holding space and what it means to me*


I was listening to a voice memo that a dear friend sent to me via text message this afternoon and as she always has, she offered me so much mind nourishment.  Mind nourishment.  That feels better in my bones these days than "food for thought"

Speaking of phrases that feel good in my bones...lately I have found myself pulling away from phrases that I hear in abundance.  I think sometimes I feel over saturated with phrases or statements and my concern is that they begin to lose their genuine meaning to me and because when I first heard them, it meant so much, I don't want that to happen. 

One example that feels so very tender for me to confess is "holding space" for someone.  I hear that everywhere within my community (both online and in person) and its such a beautiful sentiment and concept.  It truly is and the first time I heard someone tell me they were holding space for me when I was going through (in)fertility, tears fell down my cheeks and I felt so heard and understood and validated and also surprisingly empowered

But now...gosh, now I feel it is said so so much (I hear myself saying it to), especially online, and to me personally, its lost something for my heart.  I don't want to receive it with skepticism (or worse judgment on myself or anyone) because I know the intention is just so soulful and healthy for relationships. I'm doing some real soul work around it because the idea of holding space for someone moves me deeply but I really wonder what that means to each individual and if we truly are holding space for people when we say we are. 

I was sitting on a couch with a friend not too long ago and she was sharing a very deep part of her heart and tears were falling and I reached out to her, held her hand in mine and tears fell from my cheeks as she shared.  I held back the urge to offer advice or to fix it for her and just listened in silence. I felt down deep, I was there, holding her, and in that moment all she needed was her unraveling to be held gently and nothing else.  Part of my tears were because I am an empath but also because this awareness washed over me that this...this is what holding space was to me personally.

So I struggle.  Because when we tell a friend through email or Facebook or Instagram or even on the phone that we are holding the space for them and then we go about our daily lives and our minds drift from them to what is in front of us, are we still holding it?  Do we hold it temporarily? Are we just saying it because it sounds beautiful? Or because its cool and the thing to do in spiritual communities?

I read this article yesterday and it helped.  What stuck with me in this article is that holding space for someone means you are...

  • Letting go of judgment

  • Opening your heart

  • Allowing another to have whatever experience they're having

  • Giving your complete undivided attention to the situation/other person

Another article says the same thing in a bit of a different way.

"It means when someone is going through something, you hold down the ground for them to have their own time and space to work out whatever they’re going through. 

You provide stable, solid ground for them to be completely where they’re at, without judgment, criticism or blame. A neutral territory for the other to just... be. You have faith in their intelligence to figure it out of their own." 

All of that is pretty big.  Holding space for someone or a group of people is such a sacred thing to do and mostly not a natural thing for us to do because it takes heart work for the one sharing and the one holding to be intentional about allowing the holding space process rather than the "fix it" process. Perhaps part of me fears the idea of holding space will become similar to how we in this culture say hello...

"Hi, how are you?

I'm good, how are you?

I'm good."

...and we move on and go about our day.

I realize this conversation above is a time issue.  Most of the time we all in a hurry or have somewhere to go and really don't have time to stand there and share how we are REALLY doing but if we are somewhat aware that we are not being genuine, I find it curious that we still continue to do it.  

I have another friend who rather than answers "good" to the question "how are you?", she says something specific, like...

"I'm hungry and am craving some raw food because I binged on carbs all day yesterday, you?"

She inspires me to practice this.  For me, its a practice in being genuine and mindful about what comes out of my mouth and the times when I'm feeling so distracted or tired and I forget and catch myself saying "good, how are you?"  Because just a few moments ago when I ordered my coffee at this cafe where I am writing this, I did that very thing. I giggled at myself when I walked away because I realize how very deep it is ingrained in me, in our culture, in all of us, really.

So part of my intention for the new year is to be mindful of what is spoken from my lips, what I offer with my words in both light and deep conversation because its important to me that I am genuine and it is important to me that the person I am connecting to feels heard and seen and its important to me that I am being authentic and honest about what I can offer someone.

I know its not an easy task and I am not fooling myself thinking it is.  I am gentle on myself about such things.  I have to be as a mama to a child with special needs because I'm pretty much tired all the time. ; )

The last thing I want is to become a skeptic that when someone tells me they are holding space for me, I am not turning around feeling triggered or rolling my eyes because I heard it 5 times prior that day and don't believe them.  I want to trust those beautiful words again and other meaningful sentiments. 

All part of my own soul work, which is why I'm starting with me.

Something that helps me loosen up and free myself a bit from being hard on myself about it is my few confidants.  A few friends that know I struggle with this phrase, so they purposely leave me messages singing the words "I'm holding space for you!!" or text me with complete sarcasm and goofiness on the topic.  Or they send me this pic...

Screen shot 2013-10-19 at 10.41.41 PM.png

I think I peed my pants laughing when I first was sent this.

So while I am working on being intentional about what I say to people this year, I will also allow the humor of not taking myself too seriously, which helps the whole being gentle on myself part. ; )

Regardless, confessing this here is a really big huge tender thing for me.  I'm using all my braves.