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May 18, 2017

What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone.

Life is chaos. Simple and plain.

Regardless of what our situation is, human beings feel quite similar. We have similar problems, even if they might express themselves differently.

What I’m saying is, life is tough no matter who we are or what our background is. The human predicament is something entirely universal, and because of that we could all use a bit of help from time to time.

We help each other by holding space for each other, by giving the energy of our attention to the pain and struggle of another human being.

What does it mean to hold space for another?

Well, let me tell a story to preface this a bit.

I had an experience recently in which someone I was very close to was in a tremendous amount of pain, and I didn’t know what to do about it. They were hurting in a way that I couldn’t empathize with or really understand, but I still wanted to help them.

There was really no advice I was capable of giving, nor was there any manner of being that I could really recommend to this person. They were helpless, and I was not equipped to help them.

It really is quite a powerless feeling when someone we love is suffering and we have no antidote for it. It’s like not being able to hold and comfort a crying child, and I truly don’t say that to be demeaning. In a way, we are all children with a set of basic needs, and, when those needs aren’t met, we react accordingly.

What do we do in times like these?

We hold space, which is to say we truly give ourselves over to the other, give the entirety of our awareness to the experience of another.

It seems relatively simple in theory, but it is actually a profoundly difficult thing to do because we are always thinking about ourselves. We cannot hold space for someone, truly be there for another, when we are wrapped up in our own egos.

We are all selfish to some degree—and surely it is, in many ways, necessary to be that way and give credence to our own experience and state of being—but it is certainly valuable, at times, to let go of this self-care and give all of our energy to someone else. For a moment, for a day, for however much time is needed if we truly care about this person.

Holding space does not imply just focusing on and listening to a person, rather it must imply truly being present for and hearing that person. This difference must be recognized.

It is not an intellectual understanding of what this person is contending with. It is a real and true experiential engagement—a dissolving of the barrier between subject and object so as to really immerse oneself in the felt experience of the other. Here, there is no other—no person that is distinct and separate from ourselves—but rather a complete and total integration of two souls.

This is beyond empathy. We don’t need to necessarily know the experience of the other or be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the other. Rather, it is much deeper than that. It is a deeper connection than that, because putting it that way still implies a detachment between the two of us.

It is not about my particular set of experiences and personal disposition and your particular set of experiences and personal disposition. Instead, it becomes about the field of mutuality in which we both reside. The one field: the archaic unity between us, the ancient bond that exists here that is beyond name and form.

Holding space is really a form of momentary self-sacrifice. We give ourselves away, let go of our thought-identified sense of personhood, so as to truly be with the other person and understand on a spiritual level what they are going through.

I really hope I haven’t become too mystical here, or at least not so much that what I am saying isn’t understood. To me, this is all very practical, and I’m sure many of us have had this kind of experience in which that sense of division between us totally melts away. It is really quite beautiful, and, even if that person’s suffering cannot be dissipated in some way, the experience remains holy and powerful for both parties.

Holding space for another means dissolving all inner boundaries, freeing oneself of all self-centered activity, so as to be deeply aligned with the other. When people have done this for me, even if the problem is in no way solved, I still feel quite a bit better because I know that I am not alone. I know that I am not some isolated entity totally separate from everything else.

We are one, and holding space for another means the embodying of this oneness, this fundamental unity that all things contain.

It is a skill like anything else, and thereby, if we want to improve upon it, we must practice. When someone we know is hurting, let’s try to see if we can suspend our egos long enough to truly hear that person. If we fail, so be it. It is all a work in progress, and the more work we put in, then the more progress we will see.

Holding space might make the essential difference for someone we love, so it is a worthwhile ability to cultivate.

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Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Camila Cordeiro/Unsplash
Editor: Leah Sugerman

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