The first handful of times I heard the term “holding space” I regarded it as New Age jargon and didn’t give it serious consideration. Once in my mid-20s I was at a big dance event and the movie Baraka was being projected onto the walls. Amidst beautiful, sometimes haunting imagery, we were taken to an egg factory. The camera show piles of fuzzy yellow chicks tumbling down conveyor belts, some being culled (because they were male), and others having their beaks clipped and crammed into cages.
There was a sudden collective moan of sorrow through the crowd. Someone shouted, “Breathe! Hold space for them!” I remember thinking, “What does that even mean?”
Well, now I know what it means and I think it was good advice – not just to hold space for the chicks, but to hold space for everyone involved. I also think that the words “hold space” are perfect for describing this practice. It’s an art, really. It comes natural to some people but not most. Many gifted healers, teachers, and guides are skilled at it even if they’ve never heard this term. I consider it one of the most important things we teach in the Dragontree Life Coach training program.
Holding space has a few meanings for me. First, it means to become a neutral, benevolent container for what’s happening. That is, hold this moment in your consciousness – ideally until some resolution or balance has developed. This entails giving your attention to what’s happening right here, right now and supporting its natural unfoldment.
When we’re holding space, we’re not trying to diagnose, fix anything, or come up with the answer. We’re not trying to be impressive or spiritual, and we’re not hoping to get approval. Also, we’re not departing from the task at hand to meander into the forest of our own thoughts. Holding Space for the Magic
Second, holding space means focusing on and prioritizing the space itself. By space here, I mean the formless consciousness that is the Universe – the matrix from which all objects (things, feelings, ideas) arise. You could also call it God or Undifferentiated Awareness or Spirit. It’s the bulk of the iceberg, while the stuff that tends to get 99.9% of our attention is the very tip. Because space is more ethereal than form, it not only surrounds everything, but also exists within everything.
When we happen upon a moment in space, it usually feels very good – our stories fall away and we expand into that space (because we are the space). But the ego doesn’t like it, so it generates discomfort. “Hey! Don’t forget about me! You need me!” it yells. “Come back! I’ve got some juicy gossip and some intense fears and a long list of grievances with the world!” The ego’s tactics can be compelling. This is one of the reasons why space-holding takes practice.
Thus holding space also means maintaining the space – staying expanded, bringing in and honoring Spirit, remaining open – and abstaining from the compulsion to fill it up with your stuff.
In the case of the chicken scene, it would have been a difficult setting in which to hold space for all the layers needing illumination (from the suffering of innocent creatures, to the knowing that we are complicit in this if we buy chicken, eggs or pet food, and so on). But there are opportunities for space-holding all the time, and I see the magic of it so clearly in our life coach trainings – the magic of a whole room of coaches holding space for one individual to see themselves, heal, and blossom.
Holding space isn’t just for a formal coach-client or healer-patient setting, it’s a practice by which the mundane becomes holy, and we can do it all the time. At first, and sometimes later, it can feel like hard work. It takes discipline to stop thinking and hold your attention on the Now. It takes trust to not intervene or analyze. But it’s deeply rewarding.
When you hold space for someone, even if they don’t know what you’re doing, they tend to experience that spaciousness. There’s more space between their thoughts. There’s a broadening of perspective. They begin to open and heal. Your space-holding is like a bridge that helps them access their higher Self.
You can hold space for anything, for any and every moment. Things that are naturally riveting – like a baby being born – can be easier to hold space for because they’re so uncommon and so obviously miraculous. However, there’s much to be learned and experienced through holding space for the “everyday” – for the blowing of a tree in the breeze, for the dripping of a water faucet, for the barking of a dog. Let’s both hold space for whatever is happening right now for the next thirty seconds.
Mmmm. That was good. By the way if training to be a life coach isn’t up your alley but you still like the inner exploration I’ve been writing about, consider taking the preliminary to the coaching program – a stand-alone course called Sacred Expansion. It’s an eight-week deep dive to connect with your authentic self and bring it to the forefront of your life.