I am the eldest daughter in a family of five siblings, and I have been a natural born “fixer” for much of my adult life. It is my training as a Life Coach that has taught me more powerful and authentic ways of being in the world, both with my loved ones and with my tribe at large. So when my sister called to share with me a tragedy that has befallen a dear friend of hers, the loss of a child, I was compelled to share some of what I have learned…the beauty and power of “holding space” and to explain what the concept means to me in light of this tragedy.
When someone close to us experiences a trauma, a major loss or crisis, it is tempting to want to fix things, help them in any way possible, just do something. Often, there is nothing we can really do to change or remedy the situation or take away the pain we are witnessing, but there is something beautiful and powerful which is more a way of being, and that is the practice of “holding space.”
“Holding space” for someone means you are holding a safe space for them in a trusting and non-judgmental way as they process what has happened and what is currently happening. It is being with them in their trauma experience with an open heart and from a place of unconditional love. It is allowing them an expansive space to be whomever and wherever they are as they work through their pain in their own way, in their own time and as they support others.
“Holding space” means trusting them to know how to express their grief and to know what is best for themselves in each moment of the process. It is trusting yourself to just be with them, listen and allow them to be heard and seen without comment, blame or criticism. It is the act of ‘being with’ any awkwardness or discomfort and filling the space with love and acceptance and not necessarily with words. It is allowing your loving energy and compassion to fill the space of silence. It is also about creating a safe space for raw and complex emotions and ‘being with’ them in a calm and centered way, accepting what unfolds before you with no judgment or expectation.
Holding space means resisting the urge to give advice or talk about what it is like for you or what you would do or have done. You are there to provide support… taking their pain on as your own will not serve them and will take the focus away from them and their needs. If you are asked for guidance or advice, do so with the utmost caution and humility. Your role as space holder is to encourage them to access their own wisdom and intuition and feel empowered to make their own decisions, to do what they know to be best. It is about accepting whatever emotions, beliefs or decisions that are presented, even if they differ vastly from yours.
We can hold space in person as we sit with them or it can be offered over the phone throughout the healing process. We can hold space in meditation or prayer from a distance or simply though intention as we think of them in the same ways we discussed above.
Holding space is a concept that requires practice and remains quite a challenge for those of us who are fixers. I often find myself struggling to stay in the place of space holder and not reverting to my old ways, but it is a practice worthy of consistent effort. As one of my brilliant clients remarks, all true benefits are mutual, thus holding space brings benefits to the space holder as well as the ones being held. When we hold space for others, we practice holding space for ourselves. We become the love and compassion we are holding and, at some point, realize how connected we truly are to all members of our tribe and to every being on the planet. I am holding space for my sister’s friend and sending love and healing light to everyone touched by this tragic loss.