The Art of Holding Space

As life continues to teach, my mind continues to try to categorize and make sense of its lessons.  Recently, the lesson that I seem to be learning over and over again is the art of holding space. (Well, that, and the art of letting go, but we’ve already covered that in previous posts).  Not only have I been learning to hold space for others, I’ve also been learning to create more space for myself.

What does it mean to hold space?

The first time I brought this concept up to my ex husband he looked at me with a blank expression and said, “Okay. What does that mean?”

The funny thing was that I only had this vague picture in my head as to what it meant, and I couldn’t describe it exactly. At the time, what I had wanted from him was more space to be with my own process, my spiritual growth, and to have validation from him in the form of freedom, listening without advising, and acceptance of where I was no matter where that was.

Interesting enough, I was pretty close to what others describe to be the definition of “holding space.”  In a blog that discusses spiritual awakening, James Trolles breaks down the art of holding space into four key components: “Letting go of judgement, Opening your heart, Allowing another to have whatever experience they’re having, and Giving your complete undivided attention to the situation/other person.”

Basically, holding space means that you allow yourself to be with another individual without trying fix them, judge them, win their affection or affect any kind of outcome.

It’s harder than it sounds.

I’m a yoga teacher, an alternative health practitioner, and a medical intuitive — I teach people how to fix their problems on a professional level.  And have you met me? I like to solve problems. That’s part of the reason I got into Ayurveda — putting a report of findings together is like solving a big puzzle.  So when a close friend or lover comes to me with a laundry list of things gone wrong, I immediately go into “fix it” mode.

Note to self: you cannot hold space for someone while simultaneously trying to fix their problems.

Holding space is about allowing a situation to unfold without fueling the emotions that may be part of it.  Holding space is trusting that by allowing a person to express their emotions freely, their deeper healing is already at work.  Anything you say while holding space must be free from your judgements about them and their situation. You get to create a safe space for them to have their process.

In relationships, holding space can be difficult, if not down right scary.  Holding space for a lover may mean being non-reactive when they come to you with tears, and allowing them to cry while you stay neutral to their emotional storm. This can be difficult for a lover who wants you to feed into their emotional issues and debris, rather than hold space so they can dig through it themselves and clean it out.  The practice of holding space for a partner can shake them up or even end relationships that aren’t ready to evolve.

The practice of holding space has illuminated where my emotional work is. As I’ve been practicing with my partner, I find that it brings up questions in my space like “Why can’t he just take my advice? Does he not value my opinion? Is it okay that he wants a week to himself? Do I trust him? Will he still want to be with me once he’s gone through his process?  Am I okay with that? “

So I’ve got some work to do.

Which brings me to the concept of holding space for yourself.  James Trolles says that this concept is silly, since he says that it:

 “reinforces an inner duality that doesn’t need to be there. Building inner space involves becoming the watcher or the witness to your thoughts. . . .This can be a way to develop a deeper sense of stillness, and as you come to understand this deeper space inside you, it becomes easier to let go of “you” and your ego desires and whatnot. Being able to move into this internal space is how we can hold space for another.”

I feel like what I’m doing is trying to push my ego to the side — push aside all the judgements and criticisms I have about who I am, where I am in my life, and the choices I’ve made that have brought me here — so that I can realize that those judgements are just the muck that is making its way from my subconscious and running through my brain. My higher self, that stillness Trolles talks about, doesn’t make judgements and, as long as I’m still alive and having experiences (and most likely after that, too), it’s good to go.

I’ve spent most of my life basing my worth on what I accomplish — how much education I have, how much physical activity I can do, the importance of my field of work, or how much money I have.  But a life based on those things without unconditional acceptance of myself as a person is a life devoid of true happiness and joy.

So not only am I holding space for people in my life, I’m also trying to hold space for myself, so that I can continue to heal my body and make myself more available to my soul. I’m finding that the more space I give myself to just BE, the more joy I find in the simple things.  And the more space I can create for myself to simply BE MYSELF, without the old list of definitions and criticisms, the more joy I’m able to feel and sustain.

As I’ve said before — isn’t sustained joy the whole purpose of life?

I find that the more I hold space for myself, the more joy I’m able to feel, and the more joy I feel, the more space I have to hold for others. So the practice is like a big joy-generating wheel! It’s a little difficult to get it started, but once it’s going, there’s more joy and freedom for everyone involved. The great part about it is that, like yoga, it’s a practice, so you just get to keep trying; once you jump on the wheel, you’re on it; it might slow down from time to time, but the practice is just to keep it going at whatever speed suits you.  Just like the famous yogi, Pattabhi Jois once said, “Practice, practice and all is coming.” All you’ve got to lose is the joy 😉

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