Holding Space is more than common sense and intutition.
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
A big, warm hello to the community of Joy Somatics!
I am Emily Gillies and it is my pleasure to be a ‘guest blogger’ for this issue of Joy’s newsletter. Joy and I overlap with many of our passions in life, one being how we understand and practice the art of ‘Holding Space’. Joy and I met in 2016 at a training in ‘The Circle Way’ and since then have dived deep into this body of work together. We have been students and faculty for programs held at www.thecentreforholdingspace.com , and we are planning a retreat together Nov 18-20, 2022 called ‘The Embodied Space Holder.’ We love talking about this material and sharing it with others!
If you follow Joy on social media, you may have seen that she and I recently did some live videos on IG and FB live. We talked about the overlap between the concepts of ‘Holding Space’ and Somatic sensing and processing, and how we will bring those two streams together at the retreat.
While talking about ‘Liminal Space’, which is the movement between two identities, (more specifically, the time when one identity has been released but the other not yet fully formed), I mentioned how it was to navigate the time of ending my 20-year marriage and who held space for me during that transition. In explaining the weekly phone calls from a friend, connecting with other divorced women, leaning on relationship with my parents and others who loved me unconditionally, experimenting with new interests in life (such as motorcycling!) and finding ways to really feel the fullness of my feelings, Joy made a great comment that has left me thinking.
Joy said that these approaches seemed like common sense for everyone, not just those who geek out studying Holding Space. And I find myself at a bit of a paradox because I whole-heartedly agree, AND I feel like there is something more to it.
I agree because, as with many things related to the concepts of Holding Space, we are not talking about new methods or never-before-tried approaches. Many of us are already good ‘Space Holders’ and intuitively know how to support people/ourselves in difficult times. People who are naturally ‘helpers’ are drawn to this work and practice many of the elements already. So of course, it is easy to see that what worked for me during the time of my divorce were the simple, tried-and-true things: connecting to communities of support and being real with my emotions. Nothing new there.
As I continued to mull over this point that Joy and I reached in our conversation, I wondered, “But what else is there?” It can’t be that I study this, am employed to teach people about it, that a body of work is built around these concepts, just to realize it’s all simple and accessible and being done already?
What’s the magic of what I experienced as good space-holding during the liminal space of my divorce?
Likely there are a few answers to this question, but one that floats to the surface for me is that I had cultivated readiness for these methods to be effective. All of the supportive friends, family and conversations in the world wouldn’t have helped me through this liminal space if I was resistant, defensive, hostile, immobile, or otherwise unwilling to be with the changes that were being asked of me.
Indeed, as I reflect on this now through the lens of time, the previous six years of my marriage had been difficult, and I was very distant from my husband (emotionally, mentally, physically). To start putting the wheels of divorce in motion earlier would have been a reasonable option in those years, yet I sense what I was lacking was readiness. I was too closed-off to the notion of divorce, so afraid of all that it meant, desperate in my desire to avoid it, clinging to last beliefs that we could salvage something; there was no readiness for the act of divorce, so there was also no readiness for the methods that would support me through that time.
So as ‘simple’ as those space-holding people and circumstances where when I finally arrived at the threshold of my divorce, it was the timing of those elements that was crucial to their effectiveness.
Also, once I had the internal readiness for the decision of divorce, there was a second element that took place: settling into the container of support that was offered. I was blessed to have trustworthy friends and family, I had time and resources to explore good options and new ways of being, I had found a lovely little house to rent that met my needs for comfort and stability. With these containers in place to support my emotional, mental, and physical needs, I could truly dissolve the identity of Emily-the-wife and be held in the messiness, scariness, sadness, and unknowns of that process. Being surrounded by supportive friends, family, shelter, and learning spaces, I felt safe enough to take the scary step(s) of letting go of that identity.
Joy and I talk a lot about ‘containers of support’ in our language about this retreat; what that is, who does it, how we do it for ourselves, and how we do it in professional and personal ways. In addition to validating what we already do as good space holders, we'll help you discover what’s underneath and running in the background and reveal some subtle layers (i.e. unconscious bias), what's happening in those ‘liminal spaces’, learn about 'who's in the center' and 'when it's not appropriate to be the container for others'.
I very much look forward to unravelling these concepts with you more if you are able to attend the retreat, and I do hope that within my writing you have found some encouragement or wisdom for your own journey as a Space Holder. I’m grateful for this space to talk and share ideas, and I welcome feedback and further conversation!
If you missed the live discussions, enjoy the clips & full converstations between Emily & Joy