The moment we cease to hold each other,the moment we break faith with one another the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. ~~~ James Baldwin ~~~
Holding space for another person is an unselfish act of giving. What does holding space mean? It means that we bring our full attention and being into the moment when we are with another. It means we set aside our mental process for a time. We disengage from giving attention to our emotional process. This does not mean that we do not feel anything as we attend and allow with the other. Instead it means we simply let the emotion or feeling arise, but continue to give good attention to the other, so that their experience is allowed in its fullness. We usually do not speak but rather we make good eye contact (unless intuitively it seems best not to). Our body language reflects that we are open and available. We may speak briefly if a question is asked directly, yet the attention remains with the other until the time is complete. Any speaking is usually reassurance so that the other continues, just a reminder that we are right here and listening. The time feels complete when the other has spoken or shared emotional content until they arrive at a place that feels "finished" to them, when there is a sense of emptiness or completion to the process that they are sharing. They will "feel" this completion, usually a sense of emptiness and gratefulness arises. And hopefully, a feeling of peace as they let go of what may have burdened them.
Doesn't that sound good? Who doesn't want that kind of loving attention? Unfortunately, we may have been conditioned to resist or feel discomfort with it. We may not be accustomed to having such undivided attention and time offered freely from another. We can recondition ourselves to enjoy this experience, as we find it and learn to let go in the space held by another, for us. Just as we can recondition ourselves to receive it, we can also learn and practice the skill of holding space for another.
What does it take to gain this skill? Willingness - we must be willing to let go of our own needs and wants for a time to offer our space to another completely. This might mean a shift in how we normally operate in the world. It means learning to let go of self interests and of being right. It means we let go of wanting equal time, and waiting to respond to the other to get our opinions or thoughts into the mix. It means we cultivate the practice of simply being with another, without agenda other than being present and attending to other. It means we develop a tolerance for letting another feel their feelings without the need to fix, change or control. It means learning to hold the heart open while we allow and acknowledge.
When we give the gift of holding space freely, we also receive. We receive a sense of wonder that we are capable of this loving kindness - that it really is this "simple" to be supportive and caring. Often times we have been conditioned to believe taking care of others is tedious work. In this belief we often do more than what would be truly helpful. The simplest act of this kind requires that we also have taken time and loving attention with ourselves, to heal and soothe what needs attention within us, so that we can let go and offer to the other fully.
Perhaps this is the key to unlocking our innate ability to hold space for another - finding and experiencing the loving space we most deeply want from others, from those that willingly give.