Holding Space for Yourself While Holding Space For Others

Holding Space for Yourself While Holding Space For Others

This is a discussion we've been having on Dream Book Zoom calls.

It starts with: How does a person hold space for themselves and their own process while also being a part of holding space for others IE working on dreams together in a group?

Which spawned the question: How do I, Andrea, do the work that I do where I hold space for myself and my own process as a part of how I hold space for others in my work?

We had Co-Dreaming a call where we got together to work on our next steps with our creative dreams.

This is what some people brought:

  • artwork to work on
  • admin tasks that they had been procrastinating on
  • planning projects
  • setting up new equipment

And one person brought a big painful stuck.

The stuck was about a life situation that was really hard and time consuming and it was bringing up a lot of stuff and that stuff was making progress on the creative dream project impossibly hard.

So we worked through it together.

One thing I REALLY want to do is normalize the stucks.

We feel alone in the stucks. We feel like we are "off track" or "not doing it right" so in these calls I really want to normalize understanding that these parts are all a part of the path.

When I say "bring what you've got to work on" I really do mean it. The thing that's stuck or the thing that's unknown are just as much a part of it as making the art and planning new projects.

At the end of the call, this is when the question was asked about how we are holding space.

One person who had been working on their own art while also listening to us work on the stuck and offer some ideas and space-holding was wondering - is this helpful for her? Did she focus too much on supporting the other person and not enough on her own project?

HOW do you hold space for others while also holding space for yourself?

There is a LOT inside this question.

The first thing is - how are you defining "holding space"?

Because holding space for other people, and for ourselves, is a place where A LOT of our unconscious behaviours and patterns can come into play, sometimes we think we're holding space but really we're doing something entirely different.

For the purpose of this article, holding space means:

  • allowing space for the person to have the feelings and experience that they are have
  • validating and honouring their feelings
  • validating and honouring their experience
  • supporting them in the ways that work for them, not bringing your own needs into it

But often, especially when people are being vulnerable, this can be tricky because of how we react to other people having feelings.

What happens there is we can become more focused on the feeling that's been triggered in us and how to get rid of it. Which means we are no longer holding space for the other person.

One common response in this scenario is to want to FIX or CHANGE what is happening. To offer ideas and advice and insights as a way of helping that person move through their experience more quickly because.... we feel uncomfortable with what they are sharing.

Another common response is the spiritual bypass. To feel uncomfortable with other people having feelings, so you kind of freeze out your own feelings, pretend you're not having any. Then you offer advice to help the other person stop having feelings too.

So, it's good to look at how YOU define holding space and where you may be struggling with it.

For Dream Book members - there is a 1 hour Q+A video on sovereignty that may help. The short version of that video, applied to this scenario, is:

Your feelings, experiences, and process are YOURS.

And other people's feelings, experiences and process are THEIRS.

Respecting the boundaries between those things is honouring sovereignty.

So if someone else shares something that upsets me, my work is to be with my own feelings, not try to rush that person out of their process so that I don't have to have my feelings about it. (Which is a fairly co-dependent response, and unfortunately really common in our culture).

It's not just dis-honouring of my own feelings that got triggered (because actually being with my feelings can help me heal) it's also dis-honouring of the other person's process because I am trying to get them out of their process ASAP instead of helping them move through its in the way that is right for them.

This is NOT holding space. But a lot of people really do "hold space" in this way in our culture. The new age tendency to spiritual bypass can really come into play here too.

Dream Book members: remember the Principles of Creative Dream Alchemy here, like: It takes the time it takes, Honour your process exactly as it is and don't wait or wish for it to be different, Feel the feelings that come up for you on the path to your dream.

Another aspect is the relationship between the people in the group, and the agreement about what we are doing together and how we are doing it.

In this group, I am offering group coaching. And our goal is to be able to move forward with our dreams.

The way I coach is all about drawing your creative genius out. I listen deep to what's being said and ask questions that help bring out more clarity. I generally don't bring in a lot of new ideas, but I will highlight things that are hiding beneath the things that are being said. You are a creative genius You have plenty of your own ideas.

I make this clear in the guidelines + policies for the group - we are working from the assumption that YOUR answers are in YOU.

Which means everyone else's answers are in them. So we're not about throwing advice at each other, but we sure can learn from each other.

The big thing about groups is that they have the potential to grow you deeper.

There is the saying: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go in community. And that's what I believe happens in these groups.

So yes, we can go further and have a richer experience when we work in community. NOT BEING ALONE WITH YOUR DREAMS is big magic.

But also yes we can often go faster with our projects when we work on our own.

And it's NOT like you have to choose one or the other - you can do both.

Working on your own, you will find it much easier to avoid your own blind spots and not even know that you are doing this!

Working in a group, your blind spots can be shown to you through the mirror of the group.

(This is not the ONLY way to see beyond your blind spots. I actually set Dream Book up very deliberately so that the way you're journaling helps you see beyond your blind spots, working on your own, because seeing beyond your blind spots is integral to making any dream happen.)  

The group can bring things up for you that don't notice on your own, but it's not really about the group. It's about your own relationship to group dynamics which are likely of course the family dynamics from your childhood and how you have internalized parts of them.

AND it's about your own relationship with yourself and your dreams.

So a lot of layers of internal stuff can be triggered for you while participating in any group.

This comes back to one of the principles I rely on: you notice/heal things when you are ready to notice/heal them.

You WILL walk around totally blind to the things about yourself that you would really benefit from looking at and dealing with.

We all do.

And you WILL start to notice it when you're ready to deal with it.

Which isn't necessarily when you FEEL ready to deal with it.

So you may notice it as a shock.

And it may be extremely uncomfortable.

And when we feel sudden uncomfortable feelings a natural tendency is to want to throw them back at whenever they came from.

But again - it's not about the group. You're seeing the mirror more clearly because you are ready to see it more clearly.

It's an invitation.

The great thing about a group where everyone is deliberately and specifically there to GROW INTO THEIR DREAMS is that when we plug into that shared intention it get stronger.

You're not holding your intention alone, everyone is holding it with you.

And so - things can shift. Just like you can be triggered by group dynamics or the things that other people share - you can also be inspired, healed and filled up by your interactions with the group.

I think it's magic.

AND it will push us to really look at our selves and our boundaries and our "stuff" in a new light.

So much growth.

Back to the question: How do you hold space for your own process while also holding space for others in a group?

The shortest answer is: practice.

And then also: presence. Notice in your body and mind where you engage and where you check out.

How does it feel to be fully engaged with the group, present with whoever is speaking, trusting them to navigate their own process, and holding space for them?

How does it feel to be fully engaged with your own feelings that come up, holding space for yourself?

Imagine those two points as a spectrum. Now where on that spectrum feels the most comfortable to you?

That answer may be different from day to day.

When it comes to Dream Book: you joined the group to work on your dreams. So that's the priority.

But that doesn't mean there isn't space to hold space for others in what they're working with - and sometimes that work actually helps nurture your dreams in ways you don't always see at first.

So. Show up to the calls and participate in the ways that feel right for you and I do believe you will find your way.

And onto the second question: How do I, personally do this, as the leader of the group while also participating in it?

One thing I do quite differently than most teachers in the personal growth space is that I do share my own process more deeply, openly, and consistently than anyone else I've seen.

I use myself as an example of what it means to have a daily practice of using what you have to create what you want. I write about this and share it EVERY DAY (Monday-Friday) in our private mastermind group.

I'm able to do this because I've been doing this work for so long that the container of my practice is extremely sturdy.

I KNOW I will work through stuff. Maybe not in 1 day or even a week, but I have enough experience to know that I'll get there. Having that trust means I'm not sharing from a place of trying to get attention or approval or hope that someone will come in and rescue me. It means people don't worry about me.

Say when things are rough they'll offer support but I'm not putting them into a position where they are concerned for me and need to put their own dreams aside to hold space for me.

That's the big thing. That boundary.

I am holding space for the group. This is my job. This comes first.

My own practice helps me be able to do this.

I'm DOING my practice for myself and SHARING it for others.

As I wrote about the spectrum of holding space only for yourself and holding space only for others, I have to remain aware of where I am on that spectrum.

A part of the work of me BEING ABLE to hold space for others in a consistent way (I have been running a membership holding space for others since the summer of 2012) is having a study practice for myself and clear boundaries.

There are some things about my practice that I don't share because my purpose in how I share is ALWAYS space-holding for the group.

So anything I can't share within that purpose - anything that I really need support on -  I work on by myself, or with my support systems outside of my work.

I believe space-holders NEED a support system.

Because the new age/personal growth industry is unregulated, it felt important to me to have support from a licensed therapist. I told her one of my therapy goals is making sure I am ok to hold space for others.

If I don't have all of the support I need outside of my work, I AM likely to shift the boundaries and unconsciously start leading the group in a way that focuses on getting MY needs met.

I have a lot of training as a space-holder though that doesn't mean I think you need a ton of training. I know some people with no training have excellent skills and some people with a ton of training still can't effectively hold space for others.

Part of my training included having teachers who were not walking their own talk. By experiencing the stress this causes for their students, I learned that walking my talk - and showing people HOW I walk my talk - was really important to me as a teacher.

Those teachers were also not getting the support they needed. Because of that, they were using their students to try to get their needs met - ie: approval, admiration - in mostly unconscious ways that created more problems than solutions.

If you have an unconscious goal to receive something from your students you absolutely cannot hold space for them in an effective way. Your energy is split.

Again - my purpose in how I share is ALWAYS space-holding for the group - not that I never need approval or admiration or other things, but I work on having the support I need to get those needs met outside of my work so I am not unconsciously seeking them from my students.

Another aspect is - this is just my unique way of doing things.

Everyone has gifts to share. And making it a practice to share your gifts helps you figure out how to share your gifts.

You learn as you practice, you grow as you practice, and you apply that learning and growth to how you continue to practice.

As I have done this over the years, this is how the work has evolved for me.

When we do our monthly new moon intention setting calls, I am right there with everyone setting my intentions.

The first part of the call is a meditation + journaling session that I participate in.

The second part of the call is coaching for processing things that are coming up for people.

If I have a bunch of stuff coming up that I am struggling with - I know I have to work on that later. That the call time is time for everyone else.

It's that boundary that I know my job is to hold space for the group, so that's always my first priority.

And again, my experience means I KNOW that I will work through it, I have the tools, space and support I need to trust that completely, so it's fine to put it down and focus on the group for the rest of the call. I can work on my own stuff later.

I actually enjoy sharing the stories of when I fail because I REALLY want people to know they are not alone in those parts of the journey.

Even though I still fail all the time, even though I have self doubts and anxiety and inner critics... I also HAVE my biggest dream come true, which is to use my creative gifts to help others and to be financially sustained by that work.

I have a lot of the freedom, spaciousness, and ease that I dreamed of for so long while I was trying to figure out how to offer my gifts in a way that people would receive them. (I was a starving artist, and then a person working in a cubicle while dreaming of a different life, before I started doing this full time)

So I really want people to see that they can fail and stumble a lot along the way and that they can still get there.

There are lots of people who hold space by not sharing their own process at all.

A dear friend, and someone I admire the hell out of, Chris Zydel, teaches intuitive painting and almost never shares her paintings and holds space masterfully.

As I said, it's a spectrum.

We all get to find the right place for us to be on that spectrum.

There is no one ideal way.

And this is only one blog post, this is NOT everything you need to know about holding space for others and yourself.

We did go back to that question on our next live call.

I told that person that I had written this post with a bunch of my thoughts, BUT ALSO I didn't know how useful this post would be to them, personally.

So we talked about the feeling that came up when she felt that fear "did I just put my own work aside to be there for someone else - during the time when I had the intention of working on my own work - and is this good for me?"

Because in some situations - yes this is VERY good for you!

And in some situations - yes you DID just sabotage your own dreams.

So we talked it though, to the point where she said "Oh it's that damn onion of life again" and yes that's what it is. So many interconnecting layers of our stuff and how we react to things.

It all comes together with our dreams.

All of the things you need to look at and heal. All the things you want to avoid. All of your most important gifts. All of the things that matter most to you.

They're all together there in a tangle and that tangle IS the path.

So navigating that path is never supposed to look like smooth sailing.

Holding Space for Yourself While Holding Space For Others