What does it mean to hold space?
In the story that went viral and put the phrase “holding space” on the tongues of small group facilitators across the nation, Heather Plett describes it in the following:
“It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control. “
-Heather Plett heatherplett.com
How I View my Role in Holding Space
It helps me to picture myself as being the container of the experience, while witnessing everything that’s taking place within the container. In this way, I am aware of my own physical and emotional state, I am separate from what is happening, and I am providing a space of safety where outside energies cannot get in, and all that is shared cannot get out. It can look like doing nothing. It is deceptively difficult. It requires a great deal of practice to convey the sense of deep emotional safety, non-judgemental witnessing, and separation from what may feel like a vortex of energy.
Everyone is capable of cultivating this skill. Virtually everyone is capable of holding space at some level, no matter where they are on their journey.
A Practice in Holding Space for Yourself
After Heather’s original post went viral, she learned just how diverse and varied this skill of holding space can be. And for every generous, loving heart that desires to hold space for others, there is also a tender soul experiencing burnout, wilting into apathy, or becoming cynical to the whole process. This is why it is crucial to also practice holding space for yourself.
One way you can integrate this into your everyday experience, is to pause at intervals throughout the day, connect to your breath, and honor yourself if only for a moment, before returning to your day.
- Set 1-3 reminders in your phone. Choose a sound for this alert that is unlike any of your other notification sounds.
- Alternatively, you could choose specific landmarks in your day, such as the moment before you turn out of your driveway, the ride in the elevator to your office, immediately after dropping your children off, or the threshold of the door into your place of worship.
- When the alarm sounds or you are at your “landmark”, set down whatever it is your doing. If you are able, close your eyes and place your hand on your heart. Focus solely on your breath for 1-2 cycles. Feel the beat of your heart, the warmth of your skin, the peace within.
- It can be tempting to skip a landmark in your day or finish up whatever you’re working on before taking some time for yourself. And that is where the work of this practice lies. Honoring your breath, body, and beat of your heart. Choosing you over tasks, chores, and yes even others.
A Practice in Holding Space for Others
A critical skill in holding space, whether for self or others, is non-judgemental awareness. Being aware of what someone is experiencing, sharing, or doing and holding no judgements or assumptions around it. As you can imagine, practicing this skill with someone you aren’t emotionally or energetically entangled with is much easier and a great way to develop your capacity for those closer to you.
- Again choose a landmark in your day. This could be when you’re standing in line, stuck in traffic, in a waiting room, or among a crowd.
- Take a brief moment to notice your breath.
- Take a deep breath and offer a prayer/wish/blessing of loving kindness first to yourself: May I feel love. May I receive kindness. May I experience joy.
- Take another deep breath and offer a prayer/wish/blessing of loving kindness to someone near you.
May you feel love. May you receive kindness. May you experience joy.
- Repeat for 2-3 breaths
A Practice in Holding Space for What Wants to Happen
This is a practice in letting go, accepting, allowing, and getting out of our own way. It means letting go of any attachment to the outcome, accepting the moment as it is, allowing the Universal Source of life energy make magic – even when it feels less than magical.
The language shifts that can help us reorient to this perspective of possibilities are simple. The work lies in believing and trusting them to be true.
- It is what it is. This phrase dissolves resistance. There is no denying the truth of this statement and can arrest thoughts of pining for what it is not.
- …and that’s ok. Stating your current circumstances and following it with this phrase of acceptance makes space for acceptance. Whether that acceptance comes immediately or over many, many repetitions of this phrase, a path is created for “okayness” and acceptance to flow through you.
The Practice of Holding Space
These exercises are short, simple, and yet wonderfully powerful. With continued practice, they will change your perspective of self and others. With continued practice, they will cultivate your capacity to hold space in even the most tumultuous circumstanced. The key is in practice. And in always holding space for yourself to not always get it right.