Sometimes, a phrase in a presentation will snatch my attention away from the flow to focus on the phrase itself. This happened to me on Saturday when someone talked about “holding sacred space.”

The overall discussion mattered to me so I rejoined the flow fairly quickly, but I kept coming back to this idea of “holding space.”

For me, holding space means finding ways to keep options open for people to think or speak or act.

It means slowing down the rapid charge to a conclusion so that someone can take their time to figure themselves out.

It means protection from violence, anger, judgement, hate, and just plain loudness so there is space for considering options and opinions.

The word “sacred” may not be helpful to everyone. It would be okay to say “holding positive space” to distinguish this from the look-out who enables a robbery or the people who keep others from intervening when violence is taking place.

What “sacred” adds is a sense of respect for the seeker, a sense of reaching for more, a feeling of journey – onward or inward.

I have sat in circles with people who have a hard time with silence. I have watched as they asked a question and, when no one spoke up immediately, they have expanded on the question or answered it.

I have often sat there, frustrated by the inability to wait, to allow for silence.

A few times, when I was also a leader in the circle, I have reached out and said, “Ssshhh. Wait.”

Accepting the time it takes for people to formulate an answer is a way of holding space for each to look inside and consider what the question means to them.

Another thing we have to do in a conversation is hold space for people to tell their truth.

The indigenous sharing circle is a practice that makes this kind of space.

Each person speaks in turn around the circle. No one can argue with them or interrupt.

Back in the late 90s I was part of a circle of indigenous and non-indigenous people talking about the decision to recognize the right of the Saugeen Ojibway to fish commercially. The structure of the conversation was well modelled by the first few people who spoke.

Then, a non-indigenous man who loves to fish for sport spoke about his love of the water and the fish, his fear for the fish stocks, his feeling of being left out of the decision.

My turn was next, and I talked about learning to fly fish from my dad, borrowing his rod. The man interrupted angrily, almost jumping out of his chair: “are you criticizing me for my big boat and expensive equipment?”

There was a feeling of shock around the circle. I think he felt it. I waited a moment and continued.

I knew that others felt the principle of holding space for truth telling had been violated. And I had the confidence to keep going. But in many circles, when someone pushes back against the truth that has been spoken, that truth is lost or buried.

The person knows they and their words are not honoured. It is so important that in any context where people share their thoughts and feelings, we hold space for them.

What if what is said is hateful and hurtful, attacking others and stirring up disturbing ideas and emotions?

In the rules for handling meetings known as Roberts Rules of Order there is something called “point of personal privilege.”

A member can stand to be recognized by the chair and say that something has been said which is offensive or discriminatory or defames someone or some people. The chair must deal with this point before moving on.

In a less structured environment, when the person is done speaking, or when it becomes clear that they are not respecting the circle, someone can take the floor and name the hurt, holding space for the one injured.


CathyHird body 07Oct23

Coming back to silence.

Sometimes we need to find a place where we can be still, where we can set aside the agenda for the day and examine what is in our hearts, to hear what is in our minds.

Putting down the phone, turning off the radio and television, getting away from the computer so that we don’t have outside input can give us space to listen to what is bubbling up inside us, to dig down and find what we were not listening to.

There are other kinds of holding space – keeping the periwinkle from overrunning the wild strawberries – but that’s enough words from me today.

I hope you find the space you need today.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.






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