Holding Space for Ourselves and Others Takes Skill
When I demonstrate holding space, I hold my arms out as if a child is going to run and jump into them, and I smile. I invite and contain this fun explosion of energy as a gift to both of us. I allow for many possibilities – maybe the child jumps high, maybe to the left – and I hold my arms firmly enough to catch him safely even if there’s some impact. Whether it’s holding space for growing, healing, or dying, the gesture and dynamics are the same: open arms, invitation, non-judgment, safe boundaries, and Love. The tone – joyful or serious – is at your discretion.
It’s easy to hold space for a baby learning to walk. We understand that this is a natural phase of growing up and that falls are part of the learning process. We simply have to provide a guiding hand to keep the baby out of danger while he figures out the details. Most of us came through that particular process pretty well and can easily hold space for other new beings as they go through it.
Love and patience make all the difference
But what happens when space isn’t held well? Imagine a girl learning to climb a tree. If her mother hovers closely out of fear that she’ll fall and hurt herself, she will absorb that fear and self-doubt. Similarly, if her dad pushes her faster than she’s ready to learn, or shouts down her concerns, she won’t get the chance to experience and enjoy her own mastery. In either case, the arms weren’t held open well so she could find her own way. Because of this, she is less likely to hold space appropriately for someone learning a similar skill in the future.
In the case of a teenager going through a difficult phase, you probably have some experience that can help you open your arms and your heart. Even if you didn’t go through that exact thing, you probably went through something challenging as a teenager and your Inner Teenager may have perspective that you’re your Adult self doesn’t. Empathy opens your arms and compassion throws them wide. Judgment makes you narrow your arms and fear can make you throw them up altogether. Ask yourself if there was a time you went through a tough time and someone was able to hold space for you and your situation. If you can recall how supportive and satisfying that felt, you can extend that to the teenager. Remember the open arms, held firmly, with love.
When space isn’t held well
Everyone experiences hard times and difficult emotions. We each have to learn how to feel anger without hurting ourself or others. Ditto, for sadness, grief, lonliness, etc. By adulthood, we have experienced feeling supported through challenging emotions and we’ve felt diminished, humiliated, or shamed for our emotions. Usually, the more you’ve felt support, the more you know how to give it. But you can also learn support through its opposite.
If you didn’t get a lot of safe space held for you growing up, you can still learn from the great space-holders out there. Gandhi, the Dalai Lama – or even your kind next-door neighbor – can show you how to pay forward the gift of holding space for another. Out shopping, you can see a mother who is patient with her son, even when they are both tired and hungry; or in a park, the dad who takes the time to teach his daughter how to throw a ball, even when the motion doesn’t come easily to her. It’s not a given that if you can hold space for someone else, you know how to hold space for yourself. Many of us have trouble receiving the love and support we deeply crave. Ultimately, the best source is our higher self and we all have one to call on.
Holding space for opposing views
What about holding space for someone who sits on the opposite side of the creationist/evolution debate? Or people with completely opposing political views? You hold space for them the same way, by expanding your perspective to encompass a higher, larger view and opening your heart.
I had to do this when I was massaging a cattle rancher from Texas, who insisted on telling me about shooting a dozen condors, furious that they were killing her calves. My job in that moment was to touch her with love. So I held space for myself by taking a few breaths and letting my anger and frustration flow through me. I then opened my heart as I reminded myself that she held her viewpoint just as dearly as I held mine. I was able to hold space for her opinion without specifically agreeing with it – and I came out of the massage feeling bigger than if I had contracted into opposition and judgement. Contracting into our own viewpoint locks down the defensive armor; when there’s no space for the other, we feel diminished, ourselves.
Holding space for sensitivity
It can be challenging to hold space for something you don’t perceive. If you want to help someone who feels something you don’t, how do you relate? What about a sensitive child who has trouble with sound you don’t hear? or intense emotions you don’t understand? What about someone who just got a terminal diagnosis and you have never been through a serious illness? You don’t have to understand specific details or empathize exactly. Just understand they are feeling difficult emotions and open your heart to send them love and acceptance. If you can relate to any difficult feeling you’ve had, you can sympathize. Sympathize means to “feel with.”
When I was depressed, a friend of mine said she had never been depressed and . She had no idea what I was feeling or what I might need in the way of support. Frankly, she wasn’t much help. Not knowing what to do, she closed her heart to me. I didn’t need her to feel what I was feeling. I simply needed her to allow me to feel my feelings without having to explain or change them.
Holding space for aging elders
Then there’s the “pay it forward” aspect of caring for our aging parents. I love what Heather Plett has to say about this in her blog and the fact that she got tens of thousands of hits means we are ready to have this conversation on a much wider scale. We are each a moving-target space holder on the human continuum, in line with our ancestors and our progeny. When several generations live together, young ones watch their elders progress through all the stages of aging and death. They learn how to hold space for this phase. If we go through life largely separated from our elders, we may have difficulty holding space for our own aging. If we don’t die young or suddenly, there’s a strong chance we will need care as we age. It’s easier to accept that eventual care if we have already cared for another.
Because I didn’t get this in my household growing up, I’m consciously hanging out with other elders as they approach death. I’m learning to hold my arms open for my own aging and death by their examples. This is holding space for all of life and that is a sweet space to be in!
Holding space for your own emotions takes understanding and practice. For more on this, plus original cartoons, exercises and ongoing support, check out Issues in Your Tissues and get your copy today!
#emotionalhealing #holdingspace #emotionalrelease #agingparents #difficultteenagers #caregiving #livingaloha