Holding Space for the Sacred

I've just come back from one of those New Age Retreat thingies, my counterbalance to working as a sensible practical nurse in the outback, and I enjoyed this one far more than others I have been to in the past. It was run by incredibly interesting and caring people, and the general level of respect and thoughtful insightful interaction there was a true blessing.
...and I heard a new term there that has really got me thinking.
It's the concept of "Holding Space" for something.
It's used more and more within healing and counseling circles, to explain the idea of being present and caringly witnessing someone elses pain. Being there, supportive, so that they can feel safe to let go, to release what they are holding onto, to go through their own healing journey....a formalized version of "I've got your back!" maybe....
Yeah I know...sounds incredibly deep and fluffy meaningful dunnit. But there is some real merit to it. The idea behind it is one of being there as support rather than being an active Healer, Doctor or therapist, who takes control and tells you how you should feel or what you should be doing to bcome well again. And it is really a far more challenging role to take on than that of the All Knowing Wise Healer.
In the retreat I've just come back from, it was there in the outline and shape given to the retreat itself. The introduction evening where rules and guidelines for behavior, respect and confidentiality were clearly outlined, and all were asked publicly to formally agree. It was also there in the people setting the scene and looking after the day to day running of the show. They made it clear they were there to help, and that their job was also to make sure that people felt safe. They provided counselors and "emotional support people" who wore ribbons and were approachable and available to help. There were Women's and Men's tipis with people there "holding the space" to allow you to retreat amongst your own gender if you felt the need...
And regardless of whether you needed them or not, it set the tone of the whole thing.
And the retreat went without any hitches accordingly. Safe Space was Held, on many levels. And allowed the people there to go on deep and interesting journeys of self discovery that they otherwise may not have felt safe to go down.
I saw more elements of what makes a truly skillful teacher in some of the workshops too. It's this same capability to "Hold Space", to set the scene and give participants the feeling that they are being guided and supported to learn in a safe space by someone who walks their talk and takes responsibility for what happens in their workshop all the way.

"Holding Space" is also a huge element of all Spiritual practice now that I think of it. From creating the Sacred Space itself, creating a place that is outside of normal everyday life, be it a church, a temple, or a magical circle out in the forest.
Having people who create and then hold the sacred space, by taking on the role of Priest/ess.
And in some practises, this "Holding Space" can become quite detailed and split into multiple roles as well.
You can have those who set up the magical arena, "casting the circle" both on a physical and a psychic level, those who call on forces and spirits to support and guide what happens, by calling the quarters, the directions, or guardian spirits, depending on what particular path you are talking about. Some rituals also have official "watchers" whose sole role is to act as guardians. To hold "Safe Space" for all participants, to watch the energy and to guard for the well being and safety of all within the circle.
And then of course you have the visible main focus players, who "Hold Space" in their role as Priest/ess and high director of the happenings that connect everything together and then guide and direct the energy of the whole show.
The ultimate challenge in "Holding Space" in a ritual though is when a person takes on the role of Gods or Spirits and in effect "Holds Space" in their own body to allow them to come through and speak to the others in the circle.
On a totally different level, I think maybe this also explains the roles of the larger than life public figures..the heroes, the guides, the great teaches, and for that matter, famous actors and politicians.
All of these "Hold Space" for something far larger than themselves. An idea, a dream, and above all a persona that allows us to see and feel something that inspires us, leads us, drags our focus onto something bigger, greater, something to aspire to..
Those that are gifted with the ability to "Hold Space" in themselves for a large audience, are often  ...interesting... individuals.  You need a big...something...to be able to hold something larger than yourself. Is it an oversized Ego? An emptiness needing to be filled? Or simply a larger than life personality?
Probably all of the above at various times....
We seem to vascilate between hero worship and tall poppy syndrome with people who "hold the space" in such a manner...on one hand longing for someone strong and impressive who can lead the way...yet in almost the same breath wanting to tear them down to "our" level as soon as they show any signs of having feet of clay...
But the point I am looking at here is how important it can be for some to step into that roll.
We need leaders to guide us and people to inspire us. We need teachers and heros and people to look up to...
And yet...taking on such a persona is such a huge challenge...finding a way to wear it with dignity and humility...always staying aware that it is a persona and not "who we truly are"....and also being able to find private space outside of that persona....
Hmm..I think this is a big enough subject to deserve a seperate blogpost of it's own.
So more on the subject in the second chapter!


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