Serving Through Stillness and Presence: Holding Space as Subtle Activism
by Lynda Terry
Ram Dass, in the acknowledgements section of his 2004 book, “Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita,” thanks a woman who he says “loved this book into being” as a “‘Keeper of the Heart’ – someone whose task it is to hold an open, loving space no matter what is going on around her.”
At Science of Mind church services, one will see Religious Science practitioners “holding the high watch,” as they sit, one on each side of the congregation, in meditation.
And every talkcast program of the Gaiafield Center for Subtle Activism (GCSA) is supported by “vessels of peace” – women who are silently present on the calls to anchor energy for 1) the call’s purpose, 2) those participating in the fulfillment of that purpose, and 3) the larger field of consciousness that has evoked that purpose.
Each of these situations is an example of holding space, but they are not all examples of subtle activism. The first one technically does not meet the test of being a subtle activism practice because it was offered on behalf of an individual’s project – so, meant more for supporting individual spiritual growth than collective healing and social change. The second example involves a group event, but again, the purpose is more to support spiritual growth, both individually and within the collective of that spiritual community. Only the third example – the GCSA talkcast program – would be considered holding space as subtle activism, because it was offered for the purpose of facilitating collective healing and transformative social change.
Holding sacred space may be the subtlest of subtle activism practices – and also perhaps the most common, yet least understood. Many of us have experience with holding space for individuals. For example, I too, have been a keeper of the heart for the book projects of friends, and when my daughter birthed her first child, I was her doula – a woman who has given birth herself and whose presence brings comfort and emotional support. I also held space for the dying process of my mother – and a decade before that, she and I held space together as her mother made her transition.
But since 2001, I have, I now understand, been a subtle activist, sitting in meditation and silent presencing at private and public gatherings, both in person and via teleconference, to hold space for humanity as it labors to birth a more peaceful way of being and doing on this planet. I called it being a vessel of peace, but when asked, “What does a vessel of peace do?” I often struggled to articulate what happens when I hold space in this way. It took seven years for me to discover a way to name this practice which, I feel, eventually will become commonplace in community and world service.
Our culture currently does not value such an intangible action, even though the function of space holder is as real and necessary as any other form of service or activism that assists in healing and transforming self, others, the world. But when I first read the words “subtle activism,” a welcome breeze blew through my mind and heart as I thought, “That’s IT! Subtle activism puts a name to what I and all these other women have been doing all these years!” It’s amazing how immediately the understanding comes now, when I tell people that a vessel of peace is a subtle activist in service to humanity. They get it – and that expands the possibilities for how we can serve.
It likely will not surprise anyone reading this that most space holders, in my experience, are women. Holding space is, at its essence, feminine, and while every human being is born with the potential to offer this gift to others, women – for a variety of cultural, physical and spiritual reasons – can more easily access this potential within them. Holding space arises from the energy of yin, the feminine. It requires receptivity and stillness … a willingness to open to surrendering … a deep listening – both from the heart and from the “gut,” the womb space of a woman. Holding space requires a loving acceptance, an attention without expectations, so that an environment of containment is created which is both secure and spacious enough for what Spirit wants to occur within it.
For quite some time, humanity has been driven more by the energy of yang, the more masculine energy expressions of acting and speaking, of moving and deciding. But if we look to nature, we see that both ways are needed, and that when things are in harmony, there is a balance, a beautiful natural dance of the two. In order for new life to arrive and move into the outer world – whether it be a child, a flower or a paradigm-shifting idea – it first has to be held in stillness and safety, in patient waiting and unknowing, while it is nourished and given time to evolve. Whether it is the earth cradling a seed in its soil or a lioness carrying a cub in her belly or a person cherishing a dream in his heart, there is a need for the One who is the cradler, the carrier, the cherisher. And when we hold space, we open to that Oneness, creating a container that embraces inner and outer, spiritual and secular, the ineffable and the tangible …
It is time for humanity to remember and recommit to this important practice and service that women, in particular, are being called to offer to people and to the earth. I am holding space for that time when seeking out keepers of the heart and vessels of peace will become commonplace. I envision a day when non-profit organizations and business enterprises will have holders of space present at their board and staff meetings to support their intent to reach agreements for the highest good of all. I envision a day when keepers of the heart will sit in Congress and be silently present at Cabinet meetings as our government leaders make decisions and resolve crises. I envision a day when a vessel of peace routinely will be asked to hold space for peace negotiations between countries or groups in conflict. And I envision a day when holders of space will not only be routinely present at times of birth and death but in operating rooms and ERs and cancer treatment clinics and refugee camps.
Based on my experience with Vessels of Peace, I don’t believe there will be any trouble finding people willing to be trained to offer this service. This sharing from one of the Vessels of Peace women who held space for the Gaiafield Project’s WiseUSA 2008 Program says it all:
“Nothing before in my life has met that need to serve in me like holding space does…. [It] has given me the means to fulfill a lifelong yearning to be of service, a yearning I believe all humankind shares… It is a privilege.”
© 2015 by Lynda Terry All rights reserved.