I had never heard of this concept before my cancer diagnosis and I must confess, I SUCK at holding space. I have a hard time sitting still and so much of the time I spend listening to people, I’m thinking of how I can help them, how I can meet their needs. Just sitting in silence or just listening to “hold space” for a person is a skill that I’m still working on. Turning off my brain and my instincts to “DO” something about whatever is being discussed is really hard.
When I first heard of this term, I thought it sounded weird. I’m such a literal, grounded person, that anything more subjective is often difficult to grasp at first. As I’ve spent more time in yoga and thinking about holding space, I think it’s more helpful to me to think about what it’s not.
Holding Space is NOT ….
- Thinking about a witty response while half-listening to the other person.
- Jumping in with a story about yourself or your dog or brother or friend or whoever.
- Telling the other person what to do with the information they are sharing.
- Interrupting the other person at any point.
- Checking your watch and wondering when the tirade or the venting or kvetching, etc. will end.
- Any combination of the above five (5) no-nos.
I read in an article that I cannot find now to give proper credit that in order to hold space for someone else, you have to be able to hold space for yourself. This view of holding space for yourself, this author suggested, was linked to the concept of self-compassion. In other words, in order to have empathy and compassion for others, you must be able to apply that to yourself. Being gentle with yourself, being kind in your “self-talk” and accepting that you are who you are, faults and all is a major first step before you can do the same for others.
Maybe that’s part of why I’ve had to get to a different place in my life to be able to hold space for others. Or maybe my own life choices meant that I was never the person that others went to for holding space. As a litigator, my job was to tell people what to do and then fight for whatever it was that I was hired to do. I was always doing. I was always asked to be doing.
Now, not so much.
I do help as much as I can when I’m asked (and sometimes when I’m not asked!), but that part of my life has changed significantly. Because of the people in my life who hold space for me, I can see the value in this practice, in this skill. I see how powerful and impactful holding space can be because it has been modeled to me.
So, today, I recommit myself to practicing holding space. Holding space for myself, for my husband, for my children, for my family, for my friends, for my fellow metsters. I’m so much more comfortable doing something, but until then, I will hold space.