Michael Harner emphasized the importance of clarity when asking a question prior to shamanic journey or divination. That’s a lesson I integrated and still keep in mind. The ability to state one’s question clearly aids in setting intention for the trance experience. A good question also helps clarify answers, even ambiguous answers. Think of the images and words received in terms of the question.
But what do you do when you have journeyed and the answer is complicated. Some of life’s challenges involve us in a process that requires extended time, effort, and continued focus to achieve transformation. Sometimes we need help holding on to our effort and potential outcomes.
Within two years of my beginning a shamanic practice, my spirit helpers taught me a valuable tool: holding the space. It was explained that this technique was to be used when I understood the general intent but was not in a position to query specifics: rather like preparing and then building a house. To extend the house building metaphor, I understood that things could change on the ground over time and that we need to be prepared to adapt. In addition, we do not act or live in a vacuum, and the potential for impish energy to pollute a project does exist. Add to that one’s own inability to grasp every arising detail, and holding the space becomes more practical than detailing a hundred questions (some of which may not even occur to you).
Another circumstance for holding the space is one in which the question seems too vague for clarity. It sometimes happens that we need to gather the circle in order to gain clarity.
It’s time to discuss methodology. You go into trance using your usual method, but without stating a question. I like to drum. While drumming I hold with a general intent – a space I want to hold, an ongoing process or situation that I hope to nurture with Spirit. You are not seeking the usual journey experience with an expectation of vision or voice. You are drumming to the circle of your intent, rather like holding a vigil. The drum becomes an amplifier. That doesn’t mean you won’t receive images or have conversations. It means that images and conversations are not the primary purpose. The primary purpose is to become viscerally aware of the circle of your seeking – to create the threads of connection. The primary purpose is to remain engaged with the flow of process. The primary purpose is to keep alive the potential for best possible outcome. The primary purpose is to put yourself in accord with the beingness of your concern or situation, in accord with the silent but active Self. That may sound like four primary purposes – like a stretch of the word primary. But I don’t think so, as these stated purposes blend into non-verbal focused embrace.
Many a night I’ve come to the completion of my day by holding the space with the projects, concerns, and potentials of my life. You might call it shamanic prayer of the sort that is seeking merging and emergence (as opposed to prayer that petitions).
Any situation that seems to have some unresolved stickiness is appropriate for holding the space. It can be your own situation, a shared situation (such as a job), or in service of a friend or family member who is in need. In a sense, holding the space is an unstructured prayer to helping spirits. You don’t require consent if your intention is to invoke general assistance, without performing a specific shamanic action for which you may need permission. Keep in mind, holding the space involves attending to the Now of the circle and situation: personally undirected and yet connected. Willing to witness, gather, and thankfully hold each new phase of evolving transformation. Holding the space involves allowing potential to become visceral, to connect time with future action, and to prepare yourself for the next challenge.
Sometimes we feel small, but the circle we enter and embrace has depth and dimension.
Like so many things that I think are taught to myself alone, I recently discovered that holding the space has become a generalized phrase and spiritual tool. The reference is to “be” with a space, filled with mindfulness, and prepared for both cohesion and expansion. From what I gather, it is a way of interacting with an actual situation, such as a friend experiencing grief or a creative team working together. The concept is similar to my shamanic teaching: embracing the potential of now and what can grow out of now. For those who engage altered states of consciousness, it only seems natural that holding the space can be done in the presence of a person or situation, or at a distance. In this moment, the space I’m holding is outdoors in Nature. I would like for the holding to influence these words.
And you, O my soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres, to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my soul.
Photo by Jim Price