Learning the Art of Holding Space

As a health and life coach, I pride myself in my commitment to meeting someone where they are. I serve as a guide to my clients and while I may offer supportive tools and resources, ultimately I know it is up to them to find the answers for themselves.

This skill of putting aside what we want for someone, listening without judgment and endeavoring to understand where they are in their journey is what’s known as “holding space” and while it comes mostly second nature to me in a coaching relationship; I’m seeing how incredibly challenging this has been for me in my personal life.

I believe, Life is always trying to teach you something and it seems this is what’s on the curriculuum right now and of course, there’s nothing like family to deepen such lessons. Needless to say it’s been both enlivening and humbling.

I’m recognizing my deeply grooved tendencies to be a “fixer”. I can be too quick to make what I believe are helpful suggestions that can ultimately leave the person feeling unheard. I notice that my level of impatience and frustration (no matter how good I may be at masking it) means I am actually carrying quite a bit of judgement.

I’m also realizing that my fears and conditioning are the root of these very human tendencies. They’re the obstacle to doing what I know in my heart is most needed.

And that’s to consciously choose to listen deeply, acknowledge and honor the person wherever they are.

Instead of rushing to save, what if I related to them as a person who I believe will find their way if only given the opportunity.

What if I let myself see them in their highest good, recognzing that we all stumble yet we are also so powerful.

Ironically, holding space takes way more time, energy and patience. It’s so much easier to fill it up with advice, but I’m realizing that happens not so much to meet their present moment needs as much as to soothe my own discomfort. My ego says virtuously, “I tried to help” but often they can be left feeling unseen and unheard.

To truly support others in their own growth and transformation, we can’t do things that take their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shame them (ie. suggesting that they should do more than they can), or overwhelm them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for).

We have to be prepared to give them the freedom to make their own choices, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

If you like “doing” as much as I do, letting go of control in this way can feel really challenging. Of course, this is where my faith in the Universe helps so much, because I remind myself that this person that I love is held by a supreme intelligence beyond what I can know. Just like me, they are on their own journey to learn, grow and evolve.

The gifts of hold space whether for yourself or for others are truly priceless. When the walls are caving in and your soul feels seen and heard you open up a space to heal. To be clear, holding space is an art that evolves the more we practice and it’s unique to each person and each situation.

A good and wise friend of mine shared a powerful metaphor recently that really got to the heart of this subject. It was the image of the beloved animated childen’s character, “Bob the Builder”, with that famous refrain: “Can we fix it, yes we can!” As much as I appreciate the show’s positive message, I realized that I just want to be ever more conscious of my own “fixer” tendency in all my roles as mother, daughter, friend, coach etc.

“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.” Dean Koontz

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