By now, we are used to standing six feet apart as we encounter each other in public places. Using the invisible barrier of space, we protect each other from getting sick, and that’s one thing our world needs at the moment. But I wonder what kind of world we could create if we could learn to metaphorically hold space for each other.
I first encountered the term “holding space” when I began practicing Qoya, although the idea is certainly not particular to that practice. Coaches and therapists do it all the time. Holding space means consciously being present with another person, accepting them as they are without judgement and without the need to control. It includes listening to someone without trying to impact their circumstance or trying to “one-up” them with your own story.
When we hold space for someone, we are seeing them through a lens of compassion and loving kindness. You don’t have to condone someone’s behavior, feelings or words to hold space, you simply need to support them in having their own experience. I like to think of it as a big energetic hug that lets someone know they are perfect just the way they are.
I frequently hold space in my work as a movement teacher and energy healer, and I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to do in this context. But I can think of lots of instances in my personal life when I’ve not done such a great job. Those times when I chime in with my own experiences while someone is trying to tell me about theirs. Times when I’ve been judgmental about a family member’s behavior. Times when I’ve made assumptions about a stranger based on their physical appearance. And the many times I’ve felt that if someone could just understand the truth as I know it, their life would be going a whole lot better.
Holding space takes practice. It requires us to suspend judgment, to let go of the illusion of control, to lay ego aside, and to step out of fear and into trust. Holding space for others also requires us to hold space for ourselves, understanding that none of us is perfect.
So, what would day-to-day life look like if we held space for each other? We would put down our cell phone when our partner was talking to us. The word “idiot” would not cross our mind when the guy not wearing a mask passed us in the grocery store. We would not offer unsolicited advice when our friend whined about choosing the wrong guy…again. We would look that homeless person in the eye and say hello. We would allow our children to fail, then be there for them without criticism when they did. We wouldn’t argue over politics, and we’d never say, “I told you so.”
Social distancing practices have been awkward and uncomfortable, but I feel like I have finally acclimated to them. Now it’s time to work on my metaphorical distancing by becoming more intentional about holding space. This pause in life-as-we-knew-it affords us the opportunity to do some things differently. I would like to contribute more kindness, compassion and acceptance to the world. How about you?