Holding space is one of those spiritual terms that mystifies a lot of people.

It’s like, “How do I hold space exactly? Is that like taking up space?”


Not really.

Holding space is about how we learn to be with others without judgment.

It doesn’t require you to be anyone other than who you are, although a lot of times people have to learn to let go of their own beliefs to really hold space for another.

I’ll do my best to explain this term and why it’s a powerful addition to your spiritual practice and to living your life in general.

As a quick side note, you can read my latest spiritual awakening tips and thoughts in my newsletter called, “The Wake Up Call.”

Letting Go of You

When I use this term “holding space,” it’s in reference to how we interact with others in a variety situations. I suppose it could be used in reference to holding space for yourself. At the heart of the matter is putting aside your thoughts and judgments. That’s key to allowing someone to be as they are. To do this, it helps to understand yourself. If you don’t really understand your beliefs and how you think and act, it is very easy to become triggered and judgmental of another person.

To learn how to hold space, you will practice watching/witnessing your thoughts. That step is part of seeing how your ego self functions and judges you and everyone else. The less you judge yourself, the less you are likely to judge another. The less your ego is running your inner show, the more you easily and naturally hold space for others.

Staying as Awareness

You can discover a lot about your ego self just by noticing the stuff running through your brain.

What is ego?

It’s just a set of feelings and beliefs (known and subconscious) that people believe themselves to be. It, however, is made up.

Meditation and journaling are ways to notice and question what is happening in your ego. You may also read different spiritual texts to help you better orient towards spiritual truths rather than cultural and familial beliefs. There’s a lot of inner garbage junks up people’s inner space.

When your inside space is super cluttered, it’s hard to hold space for the clutter of another.

Thus, the more inner work you do, the clearer you become to be with others in whatever way they need.

Unwriting Family Beliefs and Behavior Patterns

4 Simple Steps to Holding Space

Here are four simple steps to holding space:

  1. Come back to awareness to watch your own thoughts and emotions (allowing yourself to have whatever thoughts and feelings you have to be as they are)
  2. Breathe and relax your body and soften your gaze with the other person
  3. Let go of your judgments and allow another to have whatever experience they’re having (assuming that it is in no way physically dangerous to themselves or to you)
  4. Give your complete undivided attention to the situation/other person (aka be fully present)

Those are the key elements of holding space.

You’re not trying to fix the situation.

You’re not trying to get the person to like you.

You’re not agreeing with the situation.

You are not trying to win at the situation or affect any kind of outcome. You are simply being with a person or people fully. This doesn’t mean becoming a victim to it, and it certainly doesn’t mean being physically hurt by another.

Contrary to any fears that you may have about getting hurt while holding space, you’re very powerful in this space. When you’re deep into a space like this, you are far more immune to any “emotional” hurt than you might realize.

The more at peace you are with yourself, the easier it is to hold space for another and allow them to be with whatever may be going on in their lives.

Discovering Your Emotional Strength

So much of emotional hurt is our own wounding being triggered. Plenty of it is misinterpretation by our ego.

Emotional hurt is taking what someone else says personally. But truthfully, what most people say is just a reflection of themselves even when it is directed at you. It’s not personal.

For example a nurse and doctor could be in a very intense conversation with a patient, but they can diffuse a lot of that by holding space and not taking what the patient is saying to be about themselves. Most people de-escalate when others don’t actively escalate emotionally with them, and in the healthcare setting, a calmer patient is now more receptive to hear what the doctor and nurse need to tell them.

On a professional level, holding space is very, very useful.

Thus, holding space can be like engaging with a fire that needs more wood thrown into it to continue. Without that continued fuel, the fire eventually burns out.

We don’t turn a blind eye to everything other people say. If there are things that are truly hurtful or wrong, we can speak to that. Speaking from a space of clear awareness is powerful. However, a lot of times, people just want to feel listened to, and holding space facilitates that beautifully.

Becoming Heart Strong

Allowing a Situation to Unfold

My example of holding space usually comes from my work with students, but I definitely do this with friends and other people in my life. The best example is when someone is expressing pain or some difficulty. In these moments, I’m holding them with a lot of love and letting go of my judgments about them and the situations that they’re describing. I’m not interested in fixing them, and I trust that as they allow themselves to fully express what’s happening, deeper resolution is already at work.

Depending on how aware someone is, I speak less and less. The more of a spiritual practice they have, the more I trust in their own deeper intelligence to find solutions when and as they are needed. Holding space is truly about allowing experiences and emotions to arise and pass away. It’s about making a safe space so people can actually feel their emotions and see their thoughts in potentially new ways. By not repressing or avoiding their emotions, they can potentially process through and release the real pain.

The Process of Releasing Pain

Lots of Emotions, But Not Processing Them

Less Action Is More Space

Doing less is often another aspect of holding space. In a society that is focused on doing things, this can feel counterintuitive at first.

Try it out.

Sit in space with a co-worker, friend, or lover who is upset and needs your presence.

Or just follow the above steps mentioned earlier in any situation with a person.

See what happens if you hold space in the board room, clinic, nursery, assisted living center, city council chambers, before having sex with your partner, after having sex with your partner, and other situations.

Sure some people can get lost in their own ego issues and not notice, but when you are holding space, it’s not your job to get them out of their ego. You certainly can try, but do so only if it naturally arises to share something.

Instead come back to awareness and surrender to what is arising.

5 Misunderstandings About Surrender

Holding Space in More of Your Relationships

Holding space can be a lot of heart-work (I’m making a pun on hard work, here. Get it? ;). The first time that you do this and you are non-reactive to a lover’s outburst or a codependent friend’s tears, they may think you don’t care.

Far from it.

You actually are caring more about them than ever before because you’re not feeding their emotional wounds. If anything, they now have to look at their emotional debris and own it because you’re holding space as opposed to rolling around in this emotional mud with them. This can be intensely uncomfortable for the other person. It can be transformative as well. As always, it’s up to the other person in the equation to make the choice as to what results from it.

You can only own your pieces of the puzzle. A happy, transformative ending is not necessarily the outcome that will arise when you hold space. You may want to explain what you’re doing with the other person if this is the first time that you’ve held space with them instead of playing out your usual ego role.

It may be a relief for the other person to not have you butt in and try to run their life!

Holding space cuts in many different directions because of the vast number of situations we can use it. But it is always an enlightening experience.

Keep in mind that most people are happy living in their misery. They still may want to come home and complain about how the world is dumping on them, on their ideas, and on their spiritual practices. If you don’t join in with that wallowing, they can get upset. They may leave. And you need to be just as comfortable with that outcome as with the positive outcome that brings closer friendships and intimacies.

Absorbing Other People’s Issues

A common complaint that crops up, especially for sensitive people, is the feeling that they absorb other people’s issues when they are holding space. Whenever you feel like you are “taking on” someone’s energy or issues, that’s a sign that you have an issue or a need yourself.

Our subconscious ego is always responding to life, and its many responses to life are like Velcro that grab the debris of life. The stuff that triggers you shows you where you have forgotten issues, and if you resolve them, then they won’t be triggered again. You won’t feel as sensitive.

I’m not talking about someone who is being intentionally cruel. That generally requires action.

I’m speaking to how we react to situations based on what we think is going on rather than seeing what is ACTUALLY going on. The ego does this all the time, and mostly, it reacts subconsciously, manipulating our feelings. That’s what makes people feel like they’re absorbing someone else’s issues/energy. That’s why I mentioned earlier and will mention again that doing your own inner work is critical to effectively holding space. Otherwise, you’ll feel triggered all the time, and holding space will feel very, very challenging.

What Is Spiritual Inner Work?

Additionally, you aren’t supposed to nor can you take on other people’s issues to “help” them.

This is another common misconception. They are responsible for themselves.

No Easy Fixes, Just Spaciousness

Let people have their experience. Their joy or their pain–if this is a moment where someone is experiencing pain–is teaching them an important lesson.

By trying to take that pain away or absorb their joy somehow, they will not be able to learn from it. You’ll exhaust yourself with pain or interfere with something that is beautiful and is not meant for you. In terms of pain, you should never forget that pain and suffering are some of the most powerful spiritual teachers for humanity.

Failing at Holding Space

You probably won’t be very good at holding space initially. You’ll notice just how much ego crap you’ve got that either wants to fix, change, wallow, or otherwise get lost in what someone is sharing with you.

However, holding space is a worthwhile practice.

I’d encourage you to find someone with whom you can practice this. You can take turns talking while the other listens. This is very similar to my blog post about the Art of Listening only with a slightly different twist. That post is about finding your voice and helping another find his or her voice.

Holding space is about how you learn to be with any experience unfolding before you. This is about how you can be open-hearted and without judgment when the worst is said about you as well as the best is said about you. But you don’t need to jump that far into the fire yet.

Usually, most people just need space to be themselves with another.

Grounded in Awareness

For the most part, you’ll listen to people talk about their own pain.

See how you can be with it. See what comes up inside of you, and then you should talk about what comes up with your listening partner. Or you can journal it out if you don’t feel comfortable talking about it with your listening partner yet. Watch what stories you project on someone and all the ways where you want to control the experience or get activated by their emotions. Any time you get upset by something, you’re finding an issue–a bit of unhealed pain–in yourself.

It’s a powerful practice to develop this skillset so that you can be with more and more people and all the stories and wisdom and pain they share.

If you’d like to learn more about holding space and working with me, please come to a class:



I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.


  1. This is simply an excellent article. In fact, I'm going to print it and put it in my file. I have learned this skill over years, especially now with my children. When we are able to do this, it's actually a relief because we're not trying to control everything (and dealing with the frustration of inevitable failure!).

  2. Awesome. I'm glad that the post really resonated for you. It is an important skill, and you are right; when we're no longer controlling everything it is a big relief.

  3. I think I am generally able to do this amid outbursts and tears. When someone starts to express their pain, I instantly snap into deep breath/just listen mode.

    But I struggle with how to do it from the silence. How do I hold the other person when the anger, frustration and tears and left unexpressed? How do I avoid judging the other's decision to hold on to everything and not express feelings or deny them altogether? How do I deal with repressed pain in the other?

    I find myself trying to get them to realize the pain they are causing themselves and feeling frustrated when they continue to hold it in.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Emerging from the fire. The judgments we have about what others should do is part of our own work. Everyone is allowed to have their pain. So long as it's not a near and present danger (i.e. they're going to physically hurt themselves or others), we have to learn to just allow it. Their pain will teach them again and again and again. Don't get caught up in their suffering. Instead find out why you want to see a certain outcome for them, and you'll be a step closer to holding a deeper space for those people in your life.

  5. Absolutely Awesome article. I find myself in this space now. Its wonderful that one does not want to get emotionally involved in the pain and its helping with my children. Kinda hard sometimes with the children as we humanly want to assist them in their needs.

  6. I love the phrase you used 'rolling around in the emotional mud with them'. It's so true. Your friend moans about her children or her husband and you're in there agreeing with her, moaning about yours too. It ends with her saying thanks for listening and I feel better but is she? I suppose not!

    I'm going to raed your post again and try what you suggest.

    Great blog by the way ……….

  7. Thanks for your comments Ursh and Simmyb. Holding space is a powerful practice, and it'll show you all the ways that your ego still wants to control the situation and other people. I look forward to hearing how this practice develops for you both. =)

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