Last year I was reading Alicia Keys book, More Myself, and found myself captivated as she described her husband “holding space for the magic” as they worked on music compositions together. It brought a smile to my face to think of the magic that unfolds in holding space — for ourselves and for others.
“Holding space” was not a new phrase to me. I had come across it numerous times in mindfulness and meditation practices. A basic tool in these practices is to pause — to be aware of those racing thoughts and return to the present moment. For me, to pause was simply a reminder to stop. Holding space was introduced as a more expansive way of pausing. I learned that holding space is an invitation to not only stop but to create some space to fully be present with thoughts, emotions and circumstances.
When I hold space for myself, I get more in touch with specific emotions that arise in various situations. Now I am more able to discern what those emotions are trying to tell me. Over time, I discovered what I was feeling was not necessarily directly related to the situation at hand, but residue from my past. With patience and practice, I learned to acknowledge those emotions and let them go. Then I could more clearly focus on the current situation and respond in a healthier, calmer way. The magic occurs from paying attention to the messages our emotions are giving us. Brene Brown calls the body’s responses to our emotions our “warning indicators” much like you’d find in a car. It is so much healthier to deal with these emotions with awareness than to act on them unconsciously. Its is empowering to no longer be held captive by old patterns.
Holding space for myself when I am in a discussion with others means that I give myself a few moments to check in with myself before responding. If I feel I need more time to actually process a sticky problem, I will say so. Even my young grandchildren are learning to use this technique and will often go to their rooms to think things over when they are feeling overwhelmed. Just this little break can shift the energy in a positive way. Reframing things with a fresh perspective invariably leads to more creative problem resolution.
One major observation I have made is that the better I know and understand myself, the better I am in meeting others with greater empathy, understanding and acceptance. While hard conversations can’t be avoided, they can be more productive with mutual respect.
The most compelling place to “hold space” is when someone is in the throes of real struggle, when life is hard and the circumstances are heartbreaking. The best balm that we can offer to someone in their hour of greatest need is to hold a safe space for them. We create that safe space with non-judgment, empathy and a willingness to fully listen
Brene Brown defines it like this: “When we are looking for compassion, we need someone who is deeply rooted, is able to bend, and most of all, embraces us for our strengths and struggles.”
There have been times in the past when I was well intentioned, but lacked the knowledge to skillfully, compassionately help someone in great need by simply “holding space” for them — and with them. One of those examples was a few years ago when my daughter was overwhelmed. So many parts of her life were going sideways. Instead of sitting quietly with her and truly listening to her, I wrapped her in a momma bear hug and softly said, “Oh honey, you shouldn’t feel that way. Look at all these positives in your life.” The truth is, she was well aware of the positives in her life but they did not negate all that she was truly feeling. And in that moment, she was dealing with a lot of stress and a boatload of very real emotions. My attempts to diminish her pain dismissed all those raw emotions she was processing. This proved to be an invaluable lesson for me.
The lesson that I learned is to offer grace and space for others when they need some emotional glue. Everyone must deal with their emotions, pain and problems in their own unique way. Rarely do others want us to fix things for them. They just want to be acknowledged and valued. They want to know that they are not alone. They want to be able to just dump all the pieces of their puzzle out. It is both a release and relief to unburden themselves of all they are bearing. They need a soft place to land and a safe space to share.
As I reflect back on my own life, I can recall the times when I wish someone had “held space” for me. I realize now that I often pushed through pain when I should have stopped and processed it in the moment. That caused me to carry around a lot of old baggage and emotional scars. With this valuable insight in mind, I encourage others to hold space for themselves and others. This is where we find our strength, our resilience and our compassion — the magic that helps us recover from hardships and heartbreaks.
I’ve also come to have deep gratitude for those treasured friends whom I can count on unconditionally to be “my soft place to land and safe space to share“. In turn, I hope to also be that source of great comfort to others.
The Enneagram Institute https://www.enneagraminstitute.com