Nowadays you’ll hear many people talking about ‘Holding Space’ and it may sound like a newly invented, esoteric New Age thing. I’d rather see it as a natural expression of key qualities for social interaction in various contexts. They help us to create a container in order to facilitate healing, transformation and growth.
How do you feel if somebody listens to you with full awareness, giving you enough room to express your emotions and thoughts that you like to share? How do you like a Yoga class where you have enough space for your journey inwards? Do you like a workshop where you are allowed to be just as you are, as part of a group in midst you feel safe and respected? Naturally, we are drawn to teachers and companions in whose presence we feel secure, accepted and supported.
These are examples of ‘containers’ that are helping you to grow and heal, to progress on your own path, in your own time. Someone holding space helps you to make your own experience without feeling judged or pushed. You can walk in your own shoes while being guided in a gentle way.
So holding space is not limited to group facilitators, teachers or therapists. It can be applied both in your personal relationships and at work. There are other occasions and roles where you can hold space too: The mother listening to her child, the bodyworker attuning to his client or good friends talking to each other. In each context there are key attributes and requirements they all have in common.
Key Aspects of Holding Space
Heather Plett beautifully summarized what holding space is all about: “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.”
It is an ongoing process and nothing that can be mastered with a certificate. How can it then be learned? My way of learning has been mostly to observe people (Yoga teachers, bodyworkers, healers, friends and family) holding space for others and then apply and integrate it by constant practice. And yes, I also observed things I did not like in their behavior and attitude. Getting a sense of what something means and truly understanding it, can also mean finding out what it is not: being impatient, pushing others or being overwhelming, wanting others to do it in the same way than you do, having preset expectations, overlooking energetic and underlying vibrations, being too deep in you own processes, showing off your own skills and putting yourself in the foreground (or higher than others), judging mistakes, discouraging certain emotions, wanting to heal somebody or devaluing people that are just on the beginning of their (spiritual) path.
This is all very human and needs vigilance not to let the Ego be too much involved in playing its games. Many of the roles we play prevent us from being authentic and this will of course be reflected in the way you are treated by others. We are so quick to judge, to label and give advises even if we are not asked to do so. In a way, holding space has a lot to do with how we see the world, ourselves and others. So as you are in your own processes, do your homework and reflect upon yourself, observe whatever is coming up, meditate upon the essence that underlies all living and develop a set of core values that will help you greatly to be a valued ‘space holder’. Knowing how you like to be treated gives you a guideline how to approach others. It is such a great gift that you can present to them: giving people your full attention and unconditional support with an attitude of tenderness, compassion and confidence, which will facilitate trust and the opening of the hearts.
Holding Space as a Yoga teacher and Retreat Facilitator
I am lucky to work in a retreat place where I can constantly practice holding space for small groups of people that stay together for one week. Holding space is a big part of our work here, including all the logistic work in the background of course. We love to do it because we know how valuable it is. It’s about looking after the whole while taking care for each participant. People come from different places all over the world to visit Bali, to practice Yoga and meditation, to rest and reflect while inspiring each other and sharing experiences. So much can happen in one week for them, especially when they are in times of transition, grief or stress. It is a precious moment when seeing their faces upon departure, in which you can see their increased contentment, relaxation and sense that they have come a big step closer to their true being. Being part of such a beautiful work in this unique setting on Bali is very rewarding. It is also a space for your own leaning and growing. If you do it professionally, take good not to drain yourself energetically and make sure that you don’t lose yourself while you are there for others.
Practicing Holding Space
There are so many ways where you can practice holding space. When you are with your dear partner: Allow silence to just hold each other in an unconditional way, feel the tender touch skin on skin, heart-to-heart connection. When you teach a Yoga class: Observe closely where everybody is standing before guiding them along. When you talk to a friend: Attune to her by listening closely with empathy and allow more space before you react and comment. When you are in midst of your own processes: Observe whatever is coming up with a sense of curiosity and compassion, taking good care of yourself as if you were your own child or best friend.
The following can be very helpful to create a sacred space for healing. You don’t have to be a professional for that. You can apply it when a dear person is sick or needs support in dealing with upcoming emotions. You might just want to assist in touching her hand or shoulder, heart or diaphragm. Let your intuition guide you and be there with full awareness, focusing more on presence than a preset sequence or technique. One of my favorite quotes of Eckhart Tolle is “Doing is never enough if you neglect Being.”
Take some moments before you actually “do something” to feel yourself and then feel the connection to the receiver. Breathe in and feel your own space, breathe out and feel the space of your partner. Feeling your own back can help you to give enough room to the other while you are holding space. Connecting to the horizon (even if not visible) can help you to be aware of the space around you. And every interaction is an invitation to connect on a heart-to-heart level. Attune to the breath of your partner and if possible, breathe together with her. Provide a safe container to allow anything to come up what needs to be released. Allow any emotions and sensations to arise and pass away. Let it flow and be with what is: Acceptance instead of resistance. As you are present in the here and, fully awake to look, listen and feel, you allow the situation to unfold, trust in the process and deeper intelligence of our bodies, and let your Ego and its desires get out of the way to allow the divine magic to happen. Let your work and relationships be a practice in mindfulness meditation, pure unconditional love and in presence of being, knowing that in the essence we are all one.
This article was published in Kula Magazine No. 20/2015: http://issuu.com/desaseni/docs/kula_20_web
Book Recommendation: Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth