Holding Space for Personal Transformation & Change

An introduction to holding space and how I found my way…

Not too long ago, I was sitting at a gathering (a group of individuals holding council) and I found myself witnessing the dynamics of the group. I noticed all sorts of different interplays going on between all those present. Most of all, what I noticed was that the topic that was being discussed was stirring up some tension amongst the group and I pondered to myself, what is the contributing undercurrent that is causing all the tension?

I felt, or rather intuited, that without first discovering what was causing the tension (the source of the conflict) that the group would have a difficult time finding resolution. In a sense, they were misusing their time spinning out stories about the presenting topic, which was only increasing the discomfort in the room.

A little internal nudge gently encouraged me to say what I was observing, with no attachment, no need for it to be the truth. Once this observation was spoken, you could feel the tension drop in the room and the group silenced itself for a bit. The groups facilitator was able to drop his guard and acknowledge that yes indeed there was an underlying source conflict that needed to be tended to.

The group stopped its cycle or holding pattern and decided to give space to the facilitator and the others involved to resolve the issue first, prior to returning to discuss the presented topic.  During which time, I was asked to be present for the discourse that was about to occur and ‘hold the space’ for the conflict to find resolution. It was noted afterwards that I had offered something that helped bring clarity to the group and create space for resolution to occur so that the ‘real’ work for the group could be continued without having this underlying conflict clouding the flow of the groups dynamic.

So what was it that was offered?

I pondered, silently. I am not trained in conflict resolution or circle work, but I do know how to be still for human transformation, I do know how to quiet my mind and open my heart, and I do know how to offer deep listening. Mostly, what I noticed is that in this incident, I was not attached to the group. I did not need approval, or need to be right, my ego was not invested.

I just noticed that something felt ‘off’, you might say the energy of the room was dull or stuck; like when I am sitting at a birth sometimes you notice that the mother is stuck and something is getting in the way of the flow of labor.

What is it that is getting in the way? What is causing the tension?

Usually, there is a deeper root cause for all of this and your work, as a facilitator/counselor/witness/attendant, is to assist the other to discover what is standing in their way. What are the fears? What is the internal conflict? What is the ‘thing’ that they are most terrified of addressing or exposing?

Soon after this group experience, I was asked to facilitate another circle and hold the space for resolution to occur. It seemed that what I was doing at a birth was very transferable and therefore, I was offering a form of midwifery for the group. A member of the group approached me and asked, “How do you do what you are doing?” and I thought to myself, I am not sure how to explain how to hold space. I am just doing what I do when I sit at a birth and ‘do nothing’. So I thought to myself, if you have not sat at a birth and just witnessed the process, than I do not know how to teach what it is that I offer.

I have since then, spent time practicing this skill, mediating conflict, listening to heart stories, and continuing to attend births, all the while, contemplating how it is that I could teach others how to ‘hold the space’ without needing to attend births!

So how do you hold space? 

The following are just my thoughts on this process and this experience of holding space, and I hope that it offers clarity to this way of relating with others and being present for transformation. It is a story, a journey that I have been on for over 6 years now, and therefore it is told from my perspective. Remembering that it is a way, but not the only way, take what resonates with you and leave the rest for others to hear.

When I attend a birth, I am still learning how to drop out of the ego mind and allow myself to be present as the birth unfolds as it is meant too. My role as a birth ‘guardian’ (as I am referred as) is to stay grounded, present, still, aware, always trusting, never wavering, knowing intimately the realms that women traverse in labor, and being prepared to tend to the mother if needed.

Through the art of ‘doing nothing’ at a birth, all that I can do is be still and aware and notice my fears etc as they arise and let them go. It truly is a meditation, an ultimate practice in presence. All the while knowing that everything that I bring to a birth affects and influences the experience. Therefore, it is my responsibility to empty my mind and drop into a state of total trust!

The thinking mind clouds the room and distracts my attention away from really being fully present (mind, body, heart, and spirit) with the woman. Really listening to her needs, following her labor, rather than making the labor flow the way I think it should, or interrupting with protocols and questioning the process to appease the mind.

This is no different for human transformation, where true deep listening is needed, and a trust in the process that never falters, all the while, bearing witnessing to another’s soul journey… in a sense, it is a test of faith that the other will find his/her way through the chaos.

Similar to that of a Shaman who stands on the sidelines, grounded in his awareness, wavering nothing, and in his center. He has the ability to go the edges, and has a deeply trusting inner knowing in the fact that we ALL FIND OUR WAY, because he too has traversed those terrains. When you hold space for human transformation, you are doing no different. In a sense, you are the shaman, the midwife, the healer, the guardian of the space.

Birth work, has been a practice, a meditation, a path to deeper understanding about human potential, the mysteries of our universe and a knowing of the Self. It is a privilege and an honor to attend a birth. I am delighted to be able to share this path and these teachings that I have gathering over the years, and most have been passed down through the ancient art of storytelling…


Part II

What does it mean to hold space? What is the art of it?

First, let’s contemplate what are he ingredients of an art form?

How does one describe an art? Is it an expressive creation of the soul? Some of the ingredients that I see in the creation of ‘art’ are as follows:

  • Flow
  • passion
  • altered states of consciousness
  • creation
  • expression
  • vision
  • soul’s work
  • ecstasy
  • losing oneself and becoming ‘one with’ the creation
  • being in the zone
  • fearing nothing
  • losing the Self
  • melting
  • dissolving
  • no-time, time ceases to exist
  • fullness
  • presence
  • passion
  • joy…

We can continue to add to this never-ending list of creative life force that is being expressed by the human!

What would ‘holding space’ as an art form look like, feel like, and be experienced as?

What I have personally experienced are as follows, however by no means, is this a completed list but rather one of constant flux, shift and movement:

  • One becomes one with the group/individual
  • loses herself in the flow of it all
  • The soul speaks through you, your mind quiets and becomes still
  • You hear nothing but the form of the experience
  • You have no hidden agendas but to be present
  • your only task is to show up and empty yourself
  • You allow yourself to sit in the altered state, fearing nothing, trusting everything
  • You see and feel, intuit, the level of the group /individual
  • You become the Witness, that grounds and holds his/her center
  • Chaos is exciting and breakdowns are encouraged – closer to the center, birth is near
  • You speak only when your soul speaks, not to take away from the experience, but to enhance the flow if needed.
  • Your ego is quiet and still, this becomes your practice.
  • You are doing nothing, just witnessing… in the end, s/he or the group, births herself/themselves, you only ‘held the space’
  • There is a power of the witness and holding the story is a sacred act.

How does one practice this art?

For me, discovering how to become comfortable with chaos, transition, fear, transformation, conflict, discomfort etc, within myself and within another (i.e. either through physical birthing or group dynamics or personal breakdowns) has helped me learn how to ‘hold space’ with more comfort and confidence. It has been a practice and a journey; it has become my spiritual path. Below is a small list of some thoughts that came to mind, when asked the above question – How does one learn/practice holding the space?

  • Let it become your spiritual path
  • Let the teachings permeate your soul
  • As any form of meditation, when you are in a space of deep listening, notice your attention, notice your hidden agendas, notice your fears, notice your ego, notice how you want to do something, say something and learn the art of discernment… when to come and when to stay still.
  • Notice how you feel in your body – at the beginning, the middle, and the end.
  • Pay attention to the feeling in the room, the smells in the air, the sounds of the voices, the depth of the cries, the patterns in the group, the little nuances, the intuition
  • Discover the stuckness and ask for clarity-both in the other and in the Self
  • Pay attention to any awareness’s arising within, any ‘keys’ being disclosed and place it in your heart, waiting for the time to present itself when you need to share
  • Let your heart be on fire, feel it burn and expand and let your mind quiet and follow
  • Have no attachments… you cannot be attached to wanting to say the right thing, wanting to be liked, wanting to not cause conflict or hurt another’s feelings. Sometimes you are guided to say shit that can disrupt the others comfort zone… the comfort zone needs to be challenged sometimes.
  • TRUST always, never wavering… you are the tree, the guardian of the space, the rooted one who fears nothing.
  • Learn about endurance, become a soul with stamina
  • Therefore, find a practice that challenges you to experience all of this! Birth work has been mine, and so, what is yours?
  • Know, deep in your soul, that we all find our way… and we are born anew, always!

The power of doing nothing

I have mentioned a few times now this art of ‘doing nothing’. So let us go into this statement in more depth.

How can you sit at a birth and ‘do nothing’?

Really, is it not dangerous? What if something goes wrong? Is it not the purpose of the attendant to do something, prevent something from happening, and deliver the baby? Is that not what hospitals are for, is that not why we, women, have been handing our power over to the ‘other’ so that they can do something and take away our pain, that which challenges us?

Well, for some it may be true, they may prefer to have another do the work for them, think for them, and deliver for them-and that is all good and right, for those who do not want to go into their experience and find their power and give birth to themselves or their baby.

However, for those who truly are invested in finding their power, finding their voice, finding their way through their pain, finding courage, finding joy, and love… For those who are committed to wanting to discover resolution, working through their ‘shit’ so to speak, and really releasing themselves from old stories that are no longer serving in their live; well for those people, having someone DO SOMETHING and interrupt your personal birthing journey will only be disempowering. Rather, by doing nothing, as a witness to ‘birth’ you create a container that holds space for the other to travel to the deep places within and come through the other side feeling elation knowing that they found their own way and no one did it for them! This is true empowerment.

Therefore, doing nothing means that the ego is not invested nor running the show, but rather the experience itself is guiding the process and you, who are holding the space, are following the ‘labor’ so to speak. Yet, by doing nothing you are actually doing something, you are choosing to do nothing. It is a a paradox indeed. And you are doing nothing, but from a place of knowing everything and understanding everything, therefore you can truly let go.

Zen teaching… the Tao of Midwifery

“And so…

The Midwife completes her work by doing nothing.

Things arise and she lets them come,

Things leave and she lets them go.

Creating, not processing,

Facilitating, yet laying no claim.

And when her work is done, she forgets about it, and so it lasts forever!”

Begin by contemplating this quote, replacing the word Midwife with whichever qualifier you relate to.

Each sentence could be a year of practice and contemplation. Then you think you understand, and another layer presents itself and you become undone again. This quote has been one of my most dedicated contemplations over the years, especially the concept, how to attend a birth and do nothing…

How do you sit with another person in transition or group in conflict and DO NOTHING?

I will end with this thought, the act of doing nothing is in fact doing something, and it is just an internal doing-ness, a deep profound letting go and trusting in all that is J

Some of the most powerful teachings/statements by Whapio that have helped me practice this art and find my way through my own chaos and heart’s transitions!

  • As we live we Midwife, and As we Midwife we Live
  • Do Nothing
  • Trust the process
  • Follow the labor
  • We all find our way
  • Presenting problem vs Source conflict
  • Politics of the Heart – let your enemy in
  • Love is all there is
  • Manage your energy, and use your power wisely
  • Know yourself – and then get out of the way
  • Live on the edge and at the center at the same time
  • Birthing women are masters of navigating the altered states – become a master at this and do not fear the altered state and that which is chaos.
  • Become un-conflicted, and only congruent and centered
  • The Wise women way of healing
  • Witness vs Observer/Participant
  • Have no hidden agendas
  • Know everything about the universe
  • Meet the other where they are at
  • Ideologies vs Ideas
  • T.E.A – Time Energy and Attention
  • Rank, Power, and Privilege

In closing, I would like to say that to be asked to hold space for another, whether it is for a birth of a baby or the birth of the group or soul, is a true privilege, and demands the deepest levels of respect and humility. It is a process of undoing, and an honor to be witness too.

If you are called to hold the space for a group and/or an individual’s transformation, know that you are about to embark upon a journey of great self-discovery, as are they, and it is your choice to show up for this calling.

One can continue to work as a facilitator, Counselor, Leader, and/or Healer following protocol, following the mind, following the ways to do things orderly and contained. They may continue to believe that they are in control of the process and really needed in the process. Maybe they are practicing like a care-giver who goes in and delivers the baby for the mother and therefore, in the end, always believes that without them, the mother would never be able to give birth. Recognize that this mindset is NOT about holding space, but rather about disrupting the space, disempowering the other, and laying claim to the birth.

This practice of holding space that I am speaking of is meant to push your boundaries and comfort zones as a facilitator or witness, otherwise, you will not bring the necessary depth to the experience and in the end, find ways to disrupt the process and take it over, due to your own internal fears, discomforts, and impatience. Again this is all perfect, if this is where you are at, and yet, I challenge you to claim this path of awakening so you too, can hold the space for human transformation in love, rather than fear.


5 thoughts on “Holding Space for Personal Transformation & Change

  1. what a fantastic and inspiring post. thank you so much; i’ve just jotted loads of notes in my practice journal. i teach yoga (specialising in my passion, pregnancy/birth and the postnatal period) and although it’s not really an issue, i do struggle sometimes with articulating exactly what i “do”. i often get asked what yoga i teach; who i trained with etc…and this just hits the nail on the head.
    in my own work, i’m also currently thinking in terms of just allowing women to FEEL. my own babies’ births, my relationships with them (fullterm bf, co-sleeping etc – you know the territory i’m sure), and my own longstanding practice have led to this point of being convinced that we’re so tuned out from our bodies and our deeper feelings (not emotions – they come and go) that we fundamentally lack trust in them; and so ourselves. because we can’t allow ourselves to feel, we have no grounds to experience this deeper knowing with anything much other than distrust…so we short circuit the process rather than allowing ourselves to see it transform into something else (emptiness and form in buddhist parlance), and end up identifying with the stuckness, not the flow. so for me, holding the space is synonymous with guiding students into their bodies, which represents a “thawing”. i totally agree with everything you’ve written in this post. birth is an incredible yoga!

    1. So grateful to hear that these words resonated. There is nothing more comforting than to know that ‘another’ was moved by contemplative thoughts. Blessings to you on your journey. Keep doing the work your are doing, the planet needs it.

      1. and to you, too. the internet is so great for connecting likeminded souls who’ll likely never meet “irl”… makes my heart sing to know there are others such as yourself steadily plugging on, making the world a better place in our own little ways. my sense is that battle lines are being drawn and we need all the support we can get. much love xx

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