I started considering the concept of creating space for others right after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s beautifully moving Facebook post about her beloved husband which details her grief during the first 30 days of her mourning. Her post filled me, and many, with sadness and gratitude and a lesson to live our lives as fully as we can. It was this mention of mothering, that really got me thinking:
I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine.
Making room, holding space. As moms, we have opportunities to do this every day. When your child comes home from school and tells you with tear filled eyes “I don’t have any friends.” It’s so easy to talk and talk and talk and even get angry when they hold onto their sadness, when sometimes all they need is for you to hold them and kiss them and create a space for them where they feel safe and cry. All the while you want to scream and shout and tell all the other kids “Do you have any idea how wonderful he is???”
Creating space is allowing the person you are with to be vulnerable, sad, happy or miserable, without any judgement from you. No judgements. No words of advice (unless they are asked for,) no raised eyebrows or condescending snorts. Just you, making a conscious choice to listen, remain open and to create and hold space for them to simply be. You become a safe haven.
This isn’t an easy task. I know my first instinct is to want to help by fixing and offering solutions. I’m learning to listen more and just be there with an empathetic ear.
I had the chance to create space for my daughter on Memorial Day when at 4:00 she was freaking out because she lost her memory card for her camera. She had to take and print pictures for her photo class the next day. So while she freaked out, I’m thinking is “Why did you wait on a three day weekend to get the camera out at four fucking o’clock when all the stores are closed!!??!!” With a lot (a LOT) of grace, I stopped my train of thought and took a breath. I felt her nervous energy and realized there was no room for my anger and incredulity. If I got angry, I would take up her space and a big fat fight would ensue.
I let her rant and asked “Is there anything I can do?” She asked if Target was open and I told her to call and if they had the film I would get if for her ~ as long as she paid for it. While the photo crisis was averted, I was more pleased an already tense situation didn’t escalate further. She had her moment, felt embarrassed and stressed and was out 15 bucks. But she also realized she could come to me, she calmed down and realized I could help.
Jessica Gardner, writer of Little Merry Sunshine here at ChicagoNow had a space creating moment recently. After being in a car accident with a much younger woman, she made the choice to create space instead of letting it ruin her day. In her own words from her Facebook page:
“I taught a young woman in her first car accident that the world is good and that by handling herself in mature, responsible manner, the world treats her the same way. If you’re in a highly inconveniencing situation today and you have a choice of being upset or showing love and compassion, choose the latter. I bet that the entire situation will change by choosing love.”
How amazing! Choosing love! Choosing to create and hold space not only helped the other driver to stay calm, she learned a valuable lesson. By creating space for the young woman to have her freak out moment, to listen to her without judgement and to just be there for her as a calm presence, Jessica also created a space of compassion and love for herself.
Here are three ways we can learn to create space for the people in our lives:
1. Leave the judgement and shame at the door. This is so tough. When someone comes to us in tatters, we may first think “Well of course you’re having this issue, you never do xyz to be sure you wouldn’t get here.” And the list goes on. It doesn’t matter. If you want to create and hold space you need to let all that judgement and shame go and be there with empathy and open arms.
2. Let go of your ego. This is another tough one. You have nothing to do with what is going on with someone else. Jessica could have gotten infuriated as her car was hit, her day was inconvenienced and this was going to cost her some serious money. She chose not to make it about her, which made it ok for the young woman to learn a great life lesson, and for Jessica to move about her day in peace.
3. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. None of this is possible without taking pause within ourselves to simply breathe. Step out of yourself in the heat of any moment. Step out of yourself completely, take a breath and decide to create space. Then hold the space for the person you are with.
If we think of ourselves in our most vulnerable moments, and realize what we long for is the freedom to feel openly and in a safe place, we can learn to create this in turn for the people in our lives.
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