In teaching, one of the things I try to do is hold space. In my private prompts classes, we close our eyes and take some deep breaths and get quiet, letting the workweek fall away, the effort that went into getting the kids off the school, the traffic we drove through to reach our destination, all the little niggling energy that we carry with us to the next place. My studio, where I teach my private classes, has, over time, taken on a lot of creative energy from my work there, and the work of others. The space supports our creative endeavors, and the work of holding space is made easier by this concentrated energy. But the energy in my public classes is also concentrated, and held collectively.
The class I teach regularly, for free and open to the public is called Prompt Writing. I teach it in a book store, and here I have a different ritual for opening the space. I ask each person to say their name, and give one or two sentences about their writing practice, and in this way we settle into each other.
I then introduce myself and tell the class what we’re going to do, I give the prompt and we write. There are rules for responding to others’ writing when it’s read out loud, and they are rules I believe in, so I try to enforce them gently, but firmly, and consistently. I do not waver from these rules.
The rules are meant to create a safe space for writers. It’s important. This is what is meant by holding space. Holding space is holding safe space, and there are lots of different ways to do it, and lots of different ways to not do it, or to undo it.
Competition is anti-safe-space holding. Overly critical thinking and analyses also. Hierarchy. Self-promotion. Comparison. Trying to fix something for someone, be it their writing or their life. Sometimes asking digging, probing questions can make a person feel challenged and defended instead of heard.
Recently I have been thinking about how powerful this is, and how I might try the same techniques for myself. In other words, when I am feeling low and anxious, perhaps I could recognize that I need something that’s not being provided and try to provide it. I might try to hold space for myself.
I don’t think it would be any different than holding space for others. The first step would be to get quiet, and the second step would be to create a safe environment for myself. One without competition, without over-thinking, without hierarchy, without self-promotion, without comparison, without trying to fix it, without digging at myself. In fact, when I need to hold space for myself, it’s always because I have let these things in. It’s natural that they should creep in. We live in a world of low thoughts. The trick is to see it, and to say no to it, and to open the space for yourself again.