The Art of Hosting

From the emaillist, March 2015:

Last week I wrote a blog post about holding space that generated a lot of interest (enough to crash my website). It seems there are a lot of people in the world who are hungry to know how to hold space for others and for space to be held for them (which is also evident in the way the Art of Hosting community is growing). Here's the link to the article:

Because so many of the people who responded are caregivers, teachers, hospice care workers, parents, etc., who work tirelessly to hold space for other people, I thought it was important to offer a follow-up piece about holding space for yourself:
I'm curious… does anyone in this community know about the origin of the term "holding space"? I believe I first heard it in connection with AoH and/or ALIA, and I also know that it is common in the yoga world. It seems to emerge out of Buddhism, but I haven't been able to find an original source. Does anyone know?

Heather Plett
Well Harrison Owen may have been one of the first to put it out there in the Organizational Development world, although the term has been around for a long long time, and certainly that is where I first came across it as facilitation practice.  
It inspired me to write a book called the Tao of Holding Space, which you can have for free here:
I don’t think I ever told you, Chris, what an exquisite piece of writing your Tao of Holding Space is. It is stunningly profound, simple and full of beauty…
My heartfelt appreciation to you for all you bring to us!
Loving the Tao of Holding Space, Chris. Beautifully written and with depth. thanks, Rose
--------------------- At the same time I received this, I also received the Brené Brown short and thought it was appropriate to share. Love the creative images of receiving the perspective in the core and of the silver lining. In regards to parents holding space for children, I Ike the example of the children being in harmony as mom goes about her things then the phone rings and as soon as she is no longer the guardian of the space, the children start having meltdowns. In so many examples in life we are holding space. We are invited to draw on where our strengths already are and then, with stepping stones build on this and celebrate! Success to you! Janet Clancy


I have enjoyed reading both blog posts. I can't help with the origin of 'holding space' but it really works. Your words nail it. I work with foster carers often note that they 'hold space' for the young people in their care. I speak about holding space for the young people and young people in care. Your words will help me explain what I mean to those who do not quite 'get it'.

Thank you

Paul Smart


There was also an exchange on the OSLIST about the origins of the term "holding space" Psychologists such as Winnicott wrote about parenting and child development using terms like creating a "holding environment" and there was one later researcher who used the term "open space" as the safe environment that a mothering figure creates for an infant to move around, explore, and develop.

I learned "holding space" in the Organization Development world in the late 80s. Whether it was sourced in anyone other than Harrison I can't remember. I'm surprised to not recall if Harrison actually said that he invented the term! He did write about "crossing the open space" -- influenced I'd say by his seminary study of the Hebrew story of Moshe and his people (that is celebrated at Passover.) I'm curious whether "holding space" has some roots in the origins of the OD field, in precursors such as the somewhat mystical work of experimenting group process practitioners like Moreno, Perls, Lewin, and others, thru Tavistock and Esalen and so forth in the US and other places.
Great stuff Heather, Chris, and all.
Hi Everyone.
I'll put a little extra plug in for Chris' The Tao of Holding Space. 
Someone recently turned it into a set of cards. It's a great set! The kind that you can pick a card any time and get massively good advice.
I'm not completely certain how to get them (it wasn't Chris who made them) but start here:
You can get the cards here:
Chris, let me add a word of appreciation for your lovely book as well. From the first chapter, you remind us that darkness is filled with possibility, light, and hope. It is a take on Black Sky thinking, applied to the Universe of humans/interaction, and an uplifting, counter-biasing image as well. 

Thank you for inviting even more exploration of the space we occupy, hold, and  discover. 

Hi All
Recently I moved from a consulting role to an organisational role and I have begun a cultural transformation process that I would describe as moving from a fundamentally dependent culture to an interdependent culture. We are on a journey and happily most people have transitioned from overall dependent to overall independent. There are a few people starting to lament the fact that we are not yet at an overall interdependent space on the emotional maturity continuum. In some there is a tendency to revert to a command and control operating system to force us there. (In my weaker moments I am tempted to join them!)
I am finding the practice of holding space for the whole organisational very useful indeed. Creating a container where people can safely express and share their progress and frustration is enabled by holding space. I have to travel quite a bit, sometimes even being referred to as the "absent CEO", and yet I attempt to hold space in an ongoing way from afar. While presence is helpful it is the energetics that seems to make the greatest difference.
I share this to allow those of you who are working with and supporting people in organisational roles to give confidence to them that the notion of holding space does not just have to be about an event. It can be part of the ongoing leadership role.
The practices of AoH are enormously helpful in this work.
Wishing us all perseverance and pleasure in our work to make the world just a little kinder, or maybe a lot.
Thanks for this perspective, Stephen.
As someone embedded inside an organisation, I can bear witness to the importance of holding space for the manifestation of other possibilities. This of course brings us to the question: Is ‘holding space’ ever ‘neutral’? Whenever I hold space (which seems to be almost always, these days), I notice that there is always an intention - whether implicit or explicit. If I try to do so without one (I’m just experimenting with the possibility as I write, since it’s not really occurred to me in this way before) I don’t see how to ‘create the container’ in which space can be held. So that’s kind of interesting. I do notice that one can step into the role of holding space without knowing what the intention is if you are working with a container which already exists (has been created by someone else’s intention…).
Ah the things we discover when we stop to look under the surface…
Loving this conversation

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This reminds me that Harrison Owen's practice of holding space is summed up with the simple practice of "being completely present and totally invisible."
Ooooo. Yes Helen. A juicy edge. 
We have to walk this very sensitive line between holding an intention for the container and holding an intention for an outcome. When I get that wrong my ability to hold space collapses. 
This practice requires incredible sensitivity.

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