The Mystery of Holding

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There is an ancient longing wired in us as infants to be seen, to be felt, and to have our surging, somatic-emotional world validated by another. When our subjective experience is empathically held, contained, and allowed, we come to a natural place of rest. What is love, really, other than fully allowing the other to be who they are, for their experience to be what it is, and to offer the gift of presence to their unique subjectivity? In this sense, I love you = I allow you.

The late Donald Winnicott, a brilliant psychoanalyst from Britain, used the term ‘holding environment’ to describe the ideal mandala in which growth and development could occur, weaved of the qualities of contact and space. Through making attuned, present-time, somatically-engaged contact with another as they are – and by providing an open, warm sanctuary in which their experience can unfold and illuminate – we become vehicles of love in action.

Simultaneously, by offering the gift of space, we do not interfere with the unfolding of their heart and majestic inner process. We do not pathologize their experience or demand that they be different, change, transform, shift, or ‘heal’ in order for us to love them. If sadness is there, or fear, or despair, or shame, or depression, or profound grief, we will infuse their inner mandala with validation and presence. We will be there for them, but only if they need us. We will not engulf them with the projections of our own unlived life, nor will we unload upon them our own requirements and agendas, arising out of our own undigested psyches and bodies. Instead, we will seed the intersubjective container with tender space.

While not talked about as much, we can provide this same contact and space to ourselves and come to discover that our nature as awareness itself is in fact the ultimate holding environment. You are always, already resting in the majesty of presence and are always, already held – by the beloved – who is none other than your own miracle nervous system, heart, and somatic brilliance. While we may not always understand our experience – and while it may never fit into our ideas, hopes, dreams, and fantasies about the life we were ‘meant to live’ – we can come to trust that it is unfolding according to a unique blueprint which is emerging out of the unseen hand of love. We are invited to practice a radical intimacy with our experience, staying close to our ripe bodies and tender hearts, but not so close that we fuse or overly identify with it. Rest in the very middle and stay astonished at what is being birthed out of the unknown in every moment.

For so many I speak with, there is an undercurrent of aggression towards themselves, a subtle movement of self-loathing, unexamined shame and embarrassment, and a very alive (if not conscious) belief that they are flawed and have failed. Each time we exit our present, embodied experience into thinking, interpretation, blame, resentment, and complaint, we turn from the preciousness and the majesty of what we are. In this movement of rejection, we keep alive the archaic belief that our immediate experience is not valid, that it is not workable, that it is not forming the actual particles of the path of healing, exactly as it is. From one perspective, this may be seen as the ultimate act of self abandonment.

Let us all take a pause on this new day, and from a place of love visualize a holding environment for ourselves, where we grant unconditional permission to make intimate and direct contact with all of our vulnerabilities, with our tender bodies and with our raw hearts, with our unprocessed challenges from the past, and with our less-than-awakened thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Let us make the most radical commitment to no longer abandon ourselves, exiting into our conditioned stories and unkind judgments, and inquire with love into the habitual belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. As we open our eyes and our hearts to the always, already present holding environment which is our true nature, we behold the drop of grace which pours through the eyes of everyone we meet, including that unknown precious one that we see when we look in the mirror. And then all that could possibly remain is an unshakeable faith in love’s perfection.


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  1. Pingback: Heart-Centered Community

  2. I shared this on FB when it first came out…This is also what I’ve discovered and practiced in my life and work. I cannot say it better. I’ve also shared your Blog with many many friends and clients. Thanks Matt

  3. I read this and cried with joy, sadness and regret at the wasted times filled with anger and remorse

  4. Pingback: The Mystery of Holding - Andrea Roth Counselling

  5. One of the best definitions of “Love” I’ve come across. The message resonates with me in such a subjective manner that I often want to come back and feel it again. Well done Matt.

  6. There is tendency in this age of the material to think that close bonding with babies and the rest of our species should not be encouraged. Even as adults touch, holding, granting being is one of the most generous and beautiful gifts we can give to each other. We all need each other, Rolando Toro the maverick from Chile used to say that the very best medicine for human beings, is simply “human beings”. When we embrace each other with affection, tenderness, empathy and love, when we allow each other to be who they are without attempting to fix them or mend and to always see the greatness that is present in everyone, Love is what is left in the space. Beautifully written. Thank you

  7. This is so beautifully written. No matter what happened or didn’t happen to us as infants/children/adults, we can all heal in this way. I do believe there is some divine interface as well, but this holding and be-ing happens in our bodies. Thanks for putting clear words to my holding experience. And let us hold each other in this way too. Peace…

  8. My Group Therapy in Paris, France, benefited that our psycholgist had BBSOL training, and our group felt this containment each session we had together.

  9. As a therapist who specializes in Shiatsu/Watsu/Breema I’ve had the honor to hold space for the unfolding in my life and practice. If you have an opportunity seek a therapist near you who provides somatics it will be worth your energy and time. Blessings to all

  10. Thank you! Very appropriate at this time with all the tragedies that are happening globally. This touches my heart and it is so true. Holding environment, unconditional love, room to grow and allowing one to be the best person one can be. Patience, nurturing, global connection to every one.

  11. Arthur Janov Phd, The creator of Primal Therapy has written a number of books relating to this and through his therapy resolve or at least lessen much of the repressed emotional pain related to being untouched and unloved.

  12. yes, Matt! Returning to love with that ancient longing satisfied and whole! I have spent a lifetime going back and doing integrative discovery and body-mind work to recover interrupted bonding due to being born early and placed in the NICU without any touch allowed from my mother for 17 days. It is inside out work to reclaim a challenged nervous system and primoridal beliefs that babies set up about whether they are loveable.

    The good news is that we really can return to wholeness. I just returned from presenting at to therapists and caregivers. I shared how birth imprints show up in child and adult behaviors, and tools to help individuals, children, or couples. All of this is gathered in my recent book, Birth’s Hidden Legacy. I wrote this to help others have the tools to get to the root of distress that was imprinted so long ago. It has case studies, body-mind theories, and interventions you can use to help yourself or others.

    With accessible tools, returning to an internal feeling of love and safety opens the door for the true path of soul into body. You can get Birth’s Hidden Legacy, on Amazon or directly on my web site, Last summer I was fortunate to train teachers at the Montesorri Education Center of the Rockies in Boulder, CO, on on how to work with the infants and children they see, and will present at their national conference in Chicago this coming March. Let’s keep spreading the word and opening the heart.
    Joy and love to you…Annie Brook

  13. So eloquent and sensitively said, I could feel each word as it slide from my brain to my heart. Everyone should read that at least 1x everyday.

  14. Amazing, thank you so very much. This truly spoke to me and I will share it in the hopes that it will speak to others as well. May we all heal ourselves and help one another to heal as well. Blessed Be!

  15. I’m a therapist. I read a lot. I talk to a lot of people. I study. But it’s been a very long time since I’ve read an article so poetically and potently worded, which speaks of the MOST important topic I can imagine: the ACT of love. As you say, Love is allowing. Love is allowing our self to be as we are. Love is allowing others to be exactly as they are. I appreciate how you outlined some of the pathological (insane) things we do to ourselves and each other. That made the difference between LOVE and NOT-LOVE crystal clear. Thank you with all my heart. <3 Paige

  16. I have felt this specific current of thought and emotion since the month started, as i massaged and held a beloved child of miine afflicted with self- doubt and sadness, as i watched my better half struggle with duties and self-loathing, as i see the world debate hatred and love; inclusion and rejection; and i dreamed about the christmas offering i have to make this year. i am behind, my revered tradition of making a nativity instead of buying stuff is usually done by the end of november. But, this year has been like a riptide.
    i saw what i have always known and voiced in a uniquely beautiful, simple treasure: within its dainty cap of tousled fibers, an acorn, in which, an embryo, still enfolded with the amniotic sac of life, can be clearly seen; tiny, perfect palms and soles discernible, faces in different, subtle, innocent positions and gestures, to remind us all; we are all born and return to the ocean of existence in the same way; seeds of possibility,power and promise, and we are all linked together by invisible but unbreakable threads of causality; We are One.
    Today is the day I will make the first babies, playing Creator, and These reminders of Oneness i will not confine to this season of Rebirth; i will continue creating them, sharing them, giving them away to voice their message from Beyond,; the Wise Waters we come from and return to, unavoidably.

  17. Just found this… beautifully written, poignant, moving and just the right time for it to land in my awareness. Thank you, Matt.

  18. Baby Massage has a technique called containment. When the parents see the simplicity and magic of it, their eyes open wide. But when baby offers an opportunity for them, it moves them to a new depth of understanding that is palpable in the room. Beautifully written article. Thank you.