Holding Space

Today I had a rather large emotional release. I was thinking about my senior year in college- a tough time in my life and about to get tougher. My close friends had graduated the year before and moved away, my dad and I were struggling to maintain a relationship of any kind, I was relying on weed and alcohol for stress-relief, I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation, I hadn’t recovered from a summer breakup (nonchalant for him, devastating for me,) and that winter a friend committed suicide. I would discover later that his confused soul invaded my space and attached to me, causing terrible confusion and increased my already high anxiety and panic that affected me for years.

The rising anxiety and daily panic attacks affected how my body processed weed and alcohol. They had been working for years as self-medication, but now seemed to exacerbate anxiety. Enter xanax and therapy and somehow I managed to make it through finals and graduation.

I remember coming to one of my last finals.  As I was walking down the hallway, I could feel a panic attack coming on. When I got to the room, that familiar surge of overwhelm and raw panic welled up into me like a tidal wave. “Shit, not now,” I thought. There was no way I could take one more step into the room. The walls were closing in. My heart was exploding, my chest was pressing in on me.

I waved to the teacher, Blane Harding, from my spot in the hallway and he graciously walked over to me. I simply said, “I can’t go in there.” He took a look at me and could see how agitated I was. I likely looked like I had seen a ghost and would bolt out of the building at any moment. Which was true.

Without a fuss, and as if it were the most normal thing in the world, he pulled a desk from the room out into the hallway and said, “Will this work?”

I’ve never been so grateful for someone’s kindness and matter-of-fact way of handling the situation. I took 1 and 1/2 xanax and battled my panic until it kicked in as I did my exam alone in the hallway.

What I learned that day, and what has stayed with me, was the power and importance of seeing what is right in front of you, without judgment, and allowing it to be.

Professor Harding could have done any number of things but instead he noticed me, listened to my words, and responded by offering an alternative that would work for me and where I was at in that moment. He didn’t try to fix me or even ask why I was needing what I needed. He simply noticed me and allowed me to be just as I was. In that space of noticing and allowing, some of the greatest healing can occur.

This process of noticing and “being with” is often called holding space. It is an integral part of how we connect to our own bodies, and in turn, with each other. It is how true connection begins.

To begin learning how to hold space for yourself, within your own body, I recommend this book:

The Power of Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell

It will teach you how to listen to and be with yourself without judgment. Through this process, connecting to the innermost parts of you can happen. Those parts are extremely wise and have much to communicate with us.

To learn more about the sessions I offer that incorporate this kind of work, click here.

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