I am often puzzled (my nice way of saying WTF??) at what is said at my yoga studio. Phrases often seem obvious, ridiculous or simply crazy. This weekend I came to understand 2 such phrases, one of which I’ll write about here.
I spent the entire weekend doing a “Sing Yourself Awake” workshop with Suzanne Sterling. Before you stop reading, 3 years ago I’d be leaving this blog by now, so perhaps I have something useful to you, and you should stick with me. Perhaps not.
I was introduced to Suzanne Sterling shortly after earthquakes devastated Nepal. My studio held a donation class for rebuilding efforts. Normally I would not have gone, but at the time I was obsessed with Mount Everest, so I felt compelled to practice yoga with others feeling connected to this part of the world.
It was a good class, but not the earth shattering experience I’d hoped. Until the end. At the end the teacher played Om Mane Padme Hum, by Suzanne Sterling. This is a Tibetan prayer that was chanted 24/7 by monks in Nepal – until the earthquake. Loosely translated, it means:
- OM – all vibrations in the universe; the essential life force
- Mane – Lotus flower, a flower that grows from mud into a stunning flower
- Padme – jewel
- Hum – Everything
Clears it up, eh? I won’t pretend that I understood this then any more than I understand it now. I also will tell you, I’m not, or had not been, a particularly spiritual person, and most definitely not a religious person.
During the class we were told the words, and the teacher suggested that we sing/chant along if we felt compelled. I was pretty damned sure I would not feel compelled. I sing in only 2 places – the shower and the car. And chanting…..really?
Despite my reservations I found myself sort of singing along. I also found myself wishing I was wholeheartedly singing along. It was a pivotal moment for me. This song has become a go-to for me. Whenever I’m faced with a big event, like my 10th mediation hearing to get divorced, I play this song.
Initially I played it for the soothing rhythm, melody and mantra. As I’ve come to know the phrase though, I sing it for much more. This chant/song/poem, reminds me that the most beautiful things in life grow from shit. It is only the mud, the depths of despair, that can birth the most beautiful flower, turning it into a jewel that impacts everything. & I do believe this. I know, after extremely tumultuous teenage years, that it is pain (i.e. mud & muck) that turn us into the parts of ourselves that are the best. With one caveat: we have to be willing to sink into the mud, the despair, the pain and the fear, to bloom in a new form. Those that do, turn into the jewels others rely on.
None of which is what I meant to write about. I meant to write about this simple statement:
Holding Space For
This is often spoken at my studio. “We are here to hold space for you”. “Come to this workshop and revel in the space we hold for you”. WTF does that mean?
It was explained to me more times than I can count, yet the idea remained illusive. Perhaps this was one of the sales phrases, coined by a growing industry, desperate to get credit card numbers on file. Maybe this was one of those “new agey” concepts that the “enlightened” pretended to understood, but meant nothing more to them than to me. In other words, maybe it was just bullshit.
Back to this weekend.
I was able to take this expensive workshop because I worked it. The only reason I volunteered to was because of her song, Om Mane Padme Hum, which has become a staple in my search for peace and sanity. Honestly, I did not read the description of the weekend. Had I read it I feel confident I would not have volunteered. The weekend was advertised as a time to “reclaim your voice”. Not Me!! In fact, after I’d committed to working it I read the description and tried to back out. Fortunately, unsuccessfully.
I’ll write more about this experience later but for now I want to talk about this weekend for me.
I’ve met other “celebrity” Yogis and been unimpressed. I’ve found them either standoffish or so filled with self-love they were completely unapproachable. I felt like hey sent out a vibe saying “try to approach me. I’ll diss you, but you really must try, because I am all that“. It’s been a turn off.
Suzanne came into the studio with barely a whisper. While I was the one allegedly working for her, she asked nothing of me. She went about her business setting up and getting ready. And she did so with no airs. Know what I mean?
The night before I had been at a baseball game (ovarian cancer event) with an actor who was representing us and damn – he was a self involved prick, as is so often the case with “celebrities”. Suzanne though, was none of that. She entered the studio like anyone else. In fact, she didn’t even put on the air of a “teacher”. Had I not seen her picture I’m not sure I would have known it was her; I might have mistaken her for a student.
Throughout the weekend this air around her continued. She was there for all of us, yet drew no attention to herself. There were some who fawned over her, and she gracefully heard them out then moved on. I never once felt the need to do so. More importantly, despite the fact that her voice, energy and message are Amazing, I never felt less than. In fact, I never felt anything at all about her. Which was really weird, because usually I’d have felt inferior and jealous. How could I be witnessing this incredibly accomplished, beautiful, wise person and feel nothing? I was confused.
By Sunday afternoon I had a major revelation. I finally put together the events of the past 3 years and saw my future, my purpose, my mission. I have worked so hard to find this and all of the sudden, there it was, clear as day. And, it seemed I had learned it from this person who I felt nothing around. Yes, I loved her message, her sound, her music, but I felt nothing about her.
Today I found out that this is what it means to “hold space”. Suzanne presented a clean slate, a brick wall, with her lessons. If I understand this correctly, the fact that she is a blank slate enables her students to focus only on their own internal experience, making these experiences fully processable.
I had to think about this. How did my lack of personal feelings towards this superstar aid in my experience? And, how did she create an environment of “space”, which apparently means no feelings directed towards the teacher.
As I’ve come to understand this I think I’ve learned this.
Suzanne, in putting on no “celebrity” persona, put her ego aside. The weekend was not about her. At all. This is a difficult concept for me to understand. She was there to teach us – i.e. impart her wisdom on us. She was there to motivate and excite us – use her voice and her wisdom to help us grow. She was there to earn money – this is her job. So how did she leave her ego out of it? I have no answer, except to say that she did.
She also brought no energy with her. Again, this is odd to me. As I think about it I come to the conclusion that the people I’ve interacted with that I felt no “energy” from were exactly the ones I needed to be with. In having no energy to respond to, I am free to explore myself. Counter-intuitive, yet apparently true.
The only way I can think to describe this goes like this: Normally I am a people pleaser. Despite my efforts not to, my 1st response to just about anyone is tied into what they need. Do they need me to adore them? I will! Do they need me to listen to them, console them, allow them to share their angst? I’m their girl! Once I’ve accommodated their needs I’ve lost track of mine.
Suzanne, in presenting what I would liken to a brick wall, was actually giving me permission to make the entire experience about myself. It was like she was giving me permission to ignore her. And apparently, this is what it means to “hold space”.
Holding space means you convey to those around you that you need nothing from them. Say hello or don’t say hello; it doesn’t matter. Start conversation or don’t; no worries. Acknowledge them or not – they don’t care; they don’t need you to.
It is a very subtle aura. There is a fine line between “you owe me nothing” and “I’m too important to bother with you”.
As a caregiver, I’m the one who can’t wait to step up and do something. Doing nothing for another is extremely uncomfortable for me. This weekend though, in “holding space”, I felt no discomfort at all not doing for Suzanne. The aura she presented was so innocuous, I never even thought about it until today, when I processed the weekend with another teacher. What a magnificent gift!
So today, I understand the concept of “holding space”. Or, I think I do. As I ponder it I also see those people, times and places in which I’ve been offered this gift. I don’t think this is a natural response, I think it requires effort on the part of the person offering the space. It requires them to put aside all judgement as well as their own needs, neither easy things to do. I realize though, that there are people in my life that can, and will do this for me. Wow.
Conversely, I now understand why this has been an illusive concept for me. I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by people who refuse to hold space; people who insist that their needs are paramount and must be addressed. It is those people who convinced me that it is my “job” to take of others first. Of course, this is not true.
I am off to bed. I hope to dream about my needs versus the needs of those who have convinced me are paramount. I also hope to ponder the phrase “the meek inherit the earth”, because I think it means much more than I thought it did. I think I now get that “meek” isn’t subservient, it is much, much more.