Once I shared a couch with someone, and we started exchanging stories. We told each other stories that made us the way we were, for twenty minutes.
I started telling my stories first, and she listened to me. The way she created and held the space for me to tell my story was profound. For the first time, I started to understand what it means to consciously create a space for someone to express themselves. I felt like I’ve never been listened to with such attention, generosity and non-judgment. It was as though I was the only person in her presence and every single word I said mattered, though we were in a room full of people and noise. In exchange, she gave me the opportunity to hold a similar space for her to tell hers.
By gifting me the experience of that space and conversely, to be the holder of that space for someone, she changed my life in two ways:
One, it made me slowly learn to create the space for myself, to connect to myself with all of my own attention, generosity and non-judgment.
Two, it made me realise how incredibly valuable it is to hold that space for other people. I’ve been told I was a good listener, and I was probably doing it unconsciously before, but she demonstrated it at whole new level. She taught me that how we listen, shapes the way someone tells their story. It made me want to learn how to give someone the space to tell the story they mean to tell, not the story that is crafted from reacting to our judgment, distracted behaviour, or reactions.
We don’t have to express judgment in words. It could be expressed in body language — a subtle roll of the eyes, a cynical tone in our voices, or an energy reflecting impatience. I learned the importance of not interrupting when someone is trying to express themselves, no matter how much I wanted to react with questions. I learned to give my fullest attention possible to people.
The more I managed to hold that space for other people, the more I learned to be better at holding that space for myself. The same skills apply both externally and internally.
Slowly, the tone of the voice in my head changed. Instead of the cynical, harsh, critical tone I’m used to, it has become softer — still exasperated, but I have started to sense the compassion and love I can have for myself, even if just a little bit. Instead of making decisions that are caused by my own insecurity and cynicism, I am slowly learning to just sit and listen to the deeper motivations of my impulses.
The trajectory of my life started to change, because I became better at listening to myself.
What we choose to do as human beings, as social creatures, inevitably creates a ripple effect. When people hurt us, we end up hurting ourselves or hurting other people. When someone teaches me that the other option can be non-judgmental love, that being loved in such a way can free me up so much from my own mental prison, it makes me want to be that person to love generously towards other people and myself.
I was never truly present with people, because I didn’t know how to be present with myself. Presence requires space to be created. By having someone hold a sacred space for me once, I experienced how it feels to have someone fully present with me, to intuitively adjust myself so I can be fully present too. When someone is holding that much space for us, it makes it much easier for us to be there with them. Presence is symbiotic.
It is not only through listening that we create the space for presence. When we tell our stories, we create the space for others to tell theirs too. When we have the courage to be ourselves, we create the space for others to be themselves too. Each time we transcend our own limits, we are creating the space for other people to attempt the same. Creating that space is how acknowledge that as we are intricately connected as human beings and that we honour the connection.
Can we create that space for ourselves, someone we care about, or a stranger, today?