Holding the Space
For the past few years, I have gone on an annual women’s spiritual retreat. I had never been on a retreat before several years ago. The only other time I voluntarily lived with women was in college and only then because boys were too messy and smelled funny.
To be perfectly frank, in the past I never liked women all that much. I usually had only a few close girlfriends growing up and the rest were guys. Women were always too emotional, too catty for me. They would cry easily and I could laugh with the guys.
Tears have always made me uncomfortable. I don’t like to cry. Both my parents were coaches, so needless to say tears were frowned upon. If anyone started crying in my house, you were sure to ridiculed until the tears were replaced by hot anger. Quickly, I learned to stuff all my emotions and found refuge in humor.
In my early twenties, I began uncovering all of those stuffed emotions — rejection, humiliation, anger, hurt, desperation, fear, longing, on and on. A list of emotions we all run from, but never quite stay ahead of. I also found tears. Yuck. Aching, lost tears that would come pouring out at the movies, while watching silly soap operas, the Olympics, even commercials … It was pitiful.
I sought help and worked successfully with an excellent counselor. There were lots of tears and healing, thus leading to the next phase in my life, marriage and kids. It was only after “birthin’ babies” that I discovered the true value of girlfriends. Girlfriends know your shoes, especially when they are covered in spit-up and the kids’ breakfast. Not only could you laugh with your girlfriends, but you could cry too.
I joined a Mommies group after my daughter was born and found a wonderful circle of women. I soon discovered that if one Mommy started crying, invariably someone else began sniffling and so on and so on. Same went with the babies, one baby cries and soon there was a roomful wailing – you did not cry alone. Many times I would find myself welling up with tears and sometimes, tears fell. This was all very new to me.
Then I decided to go on the women’s spiritual retreat after my son recovered from a serious health crisis. Little did I know that spiritual retreats are geared to connect you to your vulnerabilities, inevitably leading to tears — here again, usually en masse. I cried the entire weekend and I really, really needed it.
I had been so strong in my belief that my son would recover and in searching/finding the cure, that there had been no allowance for tears. I was an old pro at stuffing my feeling from childhood. That survivor had stepped back into my life for a while, but fortunately I was able through this circle of women and cleansing tears to regain myself, my adult. As much as I have fought it, tears bring release and most hopefully, peace.
So I was surprised this year, when I shed no tears while at the retreat. It wasn’t for lack of compassion for the suffering of those around me but I finally discovered the concept of “holding the space.” I no longer had these wounded places that could be triggered by a friend’s pain or experience. I was free.
I was free to support my weeping friend by just listening. I did not need to take on her issues. I could be her witness. She could tell her story without having to worry about me. It was such an empowering feeling to be on the other side. I knew I had finally passed through and released so many of my painful “hooks.”
Her tears did not make me uncomfortable… they told me of her heart.
Oh, I know maybe another year I’ll go to the retreat, share a painful story and quite possibly discover myself in tears again, but now, I know tears from every side. I see their many facets — cleansing, sadness, joy, pain, triumph… all of it. I am grateful to be here, in these new shoes, no longer covered in spit-up. I am grateful to have a circle of women in my life that allow me to be wherever I am on my journey. Sometimes holding the space, and sometimes being held. May you find your own circle.