Holding Space (or, The Time I Bought My BFF a Refrigerator)
I LOVE a theme. I go weak at the knees at a leitmotif (Google it. I'm trying to sound like I earned my very expensive education).
God bless hashtags. I feel the #iAMenough stuff at my core (thank you, Brene Brown...hallowed be thy name).
I love my semicolon bracelet for the reminder that the “thing” I’m hung up on is just a pause.
I could make sweet love to a t-shirt slogan cliché, take the book “The Alchemist” out for a nice steak dinner, or high-five strangers every time I see a one-sentence-quote meme from Rumi. I simply love that crap.
Although, I can’t say the word synchronicity with a straight face because I think I'm just one weird experience away from investing in crystals or from actually marrying a tree, I do dig the sentiment just the same: things we need to hear will randomly come into our lives to get our attention.
Something that has caught my attention in the last month is the theme of accepting someone “where they are”. This seems to fall in line with the old “holding space” rhetoric that I don’t quite understand.
Most of the time I have no idea what things like “holding space” even mean. So I ask Google.
<As an aside, I furiously Google these things because of the time I answered “You’re welcome!” enthusiastically, when my yoga instructor chirped the customary “Namaste” at the end of our session the first time I braved yoga pants in public. #TheMoreYouKnow>
Anyway, last night I went to Prospect Park in Troy (home of Uncle Sam and the Fudge Fancy cookie), where you can overlook the entire city from a hole in the forest on a hill. Some bored hobo or engineer (tomato, tomAHto) made a big sign of painted white rocks that spells out T.R.O.Y. It’s like our Hollywood sign, with more charm. I took a good friend up there because that view is one of the few reasons why I moved 2,000 miles from the Rockies to be home, and I wanted her to see how special that place was to me. That view makes me feel small, but in a good way. It reminds me that the dark cloud of those bad days is just a tiny thing in this city that has been plugging away for a couple hundred years. My friend asked me if I thought people in the city could see us standing up there on the hill. At the time I thought it was a beautifully sweet question that beautifully sweet people ask, but as I thought about it, I realized the answer was no. No one could see us on that hill because no one was looking up.
That's when the theme hit me: holding space is like looking up at the hill to see who's there. (stay with me)
There’s so much on this concept of holding space. All of it involves emotional skill sets I truly do not think I employ.
If I'm understanding this correctly, let's say it in basketball terms (since I'm pretty much a guy): you're a point guard and you're trying to score. I'm a forward, who's boxing out, and making space for you to get your own rebound. <possibly insert some other less terrible analogy here, if that helps you keep scrolling.>
Holding space means knowing you can't cure someone, but you can help them heal by just being there. It means that you don’t need to fix someone. It takes knowing that this isn't about you. It takes a willingness to walk next to someone without judgment or trying to impact the outcome.
Holding space takes trust, and trust is complicated. It's not just about trusting others when we need something, it's about trusting that the person we want to be there for knows what they need, and knowing they'll ask for it when they’re ready.
Holding space and accepting someone where they are means that you do not own all of the emotions in the room. It’s remembering that we have a tendency to focus on our own “space”, and we’re taking up more of that space than we realize. That we're intentionally not looking up at the hill (see what I did there?).
Holding space is being a friend. It’s being a friend even if you’re a parent or a sibling or a teacher.
David Whyte penned, "...a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them...thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves."
Is it too much to ask that David Whyte take me to the cabin in the Adirondacks that he built for me with his hands, lay me down in a hammock made of willow branches that looks up to the chandelier sky that shines just for us, whilst he reads me poetry in his Anglo-Irish accent that feels like a warm spring breeze, and feeds me DeFazio's pizza until we fall asleep in each other’s arms?
You know what David Whyte didn’t pen? The time I bought a refrigerator for my best friend. Now, in my defense, she wanted one, and we needed the space so I could house the food I made for her baby shower...read: that I forced upon her baby shower. In her defense, I’m crazy, and I'm tall and funny. She sticks with me and some(unknowingly)how, she holds a truly infinite amount of space for those kinds of shenanigans. I wanted to be the best friend. Not “a” best friend, THE best friend.
My holding space should have looked like, “That’s a big bummer that you don’t have the thing you want. Let me listen to how that sucks for you.” Instead, I showed up in Rochester with a van full o’ fridge, and expected her to weep in my arms over what an amazing person I am. Well, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen because this is the real world, and that weekend was simply not about me.
Upon reflection, I may actually be a narcissist. <although, I was recently told by someone who shall remain nameless (#justin), that if I think I’m a narcissist, I’m probably not one. That’s comforting. And it's important that I'm comforted, because I may be a narcissist.>
This holding space crap is super-duper hard for me. It's actually uncomfortable. Kind of like that girl's face in the picture holding the owl...pure determination and terror. To be that open, and to just hold that place for the person you care for is vulnerable for the holder too. What if they fly away? What if I don't have the snacks they like? What if they crap all over me??
It's not fun, and I certainly am not very good at it, but I can say I'm trying. I'm thankful to those who hold space for me and my nonsense, and hope to give them some in return.
So let’s practice this week. Let’s shut our Fudge Fancy holes a little more and look up to the hill to see what that person we care for is really saying…or not saying. Then let’s hold that space for them to flail around and figure out what they need. If all else fails, just buy them a refrigerator. Works like a charm.