The Art of Hosting

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:

Hello Beth,

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!
With love,

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.

Our contract:
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

Beautiful Caitlin,

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.
Ursula Hillbrand

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

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.


Dear Sarah,
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.
Much Love,

Greetings all,
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,

Dear Mark,
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.


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Continuation of the first piece...

Hi Mark,

Your situation and questions stimulate for me reminders of the value of feedback and getting connected to if and how my efforts so far have been helpful. The tiredness you articulate reminds me of how when I feel tired it's usually a sign that I need something that I'm not getting. Some distance to re-evaluate usually helps me connect to what it is. My first step is usually to take a break and have a little unstructured rest and light reflection - more of a reflecting on how my body feels than on thoughts. I've been amazed at how often people respond favourably to this even though we may be right in the middle of something. Encouraged by growing successes in this department I recently asked for some quiet time while having dinner with my Mother for her 70th birthday. She complains that she doesn't get to hear enough about me and my life and we were in the middle of sharing quite a lot with a lot of energy. She asked a question that was encouraging me to continue with something we were in the middle of discussing and I realized I'd been feeling uncomfortable and anxious for a while and it was just getting worse. That was my cue to interrupt what was going on and do something different. I said, "I'm realizing that I'm starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. I think I need a bit of quiet time to reflect and maybe just ground and get centered again. Would it be alright if we took a break from the conversation for a bit and just had some silent time?" Some old part of me was surprised at how agreeable she was to my suggestion. Some newer part of me was delighted to see my recent experience confirmed yet again around how well things work well when I pay attention to how I'm feeling in my body and speak about my needs in the moment. The deal clincher is asking for something that I think will help me feel better. That gives people something concrete to accept or turn down. I used to think this would make people feel "roped in" to doing something because they are afraid to say no. In reality, I find people usually appreciate a concrete request as it helps them connect more clearly with whether it would be enjoyable for them or not. When they respond I listen to their whole body and the tone of their response. If I'm not convinced that they are genuinely happy to comply with my request then I will turn down their offer. At this point I either try to find another way to get my need met or try to connect with what's keeping them from enjoying helping me in the way I've requested.

I know that story may have been a little tangential but it felt right to speak to it. Stepping back again I guess I'm saying that when my work (whether it is holding space for a friend or cleaning the house) is no longer energizing, I like to take a step back and look at what needs are and are not being met (for me and for them).

If I've been working hard to support others I like to know at some point how my efforts have helped them. What needs have I been meeting for them. I want to connect with and let in any appreciation they are able to articulate - this is gold for renewing my energy. I've often been amazed how much relief and gratitude I can feel when one person mentions one small concrete thing I did that made their life better. Because this feels so good and I see how it re-energizes me I often coach people in giving me appreciation. If I've been working hard to help someone and I'm getting run down and tired I might start by connecting to my feeling of caring for them that led to helping in the first place. Then I'll tell them, "Hey you know I've been doing x-y and z because I care so much about you, but I notice now I'm getting tired so I'm going to ease up a bit. I'd like to know though what parts of my efforts, if any, have been helpful because I'd sure like to make sure I use my caring energy in a way that's actually bringing some value to your life. Could you tell me what's been helpful out of the things I've been doing?" If their response is vague but encouraging I'll ask for a specific example, "It's exciting to hear that I've actually managed to be of some help. I'm thinking it would feel pretty good to hear more about that, can you think of an example of something specific I said or did that you appreciated?" Often people need some time to think to come up with something but they feel more comfortable taking the time having heard me express my interest in hearing more. If they've just been bullshitting because they are afraid to hurt my feelings by telling me that I haven't been helpful then this may become apparent here. Ultimately this is a gift too because if I'm truly not serving them with my actions (whether it's digging a ditch or holding space) I want to know. Despite the disappointment that I might feel that my efforts were not bringing value it's a huge relief to stop doing stuff that's starting to feel like a burden and any guilt I might feel at ceasing my efforts tends to evaporate when I realize it's not what they were wanting anyway. In which case I'd tend to be curious about what they think might be helpful, what kinds of things they might have been hoping for me to say or do. If those feel good to me then I've got a concrete course of action for when my strength is renewed and if they don't then I can share my concerns and continue the dialogue.

Wishing you relief, replenishment and resolution with your family situation,

Derrick VanderVliet

Greetings to all,
I rarely respond to any of these threads. I am more of an observer. However, this holding the space triggered me. In early 2008 life presented an opportunity for me to move back into my home in the Midwest of the United States. I had been living in upstate NY and a friend asked me what I planned to do when I got back to the Midwest, my immediate response was "I am going back to hold the space". I did not know consciously what that meant, but it came forth and once airborne manifested. I knew a wave of challenges unknown on the global stage were arriving even as we drove the 1500 miles home. Now 2 years later, I am asking the same questions that Mark is, how long does one hold the space? I lost my job in January and put my home up for sale and feel the call to move on, but now it seems the space is holding on to me. What do we really know about how we are interacting with this energy?

Hello Mark and others following this thread on holding space...

I just read a complementary issue of the Shambhala Sun given away at ALIA (the Authentic Leadership in Action Institute) in Halifax a few weeks back. Throughout, article after article, I was touched by and reminded of the tireless ways in which His Honor, the Dalai Lama, holds space for the nonviolent reconciliation and return of Tibet to its people. And so too, in this time of watching the World Cup in South Africa, I am reminded of Nelson Mandela holding space for himself in that tiny solitary cell, so as to emerge decades later having forgiven and ready to act with a hard won wisdom and compassion for his country.

A "sensing" of a shift in the energies, a space, a breath of something new, something possible, a curious "what if" and inner invitation or stirring to move or speak, to initiate or receive... felt individually and then corroborated by others - these have been some of my markers for emergence. Often easier to perceive and act on outside of my personal story and family.


Hi Mark and all,

Thanks for your beautiful sharing and questions here.

I have been continuing to sit in these questions all week also. One area of inquiry that is opening up more for me is to notice when the holding feels tiring and heavy - what am I believing about the space that is making it feel heavy to me? What am I thinking about the situation, the people, what outcome I am attached to, what do I fear will happen? ... and then I can open some space for myself to inquire there. I notice that finding my own freedom from fear and attachment allows me to show up in a way that seems to open and hold space for others without me having to 'do' something; that holding this way does not feel heavy or take energy the way holding with attachment does. What I can see and invite and speak and share from a place of my own open mind and heart, and my own journey through the beliefs I have been holding in the space seems to really serve me and the group, my family, the space. It is not always easy to do in the moment and requires some curiosity and patience with myself - and for me so far it always seems to be the place to start, doing my own work, when I feel that heaviness. This kind of holding myself, and letting the space hold me seems to allow me to hold space more peacefully and I have noticed that action and movement flow from that place of clarity in me, whether that looks like staying, going or any other wise action that arises. I recognize the path in that moment because I am already on it.


When i am holding space in a professional role, i am allowing the energy and will of the group to emerge. However, i do not have control over what the content will be. Because it's a job, it's easier to have some detachment from outcome. In one's personal life and family, it is much harder to let go. My guess is that what is wearing you out in this situation is less the offering of unconditional love for your brothers and father and more the tension of wishing they would act differently: the desire for control that you do not in fact have. So the way of holding space for *yourself*, offering yourself the same unconditional love you've been trying to give them, might mean somehow finding peace with the possibility that they will never work it out with each other, and you will go on loving all of them anyway. Not an easy thing, i know, especially for self-identified peacemakers who hold those values dear.

If they've developed a habit of speaking negatively about each other to you, you might even need to tell them that you have suffered deeply over this situation and that you are taking a break and are no longer willing to tolerate hearing them diss each other in your presence.

Sending compassion from afar,

Dear all,

The unfolding of my own life is leading me to some broader definitions and deeper understandings of holding space. It seems that 'holding space' is not exactly a content-free activity. It is holding space for something, whether we realise it or not. We all instinctively know that it is an intentional act. It is usually in retrospect, once events have played out, that we see what we were holding space for. Nelson Mandela, I'm sure, wasn't holding space just for himself, but for his people and his homeland, and their potential to play a transformative role in world history. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is holding space for a historically vast and enormously complex resolution that will take longer than his lifetime to unfold. I wouldn't be surprised if he chose to reincarnate again just to continue that work - because it seems that being incarnate, having human form and consciousness, gives a particular power to affect the material realm. We are only just beginning to awaken to that potential.

I would like to make it clear that as I write this, I can't say for certain (in scientific, empirical terms) where the information is coming from - but it's a source I've been working with for some time, and I have grown to trust it, and know that this thread is an invitation for it to speak what it knows to people who want to learn.

I am coming to understand that holding space is something that human beings do in cooperation with the invisible realms (and whatever or whoever lives there - at least one aspect of it seems to be the subtle forces that shape nature). We live in the manifest realm of matter, as well as in the intangible realms of mind, soul and spirit (however we distinguish those...) - and this enables us, provided we are sufficiently at home with our immaterial lives, to bridge intentionally between the two realms. For me, the full expression is: "holding space for the highest future potential to show up" - where 'highest potential' means greatest possible degree of health and wholeness. I know for sure that the content of that will be well beyond my capacity to comprehend, so I don't worry at all about filling it in with specifics. But my body seems to know what that health and wholeness feel like, so I find myself playing around with the energetic quality of my space holding until my body has that feeling.

When I hold space in this 'impersonal' way - without any vested interest in some specific outcome - then it is not an onerous task at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. I get to bathe my cells in the ambrosia of joy and health that come from holding the whole of creation in unconditional positive regard. All I have to do is set the intention. And I really think that intention is key. Intention is what human beings bring into the equation of active and equal partnership with the forces of creation, and that means that space holding is a far-from-innocent act. I don't think that it has to be hard or heavy work. If we pay attention to what we are ourselves projecting on to the work, our own personal attachment to outcomes or judgments of what we are holding space for...

There is another piece which seems important, that has to do with consciousness. When we are holding space, somehow we are using our own consciousness to create a field that imbues the domain of that which we are holding space for - be it a group of people, a situation or a place. Perhaps that is something, which had no 'domain' at all until we brought it into existence through our intentionally casting a lasso around it with our mind. But as soon as we have done so, then that field exists, and being imbued with conscious intent, it will be more coherent that what was there before. If the coherence in the field is strong enough, then the surrounding incoherence will tend to be brought into alignment with it. Consciousness begets consciousness, just the way dark energy begets dark energy and forces the galaxies apart.

Clearly, when we hold space together, interweaving our combined consciousness into a field, the coherence should be much stronger - provided we have shared clarity in our intent. Otherwise we just create more, often very powerful, incoherence, because clashing egoic thought forms create a very strong disturbance in what would otherwise simply be mildly, randomly unstructured space - and we know what that begets, because we live in a civilisation that's full of it. Which is where the whole field of AoH practice comes in, and why it can be so powerful a force for action in the world. The more we understand the practice as a means of aligning human consciousness into a coherent field around an intention to bring more health and wholeness to that which is in the centre, the more powerful the resulting manifestation will be - and the less work will be needed to realise it.

That's all for now!

In Possibility Management we speak of it as holding space for a specific set of declared bright principles, which are forces of nature, facets of the diamond of consciousness. For example, I often work in the name of the principles of Integrity, Clarity, Possibility, Love, Transformation and High Level Fun, and that's what shows up in the held space. As a spaceholder, I am being the space through which my bright principles do their work in the world. Then I am being used by something greater than myself (in the George Bernard Shaw sense - see below). Responsibility is consciousness in action. When I am holding space for the work of the bright principles I was born to deliver, then I fulfill my destiny in each moment. There is a procedure for distilling your bright principles out of your life - the Distilling Destiny process - in Chapter 8 of Directing the Power of Conscious Feelings .
Thank you for talking and thinking about such dear things.
Clinton Callahan

This is the true joy in life: Being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
-George Bernard Shaw

Have lived in a very similar place with my family for many, many years.
As Tree suggests, I discovered an effective response in a moment of weary, naked authenticity. I very softly told my complaining brother that it hurts my heart when people complain about/criticize my brothers. He seemed to GET IT, that I was not taking sides and that standing in the place of integrity around both of them, I HURT when anyone speaks ill of them. Because each of my brothers love me, the being in the middle vaporized.
And yes, the being in the middle is something that I allowed because I thought I needed to do that in order to hold the space for harmony in the family. Realized that maintaining/creating the harmony is not my job. My job is simply to love my brothers. So I accepted holding the space for harmony between US and left them as capable adults to figure out their harmony or lack thereof between themselves. (And yes, it was a long, hard, bruising journey before I gave it up. Being hyper-responsible is an illness I am working on getting over!!!!)

Janet Trump

Hi all,

I can feel the ache in the inquiries about holding space when personally involved. So I offer some thoughts to build on the wisdom already expressed.

One implication in holding space is that it creates boundaries. And that's a good thing! There is no clear space without boundaries. For an event, the theme is essential to defining boundaries. As an individual, my sense of purpose or calling or mission - whatever term you use - bounds the space of me. It helps me know what to say "yes" and "no" to. The same is true in relationships. How I hold my intentions for the relationships shapes the space.

My sense of relationship is strongly influenced by the work I did in the 80's with Context Associated, a cousin of Landmark Education (The Forum). One of the life-changing perspectives I learned through Context is the notion that it takes one person to make a relationship work. What that means to me is that I do the work of getting clear of my intent and aspirations for the relationships and make choices in accordance to that perspective. To relate that to an OS perspective, as I said already, the thread of intention creates my sense of the space.

Another dimension…disturbance, conflict, misunderstanding, disagreement are signs that something is wanting to emerge. By creating welcoming conditions to explore it, the dissonance is more approachable. Harrison Owen, who created Open Space Technology says that when facing conflict, the most productive response is to open more space. Since our natural tendency is to want to shut down, his suggestion a great place to start. So how do you do that?

The simplest approach I've found is to find an appreciative question that is large enough to hold the disruption in a creative way. Such questions focus attention and invite the other in. In other words, like an OS theme or a personal mission, the question bounds the space for creative exploration. That helps create welcoming conditions for exploring the differences in your perspectives that can make a difference. If the situation doesn't lend itself to an exploration with others, you can use a question to explore the different perspectives that exist within yourself. Out of that creative exploration, a larger, more complex understanding can emerge. Think of it as a perspective that makes room for whatever is at the heart of the disturbance to find its way into a form that serves you, the other person, and the relationship.


Beautiful spoken from the heart of your experience Peggy.

thank you and it inspires me to formulate.....

By asking a larger more encompassing question
we may practice
the art of asking for help
so that I may not fall in the trap of
closing the space
by entering the judgmental part of me

honestly asking for help adds
such kindness to the space
that it seems to open even wider
for more of us
to be more of who we are
alone and together

and enter what we can be
when being in the innate
kindness, respect and dignity
of life in the conscious lane

cheers to opening more of that kind of space
for life to grow and celebrate itself
in all its diverse beauty
in the midst of all
that it taking place


Aphei to the Nuu Chah Nulth tribe means:

It is kind to ask for help
a person who cannot ask for help
can not be trusted


I've been... like you... following this thought's path through the twists and turns as it weaves from our hearts and minds and back again to our hearts. As I've read the stories of families -- yes, my sister who still holds anger after years and years... even after the deaths of our parents -- who still feels I was loved best. Yes, my bouts of time working within corporations and finding that there are matter what they say...who are willing to put people first and what Wall Street thinks second (not forgetting which of those two they believe impacts their annual bonus calculation). And, I've experienced groups that I believed were ready to change the world only to find that they are, individually, not able or willing to give up what looks so secure for a chance to work in their passions. And, yet... I cannot give up on any of it. It seems my job... to hold space and allow for that small miracle and slight adjustment that will change everything.

What it seems to require is absolute faith that the change will come and an unshakable belief that the "other" will be able to make the change. Sometimes that "other" is you/me. Sometimes the change is to something we don't have control over...and letting go of those things that we can control often causes a ripple effect.

The how long question... is one that each of us must answer for ourselves. I've often described my life as the making of a sword. The metal pounded flat and shaped and then put into the fire over and over again...each time pounded and each time cooled...only to repeat the process over and over again until the metal has the integrity needed to hold us safe when we need to be in battle. So, enough is when your heart can't go on any longer. Enough is when one realizes that one is more in ego than originally thought. Enough is when what one is doing is clearly in violation of another's free will. Enough is when there is a realization that one was mistaken. And, enough is when your heart tells you that there is a better use of your time. I had a dotted line boss once who said....this is (or is not) a hill I'm willing to die on. I'm still on the hill. I still believe that one day the physical space I'm holding will call to itself the people needed to fulfill its purpose.


Hi All,

Some truly interesting and deep questions. My offering is somewhat pragmatic, with some interesting implications.

I am thinking of the concept of neutrality I learned in Deep Democracy. It is extremely close to the idea of being "centred", and indeed might be the same. This idea is that when we are facilitating a conversation/intervention we are aware of our own involvement and attachment. We attempt to develop and maintain a position of neutrality, neither "falling in love" or "judging" others and their contribution. This is a difficult position to maintain and we need to explicitly step in and out of neutrality and our own attachment.

Does being centred mean the same as being "neutral"?

I guess that leads me to ask the question if we can only really effectively hold space from a position of neutrality/centredness? That would mean that holding space in a conversation in which we have a strong personal stake would be extremely difficult.

I find this idea quite challenging and would be interested in the views of others.

Kindest regards


Great observation Stephen, thank you for this insight. Inspiring thread this.

I am not a student of Deep Democracy however what you say about it does ring true for me. I am learning that this space of non-judgement / non-attachment to the subject matter or outcome is crucial to an effective process, and easier said than done. It seems to require strength and humility as one gesture which for me is one of the deeper challenges of hosting.

One of the first things I remember about AoH training is that one has to host oneself in order to host others, so perhaps it is a helpful practice to hold yourself in a reflective Appreciative Inquiry before, during and after the process. For instance, asking questions internally such as "How do I respond with ability and not react with aversion?" ( : aversion is something that originates from within, whereas adversity is something that originates from without; adverse is usually applied to situations while averse is used to describe a person's attitude)... or if you notice a downturn in the group awareness "What makes me feel more alert and how can I inspire this alertness in others?"

In this regard I suggest Chris Corrigan's The Tao of Holding Space

Warm greetings from vibrant South Africa!

Be well,

Hi, Stephen and all

Yes, your description of neutral would be quite close to my understanding of centered. Centered might be considered a more personal descriptor, though. For a person to be centered would require that s/he be balanced intentionally in all the ways in which impulses and energies are received and sent. It means knowing who "you" are and what you believe while at the same time being nonjudgmental and open to receiving new information that can be combined with current information ... resulting in a change of thinking. So, if someone is holding space and there is one person or group that believe one way or wants one resolution...and another group that believes another way or wants something different, holding space would wait and wait long enough for the third solution to arise. Generally, this third solution (could be more) will be a combination or a totally new solution that arises from participants speaking from their hearts of their understanding of the question or problem.

Yes....beginning from a position of neutrality when self and family are involved is difficult...but not impossible. Generally, one wants the best possible outcome and when there is the recognition that the self may not know of all possible outcomes...there is space for exploration.

Just to pitch in....

In my experience neutral means 100% involvement and 0% attachment… (flow experience)

Balance is, for me, a place of observation. I need to do nothing, just observe.

Nice thread…

LLL (lots of love and light!)

Marcello Lacroix :)

Perhaps being centered, maintaining neutrality and "holding space" might all be related to maintaining an openness/curiosity that is attentive and extends unconditional positive regard to all involved.
In terms of being centered as I experience it in Zen meditation practice, breath is deep in the belly, the spine is strong and flexible -- which allows for an open relaxed belly and chest/heart – all creating a steadiness - a balanced "posture" of body and mind that is flexible and has the capacity to be response-able to situations as they unfold.
When tension arrives in an RJ Circle, or Council or with a family or individual who is dying or in crisis, that's the mental and physical posture that I find most beneficial I do not have to focus on a particular outcome...

Hard to put into words, but as we breath in that calm steady this moment, this moment, this moment way, an entrainment happens, there is new space, new breath in the situation itself.

Not always easy to manage, in order to not have a strong attachment to outcome i have to forget my self, and i do that best by being attentive to the situation as a whole...its really the gift to me in the work I do, those times of forgetting myself.

Regards from the freshly moistened earth of New Mexico.


Dear Mates, friends, colleagues and holders of places and spaces,

A deep and interesting conversation, and what a rich inquiry! Thank you to all who have responded.

I’m thinking back to our time in May at Immersion in Axladitsa. A few things arose for me there that seem to resonate with this conversation:

First, holding the space with intention. I found during the 8 days we spent together that somehow I had moved to become part of a circle of grandmothers (what, me, a grandmother???). This was not an intention I began with, but one that seemed to grow over time, almost as if the space itself called for this holding during the time we were together and some of us naturally responded. So I would add to this conversation that there are aspects which call to be held, revealed and acted on, in any field. Some of them might be disruptive, but need a voice, some might be more subtle, and some weave themselves into the realms that are far beyond the known.

The second aspect that arose for me was an experience of the power of witnessing. What happens when we hold the intention to witness, whether that is witnessing what some might call a tragedy or witnessing someone into their greatness? What happens when we decide to be present with open eyes? I think much that is happening in our world is calling for witnessing and for us to be present in our fullness, and from that witnessing choosing wise action. What happens if we name what others feel is present but cannot name? I found myself on Tuesday working with participatory leadership with a group of 90 and naming the fear that has leadership focus so much on control. I knew I could name this for them because for me it is not a ‘career limiting move’ to name it. I know when I’ve witnessed the struggle or suffering of another it softens and shifts. Witnessing would seem to carry neutrality with it, but can we ever be neutral? Really? Even if we come with the intention of love, we come with something and that something will impact the field we come into. And I have asked myself, what if my greatest contribution were to do nothing at all? What could my being bring?

And the third is what happens when we hold the space for highest potential, for mastery to show up. I know for me when the space was held with this intention then my mastery did show up. For me it was like being connected to the muses. The perfect story, the perfect words, the right actions showed up exactly when they were needed and I could trust them. How do I be in my holding and in my clarity enough so that this is my normal experience? This is what I am working toward in my life practice.

Sarah, perhaps you could share with us what unfolded during your contract? I’d love to hear about that!

Sending you the bright winter sun of the South Pacific skies,

Mary Alice
Wow - what a thread this is - I have just finished Harrison Owen's The Practice Of Peace, which is akin to these reflections. I too think Intention is a key piece. As one who does Centering Prayer and who has learned much from Thomas Keating and his work, I am reminded of the foundation of contemplative prayer as stated by him - our piece of it is our intention to be present and to listen - I actually thought a lot about that as I was reading Owen on Open Space. Where I seek more clarity now is 'after the listening, what? What do we do with what we are hearing?' How do we manifest those learnings? Is that the harvesting?

Deep peace to each from the North Atlantic coast -
This is such a rich and helpful discussion. I need to spend some time reading and rereading this.  I am right now working on the edge of my practice in examining how to support the co-construction of what is emerging in systems work, from within that relational space. My desire is to gain more clarity and help take the systems work to our next (or deeper) level of understanding and practice, without 'holding' it in a way that limits, constrains, or that I feel the weight of the holding.  I have a vision of doing this with more gracefulness and finesse while trying to balance opening to emergence with clarity, intentionality and effectiveness.

Hello Kristin,

I'm happy that you found inspiration in this compilation on 'holding space'. Most likely it was somewhere in this tread, but I see 'holding space' as 'holding space for the potential to manifest' - like parents holding the potential of their children so that they can grow who they can become. In that kind of holding, it is not something that could limit or constrain.

ONLY when we have certain expectations - that things should be in a certain way - then we put limits and constraints. Regarding the weight of holding, I learned that 'all fields need to be held by a field' - which means to me that we need at least to be two in a hosting field/team to hold systemic work. It is how I understand what is named in AoH 'find your mates'.

With best regards,


Our team very much resonated with the need to at least be two in a hosting field/team. We sometimes feel isolated in our work and the weight of the holding limits our creativity and motivation. 


I am curious. Often we have certain goals that are driven by the shared purpose in the field.  What is that delicate balance between having expectations and holding goals to help shape the field. For example if we have specific funding to achieve certain outcomes, there is a balance between holding space for the potential to manifest around a specific purpose.  It is a finesse and trusting I think. Something that is hard to do sometimes as we are striving for concrete outcomes.  Any wisdom to share from your experience?

Hello Kristin,

I can't tell much from experience of working with funding. Most of the projects I help host are of a shorter kind; and paid by the hours or days that I work on it.

What I do know is that there is an area of evaluation that is developing, especially for these kind of emergent situations. At the moment the proposal for the grant was written the situation might have been totally different than when the project is actually on the way. If you want to work with the emergent - and holding space for more of the unmanifested potential to show up - then 'concrete outcomes' might not be the right goal! You want to do something new, but are measuring its 'success' by old models.

Google 'developmental evaluation' and 'organic evaluation' and you might learn more! The best person to ask questions about this is Vanessa Reid; most likely also on this site!

Thanks so much Ria! I appreciate your responsiveness.  We have had the wonderful opportunity to work with an evaluation team that is so good at this. They are very patient with our organic, emergent process, working to frame their evaluation in a way that informs our work, while also helping us to keep track of how we are doing against what we said we would do (adjusting over time as things evolve.)


This is a great discussion, thank you for hosting it.  I need to keep reading folks reflections to continue to gain insight and learning. 

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