Half of June, 2010, a conversation unfolded on the AoH emaillist - which I all put in my archive because it was so rich and the topic of Holding Space is of most interest to me. Then someone else found it interesting too and made a compilation of all the answers. I don't remember who it was; but here is the whole document! (in different pieces - seond piece in the comments - as I can only paste so many characters at once)
On 15/06/10 00:39, Beth Sanders wrote:
In the world of the Art of Hosting, please here are my musings following the second Art of Hosting offering in the Edmonton area in 4 months...
On the relationship between being host and being hosted. Blog link and photo below. An invitation to play with this and share...
(scroll to the second post)
On Sun, Jun 20, 2010 at 9:28 AM, Ria Baeck wrote:
I just now found time to read your blog, on this chilly Sunday afternoon in Belgium.
I'm very inspired by the last bit of your blogpost:
" Last week I recognized that I have been “holding” the art of hosting in Alberta for quite a long time with a couple of others – Marg and Hugh. It is hard to hold space – even with mates. It isn’t something that can even be held. It can only be. The art of hosting is about co-creating space, and opening space. It isn’t something to hold long."
Most of all I am curious if you could say more on this topic of 'holding'. It has been my inquiry too for many years right now.
Why do you say: "it is hard to hold space - even with mates"?
and why do you say: it isn't something to hold long"?
I, and others, have probably similar experiences, but I would like to invite you to share more of this - even half baked ideas... never before shared thoughts and insights. To me, it is very crucial that we learn to give language to this holding and what can we do to make it easier, more recognised and the like...
Please share more if you can!
On 20/6/10 21:33, "Caitlin Frost" wrote:
HI Ria and others in these great questions about holding space.
I was thinking about some of this the other day - where the way my concepts of "holding space" serve me and ways that some attachments to how I hold it can feel tiring and limit my movement and clear contribution. I noticed the other day a place where I was feeling heavy with it - and as is my practice stopped to notice what I was thinking. "I am the one holding these spaces" and could feel the tiredness increase in that moment. For me - though I am a person who so values 'space holding' and 'space holders' I could feel that I had some drag in how I was holding it in my mind in those moments and felt so valuable to get curious with myself.
I sat in my inquiry practice of the Work with "I am holding the space" - noticing how I felt and acted when I was attached to that thought in a heavy way. How I was not able to rest, not able to enjoy myself, how I looked around to see what others are doing, how I held my body tighter - with a sense of gravity when I hold it that way. Felt the weight of that sense of 'holding'. Watched myself at times inflate - with the "I" am doing it, and at other times deflate with the loneliness of holding it as an "I". Watched my mind rushing around in 'figure it out' mode and dashing into the future to what might happen...
Then I watched myself in the same work and spaces but without attaching to the thought "I am holding space" - I felt so light, able to look around, breathe deeply, be curious, enjoy. I notice that I still do whatever it is that I do in service of whatever it is that is happening - and then at night I go to sleep. And I feel the joy and spaciousness of all else that I am doing - playing with my children, eating my lunch, planting my garden, answering emails. Without attachment to the thought, I enjoy whatever the holding is without thinking about it in a heavy way. I am open to whatever the space is - don't try to 'figure it out' (so I can hold it). I notice the flow of contribution coming from all directions - feel it and experience a rush of gratitude. I have the image of myself as Atlas - stepping out from under my holding of the sky to go for a walk and noticing that the sky is doing just fine without my 'effort'. And then I show up for the beauty of my contribution anyway if that feels right in the moment.
I am holding the space... I am not holding the space - Thinking of a big piece of work I stepped out of for a few years and recently back into - and it still exists as a space, some good things have happened, others have stepped in; slowing down I notice the collective holding - sweet, and powerful to take that in; honouring the mysterious life of the 'space' when I am not attaching to outcome; finding where I don't know what the 'space' really is and how can I take credit for 'holding' it - makes me laugh.
The space is holding me - can find this so sweetly - all the ways the space is offering learning to me, bringing me beautiful mates, new friends, comfortable and uncomfortable teachers. How it literally holds me with gravity and oxygen, dirt under my feet. When I let it hold me - I can ride it like a river and I am available to the journey - eyes and ears open, energy for wise action in each moment. This feels like the home of 'not attaching to outcome' for me. This is a space I can be energized in rather than drained.
The space is holding itself - how sweet is that! Noticing what I can learn when I am open to the space itself as a teacher... I am a guest here. I am a guest bringing a gift, an offering - I get to feel my own generosity in that, honour my own contribution.
The space is holding itself... I see an image of myself as little spec in the universe, flowing with infinite specs in the unnamed beauty of it all. Zooming in, I am a little spec in a circle of others doing this beautiful work - space is holding itself and I show up anyway. And I see all these beautiful people showing up anyway too, with their gifts and contributions. We are part of the space - whatever it is. Such a place of humility and gratitude and mystery.
Love this thread to more deeply drop into this mystery of space holding that appears to serve us all when we can hold it with clarity and love.
Dear Caitlin, Ria, all,
I am currently contracted with another colleague and host, Valerie Menelec - based in England to hold the space virtually for the Active Citizenship work currently being hosted in Brussels this week.
As part of our contract, we were part of conference calls with the hosting field – to offer our sensing into the field. Then Valerie and I connected via skype to surface the best contribution and service of our work.
We were invited by Maria Scordialos, the project leader, to hold the space specifically…to shift democracy from its present ‘representative mode’ to ‘participatory democracy’.
• The potential work of this team is to open up the European Commission – and therefore the European Union to citizen participation.
• If our field held the deeper unmanifested potential as well as the visible aspects of designing, hosting and harvesting a good participatory meeting.
• What if people interacting on this one day can be a microcosm of the Europe that is wanting to become?
• What would happen if we hold both the microcosm and the potential macrocosm simultaneously?
We were therefore commissioned to offer our work around the specific aspect…to hold the potential of the macrocosm: the hosting and harvesting team and help to create the conditions of the microcosm through the event.
So through our Appreciative Inquiry Skype conversation, Valerie and I surfaced the following core aspects as our best service to the work:
· Consciously connect our field: Process, Harvest and Space... and create a strong tripod of energy and activity
· Hold you and the work... as we travel through this work together
· Create an energetic sphere/link with you in our consciousness and weave the container by reinforcing the inside of the container – strengthening the web, like spiders
· Open the field as wide as we can, so that you can offer something different – and help to plant this new seed in and ask will it start to grow – by creating the strongest conditions for the potential of this seed to take root
· Call in the space for being fully conscious at all levels – and for all the people involved in the day to do their work well
· Offer our insights into the work and hold the field consciously with you, including specific nutrients, informed by Leeds and Axladitsa, Greece
· Invite boldness
· Be part of a conference call the evening after the event and before the harvest meeting (if timely and appropriate for you) – to reflect, witness and offer any additional insights in service of the harvest meeting
· Harvest out our learnings from this process
The reality for me is that we are in a significant time in our hosting practice – where the more subtle forms of hosting are now visible in the field. They have language, form, practice and real impact.
Just as the Shamans, Mystics, Priests and Priestess had a specific form and function in a community - a role that was less understood, certainly revered and had years of apprenticeship, practice and skill development - perhaps this is the quality, fineness and power of this work that is now present.
Perhaps also, it is the time for the space holders to show up fully in the triad of hosting – honor their capacities and potential, and for the wider community of practitioners to know that the Space Holders are indeed here, ready to be called in, virtually or in person to help hecatalyse the field of work to its fullest potential and service.
Dear Sarah and Valérie,
As a member of the hosting team who will be physically present in the space for the Europe for Citizens event tomorrow, and harvesting out on Wednesday, I am profoundly grateful to know that you will be there holding the macrocosm that we will be representing together with all the participants from all corners of Europe.
I was blown away to hear that you were both contracted for this work. What a victory that is!
I will be stretching out my invisible arms to embrace you and link you in as strongly as possible tomorrow.
With a big smile on my face
In your writing I see more clearly the connection between formal hosting of groups, and the hosting we do in our personal lives, hosting ourselves. I take a bad turn when I stop hosting myself. I get busy and lose the space between me and my thinking, then me and my reactions, then me and my actions. With the lost space goes lost joy, and my path becomes defined more by linear thinking and time-bound perceptions. Possibilities shrink.
I often wonder after group sessions I'm in and maybe supposed to be some kind of leader or host, if things would have gone better or worse if I had been less active. Less intense. Less intent. Hosted myself more. Fewer "leader interventions." Reframe, temper, amplify, acknowledge, redirect, or summarize, the temptations are endless. Is my training in facilitation an asset or a liability?
But what exactly is hosting myself? I'm not sure if I want to hold space; like you it makes me tired (does space have weight?). I sometimes think I can create space. But then how long is it's shelf life? It seems easier if, at times I can just notice existing space, attend to it, and nourish it. Breathing helps. Moving almost unnaturally slow on purpose does too. And to experience not knowing and being OK with that. Staying right there.
I keep trying to download the program upgrade into my brain, but the default setting still seems stuck on hurry. I blame it on this world of constant connection and detail.
But I don't really believe that.
Thanks for helping me think about this.
Dear Caitlin, Ria, Sarah and all,
One thing is clear, the communication flow in the Art of Hosting list works better than the one in the European Commission...
Thanks so much for holding space, I was not aware of this precious activity.
It happens that I am participating in this conference as a participant, replacing a dear colleague on holidays, who is responsible for DG Communication. Since I have been responsible for DG Education, where this "file" has been managed from before, this task fell on me.
The language I use is the one used here in the European Commission, so that will be also present in the field. I have tried to connect to some colleagues in my department and others, who have to do with this topic on the political side, and so far none of those are invited, and do not regret it either. So I am wishing for the field to be able to help all those involved in moving active citizenship forward, to see the connectedness of things, but got mostly bureaucratic answers. The constraints or limitations are often structural, starting at a high political level deal to divide "territories" and not to interfere in someone's else's territory. No need to go into details here.
I also wish for all participants to be able to see themselves also as citizens themselves, not just representing someone or something. Then most wonderful things will be able to unfold. This is a link I have not been able to observe so far with my other colleagues. So I wish for connectedness on all levels.
I am free of hosting tasks tomorrow, and also of any political tasks. As a representer of a central service that should help and support the organising service of this event, I feel relatively free and hope to be able to maintain that space.
So thank you for all your "invisible" support, it is highly needed and appreciated.
This inquiry has been central to my practice as a host and facilitator for more than ten years now. The notion of "holding space" first came to me when I stumbled on Open Space Technology and began thinking about Harrison Owen's direction to OST facilitators to be totally present and completely invisible.
I remember once when I performed this role in a First Nations community where no one came to the Open Space that was planned. In that case it was the group that was totally present and completely invisible and it set me to thinking about the nature of facilitation and "holding space." It was clear that there was much going on in the community and I sat in an empty room holding space and being available. When the time came I followed my call to work with some Elders, to help some people who were working in the band office and to simply be present.
To pass the time that day I pulled out a copy of the Tao te Ching and started reading it and realized that it offered the user manual I was seeking for space holding. And so I wrote a chapter by chapter commentary of it for Open Space (and other) facilitators: The Tao of Holding Space. It contains a distillation of everything I know about this topic, a beginning point for this deeper practice.
The book is free and can be downloaded at http://www.archive.org/details/TheTaoOfHoldingSpace
With respect to this conversation I find chapter 17 of the Tao very helpful:
The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist. The next best is a leader who is loved and praised. Next comes the one who is feared. The worst one is the leader that is despised. If you don't trust the people, they will become untrustworthy. The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly. When she has accomplished her task, the people say, "Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!"
My commentary on this:
Holding space demands that you be the best kind of leader, without compromise. Trust the group, be totally present and completely invisible. If the people did not do it themselves, it is not Open Space.
As I take in what you are giving language and form to, my heart fills. I sense my own etheric field expanding, as I feel the integration into this greater ‘field’ we many are holding. You and Valerie are living embodiments of the jobs of the future, the ones we are still co-creating in each moment. The future lives in you here and now.
Radical Amazement and elegant simplicity.
I have been ruminating on this thread for a week now; reading and rereading all it holds. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the notion of holding space. While much of the Art of Hosting work revolves around community endeavors or development work, the topic of holding space has triggered for me a need to inquire into a more personal use. I invite the thoughts of this global wisdom.
About a year ago my father and my two brothers came into a very difficult time. There were some ugly allegations that have left our family torn and polarized. As I was not directly involved in the hurtful activities, I assumed the role of one who holds space. I love my father and my brothers, so am feeling the burdens of holding each of them and their own families in unconditional love in hope of creating space for forgiveness to emerge. It has been a long time and I feel the tiredness expressed by others in this multilogue. I thank Caitlin for reminding me to hold myself for a while. The energy consumed must be restored if I might be of use when the time comes.
My question to all is when does the path emerge that moves differently, or for how long does one hold space? What will that path look like and how will I recognize it?
With appreciation and gratitude,
Your email really touches me Mark and your honesty in making AoH personal, it would miss the mark if it just stayed in a realm "outside" our personal lives.
I have been ruminating on this thread too. Wondering what it is about the word "holding" that does not fit me in a way that feels comfortable.
For me "holding" can, in the way its usually used, imply work, a chore that we do, a weight, a burden, something we carry - but AoH and Council are group processes, and they depend upon trusting in even larger processes.
Space is not place. Space moves fluidly - without boundaries. I do not think we can truly hold space, but i believe that we can fully allow space, or spaciousness, in which things can emerge and come to fruition.
I believe that we host a space much like we host the breath in our bellies...inhaling and exhaling...and we all know what happens if we
HOLD our breath! or try and grasp ahold of a dynamic process.
We keep our eye on the ball, but the joy is in letting the ball bounce! Or, as we all have heard, letting go.
The love you are offering is a beautiful gift. A gift that surely can allow forgiveness to emerge in the situation, by others, in their own time and own way. Seeing themselves through your loving eyes - imperfect and human as they are - could be enough.
Soygal Rinpoche and Kubler Ross framed letting go as making an offering. You hold something in the palm of your hand - your love, your hopes for forgiveness to unfold, your awareness/witnessing of how each person is suffering; but its not tiring because you are not grasping at anything, it is simply you, your upturned palm and your full heartedly offered good wishes and positive regard.
Reading your email at this moment I remember the song "Lay Your Burden
Down". Do you know that one? I think i learned it around the sweat lodge and other ceremonies… but its an old hymn i think.
"Lay your burden down child, lay your burden down, mother earth will
carry you, lay your burden down".
And another: "the river is flowing, flowing and growing, the river is flowing, down to the sea, Mother carry me, your child i will always
be, mother carry me, down to the sea."
I believe that we, all of us, are carried/upheld by forces of life that can carry the heaviest loads and cleanse the heaviest hearts.
I wish you the sweetness of being supported by earth and carried by water. Your email was honest and open. I sense a very strong set of shoulders and great good heart.