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Holding & Releasing Space

“Suddenly I feel much lighter, a release…” she commented as she breathed deeply in, then out. We had just closed a facilitation and were packing up our stuff. It had been a day and a half for which we had been warned that the event participants held existing animosity towards each other and that we should expect difficulty and even rudeness between them. Needless to say we had walked into the first day fully geared up and ready for trouble. We had designed the process for the event to flirt with danger a bit, offering activities and opportunities for the group to get to know each other better, see more clearly the internal struggles plaguing their organization, and openly discuss these and other issues in small group and plenary sessions. And it was no surprise to discover the group was, in general, quite outspoken with a propensity to speak and be heard but not to listen and understand. To our minds, the engagement had been quite successful, with the group achieving the objectives set out in the beginning while also unpacking some of their issues in a real and meaningful way. There were moments of soul searching and soul baring comments and you could sense the first tendrils of increased connection sprouting up within and around the group. We had made it successfully to the end, and now this lightness filled our beings. She looked at me quizzically, seeking comment on or explanation for her statement, so I said, “Yes, of course. You’ve just put down the space you were holding.” Then I added, “This feeling you are feeling right now is very hard to explain to those who haven’t experienced it.” It is the feeling of holding space, and then the release of putting it down and giving it back. Sometimes I find it odd to talk about holding space. It is a huge part of what I do in my work, and at its essence we are talking about holding something that is intangibly tangible. We are talking about something that is most certainly there, but you cannot see it and cannot touch it. Yet, even so, you can feel it in your gut and you can hold it. It is dynamic - at times lightweight and hardly noticed while at other times burdensomely heavy and draining. Sometimes you hold it for brief moments, while other times you may hold it for days, weeks, or even months. And sometimes you hold it alone, while other times you have help. In whatever configuration, holding space is paramount to what we do. At its essence, it is creating the setting and opportunity for people to come together, connect, work and struggle together, and process the joys and pains that exist in their group. It is providing an invisible cocoon to buffer and manage the process and the troubles that may appear along the way. It is inspiring the confidence to speak and discover, and the trust to know there is help and support waiting - that the group doesn’t need to walk their journey alone and unequipped. And in the end, when the event has ended and you put the space down, essentially giving it back to each individual who has participated, you feel simultaneously lighter and a deep sense of weariness. And then it is time to take some time to look after your self and your own resilience and energy. Because before long you will hold the space for others once again.

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