Friday, June 11, 2010

Being a Container - Holding Space For Others

I've been sitting with this Daily Om for a while now, trying to decide how I wanted to post it, but suspecting there is something in this that I wanted to talk about. Here is the brief post - below I will try to talk about my perspective on this idea of being a container - something to which I think male energy is particularly suited.
Being a Container
Holding Space For Others

Sometimes we are called simply to hold space for a friend as they go through whatever they need to go through.

We have all been called upon at one time or another to help a loved one through a difficult time. When the help required consists of concrete actions, such as running errands or making phone calls, we know what to do. But sometimes we are called simply to hold space for the person as they go through whatever they need to go through. They may need to express anger or grief; they may need to talk or be silent. They may need us to hold their hand; they may need us to give them time alone. Whatever the case, when we hold space for someone, we offer ourselves up as a container for the overwhelming feelings they may be encountering due to their circumstances.

When we offer ourselves in this way, the more centered and grounded we are, the better. Our steadiness allows our companion to lean into us for support, as our presence provides an environment in which they can be free to move. We can also help by being responsive, allowing them to dictate the flow of action from talking to not talking, from anger to grief, and back again. By being aware and open, we can help them confront their feelings when that feels right, and back off from them when they need a break. Holding space requires humility, conscientiousness, and the ability to step out of the way, to honestly understand that this is not about us.

When we love someone in this way, we provide a space in which they can simply be. Able to feel what they need to feel without worrying about how they are being perceived. We can provide this offering in person, over the phone, or even from a distance, through meditation. However we do it, when we hold space for someone in need, we are offering a gift of the highest nature.

In my experience, it feels as though masculine energy is well-suited to holding space, to acting as container for the experience or feelings of others - especially a partner. We are larger, more solid, more dense - capable of grounding the fluidity of emotions.

However, it requires us to get out of the way, to not be hooked by the emotions. We need to be present, however, engaging our empathy and connecting with the other person. This is what a good therapist does with clients.

We are not there to fix things, or make things better - simply to witness and to hold the space - to act as a container. Masculine energy is well-suited to this (not just men, because women have masculine energy just as men have feminine energy) because it is structured, strong, protective. When we are present as that energy, fully present, we can hold powerful and wild feelings, grounding them and letting them dissipate - we do this well as long as we do not attach to them, or get hooked by them.

Masculine energy provides a container for the fluidity of feminine feeling (again, not necessarily man and woman) - just as feminine energy can soften the hardness of masculinity, wear smooth the edges and fill its space with feeling.

Since we all contain both forms of energy, we can do this for ourselves as in our relationships. However, it's easier to learn it first with a partner in my experience.


David Holzmer said...


A wonderful posting. Thank you. I'm doing a bunch of writing these days on similar themes as they pertain to leadership, albeit not with near the elegance you bring to this piece.

I've been reading Rifkin's Empathetic Civilization and that work truly shows me the larger shifts going on below the surface of our media culture that point to the need for a new discourse on masculinity and how both genders express it. There is power and directionality in "holding space" but not in the traditional, assertive way we have come to know it. It's a directionality of intuitive alignment that comes from surrender. And while I don't think I can quite put into words why, it is a form of non-assertiveness that has a much different essence than the feminine response.

Indeed as we begin, as a culture, to more fully embrace post-conventional awareness and values the notion of the non-assertive act will take on many distinct tones and nuances. My sense is very few of these will prove redundant or optional.

Thanks again. So rich and enjoyable.


Gary Stamper said...

Hi Bill,

Wonderful addition bringing more depth to the original piece.