“A healer does not heal you. A healer is someone who holds space for you while you awaken your inner healer, so that you may heal yourself.” ~Maryam Hasnaa
I was sobbing quite hysterically, huddled into myself sitting on the kitchen floor.
It literally felt like my life was falling apart. And so was I.
I had been striving so hard to start a meaningful business that would change the world and help others, as well as heal myself from intense ongoing physical symptoms. But it seemed the harder I tried, the less things worked.
My head bobbed slightly off my knees as I took ragged breaths.
What the hell was wrong with me? The thought that was driving my meltdown was unintelligible in my brain, due to the crashing waves of my emotional reaction.
But somehow, eventually, I found myself able to fully lift my head and stare straight on at my distorted reflection in the stainless steel door of the dishwasher.
The whole while, he sat with me.
My endlessly loving partner, Jonathan, held space.
I remember when I first turned to a friend and said, “What does holding space really mean?” I asked with the inquisitiveness of a child, like a small human who does not yet know what a word means.
Because with something like this, can any of us really find the words to accurately explain it?
She used a story in an attempt to define it, “When I was really freaking out about something, I went over to my friend’s house and just let it all out. My friend was able to just listen to me and just you know… hold the space.”
“Holding space” is a concept that is hard to define without using the exact same words to define it. But as she explained it to me, I realized I’ve been lucky to have many experiences of people holding space for me, and I for them.
When it comes down to it, what are we really doing when we are “holding space?”
The interesting thing about this term is that we aren’t actually “holding” anything.
When your daughter comes home from school and wants to tell you all about her day, and you listen intently… you are holding space.
When your boyfriend vents about how hard work was that day, and you give him your full attention… you are holding space.
When you are flipping out over one thing or another or all the things, and someone looks at you with complete acceptance… that is holding space.
When you are both recognizing what is currently is going on, and open to stepping into a new reality… that is holding space.
Holding space is about being in the space.
It’s about being fully present with the experience. Holding space is viewing someone without judgment and seeing him or her through loving kindness. Holding space is recognizing that although we all may stumble, we are all also so powerful.
Holding space is like holding the door open for someone to walk through to experience a new model of the world. Instead of feeling like the walls are caving in, holding space literally gives breathing room to express, open up, and simply be where we are.
What we are really doing when we hold space is nothing but pure acceptance—of ourselves, of others, and of the moment.
As Brene Brown says, “When we are looking for compassion, we need someone who is deeply rooted, is able to bend, and most of all, embraces us for our strengths and struggles.”
Those compassionate, rooted people in our life are invaluable to help us weather the storm and stand in the light again. But what happens when that other person just is not available to you in that moment?
Holding space doesn’t have to involve anyone else physically being there with us or listening to us directly. You can each hold space for yourself. When you are going through something big (or seemingly small), you can hold space for yourself by tapping into self-compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff defines three components of self-compassion as self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-kindness entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Instead of ignoring our pain or hurting ourselves with self-criticism, self-kindness involves being gentle with yourself when you encounter a painful experience.
Common humanity is that reminder that we all suffer. We are all mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect. This suffering is part of the shared human experience. Realizing that can help us feel less isolated and more connected within that space.
Mindfulness is taking a balanced approach to our challenging emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Instead of “over-identifying” with our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness is a willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness, clarity, and equanimity. It’s a non-judgmental way of becoming aware of our inner experience as it is, without trying to suppress or deny.
We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion at the same time. This means, the more you can hold space for yourself, the more you can hold space for others. In that space, we all experience what it means to feel unconditional love.
When you feel unconditionally loved, you are able to fully own your own experience and truly be who you are. There is a calmness and clarity and an ability to also love the world as it is.
This is where true power comes from. When we are able to be in unconditional love, all of our thoughts, words, and actions flow from it. We are bringing more of that love into the world.
Which means holding space isn’t just beneficial for one. It benefits all.
By loving ourselves, we also hold space for the world.