In a society that pushes us to be productive, multi-task and do more each day, it can be challenging to be present in the moment. We hurry from one thing to the next, finding it difficult to prioritize our many obligations. It can be hard to give full attention to the task at hand. However by holding space, we can be more focused and participate in each moment.
Holding space means being fully present with others while letting go of our expectations. Like an open container waiting to be filled, a space is created that attracts new possibilities. Events can then unfold easily and effortlessly without the restrictions of our expectations.
When we are talking with people, we often try to control the conversation or the activity. We finish someone’s sentences or talk over them, pushing them in directions we choose. We may have been conditioned to believe that controlling situations will get us results (Corrigan), but, in reality, we unintentionally create blocks and interference instead.
However, when we hold the space, we encourage the best possible outcome by being consciously available, patiently receptive (Rattana). The emphasis shifts to listening and observing with less focus on the result, placing more emphasis on the content. We can be with people in a more compassionate and caring manner, building genuine relationships.
Eckart Tolle, author of A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, explains the importance of holding space, especially when spending time with children. He advocates being completely present with children, “not wanting anything other than that moment as it is…You are the alertness, the stillness, the Presence that is listening, looking, touching, even speaking” (Tolle 104). It is through this type of interaction that children feel truly recognized and loved. Tolle also explains this concept applies to adults as well, as they also value this type of compassion.
Holding the space is particularly important when people are suffering at the end of life. Being calm and present as a caregiver or loved one allows space for awareness of what needs to occur. Judith Redwing Keyssar, director of an innovative pallative care program in San Francisco, California, shares three simple tenets she uses to be present at the bedside of those who are suffering:
Find your own seat or place of comfort that enables you to witness someone else’s suffering.
Deliberately notice your breath and allow space between words and actions for breath. Allow yourself to notice and be with the breathing of the person who is suffering was well as your own.
Pay attention to the words, sounds, stories, and breathing as well as to the story line between the words. Listen to the silence in the room. Listening is the gift we give someone whose life story is about to end. (Keyssar 5)
Principles such as these can be helpful in aiding many kinds of suffering.
Holding space helps us to let go of expected outcomes and helps us “get out of the way” so that we may better serve others (Corrigan). By being completely present, we share our compassion. People feel truly seen, heard, and noticed so we know we have participated fully in that moment with them.
Corrigan, Chris. The Tao of Holding Space. 2006. 25 March 2008.
England, Pam. “Holding the Space: A Doula’s Best Gift.” Birthing From Within. 25 March 2008.
Keyssar, Judith Redwing. “Building Holistic Bridges from Life to Death.” AHNA Beginnings, 27(4), 4-5. Fall 2007.
Rattana, Guru. “Holding a Space for Your Truth.” New Millennium Being. 3 July 2005. 25 March 2008.
Tolle, Eckart. A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. New York: Plume/Penguin Group. 2006.Vienne, Veronique & Lennard, Erica. The Art of Doing Nothing – Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers. 1998.