The phrase “holding the space” has been gently following me for years now. And until very recently, I thought I had understood what it meant.
The first person to ever use the phrase “hold the space” with me was a friend and colleague with whom I taught in New York. He would talk about how the best massage therapists were the ones who could hold the space. Massage strokes, he said, were merely technique and could always be learned, but presence and connection were things that came from elsewhere.
Over time and somewhere between my journey from New York to Arizona, someone inserted the word “sacred” into this phrase and while I didn’t ponder it further, the phrase “Hold the Space as Sacred” just resonated for me. I liked it, and when I’ve taught massage therapy and Reiki classes, I’ve often used the phrase with my students. The space we create for others to heal is sacred.
But on December 28th, 2013, a few things changed to deepen my understanding. An old friend and former teacher was in town and we had the chance to visit. We caught up on eight years and many miles and it was good to see him. And while he seemed infinitely happy with life, something lingered — a hint of frustration and disappointment — and finally he asked if I had talked to his best friend recently. I said no. Not for any reason, but he had simply transformed into someone I didn’t quite recognize anymore. Life just does that sometimes. But I did believe the person I had once known was still in there.
Their friendship had been extraordinary. Tighter than some brothers are. They could bear witness to each other’s lives and support each other’s processes like no two men I knew. These were good guys, both classroom teachers of mine, as well as soul teachers. The kind of guys who are not afraid to open a vein and share what they had learned about walking the Path. And the sincerity in their friendship inspired the heck out of me.
So when Brian had shared that it was some time since he had last heard from his friend, I was deeply saddened. I had nothing to offer. Except for that familiar phrase I had shared with a friend just days before. This woman also had been frustrated with a friend who had checked out emotionally. I had told her, “Just hold the space.”
And so I repeated this to Brian. “Just hold the space, Brian. He’s in there. And I believe in time he will come back.” He nodded and maybe even seemed a little bit brighter.
What Brian didn’t know though was that in that moment, I had made a silent decision to also hold the space for their friendship to heal. In fact, later that day, I wrote a poem entitled “Holding the Space,” a poem inspired by our conversation, which appears at the end of this blog post.
Curiously, on the evening of that same day, I had attended my first service at a new church. A beautiful, meaningful and symbolic service that moved me deeply. Particularly unique to this service are stations set up for individual worship. These stations are, quite curiously, called “Sacred Spaces.” And don’t think that didn’t get my attention this night of all nights.
A few days ago, something prompted me to connect with Brian and ask him if he’s heard from his old friend. It turned out that the friend had reached out, quite unexpectedly and with no prompting. And their friendship is back on track, just as it used to be.
I was so joyful for both of them. And I couldn’t help but wonder about this idea of holding the space. What IS it that we actually hold? What IS the space? It obviously is not something one can measure out in square footage. It is not a place where one can hang drapes and set furniture or have tea. This space, this sacred space, is an intangible thing, a thing we carry. I thought perhaps we carry it within our hearts.
But in realizing two people holding the space could cause a person to shift and return to their inner Light, well, I had to think space must be way more than a thing we carry in our hearts.
After hearing from Brian, I wondered if holding the space was actually a form of prayer. The past few months, I’ve been on a personal journey of sorts where I have come to understand that intention equals the frequency of prayer. Thus, it did not seem like a huge stretch to think that holding the space (a form of intention) was another way to pray and it was likely that this space was not just any space, but indeed a sacred space.
Just last week, I met with my pastor to discuss some concepts that were plaguing me. And in that talk, I mentioned the notion of Holding the Space, how when I work with people, this is my approach to everything: presence, connection, having clear intent, and extending compassion.
And, in a roundabout way, out of that discussion, came the second poem posted below, “Corridors.”
My first reaction in writing “Corridors” was that I was being redundant given the first poem. Often I write a poem, only to find in a few months I write another that is rather similar to the first, but the first was really just a test run for the real poem that was slowly gestating. This wasn’t like that though. Both poems, I felt, had merit on their own. One did not replace the other. But still, the former English teacher in me didn’t like that I had recycled a phrase. It almost seemed too easy. Yet, this phrase has been following me for so long, it has come up in so many conversations, in such different settings, that I kind of knew that wasn’t it at all. There was something more to be excavated here. Spirit was knocking at the gate.
This morning, I sat meditation a little longer than usual. I have been needing to deepen my practice and I’ve been more than a little resistant about this, which is usually an indicator that I need to become more disciplined. And this morning, practice came particularly hard. A lot of monkey mind — things I needed to remember to do, things about which I was anxious and worried, people for whom I was concerned. Sitting this morning involved quite a bit of me needing to ask my thoughts to please step aside and wait (yes, I always say please). And finally, maybe in the last 15 minutes of sitting, the thoughts quieted and I entered the blissful stillness that is Zen.
And then, just before the last chime rang on my Insight Timer app, I heard these words clearly:
You ARE the space.
I could feel my heart expand. I immediately wrote the words down. Because I knew more words would be coming.
A while later, I messaged a friend who just gets me, and who often holds the space for me. (Interestingly, she is a counselor who specializes in a form of creative therapy called sand tray therapy. And the basis for this therapy, as taught to her by Catholic nuns, is to “hold the space”).
I asked her, “If holding the space is actually a form of prayer, and we ARE the space, then does this mean we ARE the prayer?” She thought it might.
I went on, “So if we ARE the space, if we ARE the prayer and we are not merely saying a prayer, then we are also the living manifestation of Divine Love? Prayer in action? And that’s why holding the space can be so powerful?”
She thought I might be onto something.
My mind is still, quite frankly, a bit blown by this. And that’s not only fine. It’s perfect. It’s always best when my mind gets out of the way. My heart resonates with this. And that’s even more perfect. That’s how I know we’re going somewhere really good.
And so , I leave this possibility with you. Sit in stillness, breathe deeply, and hold these words in your heart:
We ARE the space.
We ARE the prayer.
We ARE the Manifestation of Divine Love.
Try them on. See how they fit. And if these words resonate with you too, see how you might offer something more to this world and those in it by not just holding the space, but by being the space.
© MG Mandarino 2013
Holding The Space
At the crossroads
of fear and desire
is great suffering.
as legions of angels
watch in silence
and are forced
to wait —
and hold the space
until the light
Maria Grace Mandarino
©MG Mandarino 2014
In the dark and narrow hallway
we forget sometimes
there are rooms too,
which, when opened,
of great light.
And something ancient and knowing
that it’s safe
and okay to enter
this place, this still
and sacred space
where the soul can breathe
Maria Grace Mandarino