Holding Space for Yourself
To listen into the feelings, sensations and words of others, start with your own.
My full presence is the best gift I can give another.
To quietly hold the universe still for a moment while they safely express themselves—their thoughts, feelings and sensations. To be there fully. To listen totally. To feel into everything that shows up for them, without judgment, identification or comparison.
The truth, however, is that often I am not fully there.
My mind gets in the way.
In listening to another, I notice the urge to help fix. To assess, judge, relate and compare. I prepare responses. I search my memory bank for associated stories.
I watch as I tune into the words being expressed while ignoring the feelings, sensations and actions that carry them. It is like being in front of an orchestra and only hearing the kick-drum.
Even if I want to be there for another, to hear them in complete chorus, to listen in with all of me, I can’t. Desire and an intentional effort to listen create their own barriers. They tighten attention into focusing on what I expect to be important rather than the full symphony of what is being expressed. It’s the mind effortfully forcing the mind into a pattern of becoming, rather than relaxing into an open and effortless state of aware being that allows for an unrestrained holding of it all.
I may be able to make sense of the others words. I may gain meaning, understanding and knowledge. But I haven’t truly listened. I wasn’t truly there in the present moment, open, sensitive and receptive to everything that came up.
LISTENING TO MYSELF
Upon close observation, it became clear that my inability to fully listen wasn’t because of a lack of desire to listen or a skill I was missing. It was because I hadn’t learnt to be completely present with myself. To be fully there for all of my own thoughts, feelings and sensations.
With hindsight, this feels like an obvious realisation. How could I possibly give total attention, full presence, love and unconditioned raw empathy to another if none of this was there for me? How could I hold space for others if I couldn’t hold space for myself?
This predicament is something the masterful Jeff Foster calls The Paradox of Loving.
Here is one of my favourite poems of his on the topic:
you cannot truly “be there” for another
until you learn to “be there” for yourself.
Be there for your breath as it rises and falls.
As it slows, quickens, deepens.
As the belly expands and contracts.
Be there. Be a loving witness to this
extraordinary power that moves through you.
Be there for all your feelings, not just the pleasant ones.
Be there for the grief and the anger, too.
The ease and the frustration.
Be there for the sorrow, the emptiness and the fullness,
the wildness and the calm, the life and the dying.
Be there for all your thoughts.
The ones you love and the ones you hate.
The ones that scare you and the ones you seek.
Be there as they arise and dissolve.
Stay there as they stay and go.
Be there for the broken heart and be there for the healed one too.
Be there for the answers, but don’t abandon the questions either.
Be there for the clarity, but don’t neglect the confusion.
Be there for all of yourself, my love.
Like a mother, there for her children.
And you will be able
to be there for all of me.
Look after me by looking after you.
Find me by finding you.
Let me in by staying near.
This is the paradox of loving.
SIT TO BE THERE FOR YOURSELF
There are many ways to ‘be there’ for yourself, but by far the most honest and direct way is to simply sit by yourself for a little while every day.
And when you sit, listen.
Listen without expectation, judgement or a desire to change anything. Listen to your own song. The music your being makes. The percussion in your pain. The harps of your happy thoughts and sopranos singing in sadness. The marimba of a manifesting mind. The bass of bodily sensations.
With time you will cultivate the capacity to hold space for yourself and with it the ability to hold space for others.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE
I recognise that although sitting is a simple task, it can be hard to go back to, day after day. As I’ve discussed before, there are a number of reasons why sitting can be such a difficult practice to get into.
To support those interested, I have started a 100 DAYS OF SITTING CHALLENGE that combines a range of behavioural and psychological tools to integrate a regular sitting practice into everyday life.
If you are curious to learn more, you can join the challenge support group here: