Recently a friend asked me to "hold space" for him. Life is bubbling up some big shit and he is working to make sense of it all. That sounded more than vaguely familiar to me, so when the request came to hold space, I agreed to doing so without hesitation. And, I asked for him to do the same for me. We have committed to being present to one another in an intentional way, so that we might each find ourselves more able to do the work that is ours to do. No one can do our work for us. Our questions are our own to live. But there is something good that happens when we live them together. Going it together reminds us that we are not alone in our efforts to make sense of things.
Holding space for someone is part of what it means to be in relationship with those we care about. But what does it really mean to "hold space" for someone? My friend wasn't asking me for my advice, to share my ideas, or give him some thoughts on the matter. He was asking that space be held, by me, for him, to do what he had to do. Since I believe that the words we use matter, I decided to start with the dictionary. Space, among other things, is defined as a continuous expanse that is free, available and unoccupied. Each element gives insight into what it might mean to hold space for another human being.
A CONTINUOUS EXPANSE: We need room to do our inner work, because such an endeavor requires that we take things apart, spread them out, identify what we have to work with, what we are missing, and what is no longer useful. Then, and only then can we figure out how to put things back together in a new and more wholehearted way.
A space that is FREE: Any craftsman will tell you that clutter gets in the way of doing good work. There is no better work than crafting inner lives that connect who we are with what we do and how we do it, A clean workspace is one that is free of judgements, advice, instruction and criticism.
A space that is AVAILABLE: Insight and understanding, exploration and discovery, all have their own timetable...they don't usually show up on demand. Available space is room that is ours for the taking. It is at our disposal and is space to which we have total access anytime of the day or night.
A space that is UNOCCUPIED: No one else lives there. It is ours to inhabit. If someone else joins us there it is because we have invited them in.
To hold space means to offer a continuous expanse that is free, available and unoccupied. It can be mental, emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical space within which to do the good, hard, and sacred work of becoming more fully ourselves.
To hold space means to walk alongside, and to listen deeply.
To hold space means to offer support without conditions, and to ask questions without providing answers.
To hold space means to create a framework within which to feel safe enough to fail and courageous enough to risk.
Space held communicates that we are seen and heard. It reminds us that we are not alone and that there is someone standing with us and believing in us. Holding space means we are available rather than intrusive, supportive rather than directive, and respectful rather than judgmental.
Holding space for one another is how we are able to find our way forward in the life that is ours.