May 10, 2016 – Holding Space for HOPE

studio hydra 5-10-16

The physical space that holds me while I do most of my painting. My somewhat messy studio!

Listen to this post:

My mentor and coach Lissa Boles, shared a link to a blog post with my coaching group, suggesting it was a useful read. The post is written by another coach/writer/speaker, Heather Plett. The topic of her post – which evidently has gone viral, having been translated into several languages – is “holding space,” which she describes, as something we do for others – we hold space for others. Here’s the description from her post: “[Holding space for another] means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

The post goes on to provide eight tips on holding space well. As soon as I read this, something clicked for me – this is it! This describes the environment I’m fostering in our watercolor groups! I’ve had the sense, that what’s going on in our groups is much more – it’s richer, deeper and more subtle than just imparting, teaching and practicing watercolor skills, learning to see and learning about color. Our groups are a place, where who we are as artists and who we are becoming as artists – and people – are safely held. We are held in a special “container” that encourages the emergence of our artwork from us, as well as that of our evolving selves. This may sound lofty – but I know it to be true. I believe that when something strikes a chord, as this post has for me, there is truth to it. Like recognizes like. It is the God in us that sees God.

So, what are we holding in this space? It seems to me, that when we need space held for us, it’s mostly when we are experiencing something that is hard, painful, challenging in some way. When I think about what this is in our group sessions, this list came up:

Here's where my painting is this morning - I'm at last on the hydrangeas.

Here’s where my painting is this morning – I’m at last on the hydrangeas.

  • When an artist is looking at a complex reference image, or a complex part of it, and is overwhelmed with how in the world am I going to paint that?
  • When an artist is really frustrated at how elusive getting it just right is.
  • When an artist has painted something that looks terrible to her eye and she fears she’s just ruined her painting.
  • When an artist is sick of her painting because it’s taking so long to paint, asking herself will I ever be done with this?
  • When a new artist looks at the work of another in the group, who likely has been painting for years and years, and wonders if she’ll ever be able to paint anything like that.
  • When an artist feels empty of ideas and unsure about where to go next.
  • When an artist is afraid to take on a new project, for fear that she’s not up to it, or because it might not be received as she’d hoped.
  • When an artist’s work isn’t accepted in a show.
  • And then there’s the rest of our lives: illnesses, injuries, surgeries, deaths, worries about loved ones. There’s room for all aspects of us – because we have no choice, but to bring our whole selves with us when we gather to paint.

And sometimes we need to hold space for each other’s celebrations too. It may be that there isn’t anyone else in our life, who understands how hard that painting was for us, how faithfully we worked on it. It is not uncommon for well-meaning spouses and other family members, to be critical of our work in ways that aren’t in the realm of “holding space.”

At the end of Heather Plett’s post, are links to follow-on posts that I found worthwhile as well. Two in particular: 1 – we need to hold space for ourselves first. Yes, I know! There have been a few times when I’ve felt stretched too thin, and I’ve been a bit short in what I said – away went my capacity to hold space. I’m not expecting perfection from myself, just noticing the result of not allowing for my own needs and limited capacities. And 2 – sometimes holding space, looks like doing nothing. Just reading the title of this one, was enough to assuage the part of me that seems to always worry, that I should be providing more substance or more something – even this part of me isn’t sure exactly what – to our group sessions.

Art classes and art groups – in my mind – are ideal places to find this kind of holding space – in fact, arts communities are some of the places that Heather Plett wrote, that her post has found its way into. Making art can cause us to feel quite vulnerable; having a safe container can mean a sticking with it or not. But it’s certainly not universal. I’ve not taken all that many art workshops and I have not been part of any on-going groups, other than ours. But I can say that in those I have, by in large, I didn’t feel like the environment particularly held space for my art and me. Mostly it was neutral – which left me feeling out on my own with my inner process. But I also have experienced what it was like, to have whatever the opposite is – where I felt distinctly unsafe and un-held, as a fledgling artist. It’s a world of difference, from when we are.

I’m blessed to have places where I can count on space being held for me – especially in the arena of coaching and counseling. But I also know, that the artists who have been drawn to join our groups, hold space for my emergence as a teacher and guide. Our holding space for each other is quite mutual. Without having the distinction or the capacity to articulate it, I see that (after a few experiences of the opposite early in life) I’ve spent a lot of my life unconsciously seeking out places, where space is held for me. My instinct tells me, this has contributed to my capacity to hold it for others.

Looking at my own experience of being held, as well as that of holding others, holding space for each other seems world-changing. What if we held space for our mates, our children, our parents, our friends, our workmates, allowing them their own journeys – at their own pace and rhythm? I know a lot of this happens already, or we’d not have the cohesiveness in the world that we do, but I’m guessing there’s room for more. In another of the follow-on posts, Heather Plett shares how her daughter found her way through troubling times, by writing on the walls of her room. One of the things she wrote, I’d not seen before: HOPE: Hold On, Pain Ends. This is exactly what we transmit, what we intend, but leave unsaid when we hold space for each other. There’s another unexpected place, Heather Plett’s post has found its way – the US Marine Corps. Knowing there are soldiers who are interested in holding space for each other, gives me hope – which helps me hold space for our world – just as it is.

With my love,


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