By Cheryl Wituik BA, BSW RSW – Program Coordinator at BFO-SW
You may have heard the term “holding space” in conversations with others, perhaps you’ve seen it in a book or article, or it might have been something your therapist mentioned, if you’ve ever been in counselling.
It’s a phrase we use often in our work supporting bereaved families. Holding space means, quite simply, BEING WITH. It means being in a physical and emotional space with someone; fully present, listening intently, actively, without judgement, with full acceptance. It is a way of extending openness, kindness, gentleness; making room for, and allowing whatever is present to exist in the moment.
It is an active attempt to do nothing to interfere with what is.
Finding compassionate people who can hold space for us, who can provide this gentle acceptance isn’t always easy, or at times, possible. The good news is that we can learn to hold space for ourselves, by turning this around and reaching in to the heart of compassion that exists within each of us. It is comparable to holding a mirror up, looking into our own eyes, and intentionally treating ourselves with the same warmth and kindness we would show for another person who was facing similar circumstances.
What might it mean if we were to hold space for ourselves within our own grief? We all know how quickly we place judgments upon ourselves for our thoughts, our emotions, our actions. We’re so quick to criticize and berate ourselves; we tell ourselves all kinds of things that aren’t true, or helpful. Holding space would mean being kind, gentle and understanding of whatever we are experiencing in the moment.
This can be uncomfortable for us if we’re not used to allowing our intense emotion to come to the surface. But there are valuable benefits to nurturing this way of being with ourselves. Holding space is a way of slowing down, of bearing witness to what our hearts are feeling and what our minds are thinking. It means to be fully present with all of it. To listen intently to the internal dialogue and external expression of the pain and suffering and to resist the urge to shut it down immediately, to resist the tendency to tell yourself that this isn’t what you should be feeling, or thinking or doing. Simply BE with what exists. You can love and support yourself, by allowing yourself to move through the present experience instead of pushing it away.
When we learn to trust that we are our own best guides through these personal experiences; when we practice allowing ourselves to feel what we feel with self compassion, there can be a shift in how we experience our days. Often, there is a sense of lightening, of ease, of peace – even for a few precious moments – because we’ve shown ourselves kindness, compassion and unconditional support. And, as an added bonus perhaps, when we practice holding space for ourselves during the challenging times, we soon come to realize that we are teaching ourselves to be more fully present in all aspects of our lives – the sorrow AND the joyful moments, the pain AND the relief from suffering. We become more in tune, self-aware, and more fully accepting of ourselves along the way.
This month, see if you can extend some loving kindness, some gentle self-compassion, when it feels safe to do so. Try holding space for all that your heart is enduring as you grieve.
“Holding space for myself means permission to feel what I need to feel, space to just be here, exactly who and how I am, and to find my way forward – gently.” – alifeinprogress.ca
By Cheryl Wituik BA, BSW RSW – Program Coordinator at BFO-SW
Spring is here.
Slowly and gently you’ve likely noticed more bird song, more green beneath your feet, leaves and early flowers pushing through the warming soil in your gardens, and trees dotted with buds, soon to reveal delicate leaves and colourful blossoms.
Our days are lengthening, growing brighter, warmer. The world around us suddenly appears to be full of life, activity, new beginnings. You may find that you are feeling lighter, more hopeful, more energetic. Or, you may be experiencing increased anxiety, distress, overwhelm. You might be feeling growing anger, frustration, more sorrow. You might be longing for the darker, colder, cocooning days of winter. The days that more closely matched the state of your grieving heart.
Spring can feel starkly contrary to the realities of our experience, the realities of mourning. Spring can bring mounting pressure to behave in ways that do not match our internal barometers. The changing season can create a heightened sensation of being left behind while those around you become more active, productive, cheerful, energetic. Spring can be a deeply disorienting experience for many of us.
How can we reconcile this dissonance? How do we move through this season while still honouring our grieving hearts, and acknowledging all that we are experiencing?
It is important to acknowledge that grief cannot be hurried along just because the days are warmer, or brighter. Our relationship with grief is not linear, predictable, or connected to notions of time. Nor can it be expected to suddenly shift to match the changing season. Spring can feel cruel or offensive to your grieving heart precisely because it does not reflect what our hearts and minds are feeling. The audacity of spring to burst forth at such a colourful, cheerful, frenetic pace, while our hearts remain broken, and our days grey and sorrowful!
Give yourself permission to continue to feel what you feel, despite the turning of a calendar page. Remind yourself that your feelings are valid, that it makes sense that you are experiencing these emotions right now. Your grief is yours. It is personal, unique. It deserves your respect and attention. It is not to be rushed by anyone, or any season. Embracing this inner knowing will, undoubtedly, provide some relief. When you give yourself permission to move at your own pace, your body and mind can settle gently into the softness of your honouring all that is, rather than trying to change or hurrying it along before you are ready.
Lean into this season without expectation. Enter each day with self-kindness, and love. Perhaps one day, try to take a step outside and feel the warmth of spring on your face. Close your eyes, take a long, deep, slow breath in through your nose, hold for a few seconds and release this warmed breath slowly through your mouth. Notice how you are feeling, physically, emotionally.
Perhaps take a walk around your yard, or your neighbourhood, if you feel up to it. Listen to the birds singing, notice the buds on the trees, the leaves of plants pushing through the soil – what else can you notice? What do you hear, see; what scents are in the air? What emotions are arising? Just notice, without judgment. No matter what the emotion is. Recognize it. Let it be. You are allowed to feel what you feel.
Can you recognize the strength and resilience of the natural world around you? Can you recognize the strength and resilience within yourself?
Know that your spring will come, this season or next. The timing is not important. It will happen in your own time, in your own way. You will one day be able to face the sun and find respite and healing there, within its warm embrace. It’s okay if that day is not today. There are days when simply getting through, no matter the season, is all you are able to do. And that is okay. That is more than enough.
Take your time. There is no hurry.
Your spring will come.