I knew I had to get away.
One too many nights of my then-husband coming home drunk. One too many episodes of bi-polar manic aggression. One too many days of trying to get out the Crisis Team as he threatened to kill himself. One too many conversations asking for help from his naïve family in whose eyes he could do no wrong, and who thought that I should just keep on loving him no matter what.
And so, about 15 years ago, I took a week out. I knew that if I didn’t, I was in very real danger of breaking.
I’d woken out of sleep sobbing—the kind of sobbing where part of you looks on, listening and watching in horror as the other part of you gradually realizes that those sobs are beyond you to stop. The kind of sobbing that tells you you’re so close to the edge that you really could fall off it. Or even jump, just for the relief it would bring.
I was too full of feeling, too full of pain. And it wasn’t even mine.
One too many of just too much. That moment when you know, with crystal clarity, that you can’t do this anymore. When self-love wins out over any sense of guilt or failure to love enough. The moment you realize you’re holding your breath, waiting to make a decision your whole being—the universe itself—is urging you to make.
And so, finally, I took a week out.
I needed peace and silence, nature and stillness, and so I chose a cozy hotel in the heart of the countryside that accepted pets, packed a small bag and my two springer spaniels, and set out on a journey to healing.
What happened there changed my path, and the course of my life.
I experienced something so extraordinary that it has stayed with me, and profoundly influenced my understanding of pain and healing, ever since.
My days settled into a rhythm of sorts. I’d get up early, take the dogs for a walk in the woods or by the lake, then go down to breakfast. That done, I’d go out again with the dogs and walk and walk, sit awhile, walk some more. I was out from dawn until after dusk, when I’d go back for my evening meal. The emotions running through me, the fears gripping me, the grief and confusion I felt, were burning me up, and try as I might, I could find only short-lived periods of respite before it would all start again.
Then, slowly, I became aware that there was one place where, just for a while, I started to taste the quality of stillness I’d been longing to find. It was always in the dining room, during breakfast and dinner. It was the strangest thing. It seemed to happen inside me.
What I felt was a sensation I’ve tried many times to adequately describe, and I still haven’t gotten it right. The nearest I can get is to call it a tender hug around my heart. A soothing calm that started in my abdomen and would gradually flow out from there into every part of me, and as it spread its warmth through me, I would know with absolute certainty that everything would be okay. All fear would disappear, to be replaced by a deep sense of safety and well-being; the unbearable confusion would dissipate, and I would that find I could think. It was like balm poured over sore wounds—a sense of being held so completely that I wondered how I could ever have doubted that I could survive this.
By the end of the week, I knew what I was going to do, how I was going to do it and that I was going to be able to cope with all it would bring. I felt wonderfully whole. The word I want to use is, “healed.”
On the final morning, as I was finishing breakfast before getting ready to leave, an elderly woman approached my table and sat down. I’d been aware of her presence in the dining room throughout the week. We’d exchanged brief glances of greeting and recognition most days, but we’d never spoken. Yet I had the strangest sense that she somehow knew me, and that I knew her. I felt her warmth, her care and concern. Her eyes held mine with a steadiness that made me feel safe, known.
Safe and known. That feeling. The tender hug around my heart. Suddenly, I got there, just as she covered my hand with hers.
“Are you feeling better now?” Her voice was quiet and unbelievably gentle. Oh, the knowing in it, as her hand squeezed mine.
“But how did you know?” I asked her.
“I just did,” she replied. “I felt all your pain, all your sadness. I’ve been sending you love and healing all week. I hope it’s made a difference.”
I shared with her all I’d experienced in her presence and just what a difference it had made. I wanted her to have the feedback, to know just what she’d done, how amazing she was. But she stopped me. She would have none of it.
“I’ve done little more than keep you company,” she insisted. “One human being keeping a fellow human being company for a while, till they remember who they are once more. You’d lost yourself, and now you have you back again. I did nothing more than hold the space for you in the meantime.” Then she added, “And the love.”
And yes, she’d done that, and more. This woman had restored me, intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or not, energetically to a state of well-being and steadiness, yes. But more than this, she had empowered me with her own still, loving, accepting presence, holding space for me in order for me to find my own essence once more.
The gift of presence is the most beautiful and remarkable gift that one soul can offer to another.
Sacred space, immovable trust in another’s ability to find themselves again if only we will patiently and lovingly keep them company. A friend of mine, a Quaker, talks about, “holding another in the light.” She’s done that many times for me, and I’ve always felt and known it, before she even told me.
So what is it, this amazing gift we give each other? How come we feel it so profoundly—not just across a room but even from many miles away?
I believe it to be the gift of our true essence, a holding of another within the highest vibration any of us can attain: love. I believe that this is the energy that not only flows through us at those times, but also that which we all are when we come home to ourselves. The energy we are when we go beyond, into the stillness of who we are where nothing divides us, because we know—with the most profound knowing—that we are all one and the same.
Ram Dass spoke a most beautiful truth when he said, “We are all just walking each other home.”
I believe the gift of presence is how we do that. And that has to be the most precious gift any of us can give: the tenderest reminder, in a moment of deep human pain, of who we all really are.
The Value of Holding Space with Another’s Grief.
Author: Janny Juddly
Editor: Toby Israel
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