Holding Space

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This month marks Tracking Wonder’s #Quest2017, where Jeffrey Davis assembles a dozen visionaries from many directions, offering prompts for our reflection and exploration as we stand on the threshold of a new year. It is an invigorating and enlightening undertaking (this is my third year participating) and here you can read #WhyIQuest
And, by the way, it is free – it’s not too late to join in!


The first prompt comes from someone I much admire: OnBeings own Krista Tippett:

“What is your vocation, your sense of callings as a human being at this point in your life, both in and beyond job and title?

Practice internalizing a more spacious, generous sense of what animates you and why you are here (e.g. as a human being, partner, child, neighbor, friend, citizen, maker, yogi, volunteer, as well as a professional). Honor the creative value of ‘how’ you are present as much as in ‘what’ you are doing in the everyday at work and in the world.” #yourtruecalling

 

***

Sitting with this question, my first inclination was to talk about my calling as a storyteller. But I hesitated, wondered if there wasn’t something more fundamental, more elemental, underneath that; something that encompassed storytelling but wasn’t limited to it.

What kept whispering in the periphery of my thoughts was “holding space.”

There is a mindfulness and careful, sharp sense of presence that is required to holding a space. It is something I realize I practice and have consciously tried to cultivate, but that the deliberateness often follows behind a more intuitive recognition.

I emailed a Quaker friend of mine and asked her if “holding space” could be considered a vocation. She replied, “I would say yes.”

***

I think about how often, and for how long in my life – as far back as high school if not farther – friends seek me out to share confidences and heart-concerns. They trusted me to hold space for them.

I think about the years I worked as a dinner waiter at a neighborhood Italian restaurant (actually, one of my favorite jobs), and the importance I placed on welcoming the diners at my tables and giving enjoyable experience along with the nourishment of a good meal. It was a type of holding space.

I remember when I worked at a group home for pregnant teenagers, and volunteered as a birth coach to some of the girls. Getting the phone call in the middle of the night and driving to the hospital to be there as they traveled that amazing and powerful liminal journey through labor and delivery. I held space for them. They gave me their trust.

I think about the weddings and memorials I have officiated as a Life-Cycle Celebrant; of how people have come up to me, complimenting me on how well I “held space” for the ceremony and those attending. It was the confirmation of that, at the first wedding I ever officiated; I knew that something very real existed there for me.

I wonder at the job I held for more than two decades, the bulk of which involved getting needed supplies and support to multiple school and low-income community gardens. I often considered this work to be Right Livelihood. I would like to think I was able to help others hold space – gardens that can be as sacred as they are common.

I have interviewed numerous makers, told their stories in print. I have been called specifically a “good listener.” To me, that means I have done a good job of holding space for the person’s story.

Even as a fiction writer, I feel my task is to hold space for the book’s characters; to tell their story, or let them tell their own. I’m not sure how that works, but it feels like a kind of holding space. Poetry is definitely a holding space activity. Writing is an act of holding space, period.

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This photograph hangs in my kitchen, near the stove and tucked in next to the spice racks. It came from a magazine, and it is one of my favorite possessions. I thought about it when I started to respond to this prompt. It strikes me as the visual embodiment of what I have been trying to explain, here.

***

Within this prompt is a wonderful, compassionate invitation that feels like a gift:

“Practice internalizing a more spacious, generous sense of what animates you and why you are here…”

Krista Tippett, thank you.

Finding Words

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I am a writer. Words and stories are the internal thrumming of much of my life. Yet in the face of still more acts of unthinkable physical and spiritual destruction, an accumulation  to our collective pool of anger, divisiveness, hatred and violence, I have been at a loss for words.

I, like many people  – of all skin colors, nationalities, backgrounds, religions and occupations – search to find a way toward a sort of equilibrium. A place from which we can finally have the long-overdue conversations, and correctly demand the needed changes to help heal the broken parts of our world.

Fortunately, there are many who are finding words and giving voice to this deep need. Some I know personally, many I have never met; all help buoy my aching heart a little, and I am extremely grateful to them all. Here are two:

  • Krista Tippett, who is thoughtful and wise and is never afraid to look at the hard questions with a heart full of compassion.
  • My friend Suzy Banks Baum, who has the ability to bring forth things that are important with a laser-sharp, deep-hearted elegance.

And there are so many more.

I invite you to find those voices that speak to our best selves, not those that try to keep us hamstrung and hopeless with fear; that challenge us to look deeply into our own hearts and ask the hard questions – with compassion – that will lead us toward real and lasting change, into a healthier world in which we all have a place.