“Holding space” is the practice of allowing room for someone to release their thoughts, concerns, or fears without judging them or feeling the need to offer advice or fix the situation. This is a valuable skill in our professional and personal relationships, a way of honoring and showing compassion for others so they feel heard and cared for.
When we hold space we listen, without distractions, and allow silence to be a healing force. This can be really tough—as a teacher, leader, family member, or friend, we want to relieve the suffering of those close to us by taking action, now, towards a solution. We jump in with what we think are assurances (“oh, don’t feel that way”) or solutions (“here’s what you should do”), because we hate to see someone struggle. But if we are honest with ourselves, are those impulses to act just as much about our comfort zone, as theirs? Are we trying to make ourselves feel better in this awkward situation or perhaps unknowingly, are we trying to elevate our role by being the “fixer?”
While taking action is ultimately an important part of moving forward, the vulnerable practice of holding space is the opportunity to grasp what is before understanding what could be. That’s where the listening comes in. The pause. The encouragement that you are there. Another pause. Of course, in critical situations we need to take prompt action, to ensure those we are holding space for have access to professionals that can help them in a timely way. But for less serious situations, it is this process of “being with” that is fundamental to holding space.
Holding space is not just for others. We must be able to hold space for ourselves, as well, to release into the ether without self-judgment or frantic grabbing at straws for “the” answer. To have a kind of out-of-body experience—the Seer vs. the Seen—acknowledging life’s issues or challenges but not letting them define who we are at our core. This is just as important when life brings a bounty of great opportunities. It can be stressful deciding what it all means and where we should go next, and just as misguided to allow the momentary validation of the changing world to tell us who we are.
Holding space gives us room to see with fresh eyes. To live in the pause, the breath, knowing this time brings wisdom and healing and will always lead to the next right action.
“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”
Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) and a certified Brain Longevity® Specialist, a research-based certification on yoga and integrative medicine for brain health and healthy aging. Reach her at: or ramonawis.com.
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