​Inner Ecology and Liminal Spaces 

Guest blogger Sharon G. Mijares shares her conference paper from the 36th annual SAC Spring Conference. Her paper was part of the Mapping  Individual   and  Cultural  Space:   Occultism,   Inner   Ecology  and  Embodied  Cognition panel of the Wisdom Sits in Places conference. If you would like to know more about Sharon Mijares please check out her bio.


Restoring a deepened sense of inner ecological connectedness is vital for humanity’s future.  We need to know and improve our inner landscape, embracing our own inner distinctions and diversity in order to heal the outer world. Archetypal presences can illuminate an awareness of unknown territory. There are places where split off parts of the soul reside, isolated and disconnected from wholeness.  They can lead us into liminal spaces, thresholds of awakening.  Individual healing and expansion illuminates paths for global transformation.

Inner Ecology and Liminal Spaces

© 2016 Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D.

Liminal spaces are described as “in-between moments” a space of waiting, not-knowing, a potential space of transformation. What opens the doors to these moments?  Many depth spiritual traditions teach one to focus on the pause between the inhale and the exhale or the space between the drum beats.  These are the places where one can enter or slip into another reality.  One can also enter into them without any preparation – a jolt into the unknown.

Consciousness is everywhere and in everything

Generally, consciousness is defined as an “awareness of the mind of itself and the world.” But consciousness is multilayered and not easily explained.  There are altered states of consciousness that can lead us into those liminal spaces, whether it comes by a transcendent spiritual experience initiated through trance; hallucinogenics; breath work, such as holotropic therapy; meditation; chanting or the like (Mijares, 2009; 2016). These processes open consciousness beyond the ordinary mind.

They also open the deep consciousness within our bodies. Be aware that stories are rising from the cellular structures within our bodies. We can learn to listen to the qualities of the breath, a sigh…and observe subtle changes of moods and thoughts. Far too often we limit consciousness to our cerebral hemispheres and fail to hear the narratives whispering, or perhaps shouting, within the consciousness of our tissues and organs. The body is teeming with archetypal energies, subpersonalities and transformative spaces—but more often than not it replicates the disconnection we see in the world.

The great analyst Carl Jung (1964) embarked upon his own inner journey, allowing the archetypal realm to move through him. He saw this as a way to help heal the world. It is also our work to open the gates and experience the vastness and unity within this experience called life. It also means exploring liminal spaces where shadow forces abide. These can both block and lead to the soul, but Jung (1946) noted how “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious” (p. 99).

We can readily observe the disconnection taking place throughout the outer world, but often fail to see the ways we mirror it.  Contributions to this dissociation have conspired to entertain and delude us from our true nature, i.e., social media, religious controls, academic influences, media and advertising, shopping as well as the overall stress of daily living.

The majority of people are disconnected from one another, from nature and from ourselves.  Do we feel and intuit the disconnecting elements limiting the consciousness within our own bodies?  Inner ecology requires a deepening journey into the depths of our own beings.  Somatic awakening is the door to true spiritual awakening (Washburn, 1984).

The Sufi poet Rumi alluded to the magical power of the breath to awaken our awareness of archetypal presences within the body. This message is found in his poem, “A Goal Kneels,”
The inner being of a human being is a jungle.

Sometimes wolves dominate,

sometimes wild hogs.

Be wary when you breathe!

At one moment gentle generous qualities,

like Josephs, pass from one nature to another.

The next moment vicious qualities move in hidden ways;
Wisdom slips for a while into an ox!

A restless, recalcitrant horse suddenly

becomes obedient and smooth-gaited.

A bear begins to dance.

A goal kneels!
Human consciousness goes into a dog,

and that dog becomes a shepherd, or a hunter.

In the Cave of the Seven Sleepers

even the dogs were seekers.
At every moment a new species rises in the chest

now a demon, now an angel, now a wild animal.

There are also those in this amazing jungle

who can absorb you into their own surrender.

If you have to stalk and steal something,

steal from them! (Barks, 1990)
The poem also highlights the idea that mythological, archetypal narratives are woven into the fabric of the body. Archetypes are psychic structures containing biologically related patterns of behaviors consisting of certain qualities and expressions of being. They are related to the instinctive life forces motivating the world’s mythological stories (Mijares, 1997, 2012) as well as our own lives. Our center of attention is focused from lofty cerebral watchtowers and we fail to hear and feel these narratives and guidance whispering within the neural pathways of our beings. Our breath is held, our sensitivities dimmed and fixated by limited attention. The body is alive with archetypical presences waiting to be acknowledged – available to give greater meaning and balance in our world.

Do unconscious entities such as archetypal energies, sub-personalities, introjects and ego-states have a specific brain location or are they manifesting through the cells, molecules and neural pathways of the body-mind (Mijares, 1995, 1997, 2012)?  The body holds the memory of individual and collective neglect and abuse. It also holds the memory and knowledge of vast domains of consciousness.  As we heal ourselves, we heal the world. Memory is inherent within the DNA, genes and cellular structure of the body-mind. The body’s memory becomes activated as neural winds and consciousness stream through the neural networks.  These forces can also be dangerous and fearful.

Jungian analyst Robert Stein, once discussed a client who was experiencing what he called a “regressive infantile seizure.” The client was somatically gripped by an archetypal force acting through him despite his intelligence and mature awareness. In his contemplation, Stein came to the conclusion that “if we lift the veil of our rational analytical bias, we may catch a glimpse of the offended deity who has become incarnate in the pain and anger of the psycho-somatic process.” Stein then asks, “What transgression has caused the painful agony of this greater power to overwhelm him? What offerings or what sacrifice must he make so that harmony, order and wholeness can be re-established?” (1976, p. 74).

Stein explains that his client was caught up in performance-oriented social and mental activities, denying the needs of feelings and body. Until he submits and allows this balance, opposing powers will continue their war within his body-mind. This neglect manifests in individual somatic complaints, mental disturbances and illness. Culturally it manifests in substance abuse, violence and depression, obsessions with social media and anything that contracts awareness.

On a global level, when we take this knowledge to the larger world we can see how the radical terrorist group Da’ish is acting out violent archetypal energies. They represent responses to vast imbalances, stifled voices –manifestations of the neglected self in the individual, the culture and the world. Its’ nature has become that of revenge. In one of his lectures on Tibetan Buddhism titled “The descent to heaven,” the late Joseph Campbell illustrated Tibetan teachings on enlightenment, including blissful and wrathful deities within body consciousness. It is all part of the process. We are seeing the Bardo acting out in the external world. The Bardo is the realm in between life and death. The newly departed journeyer is seeking liberation from the wheel of karma (Thurman, 1994). Hallucinations, terrifying images and so forth are part of the journey that can lead to enlightenment. The journeyer needs to recognize the illusions and focus upon the goal. We are there folks!

So what do we do?

We need to artfully and willingly enter into deeper consciousness. We need to leave the illusion of safety in the ego, and drop into the underworld of our being—slip into those liminal spaces.  Carl Jung’s explorations into the unconscious were indicative of his own embarkation on the hero’s healing journey (Groesbeck, 1989; Jung, 1963, 1964). At the outbreak of World War, he realized that he “had to try to understand what had happened and to what extent [his] own experience coincided with that of mankind in general. Therefore [his] first obligation was to probe the depths of [his] own psyche” (1963, p. 176). Archetypal forces began to flood his consciousness as Jung allowed the control of the ego-mind to relax its’ binding grip. He let go and entered liminal space. He began experiencing a steady stream of fantasies which he could not control. He realized he needed to understand these manifestations forcing themselves upon him. In describing his experience he wrote that he, in his words, stood helpless before an alien world; everything in it seemed difficult and incomprehensible. I was living in a constant state of tension…But there was a demonic strength in me, and from the beginning there was no doubt in my mind that I must find the meaning of what I was experiencing in these fantasies. (pp. 176-177)

Jung found himself experiencing intense psychic assaults as he entered unconscious realms and the onslaught began, but he stuck by his unswerving conviction that he was following a calling. He instinctively knew he had a task to fulfill.

During this period Jung used yogic exercises to help subdue the intensity of emotional flooding. In this journey he personally experienced the powerful forces of the anima, animus, divine child, warriors, demons and sages that are an integral part of humanity’s consciousness. As Jung utilized the inherent power of Eastern yogic exercises based upon breath and physical movement he was further invoking the unconscious realms within the body.

Breath—the essence of life

Eastern spiritual traditions use the breath to reunite mind and body (Mijares, 2009). Mythological narratives are often initiated by breathing practices. This is especially true of Stan and Christina Grof’s process of holotropic breathwork (1988, Grof & Taylor, 2009), a process in which the participants breath faster and deeper for two hours or more. In the liminal spaces that open, cells begin to quiver, muscles quake as messenger molecules travel through the awakening neural circuitry of the body. Literally! The breathwork stimulates the body’s innate intelligence as messenger molecules activate nodal points in the neural information system of body consciousness. When we enter these deepened states of consciousness, the egoic self leaves its cerebral control tower. It is forced into acknowledging its limitations, recognizing there is more to consciousness than itself. Something calls us to take these inner journeys.  It begins what Joseph Campbell (1949) referred to as the call—an awakening to the hero’s journey.

During the awakening of the body-mind, the cerebral and feeling selves become cognizant of each other. But soon another stage in the heroic journey emerges as the obstacle surfaces. This experience is spoken of as a dragon at the gate or similar metaphors. Processes of enlightenment and/or soul retrieval are traditionally challenged by an archetypal, wrathful force at the gate to the hiding place of the treasure.

These strange manifestations are familiar expressions of healing and emergence processes recognized by spiritual teachers of Eastern and Sufi orientations and also by depth psychotherapists using trance processes. In Sufism the subconscious selves and archetypal forces are called the nafs. These presences are seen as part of the journey to Authentic Self, similar to the Tibetan work in the Bardo realm.

Plant Medicine

A new narrative needs to be written that includes psyche and soma (soul and body) while acknowledging the pathos of the human experience as a heroic journey leading to the emergence of authenticity of self. Our humanity is deep in this process.  We see all the manifestations and are caught up in the fear, violence or some illusionary form of escapism, as we’re still caught up in the old narrative influenced by all the karma of the imbalances initiated through patriarchal ideologies and practices. But this is changing. The revolutionary spread of Ayahuasca is helping with this journey as it is leading many practitioners around the world to reconnect with Nature as they enter into other realms and ways of knowing—guided by the wisdom inherent within Nature. It is no accident that these plants, previously hidden in the depths of the Amazon, have emerged and are appearing in various nations around the world. They have been evoked to help us with this transition, moving many beyond the confines of the ordinary ego.

The late mythologist Joseph Campbell said “The passage of the mythological hero…is inward–into depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified…” (1949, p. 29). The world’s legends, folk tales and mythological stories describe various stages of the hero/heroine’s journey. Campbell writes that “Each of these bibliographies exhibits the variously rationalized theme of the infant exile and return” (p. 323).

The exiled infant represents our original, pure being.

As noted earlier, themes of dragons and demons guarding the entrances to caves or castles wherein hidden treasures, babies or young maidens reside are often found in myth, legends and fairy tales. In The hero with a thousand faces, Joseph Campbell wrote that,

The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind–whether in dream, broad daylight or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn [Arabic word for etheric spirits] abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives. And they may remain unsuspected, or, on the other hand, some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life–that is the lure, the promise and terror, of these disturbing night visitants from the mythological realm that we carry within. (p. 8)

Our environment, the earth body, has been neglected as evidenced by the pollution of water, earth and air. Deep healing can result on an individual and planetary level as we integrate and harmonize our mind, feelings and somatic expression.

Rumi warns “be wary when you breathe” for the journey to authenticity can be a treacherous one. Opening to liminal spaces means opening to what is unknown. Archetypal forces of the collective unconscious are present both enabling and preventing the retrieval of authenticity and realization of our divine nature. We enter into new realms gain its gifts, but find ourselves still living and participating in the world.

Joseph Campbell found a common strain in the world’s mythologies concerning the heroic journey. This stage, called the “Return,” speaks of the hero’s return and treasures shared with the community. Healing can occur individually and collectively as we begin to honor these mythological narratives manifesting from within the embodied mind and heal the split between heaven and earth as we develop an inner ecology and enter liminal spaces leading to transformation. The last stanza of the Rumi poem alludes to this journey,

At every moment a new species rises in the chest

now a demon, now an angel, now a wild animal.

There are also those in this amazing jungle

who can absorb you into their own surrender.

If you have to stalk and steal something,

steal from them! (Barks, 1990)



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