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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Liminal Lessons

Mary Poppins’ Liminal Ludic Lessons


Mary Poppins has shown us the power of the imagination to change our world, the need for love, compassion, and kindness.  These neotenous characteristics are sometimes cast aside, but they are what matter most.  These little things, as the movie shows, are really important.  As Bert, with his chalk pictures, and Mary, with her liminal lullaby showed us, play opens up worlds, of imagination, of art.  Briggs has said that in some of the greatest works of art: “the artist’s final product implies worlds within worlds, within there lays something more than meets the eye, the mind or the ear.  Because of the ability to intimate worlds within worlds, art has always been fractal” (Hawkins, 1995, p. 83).  Indeed, this is not true only of art, we go into a world every time we visit a web site, where people are sharing how they see things, and what is important to them.  Imagination opens up worlds and helps us to see things and experience things that we might not be able to in reality.


We saw the healing power of the irrational and the renewing power of nonordinary states of consciousness, providing as they did a third space option between the different banks of polarized thinking.  Because our world today is even more polarized than previously, this might be a valuable thing to instill in ourselves.  Nonordinary states and the power of the imagination have tremendous healing potential (Grof, 1998b, cassette), and transformative power can be accessed during these states that can facilitate change.


Mary works much of her magic through indirect communication, showing us the power of hint and suggestion, of influencing through example and through illustration.  P.L. Travers did this with the character of Mary and Mary does this with the children, and ultimately with us as well.  We have seen how important this kind of experiential learning is, versus a “banking education.”


Bert is indirect with his teaching, he never makes the other person wrong, when offering his opinion.  He is gentle and helps others to see things differently.  Entertainment can do this, too.  Through hint and suggestion, entertainment has the power to transform.


Mary was so successful because she accepted others' points of view, and by joining with them in their model of the world, she was able to see how to be more effective with them.  Seeing through another’s eyes aids in understanding and is an important neotenous quality.  With “A Spoonful of Sugar,” Mary taught the children the importance of reframing: to be able to see things in different ways; to be masters of meaning, instead of being mastered by meanings made by others. Remember, it was the power of metaphor, being able to see something as something else, another neotenous powers of the imagination, that landed a man on the moon during the turbulent times of the 1960s.


Mary and Bert knew the knack of tacking, they were easily able to take the middle way of play between too loose chaos and too tight order.  Just like the Buddha and Goldilocks, their way was just right.  Jung said that one-sidedeness was neurotic and we definitely saw this with George Banks. Mary and Bert used play to rupture routines, and thus to upset established orders that had become outworn, and no longer useful.  Bert’s vocational flexibility allowed him to easily change roles.  This flexibility is necessary in times of change.  George’s more rigid nature did not fare so well, and he almost ended up with a “ghastly mess.” We also saw that play is not always fun, George, like it or not is “in play” for most of the movie.  Like the “deep play” of Shiva’s dice game in the Cosmic Game chapter, we do not have a choice not to play.  And play we must in this way, because ultimately it's all about transformation. 


Play as the death-rebirth transformation process can be pretty nasty sometimes, it does not feel good to the ego to die and be reborn, and at times, this transformational play can be anything but fun.  However, if we do not hold too tightly onto our persona, we can go with this flow instead of fighting against it, which only makes things worse.  If we see this process with a "spoonful of sugar" along the way, we will be able to transform without all of the attendant kicking and screaming along the inevitable way of transformational play.  We can just “Step in Time”  during these chaotic liminal transformational times and be a part of the self-organizing creative solution that emerges.


We also learned the usefulness of a good threshing once in a while, which allows us to shake off the old outworn structures of old orders that no longer serve us.  Instead of cringing at chaos, maybe now we will be able to look at chaos in a more positive light, and see the pure potentiality and pedomorphic possibilities of this Plutonic phase wherein lie the seeds of cultural creativity. Chaos can be creative as well as destructive and new order can emerge. 


Antistructure allows us to play with different alternatives and combine things in different ways. The subjunctive non-seriousness of play allows us take familiar elements and defamiliarize them, using them anew in bricoleur style to fashion new and different things.   Like transitional tricksters and trickstars, we can break down and intermingle elements and energies to give ourselves more possibilities. Sometimes tricks can be used to help transform people, but, they are tricky so watch out that you do not get tricked in the process. 


Mary Poppins showed us that we need to lighten up in order to live more fully.  Laughter allows us to join the great sweep of life and can help liberate us from conformity and convention, and from the habitual ruts of routine, redundancy, and reason.  Jokes, too, because they interrupt our expectation and take us on unexpected tangents can help us break free from our old ways and patterns.  Humor allows us to see things differently and sometimes to gain a “god’s eye view” (Mindess, 1971) on the situation.


We saw how enlightening humor can be, literally.  By taking things more lightly, we are able to give ourselves leeway for change to occur, and play helps us in this way to be able to rebalance ourselves and keep from getting too one-sided.  We can be like bricoleur Berts and multifaceted and pedomorphic Mary Poppinses, instead of gerontomorphic Georges.

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