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Holding space: an intro to the concept

If ‘what we resist persists’, how do we stop resisting so all the stuff doesn’t keep persisting?


An oft-used term I’ve seen trending on mental-health-themed social media is ‘holding space’. If you haven’t come across it, you’re probably like, ‘um, what?’, and if you have, you might wonder what it means even if you have a vague sense that it’s related to something a therapist does that sounds un-scientific. In my years of training as a dancer, we were taught about negative space - making shapes with our bodies to hold interior space. 


There is space between our joints, nerves, synapses. There is oft-imperceptible space between our thoughts, feelings and sensations. Space between one moment in time of pain and the next wave of pain.  Distance between us and others, space between us and whatever concept we may have of the divine, although we may wish to close those gaps. 


It’s a natural reflex to recoil from pain, to shut down around it, to push it deep down and try to keep it beneath the ground of our consciousness, to tense our bodies, minds and spirits against it. That all makes sense - sometimes experiencing emotions can lead to crying, anxiety attacks, and intensification of challenging emotions such as rage.


Creating space for emotional energy to exist in our bodies can give us more ease and freedom despite whatever suffering might be going on. It can also open us to new perspectives, leading to shifts in how we view ourselves and our circumstances, increases in self-compassion and compassion for others, and patience and room to grow. It releases emotional and physical constriction and invites calm and curiosity. Sometimes that means just a moment of internal pause, no longer than an in-breath or out-breath.


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