On Holding Space

Read This Article. Seriously. Read it. Read the whole thing.

If you do any kind of counseling, or clergy work, or even just group work in a sensitive context, then, like me, Holding Space is a skill you need to develop, and continually explore. If you have friends and family you care about and want to be better at taking care of in their times of pain and greatest need, if you know anyone with chronic pain, or who is going through major stress, life changes, or other challenges, you need this skill.

Does that sound like just about everyone? Yep, it is. Because really, we all need this skill in our lives, and precious few have it.

One good days this is a thing I can do. More often than I’d like, I fall prey to my troubleshooting impulse, and offer advice. I’m an excellent troubleshooter, and proud of my problem-solving skills, so naturally I want to offer them to anyone I care about who may need my help. But that’s often not what they really need, and my pride and desire to help has to take a back seat to their true needs if I’m going to actually help.

On the one hand, many people actually come to me because I offer useful advice, including ethical advice. I’ve been working on first asking if advice is acceptable, but people are frankly unlikely to say “no”, if only to avoid being rude. I’ve been focused on offering any advice without an additional load of judgement. Those are good steps in the right direction, but they’re not the whole picture. On the other hand, many people come to me because I’m pretty good at being non-judgemental, and at those times, many people need me to not be in a fixing mode.

Ritual space, counseling space, requires a kind of focus that is hard for many people to maintain. It’s often actively stressful to maintain, especially if someone in the circle is having a hard life, and trying to express it. A pressure builds, and we want to let that pressure go. We want to escape the pressure, downplay it, or ignore it.

So we offer distractions. There are times in life when distractions are helpful, sure, but pulling focus away from a ritual isn’t one of those times.

Holding Space goes a step beyond simply focusing, though. Holding Space requires letting go of our expectations on someone else’s behalf. Focusing I can usually do. Focusing without ego or agenda, though, that’s much harder. On the occasions I can, though – often with Freyja’s help – the results are profound.

What are your experiences of Holding Space, whether as the one doing it, or receiving it from others?