What it Means to “Hold Space” for People, Plus Eight Tips on How to Do it Well

Here’s a beautiful, touching article by Heather Plett about what it means to “hold space” for someone in your life. These lessons can be applied to all of the relationships we hold dearly.


When my mom was dying, my siblings and I gathered to be with her in her final days. None of us knew anything about supporting someone in her transition out of this life into the next, but we were pretty sure we wanted to keep her at home, so we did.

While we supported mom, we were, in turn, supported by a gifted palliative care nurse, Ann, who came every few days to care for mom and to talk to us about what we could expect in the coming days. She taught us how to inject Mom with morphine when she became restless, she offered to do the difficult tasks (like giving Mom a bath), and she gave us only as much information as we needed about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit had passed.

“Take your time,” she said. “You don’t need to call the funeral home until you’re ready. Gather the people who will want to say their final farewells. Sit with your mom as long as you need to. When you’re ready, call and they will come to pick her up.”

Ann gave us an incredible gift in those final days. Though it was an excruciating week, we knew that we were being held by someone who was only a phone call away.

In the two years since then, I’ve often thought about Ann and the important role she played in our lives. She was much more than what can fit in the title of “palliative care nurse”. She was facilitator, coach, Sherpa, and guide. By offering gentle, nonjudgmental support and guidance, she helped us walk one of the most difficult journeys of our lives.

The work that Ann did can be defined by a term that’s become common in some of the circles in which I work. She was holding space for us.

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It 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.

Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. In our situation, for example, Ann was holding space for us while we held space for Mom. Though I know nothing about her support system, I suspect that there are others holding space for Ann as she does this challenging and meaningful work. It’s virtually impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged.

In my own roles as teacher, facilitator, coach, mother, wife, and friend, etc., I do my best to hold space for other people in the same way that Ann modeled it for me and my siblings. It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important. At the same time, there are people in my life that I trust to hold space for me.

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

Holding space is not something that’s exclusive to facilitators, coaches, or palliative care nurses. It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Ann and others who have held space for me.

  1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. When we were supporting Mom in her final days, we had no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, we knew what was needed. We knew how to carry her shrinking body to the washroom, we knew how to sit and sing hymns to her, and we knew how to love her. We even knew when it was time to inject the medication that would help ease her pain. In a very gentle way, Ann let us know that we didn’t need to do things according to some arbitrary health care protocol – we simply needed to trust our intuition and accumulated wisdom from the many years we’d loved Mom.

Continue reading this article at: http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space

Posted in Death and loss, Health, Relationships | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Warning: “Hanging in There” is Destroying Your Health

Many people suffer from stress-related illness. Here’s a great article on the long-term effects of pushing forward, even when your body is screaming for you to stop.


Sucking it up is highly overrated.

We operate in a society where it seems as if there is some secret committee that hands out awards for people who work through any sickness, embrace sleep deprivation or race through the work day without eating. It took me over 36 years to be able to admit to myself that no one was going to give me a gold star for constantly pushing myself forward.

I started asking others why they felt compelled to soldier on, and there seemed to be a few common themes: parents’ expectations growing up, needing to prove oneself and fear of rejection or loss. Regardless of the cause, most people who struggle with easing up on themselves also wrestle with admitting weakness. Fair enough.

When I look back on the years that I refused to admit weakness of any kind, I don’t think anyone could have convinced me to ease up. There were no magic words that would have made me pause and make some drastic changes.

The only reason I finally changed my pace was a health issue that brought me to a grinding halt.  Doctor-ordered time off of work followed and I started to learn the first of a series of very hard lessons. I have several friends and acquaintances who have undergone a similar experience, where they were completely fine—until they were suddenly not. If we could see the brick wall we were about to collide with, we would have stopped.

The problem is that no one sees it coming.

To read more, go to: http://bit.ly/17GUHNr

Posted in Health, Stress, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Was Robin Williams a Coward?

Robin Williams Like everyone else, I was stunned to hear the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. Although I had known of his struggle with depression for many years, I was deeply saddened to learn that his suffering was so intense, that he actually took his own life.

As I read the reactions to the news of Williams’ death, I was dismayed by some of the harsh comments along the lines of: “How could he do something so selfish and leave his family to suffer? What a coward!” Although I became very angry reading these responses, I thought about it for a while and realized that the average person has no idea what severe depression is like, and certainly has even less understanding of suicide.

So, here’s my attempt to educate those of you who think Robin Williams “took the easy way out” and should be loathed for doing so. Yes, suicide ends suffering for the person who is depressed and leaves others with emotional pain. Sure, we wish he had not done this. Yes, we are all experiencing a loss. But please understand this: the decision to end your life does not come from a place of rational decision-making. A person who decides to end their life is not making a list of their options and then casually choosing “suicide” like some selection off a menu. The choice to end your life comes from a place of extremely deep pain, the kind that is so dark that you literally can’t see any other way out in that moment.

We can all judge Robin Williams and say that he was a “coward” or “should have gotten more help” or “should have thought about his wife and kids,” but that isn’t what this story is about. It’s not about courage or treatment options or how much you love your kids. It’s about vulnerability, suffering, deep despair, hopelessness, and being truly convinced that you will never find your way out of the pain.

No matter how well we think we know someone, none of us can ever fully understand another person’s experience. Everybody keeps parts of themselves hidden, sometimes out of fear of how others will react, and sometimes to protect loved ones. As we walk around our lives, there are always people in our midst that carry invisible emotional pain. In fact, you might be one of them. So, I urge you to be more compassionate and do as the quote says: “Be kind,” understanding fully that, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

RIP Robin Williams. Wishing peace to your loved ones.

Posted in Current events, Relationships | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

boy hugging puppy quote

Do not ask your children

to strive for extraordinary lives.

Such striving may seem admirable,

but it is a way of foolishness.

Help them instead to find wonder

and the marvel of an ordinary life.

Show them the joy of tasting

tomatoes, apples, and pears.

Show them how to cry

when pets and people die.

Show them the infinite pleasure

in the touch of a hand.

And make the ordinary come alive for them.

The extraordinary will take care of itself.

William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching

Posted in Parenting, Words of Inspiration | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Have You Lost Your ESSENCE?

Daniel Siegel MDI recently attended a conference featuring Daniel Siegel, MD, one of the founders of the field of interpersonal neurobiology. One of the topics of discussion was a review of the neurological changes in the adolescent brain and the four extraordinary features that emerge as a result. Dr. Siegel believes these qualities are the ESSENCE of cultivating vitality and maintaining optimal brain health throughout the lifespan. As you read, ask yourself if these factors are still present in your life:

ES: Adolescents have an Emotional Spark which is the source of their tremendous passion about life. No doubt, at an extreme, this spark can also show up as moodiness and intense emotionality.

SE: The natural drive toward Social Engagement leads teens to turn more toward their peers. Although they may be vulnerable to peer pressure, adolescents also deeply understand the centrality of supportive relationships to our well-being.

N: Teens seek Novelty which allows for more courageous exploration of the world. The downside, of course, is the risk to personal safety that sometimes comes with being in unfamiliar territory.

CE: The Creative Exploration of adolescence allows for innovation and pushing against the status quo. When your mind can imagine possibility, true change is more likely to happen.  Too much challenging of the status quo can, however, be stressful.

To learn more about the adolescent brain and it’s potential, I highly recommend Daniel Siegel’s insightful book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.

Posted in Books, Neuroscience, Parenting | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Go (Old, Boring) Spurs Go!

The San Antonio Spurs are leading 3-1 in the NBA Finals, well-poised to win their 5th NBA championship since 1999. Ironically, this team has a reputation for being “boring.” And now, with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in their late 30’s, and Coach Gregg Popovich being 65, they are also known as “old and boring!” How could this be? How could one of the greatest basketball players of all time and a team that has won numerous championships be considered boring?

Unfortunately, what leads to excellence as an athlete and what makes you a media darling are entirely different things. According to sports psychologists, to be truly great, teams and players must possess the following attributes:

  1. A strong work ethic: Diligently working to improve skills.
  2. A sense of humility: Having a true respect for opponents, understanding that you are not the only one with talent.
  3. A love of pressure: An ability to focus, and even be excited, when the stakes are high.
  4. Self-motivation: A drive to meet your own personal standards for success.
  5. Selflessness: The capacity to put the team above your ego is the most important quality.

Notice that being controversial, self-centered, or unprofessional are not on the list. Yet, the media often finds these types of individuals most exciting and gives too much attention to athletes who make headlines for distasteful, sometimes illegal, behavior. From that angle, thank goodness the Spurs disappoint.

Tim Duncan, known as “The Big Fundamental,” has a consistently quiet, understated style, never seeking attention or glory, despite being one of the best basketball players in NBA history. His professionalism, solid work ethic, and lack of ego have earned him the respect of his teammates and fans and kept him at the top of his game, even at the age of 38.

Coach Gregg Popovich has been pivotal in pulling together a diverse team of players who strive for excellence in their sport and are able to put the team’s interests ahead of their own. In fact, the Spurs “Big 3” of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker have made significant sacrifices to stay with Coach Pop and the Spurs their entire career.

Hard work, being humble, and winning by coming together as a real team should…I’ll go for boring any day!

Go Spurs Go! And enjoy this awesome video fitting of this first-class team:


Posted in Current events | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turning People into Trees



When you go out in the woods and you look at trees,
you see all these different trees.
And some of them are bent, and some of them
are straight, and some of them are evergreens,
and some of them are whatever.
And you look at the tree and you allow it.
You appreciate it.

You see why it is the way it is.
You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough
light, and so it turned that way.
And you don’t get all emotional about it.
You just allow it.
You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans,
you lose all that.
And you are constantly saying,
” You are too this, or I am too this. ”
That judging mind comes in.

And so I practice turning people into trees:
Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

– Ram Dass

Posted in Relationships, Words of Inspiration | Tagged , , | Leave a comment