Holding Space – Learning from Horses
In healing and therapeutic circles, you may come across the concept of “Holding Space” for others. It means that we are present for somebody else who is going through a rough period of struggle and pain which may finally lead to personal growth and inner transformation. In this process, there are no shortcuts – “the only way out is through” – and we provide a safe container for them where they feel protected and held with whatever they share and is presented to them. We are there without trying to fix them or to take the burden of their pain away from them; we are there without trying to change or influence their own inner processes; we are there without judging them and the decisions they may make; we are there with empathy and compassion in our presence as a deep listener.
Heather Plett has written a beautiful article on how to hold space for people (http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/) where she defined the following points to be essential:
- Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom
- Give people only as much information as they can handle.
- Don’t take their power away.
- Keep your own ego out of it.
- Make them feel safe enough to fail.
- Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
- Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
- Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
I believe these points already show why we as people often struggle to be there for others in a meaningful and fully supportive way and why horses can be so much better at it. It takes a lot of empathy and compassion to allow somebody to be vulnerable, especially in a society where the showing of vulnerability and failure has been classified as weakness rather than what it is: enormous strength; it takes a lot of power to show up with our messiness and fragility and to work and to walk through it rather than to push it away and to hide it in one of the dark corners of ourselves.
Often, we do not feel comfortable in the presence of somebody else’s pain and suffering because it touches and reflects on our own hidden wounds and the lack of empathy and compassion we have with ourselves. How can we truly give something to somebody else if we did not allow it ourselves first.
We have given so much power away to institutions and experts who tell us how the world has to be, what we have to believe and what we have to do that many of us have forgotten to even turn to our inner sources of wisdom and guidance and intuition. And I see many of us becoming deeply uncomfortable if somebody is leaving the ‘beaten track’ and listening to their own inner drummer, reclaiming their power and acting on it so they either turn away or try to get the other person back on course.
Just be there, fully present and listen. Allow the other person to simply be. What sounds simple appears to be one of the hardest aspects of holding space for someone. The capacity of true listening to other people without judgment and our own agenda and ego in our heads seems to be a rare quality to find these days. And guidance is not the same as giving advice. It is gentler and softer. Its origin is the voice of the heart and the soul and not of ego. It is not pushed on the other person and it needs feeling for timing and receptiveness. The other person is allowed to make a different decision. We do not have authority.
We have to lose our fear of another person’s heavy emotions. We are there to witness, to see and hear and acknowledge the other person and what they are going through. We do not have to understand it, we are not taking anything away from the other person and we are not taking on responsibility. We are there.
Horses are just that. They are there. They are fully present in the here and now. They do not judge. They do not have an agenda. And they do not act from a place of ego.
They do not have a problem with heavy emotions. In fact, they ask us to be fully authentic and take off our masks. While human interactions often require you to put on a happy face and to “just get on with it” even though you may feel the exact opposite inside, this does not work with horses. They will sense your underlying emotions and respond to the inner conflict you are presenting.
Horses have a tremendous capacity to facilitate healing of our emotional wounds. And if we enter into an equal and authentic connection with them where we allow them to fully be who they are, they (as well as all of nature) will act as a bridge to help us to find our own inner source of guidance and wisdom. While in their presence, you can fully show up, accountable and responsible for your own feelings and emotions while being safely witnessed and held by the compassion of the horse. This is true empowerment.