What does it mean to hold an inclusive, safe, space?
Recent events in my life have invited me to consider deeply this question.
I facilitate a weekly group called Write Your Soul Story. It is meant to be a safe, inclusive, space, where humans can meet to explore, through writing, and being witnessed by one another, the life their soul is inviting them to live.
The internal excavation this requires inevitably brings up the belief systems that each participant lives within, including any judgements, ignorance, prejudices and fears. Beliefs can vary widely, even among a relatively small group of people, to the extent that the belief of one person may challenge the value, or worth of the very existence of another.
If I allow into my group, the expression, or even the holding, of views that say a certain group of people, or certain life forms, are wrong, bad, or do not deserve to exist and thrive, at all, or as much as others, is this not harmful to those groups and life forms? And is my allowance of those who hold extreme views into the space, not itself endorsement of those views, or at least acquiescence, without care of the harm they may cause to others?
But if I, on the other hand, refuse to tolerate extreme views and expel those people who hold them from the space, surely this is not only harmful to the people that hold the views – for exclusion is a form of violence that can cut deeper than any knife – but is my act of exclusion not also likely to cause both sides to become more entrenched and extreme in their views, more justified in their separation, more intensified in their hatred or fear towards each other, and more likely to cause each other harm? Is my refusal to allow extreme views not endorsement of the exclusion of the extremes of humanity, which is itself an act of violence towards life?
I would answer yes to all of those questions.
So, what do I do? Is it possible to expand enough to hold a space that doesn’t require me to make someone wrong, or to label a person unsafe because of the beliefs they hold, yet still create a space that fosters healing for all, and at the very least, does not foster harm?
I think the answer to this question is also yes, but it asks something astronomically challenging of me: it asks me to do the work first.
Any space I create for others can only be as inclusive and safe as the space I am able to hold within myself. And my capacity to love in this way – unconditionally – is limited by my own experiences and background. Whatever prejudices I hold, whatever ignorance, judgments and fears I possess – I bring these with me wherever I go.
There is a principle of life that says if I were you, with your ancestry and experiences, I would believe and behave exactly as you have, and do. And in reverse, you would believe and behave the same as I, too. All of my experiences in life thus far, give truth to this principle of wholeness.
Whatever parts of my own humanity I refuse to acknowledge or accept, and whatever parts of humanity I have not yet been exposed to – and therefore do not yet accept – could never feel truly invited to show up in any space I create. I cannot allow in you, what I have not allowed in me.
And so, given we (myself included) all have certain traumas and experiences, and carry the traumas and experiences of our ancestors in the very cells that make us up, how can any of us create a truly safe and inclusive space for all life?
This is the question I have been sitting with. And in sitting with this question, another arose – a deeper, more philosophical question – and that is this: even if it is possible, why should we try? Is a safe, inclusive space for all something worthy of striving for?
This question – why – always arises when I sit with any life challenge for long enough. Why, always gets right at the heart of the thing humans have struggled with for centuries – why, do anything? What is the point of life? What is valuable? What matters? What is worth standing for?
I don’t know that I have fully sorted out for myself an answer to this question, and I don’t know that I ever will. I do know that what emerges for me when I grapple with this question for long enough is something expansive, and ironically, unknowable. It is standing for the mystery of the natural way things work.
Sometimes I call this mystery Truth – a deep knowingness that is large enough to hold all paradoxes, stories and versions of truth. Sometimes I call this mystery Wholeness, or Life, in a sense encompassing enough to hold the natural cycles of life and death, and everything in between. Sometimes I call this mystery Nature, and the inherent Justice that simply is in the existence of things.
I do recognize the luxury that I am blessed with to have the space and mental capacity to consider these issues at a philosophical level. There are many people who find themselves on the front lines of life and death every day, fighting for their own safety and inclusion in a very real way. I am not in that situation. I am not faced with life and death situations every day. I do not walk in fear of having my existence challenged simply by walking down the street. I am however a deeply creative, soulful, woman living in a male dominated, industrialized, capitalist world, and in that capacity have experienced exclusion and devaluation of my existence, every day since I was born.
I have some frame of reference for the soul violence that occurs when we are not valued for simply being who we are. And because I have both this frame of reference, and a certain amount of peace and space and safety, I consider it is my obligation to not only think about these questions, but to call upon my courage, to raise awareness of their importance, and to attempt, as best I can, to bring the answers I discover into my life in ordinary, everyday ways.
For what is the value of philosophy, if we do not live by it?
And so, what does it mean, then, for me to stand for the Wholeness of Life, in the creation and holding of a space for my little writing group?
I do not yet have a complete answer to this question. I do know that it requires me to take responsibility for my own healing, to take a look inwards and call out the ignorance, prejudices, judgments and fears I have within me, that are preventing me from addressing the challenge in front of me from a place of love.
I am in process with this.
I have acknowledged my own ignorance and taken it upon myself to learn about all sides of the issues that have arisen, and am in process of examining my own beliefs, in light of the information I am taking in, for fears and judgments and prejudices so these can be brought into the light, allowed, understood and released.
I have also taken some practical steps – I have created guidelines for participation which require confidentiality and respect, including, approaching what is shared by others with curiosity rather than judgment, and obtaining consent before providing coaching, advice or feedback. I have also asked participants to agree to be responsible for their own needs being met, including their need for safety. This may at times require that they take some space from the group, or raise an issue with me that I might have, because of my own ignorance or prejudices or fears, overlooked.
While these steps do not eliminate the potential for participants being exposed to beliefs that for them raise concerns of safety, it does prevent the views of any one from being imposed upon any one else. It also prevents any one person from being considered right – and any other wrong. And, most importantly, it offers a container in which each can be exposed to views opposing of their own. In this manner the ignorance that fosters separation is decreased and each person must witness and feel the impact of their views upon other real humans sitting right in front of them. This is something that has been lost in our highly individualized, self-reliant culture, where we are not required to live with and rely upon others in closely knit community.
It is my belief that spaces that expose us to the opposing beliefs of others are highly needed, and that, this slow, tender seeing and remembering of one another, can and will create the readiness and willingness in each of us to take a look inwards, and discover some of the fears and judgments and prejudices that live there, so that these can be brought into the light, allowed, understood and released.
This is the kind of expansion a soul journey will always require. A never-ending humbling and deeply satisfying journey towards unconditional love, unconditional trust in the soul of Humanity, and unending faith in the Justice inherent in all Life.
This is what I am standing for in my little every day corner of the world.
It will be messy, I know, but I believe, we can do it, together.