Holding Space

Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT and founding chair of the Presencing Institute, has said that “holding space is the single most important leadership capacity going forward.” Holding space here means the ability to sit with any difficult situation and not rush to impose an outcome or find a simple fix to it. When it comes to strong emotions like anger, loss, fear, guilt, shame, resentment we can easily get overwhelmed by them in two fronts. The first is when they occur within us and we struggle to know how to deal with them. The second is when they arise in someone else who comes to us looking for comfort or advice.

It is important therefore for us to create space to hold these emotions in ourselves so their power does not overwhelm us and also create space so that someone else who comes to us experiences the gentle presence of someone who is able to be with them in their difficult time.

The way to create space begins with the breath. From there we begin to name the emotion we are feeling and where its energy is experienced in our body. It’s important not to judge these feelings. Often, we label emotions such as anger or resentment as negative emotions. This is not helpful as it can lead to the belief that it is wrong to have them. All emotions are signals to us that something important is occurring. So, it’s much better rather than judge the emotion to dig a little deeper and ask what the need or message is. Feelings of anger and frustration at being passed over for a promotion upon reflection can point to the deeper feeling of fear and hurt. When we can learn to make space and sit with strong emotions their power diminishes and we are able to show compassion to ourselves and others.

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