where you’re in between bases, and wondering whether to turn back or keep going. Or, maybe you’re just floating about like a kite and unsure whether you’ll ever land on solid ground again.
I know the feeling. I’m in limbo myself, as I write this. I’m in the middle of a move, with a suitcase full of winter clothes in a tropical country, in my home country but in an apartment that isn’t home, while everything I own is in storage in London. There are so many things I wish to do, so many things my heart yearns for, that feel like they’re out of reach for me.
But the only thing that’ll keep you from floating off course or into the clouds forever, is this: an anchor. I find it so much easier to navigate life through metaphors and symbolic imagery, so the idea of an anchor while floating — not one that is stuck in the ground, but just a weighted object to keep me from completely immersing myself into this limbo phase- is soothing to say the least. While limbo can be good for us (I know, “wtf” is what I’d say to me too if I didn’t know better), it shouldn’t be a place you dwell in forever if you have dreams and places you want to reach.
So for starters, you need to do the thing you may have been avoiding: you need to embrace the limbo. Embrace the state you’re in and accept that it’s a part of your reality right now. Instead of viewing your emotions towards limbo – or limbo itself — as an unwanted concept, try viewing it as a beloved pet who played in mud all day. Sure, you don’t want that pet ruining all your furniture or clothes, but you still love it and welcome it as part of your life. What if you viewed your current state as just a neutral part of your present moment, instead of a “bad” thing? When you watch a film, and your favourite character has an obstacle, do you see it as a bad thing – or just a simple plot twist for you to get excited about?
Once you’ve accepted where you are — and yes, it’s normal to embrace while still feeling resistant, we’re complex beings like that — the next step is to find your anchor. I want you to go back to a time when you were young, and felt completely safe to be yourself. Now, if you’re anything like me, those moments may be rare. A lot of us have troubled backgrounds, and that’s ok. Just remember a time you felt glee or excitement as a child. Then, think of a time as an adult that you felt a similar feeling. It could’ve been about a drive to the cinema, getting that new coffee from Starbucks (or Java for my fellow Kenyans), or something like browsing stuff at your favourite store. Perhaps it’s the excitement of covering ice cream with sprinkles, or exploring that new place in the game you just started playing. Maybe it’s coffee with an old friend, or sitting on a balcony with a cup of herbal tea and the type of book you don’t allow yourself to read often enough.
Whatever it is, look for a pattern between your childhood moment of glee, and your adult moment. If you can’t find anything that fills/filled you with glee, look for something that made you feel like sighing with relief or relaxation. Something that made you go “ahhhh — that feels better”. Perhaps you could bring out a notepad and scribble down all the activities and places that make you feel this way — and the more trivial and silly they are, the better.
For me, it’s simply the act of driving, or witnessing scenery pass me by. Sitting on a balcony with a view can bring me back to my centre really quickly. But what if you don’t have the luxury to do this right now? What if a lot of the things you wrote down somehow are out of reach? For example, my driving license is currently in storage, and because I’m sick at the moment I just don’t have the energy to go through the exhausting process of getting my license renewed.
So what do you do when limbo destroys your options?
Well, let’s go back to your list of activities. To keep limbo from pulling you into the atmosphere, doomed to float forever and ever — you need an anchor that keeps you grounded in your identity. Remembering who you are and what drives you is key to avoiding an eternal state of lostness.
So the first thing you need to look at is your routines: what is a short activity that you can do first thing upon waking, and just before you retire for bed? It can be two different things, but it needs to be something that fills you with the same sense of relief or glee that your list does. It could be the simple act of listing three things you’re really grateful for, meditation, or simply enjoying the feel of your bed for a few minutes before you start the rush of your day. Get into your body and explore how it feels; perhaps you could spend a few minutes remembering a place that brought about that same sense of relief or excitement.
Which brings me to my next point: when you cannot currently reach the ideal circumstances, make do with the circumstances you’ve got by embodying a percentage of the emotion you desire. A mouthful, I know, but here’s what I mean by this: I love to do long drives, right? But in essence, what is it I’m after? Beautiful scenery, movement, exploration, nature. Great — so what can I invite into my life that includes those elements? One seemingly silly replacement would be exploring an RPG, or watching beautiful videos of places I haven’t been to — or visualising the places I have been along with the memory of the emotion I felt. And instead of focusing on the lack (“Damn, I wish I could actually be there instead of visualising it”), I could focus on how lucky I am to have experienced such relaxing and exciting places in my life.
Perhaps, in this anchor-less time, you don’t need to find the ideal anchor. Perhaps, that pebble from the beach would be a great temporary reminder of the beach you miss, or maybe that paperweight pyramid will make do for when you can’t travel to wonderful places like Egypt. Perhaps we can ground ourselves for now, without actually touching the ground.
So: what could ground you, in a time when it feels like you can’t reach your anchor?
PS If you feel drawn to my work, let’s start a conversation on how my work could help you get out of limbo.