In formal ritual, we’re automatically conscious of the making and holding of sacred space. We think we craft a deliberate space, with intent, and we usually work together as a circle to make that happen. However, in every aspect of our lives we are holding space for people in less conscious ways.
What we’re able to do can be shaped by what the people around us hold space for. At the most basic level, things like whether we are allowed to help, allowed to speak, allowed to act, informs who we can be in a situation. In highly constructed environments – schools, workplaces, more organised social groupings – the boundaries around who can do what can be tightly held.
Where we have consensus about the holding of space, we get a culture. Most of us are significantly shaped by what our cultures consider acceptable. How we dress, speak and move, what we aspire to be and feel the need to own and how we spend much of our time is culturally informed. That culture is made up of each one of us helping hold the space in a certain way. Encouraging some things, discouraging others, making some actions easy and others impossible. Most of the time, most of us do that entirely without thought.
We can hold space for each other in very deliberate ways, if we are conscious of what we are doing. How conscious are our ritual circles? Are we defaulting to what we think religion looks like, or are we inventing a space that does just what we need it to do? In ritual circle we give each other permission to talk to the land and sky in a way that would be unthinkable in other contexts. Some ritual circles give everyone permission to speak, and some do not. Some ritual spaces invite raw emotional expressions and others encourage us to be dignified and stick with the script.
It is worth trying to take a mental step back from what we do, to consider the spaces we hold for each other. What do we permit in others, what are we quietly refusing? How are we constructing the spaces we share with other people? What kind of culture are we contributing to?
I’ve been struck of late, just how powerful it is to be in spaces where I feel acceptable and also by what happens when I in turn offer messages of welcome and encouragement to people who are around me. Groups where exchanges of praise and encouragement are normal are very supportive spaces to be in. Places where we watch each other mistrustfully and jump on the smallest mistakes are nerve wracking and exhausting. It’s odd how many spaces are quick to jump on small errors and entirely tolerant of the bullying behaviour of those who do the jumping. I see that online, especially. All too often, ‘correcting’ trivial mistakes and reasonable differences is treated as more important than being respectful or compassionate. Who do we become, when we step into circles such as these?