ISO the place where my interests connect: psychotherapy for Asian Americans, Christian philosophy, children's literature

Last month, I turned 30 years old. Instead of celebrating my birthday with friends, I chose to take my confused and grief-addled self to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, inviting my parents to join me on the drive down. A relationship had ended months prior, and with its ending I lost a best friend and my hopes for crossing over a threshold, a rite of passage, with him at my side. It felt odd driving with my parents to the Aquarium, like this was a scene that wasn’t supposed to happen. I was “supposed to” have moved on into the next stage of adulthood, more differentiated from my parents and perhaps starting my own family.

The Aquarium for me is a coastal cathedral – a contained structure of concrete built to inspire worship, wonder, and awe of the oceans. Instead of stained glass you have impossibly large tanks of mesmerizing blue water, filled with otherworldly sea creatures from the deep and curious critters that come to the surface of the water. It’s a space that facilitates a collision of two worlds – the world of humans on land and the impossibly vast universe of the ocean.

The most popular attraction, of course, is the sea otters. When it was time for the sea otter feeding, I arrived early at the tank to secure my place right in front of the glass. I felt smug, thinking that being an adult allowed me to be assertive and shameless, standing in line early to get what I want. And then, when it came time for the feeding, the docent asked everyone to take a few steps back, away from the tank, and allow the children to rush to the front.

In that moment, I noticed that I felt that feeling again – the one I felt in the car – this disorienting feeling of life telling you that’s not your place but not feeling quite at home in your new position. My better nature knew it was the right thing to do, and I could empathize with some of the children. I felt for a young Asian girl who needed much coaxing to stand in front of the adults, closer to the glass, I could empathize with her instinct that it is safer to be hidden among the adults, that even though she could see better up front she would feel exposed. My place in society is behind the children at the sea otter tank, who also seem older, larger, fatter than I remember from childhood.

Though the form of this feeling was new to me – the aftermath of a significant romantic relationship, being reminded I am not a child even though I still feel like I’m working things out, the feeling itself was not. I knew what this state was called from my own life experiences and interacitons withreligious and psychological circles: liminal space.

Liminal space: In anthropology, liminality is used to describe the in-between state between divesting from your previous state and entering a new one. In psychology, this concept of liminality is used to define periods of grief across the lifespan – a divorce, a graduation. It can be used to describe physical spaces – hallways or the windowless casino floors where you lose sense of time and space. In religion, “Liminal is a time of limbo. It is an ambiguous period characterized often by vulnerability, uncertainty, loneliness, difficulty, weariness and depression. A sense of isolation and anonymity can also be a felt experience.” (citation). Liminality is central to the faith I ascribe to and have a complicated relationship with: Christianty. In the Christian tradition, we believe life and the whole of human existence is one big liminal space – the “already but not yet” experience of being separated from GOd, the Kingdom having entered our world through JEsus but not completed consummated.

My 20s have been punctuated by multiple forays into liminal space. I began my 20s as a character that is familiar to many of you – the Korean Christian girl – straight A’s or nothing, still friendly and personable, respect and love, knowledgeable about theology but also the secular, keeping sex/sexuality away with a ten foot pole, I’m sure you know what I mean. Each liminal episode has taken my life in new directions – mental health episodes that destroyed my functionality, rejections and redirections in my career, love relationships that didn’t work out. Each time

And now, I feel an odd sensation, a mini-grief if you will, when I meet people from my alternate universe of successfully having avoided the liminal space. I would have been perfectionistic, rigid, significantly more judgmental of myself and others, harmfully invalidating of my humanity and others, the worst kind of Christian.

The liminal space is hardly more comfortable than the last time I was here. Tears, anxiety, sleepless nights, the grip of comparison. But I feel like I have more tools – from theology, psychotherapy, life experience, to help illuminate the path forward these next few months.

But it’s also such fertile soil for transformation and creativity. Painful but freeing.

Which is how this blog has been birthed from my brain to your screen. You can expect reflections like these, but more likely you will find my thoughts on what I’m reading in these areas: Christian theology & philosophy, mental health & psychology, themes in Asian American experience, children’s literature, fantasy & mythology (“faerie stories:“). Feel free to connect with me if anything I write inspires thoughts/feelings/recommendations of other things to read!

Often, in therapy, I find the words slipping out of my mouth that I almost hate saying because I don’t want it to be true for myself, or for anyone. With my patients I am caught in the paradox of wanting to relieve our suffering but knowing the truth that there is some suffering that cannot be relieved, only comforted.

“already but not yet”

Last month, I turned 30 years old. Instead of feeling magically secure in fulfilling some rites of passage in adulthood, I spent it in a bit of dazed confusion with my parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, watching the sea otters elicit squeals form their human audience (myself included), wondering if it was my imagination or if the otters looked larger, older, fatter, less cute, too. I was in a state that was both frustrating and familiar, a state that defined much of my 20s: the liminal space.


Most recently, the ending of a relationship.

(This is a blog about liminal space.)

Last month, I turned thirty. The day passed quietly. I spent it with my parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

instead of celebrating my crossing the threshold into sage and secure adulthood, I felt [stuck at the door.]

I spent my birthday with my parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, watching ghostly white sturgeon gliding past sunken wooden columns, intelligent fleshly octopi eyeing small children, and the infamous sea otters expertly eliciting squeals from their human fans. I did feel older – I was more interested in the indigenous and canning history of the place than I would . I stared at the otters, they looked older too – bigger, longer, less cute.

But I was also grieving the loss of a relationship that I, perhaps prematurely, thought would be a culmination of my 20s and a rite of passage to the Next Thing – separation from my parents and establishing a new household, building something new. Watching the blue, I felt grey – grieving the future that was taking shape and feeling lost as to how I can weave the remaining strings of my life into a new one.

It’s painful, and not what I wanted, but familiar.

I first learned about liminal space

Liminal is a term used in many different disciplines: psychology, anthropology, theology.

It is the grey area between one way of seeing and experiencing the world and the next.

Liminal space. It's a space, as a Korean American Christian who chafes at church norms, I am familiar with. Connection and rejection is something I feel at every level of my existence – race, gender, spiritual, etc.