The first ten years of my career I was strictly a therapist. The most important thing I could do for my clients was hold a space for them. The same is true for Yoga, Healing, and the hospice work I do. How on earth do you "hold a space" for anyone? Holding a space "means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control." * It takes years of training and practice to truly understand and feel when you are actually doing this. It takes psychic energy, and not the kind where you know what's happening next, the energy of your whole being. It's letting the mind drop away and the heart to come forward.
The reality is you don't need the training and practice to hold a space for someone you just need to ask them what they need. "what can I do for you while... you're parent is dying, your child is sick, you are sick, the state of the world is bumming you out..." A loved one will hopefully be willing to do this. But in honor of the year (okay now it's two years) of self-care I say ask for this space to be opened. I was in an argument with a friend recently during a really stressful time. In fact I needed this friend to help me through, and needed to cry on a shoulder. I knew our argument wasn't going to go away so I asked, "I need you to be generous right now. I'm scared and sad. I need you to be thoughtful to my feelings. This is my crisis time and I need you to support me. Can you be here for me?" This person doesn't know about holding a space. Has never really had to do it except maybe as a parent. It took a few more times of being a broken record to finally get this need met. I would have gone on to someone else if it didn't work but it did. The argument was set aside and I found the shoulder I needed. I needed a space, I needed to feel how terrible it was and just sit in the yuck. I did it...not an easy task sometimes is it?
The thing is I think it wasn't my training but my year of self-care actually allowed me to figure out what I needed. I was in an emotional crisis. (You know like the ones we have at least a few times a year when life throws the curve or fast balls.) I didn't want to hear how my mistakes were a part of why I was in crisis, or what I could do differently, or to be told I told you so, something I have been used to hearing my entire life. I needed to just be a normal human being in a difficult place with a friend who wouldn't judge, fix, or soothe me.
So why am I talking about all this? Surely we all know how to be a good friend and help our friends? I ask you this. The last time you had a friend sit down with you did you really allow them to sit in their emotion? Did you try to make them feel better by saying something like: "the world, God, Universe, never gives you more than you can handle."; or "I'm here and we can figure something out"; or "lets just have some tea/wine/beer/eighteen margaritas and forget about it." All of these things aren't bad they just aren't giving space. We don't like to see our loved ones in pain, angry, or insert uncomfortable feeling, so we try to sooth ourselves & them by making it go away. Instead I urge you to instead listen, sit without a word of advice or encouragement, allow your loved one to fall apart (they will really be alright in the end in fact better). In the end you will face your loved one with courage and a full heart.
I was encouraged to write this in response to an article by Heather Plett, What it Rally Means to Hold Space for Someone". It's a beautiful article on how to hold space for someone when a loved one is dying or has already died. If you are interested in reading it click on the link below.