Updated: Feb 19, 2019
The magical phenomenon called “holding space” explained.
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A friend of mine recently asked me to explain what it means to “hold space”.
As a human potential coach and spoken word artist, I’ve been using the term “space holding” a lot lately, and my friend was curious what definitive qualities this nebulous term actually contains. Being a wordsmith at heart, I was delighted by the challenging opportunity the question posed; to translate a complex amorphous concept into a fully crystallized lyrical structure. I also felt an immediate sense of urgency to complete this semantic task, as the understanding of space holding is of great importance in our current cultural and social climate.
My awareness of the magical phenomenon called “holding space” has taken various forms throughout the stages of my life. It began with a scoffing rejection of the suspiciously vague concept, which was no doubt another vocabulary casualty of new age spirituality.
Through the practices of meditation, creative exploration, facilitation, and the ever demanding dynamics of intimate relationships however, my awareness slowly grew from scepticism towards a baseless catchphrase, into an undeniable perception of a foundational energetic eco-system; a living reality supporting and containing all of my interactions in a way that was directly affecting the quality of my communications, relationship dynamics, and creative processes.
This “field” can not only be clearly sensed once you begin to bring awareness to its existence, but it can be significantly strengthened, weakened, maintained, and even curated through the power of intentionality, presence, and care-full cultivation of a harmonious physical, mental, and emotional environment.
As I became increasingly aware of the fact that the quality of an energetic container directly influences the inherent quality of experiences, it became an irrepressibly persistent priority within my consciousness to practice holding this “space”. Every physical environment, every human being, every interaction, every service or offering is within itself an auric field that affects the vibrational quality of all things that pass through, or reside within, its sphere of influence.
This realization has vast implications.
One can predictably influence the caliber and quality of any interaction in a space with the power of their focused intentionality and vibrational alignment with the qualities of virtue, integrity, and presence.
Just think about how environments that have been carefully tended make you feel at ease the moment you enter them; like a spa, wellness center, or manicured garden that is playing gentle music, emanating a pleasing aroma, and kept in immaculate condition for your joy and delight.
Think of how satisfying it is to have a meal that has been lovingly prepared for you in a mouth-watering presentation that is so exquisitely beautiful in sight and smell that it is difficult to even move the food from its pristine placement into your salivating mouth, lest you disturb the care and attention that has gone into its creation.
Think of people who greet you with enthusiasm, warmth and affection, listen to you with genuine interest, and offer insightful and thoughtful responses. See how these people instantly put you at ease, effortlessly dispelling your anxiety and insecurities, allowing you to embody the fullest expression of yourself throughout the interaction.
These are all examples of the universal principles of “space holding” put into action.
To hold space is to create an impeccable container of virtue as a preliminary condition for the highest, most ideal circumstances to unfold within that sphere of influence.
To hold space is to offer the fullness of your noble presence as a selfless offering to others, thinking only of how you may lovingly serve.
To hold space is to be unshakable in your receptivity to the unique circumstances of every single moment; living fully in the present and bringing the power of that presence into all of your activities.
These principles are true and hold immeasurable power on every level; the physical spaces we care for and inhabit, the quality of the objects and services we create and offer, the willingness and attentiveness we carry into our interactions, the intention of every thought, word, and action as they radiate outwards from the core of our beings and into the world around us.
We affect the quality of everything we interact with.
Serving others with this practiced awareness is what it means to “hold space”.
The most immediate and observable example of our power to influence others in a positive way with our stable space-holding presence is in our intimate partnerships, because sexual relationships are by far the most visceral representation of the space-holding capacity we are capable of offering; and it will be tested and reflected back to us with an unparalleled speed and intensity.
Often it is our lover who triggers our deepest wounds, unceremoniously launching us into our most vulnerable states, challenging us to hold on to a level of integrity that so very often seems just out of reach.
The harsh truth however, is that it is within these very moments of strife that we have the greatest opportunity to grow exponentially, and to offer the colossal gift of loving service to one whom we deeply care about and are intimately linked with.
So how do we stand with stability, strength, and gentle receptivity in this personal sphere of relationship wherein conflict and difficulty are magnified, where triggers are woven in and out of a tangled ball of sex, trauma, expectations, miscommunications, and emotional volatility?
The answer is simple, and it is one that most people do not like to hear:
One of the greatest interpersonal secrets is that the vast majority of people are changed through positive example, not through advice, direction, or criticism, unless they are actively seeking to learn from a teacher that they have entrusted themselves to for that specific purpose.
Unfortunately, in our relationships we tend to put so much emphasis on correcting our partners; how unhealthy or unsupportive they are, how emotional, or how infuriating their behaviors are. When this is amplified by gender role expectations, such as the more masculine person as the perpetual space-holder, or the feminine person as the loving, gentle, and nurturing haven of safety, then we condemn ourselves to perpetual suffering in the agonizing cycle of expectation, projection, and disappointment.
The only way out of the mire of unhealthy behavior patterns, victimization, accusations, guilt, blame, and emotional instability is to take personal responsibility for your health and well-being on all levels.
If you need a specific kind of emotional support that your partner is not capable of offering in that moment, release them and seek out a friend who has the capacity to support you in the way that you need. Or take some space from one another and return to the conversation after the surge of emotion has died down or transformed.
If your boundaries are being crossed, assert them with firmness and conviction, without hostility or retaliation.
If you are feeling stifled or suffocated, make it a priority to spend some quality time alone with yourself and communicate that need to your partner with gentle reassurance and love.
If you are feeling abandoned, communicate your desire to connect with your partner through creative date ideas that tie into their personal interests, AND go tend to your friendships, creative projects, physical health, emotional outlets, and spiritual practice. Fill yourself up, no matter how your partner may or may not respond to your efforts.
Once you begin taking charge of your inner fullness, your radiance will be an unstoppable force of irrepressible truth and grace. Needing nothing beyond that which you are capable of providing for yourself through your own volition, you will find that you have infinitely more to give, and the living example of your fulfillment will transform those around you in ways you could not have imagined.
By mastering your ability to communicate your needs, desires, and boundaries with sincerity, strength and compassion, people will rise up to meet you as if by magic, and those that cannot climb to the same lofty height of impeccability will fade to the outer edges of your experience.
When you become obsessed with balancing self-care and selfless service, you will never lack for anything and others will be delighted to serve you in all the areas that you currently feel are deficient.
This is not philosophy. This is the science of space-holding.
Who you are being affects everything within your sphere of influence.
When you realize that your expectations of others are crippling you, and that taking care of yourself and then offering selfless service to others is true freedom and fulfillment, you will discover the great secret, the great Joy of life.
You don’t have to be perfect.
In the face of inevitable conflict and difficulty, all you have to do is keep turning within and asking “What must I learn, and how may I serve?”
When this quest of virtue becomes the unbroken underlying motivation behind all of your thoughts, words, and actions, you will find lasting stability in your fearless, loving service, and others will return the sentiment with radiant joy.
You will stand unshakable amidst the crash of breaking worlds.
That’s what it means to “hold space”.