We are all moving towards something, or away from something. It’s a journey that can take us out of ourselves, or bring us back to a place of peace within us. All of this toing and froing is the geography of life. And as is the case with traversing any terrain, the secret lies in knowing when to climb and when to simply stand steadfast waist-high in a rushing stream.
The one constant in all of this is choice. We make the choice to take action, and equally, the decision not to act is also our choice. It’s in this space of doing and not doing that we confront our greatest fears. American author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön suggests that we draw on “compassionate action” when we come upon this point of uncertainty. “Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.”
This “tender, shaky” place that Pema refers to is a threshold—appearing as either a tangible entryway to a new beginning, or as something less tangible, a point at which something changes inside us. Unlike the trite expression, “When one door closes, another opens”, we view thresholds as less definitive. They hold promise, and all the while haunt us with the temptation of doing nothing. It’s an unknown territory where the old is not yet old, and the new has yet to arrive. It is a place of contradiction—a quiet place of disquiet in our soul.
We can look kindly upon a threshold as an invitation—an opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and walk upon, what to us, feels like unsteady ground. Having faith in a life without limits means letting go of the illusion of predictability. You arrive at a place where the edges are soft and the footing uncertain. It’s leaving the nest of your family home; it’s embarking on a new career path; or even the quivering fear of trusting your broken heart to another.
Our arrival to a threshold can also be a much-needed time to pause and take inventory. Rollo May, one of the leading voices on humanistic psychology, describes this beautifully. “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. The capacity to create ourselves, based upon this freedom, is inseparable from consciousness or self-awareness.” Thresholds remind us that we are not subjugated to our instincts, and that the space within this pause is the canvas on which we decide how to craft our life.
And finally, a threshold is a timely reminder of the impermanence of everything and everyone. The choice is ours whether or not we view the fleeting nature of life as a fear of loss within our heart, or as a fragile gift that has come into our life for only short while. That which we cannot possess but only care for, exposes us to a place of vulnerability where love can blossom. As the writer Stephen Levine reminds us, “That which is impermanent attracts compassion. That which is not provides wisdom.”