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Liminal Experiences, Serendipitous Reading, & Ideas Worth Stealing (Reading/Study Notes 5.23.18)

Resource: Writing and the Threshold Life: Jane Hirshfield on How the Liminal Liberates Us from the Prison of the Self


On the necessity of narrative:

“A human being, Oliver Sacks observed in contemplating the building blocks of personhood, needs ‘a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.'”

How storytelling holds us together:

We need this interior storytelling to thread ourselves together, because the self is so elusive a constellation of intangibles which fade to black under the beam of direct scrutiny.”

Maria Popova on questioning the self and pondering what happens when we scrutinize our notion of personal identity:

“If Borges was right that our personality rests on a foundation of nothingness, if millennia of Buddhist thinkers were right that the indestructible in us is found only through the annihilation of the self, then who are we when stripped to the bare essence of our being, denuded of the stories and the ego-shells which harden into an exoskeleton of selfhood that fractures easily into limiting identity-fragments?”

Maria Popova describing Jane Hirshfield’s examination of ‘the liminal”:

“She celebrates this threshold space as hallowed ground for dissolving and transcending the self, for rising above the flatland of individual identity and toward a more dimensional sense of belonging…”

Hirshfield on transpersonal awareness:

“Entering this condition, a person leaves behind his or her old identity and dwells in a threshold state of ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. Only afterward may the initiate enter into new forms of identity and relationship, rejoining the everyday life of the culture.”

How the experience of liminality increases one’s sense of connection with others:

“More is changed during this threshold period than simply the understanding of self: free of all usual roles, a person experiences community differently as well. The liminal is not opposite to, but the necessary companion of, identity and particularity — a person who steps outside her usual position falls away from any singular relationship to others and into oneness with the community as a whole. Within the separateness of liminality, connectedness itself is remade.”

What writers have in common with monks:

“For writers, as for monks, to take on this work often means leaving the mainstream in outward ways, abandoning the world of ordinary jobs and housing; the garret life is found up literal stairs as well as within the steep reaches of the psyche. In its deepest sense, though, threshold life for a writer has to do with a changed relationship to language and culture itself. In writing lit by a liminal consciousness, the most common words take on the sheen of treasure — transformed in meaning for the entire community because they have been dipped in the mind of openness and connection.”

The role of the writer and the necessary other side:

“To speak, and to write, is to assert who we are, what we think. The necessary other side is to surrender these things — to stand humbled and stunned and silent before the wild and inexplicable beauties and mysteries of being.”

On the task and responsibility of the writer:

“It is the task of the writer to become that permeable and transparent; to become, in the words of Henry James, a person on whom nothing is lost. What is put into the care of such a person will be well tended. Such a person can be trusted to tell the stories she is given to tell, and to tell them with the compassion that comes when the self’s deepest interest is not in the self, but in turning outward and into awareness.”


Beyond our sense of being an individualized personality lies a transpersonal state of consciousness not bound by conventional roles.

Liminal experiences are ones in which we go to the threshold of our sense of self.

Liminal experiences are not the opposite of individuality. In some sense they are an enhancer because they increase our sense of connectedness to others by opening our understanding of selfhood to something broader than our previous notions.

Resource: The Dying Art of Serendipitous Reading


“It’s not about grabbing a few nuggets of information and cramming them in our brains or writing up a summary that will get lots of clicks on Medium. It’s an experience, it’s something sensory and infinitely pleasurable- the rich sense of delving into another world that I first fell for as a child. I didn’t read in the way I do now. I worked my way through bookshelves. I borrowed from family. I read whatever fell into my hands. Many of my happiest childhood memories are based on serendipitous reading with no agenda or structure. As I couldn’t often buy my own books, I read without discrimination – I read the Bible, the dictionary, the encyclopedia, and a lot of books that were wildly inappropriate for a six-year-old.”

“Serendipitous reading is about discovery. It’s about exploring and getting in touch with a childlike wonder at how diverse the world is, at how much there is to learn and understand. And it’s beautiful.”

“I often get asked what the outcome of my reading is – how do I use the information? How do I remember it all? How does it benefit me? The answer is that, at least half the time, I don’t, I don’t, and I don’t know. And why should reading be about tangible benefits? The enjoyment in itself is the reward.”

“Everyone wants shortcuts these days, and books have become another form of that. They become a shortcut to credibility for those who hire a ghostwriter and chuck out a vague memoir to get speaking engagements or consulting work. They are marketed as shortcuts to learning some secret to success, health, happiness. Yet that’s one use, but that’s not it. My reading has made me who I am – it hasn’t taught me how to market, hack the stock market, control people through NLP. It just is.”

“There are millions and millions of books out there, many of them capable of speaking to each of us in a unique way. It’s silly to assume anyone can condense them down into lists of 100 books to read before you die, or 30 books all entrepreneurs need to read, or the 12 greatest classics. It’s about discovering who we are through reading, learning everything and nothing.”

“Like many other activities – working, spending time with people, walking, learning – the pleasure is in the doing, not the pursuit of an objective. A mindful appreciation of the moment without any agenda, the intoxicating experience of being alive. It is the alternative to the information overload we all struggle with these days. Instead of being swamped by information, we can embrace curiosity and learn about ourselves through the books that speak to us.”


Read for pleasure, not just for signaling or showcasing.

Reading with a sense of spontaneity and humor is a dying art and we need to make a conscious effort to preserve it.

Don’t limit yourself to listicles and “Top 5 books” lists. Give yourself the opportunity to discover hidden gems by playfully exploring unfamiliar bookstores and other people’s bookshelves.

Resource: When your ideas get stolen


Isn’t it better that your ideas are worth stealing? What would happen if you worked all that time, created that book or that movie or that concept and no one wanted to riff on it, expand it or run with it? Would that be better?
You’re not going to run out of ideas. In fact, the more people grab your ideas and make magic with them, the more of a vacuum is sitting in your outbox, which means you will prompted to come up with even more ideas, right?
Ideas that spread win. They enrich our culture, create connection and improve our lives. Isn’t that why you created your idea in the first place?
The goal isn’t credit. The goal is change.


Don’t be too defensive about your ideas. It leads to a fear-based scarcity mindset that hinders the flow of creative ideas.

You want to generate the kinds of ideas that people want to steal. And you want to have a sense of abundance towards your ability to come up with new ones.

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