Another day, another walk, another podcast. Today it was about holding space, which is a tricky topic, I think. It seems like such an amorphous, hard to define concept. How do you really “hold space”? It’s not physical, and it’s not just about listening.
The podcast was a conversation with Heather Plett, who has devoted her work to the concept of holding space, and she talked a lot about what the container holding the space is, and how she likes to create a visual of the container, maybe as a bowl, or as a cocoon. I once read an article about meditation talking about how the mind is like a snow globe – all the thoughts shaking around and moving in there, and meditation giving you a chance to put the snow globe down, stop agitating it, and let the snow settle for a few minutes. My mind immediately went to that concept again. What if the snow globe is the container, the place you are holding space for all the swirling snow of change, just like your head is the snow globe holding your swirling thoughts? What if you, by being the snow globe, by holding space, can help the snow settle and someone arrive to a moment of clarity? In this analogy, it’s so clear that you are really not doing anything but being present, because if you shake the snow globe around, things can’t settle. If you remain still and quiet and present, the snow falls to the bottom and the space becomes clear. I really like that and I want to explore it more and see if it keeps making sense later.
The other thing that struck me from the conversation was holding space for ourselves, and how so many of us are good at being present for other people, but when asked if they have someone they can “fall apart in front of”, they all say “oh, no, I am really good at holding myself together”. If we are constantly shoring up our cracks, holding the dam together, keeping everything inside the concrete walls… that puts a lot of pressure on us and our walls, and our boundaries. It is also inevitable that at some point we are not going to be able to keep holding it all in, and when someone who is holding that much together falls apart, it’s got to be pretty spectacular. Whereas if we let ourselves fall apart, if we lower the wall and let the water flow, it’s easier to keep the walls shored up when we need to, because the pressure is less, and we run less risk of crumbling and breaking and flooding, because we are carefully maintaining.
I am bad at this. I bet you are bad at this, too. It’s not easy to let yourself leak your messy inside business all over the place. It’s better to keep a stiff upper lip, to grin and bear it, to hold it in and keep it together. Weren’t we all taught that? But emotions don’t care what we were taught. They care about being felt. They want to be acknowledged and experienced. They need it. They are like babies crying for attention. If they don’t get what they want, they aren’t going to just disappear. They’re going to keep crying.
So now I am dreaming of a group, where we all get together, and we hold space for the group, and then we split up into partners or teams and we get to fall apart. We have someone else to hold space for us, and we generously give them some snow to put into that snow globe. We hold space for someone, and we generously make a beautiful snow globe around their swirling thoughts and emotions, so that they can settle. And, yes, I am mixing my metaphors. Dams and snow globes and babies. But I don’t think it matters. I think what matters is that somehow we are able to find a place to fall apart a little, with someone kind enough to keep us from scattering all over the place, so that we don’t explode.