Holding Safer Space ~ Gathering Stones
Val Rathjen, Community Learning Network
I was gathering some items in my office for a project, and as I moved around my space I found an assortment of rocks. They were different sizes and shapes but all tied to a memory, a place, a time. The tiny white one, in the picture, was a gift from a little boy camped next to us this summer. I shared wood for a fire, and he shared a treasured ‘crystal’ with me. Wonderous!
As I look at my collection, I’m drawn to the smooth stones that are often my go to ‘talking pieces’. When I host a circle, such as Holding Safer Space, I often will grab one and hold it to remind me to honour the person speaking with my attention. I feel the weight in my hand and that links to the importance and value of their sharing. And so, many of my rocks remind me of stories beyond myself. Things that have been pondered and shared in circle, wisdom that continues to impact me today. This is what I want to share with you - stories and reflections from people who have taken Holding Safer Spaces.
For those unfamiliar with Holding Safer Spaces, it is an 11-week training that seeks to help participants learn to walk alongside others in whatever journey they are on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them or trying to impact the outcome. Through weekly readings, reflections, and discussions we dive into a lot of learning, and while the goal of this training is professional, the practice is personal.
Over the past 3 years we have had more than sixty CALP staff from across the province share in the circle of learning. Staff with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and job descriptions. There have been many “rocks” of wisdom and insight gathered along the way. I have invited some of them to share their experience with Holding Safer Spaces and the impact it has had on their work. Perhaps this is the right next step for you, and you’ll consider joining the training in January.
Reflections from the Field:
The first person chooses to remain anonymous.
"My role is Students Services/Facilitator. The Holding Spaces experience was/is one that I was not expecting from a workshop. It was not the typical learning that I have attended and I am grateful for it.
It came at a perfect time when I was feeling "full" and now I have words to go with that "full" feeling. I learned that I get to come first and that it is okay to not be so "full" that I am overflowing.
I learned that I can hold space for myself and that it is okay. I appreciated the learning and use it daily in my work and home life. I do think this was a valuable workshop and it fits perfectly into what we do within CALP."
"Hi, my name is Karen Keyes, and I am the Program Coordinator/ teaching facilitator/ tutor at Words Work Literacy Society in Athabasca. As a former RN, I entered the Holding Safer Spaces world thinking “I got this, I know the lingo and how it all works, this will be good for my students if I took a bit of refresher.” I figured I could tough out 11 Fridays for them. Little did I know how much I would need this for me. As nursing students, we were taught the right words to say to people but when it came to us personally, we would tell each other, “Stop talking to me like a nurse and just be my friend.” Holding Safer Spaces gave me to tools to “just be that friend.” By the third or fourth week I was missing everyone between classes.
Shortly after starting this course my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at 47 years old; I was devastated. For me this course offered a safe place to talk with others who had been through this experience and gain ideas as to how to walk through this with her. I learned valuable skills such as not to compare what she was going through with an experience of mine. I learned to just be in the moment with her. This strengthened our bond.
Having practiced the tools with my sister, I have branched out and used them on my students. It has allowed for trust to build and therefore a better teaching-learner relationship with them. I have also used them on my friends and family members when they have “just needed a friend.” I can tell you it feels good to know you are having a positive impact on people when they are most vulnerable.
One very important lesson I learned was to take time for me so I can be there for others. As a type A, I rarely took time for myself; feeling guilty that I was wasting time doing “nothing.” Those of us in the “helping “profession give so much to others that we rarely take time to recharge ourselves. Safer Spaces helped me realize that if I am not at my best, I cannot be present for others when they need me. I especially found the breakout sessions a great place to discuss this concept and since I was with pretty much the same group each time, we built a bond and were able to help each other learn to do this. I have since taken more time for myself, focused on positive life choices, and am learning to ask for help more when I need it.
A final tip would be to take advantage of the "buddy" option. Again, many of us rarely think we need to talk things out but, believe me, having my "buddy" was integral to the tools I learned throughout this course. The fact that they work in the same field and have similar challenges is a great benefit. I learned so much from my "buddy", she continually checked up on me while I was checking in with my sister. She offered an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on (even though we were miles apart). We still check in with each other every now and then and I really hope to meet her face to face this year at our Symposium.
Of course, I have not mastered these skills and I often slip into old habits, BUT when I do, I often remember what I am supposed to be doing and catch myself. I learned a lot through this course and highly recommend it to any Type A person, anyone who wants to “just be a friend” for others, or anyone who needs to learn to slow down and be kind to themselves more often."
Doray Veno, Executive Director Lynks-Harvest Sky Services and Supports Society (formerly Hanna Learning Centre), shared the following image with her reflections.
What was the experience like?
"Challenging, comforting, calming, exciting, levels of complexity, connecting, disconnecting, emotional, eye opening, grounding, useable, uncomfortable, peaceful, and fun. The experience pushed all the buttons, in a good way."
What impact or difference has it made for you?
"When I reflect on my Holding Safer Spaces experience, this opportunity has impacted my head, heart, and health.
This is the image (to the right) that connects me to my learnings: Be intentionally curious, sometimes the beauty of the situation is really messy, liminal space is worth the time, slowing to pause, and it’s more than okay to ask others to hold space for me."
From Della Massey, who took the training when working for PALS as their Volunteer Coordinator. Della has since joined the CLN team as the Regional Support Staff for the West region.
"Being a participant in Holding Safer Spaces has been an invaluable experience for me. It gave me the opportunity to learn about very important concepts, ideas and ways of being. We explored curiosity, courage, humility, discernment, intuition, compassion, complexity, autonomy, needs, self-care, boundaries, social conditioning, authenticity, hijacking space, safety and bravery. We read articles, heard beautiful poetry, had discussions, shared our feelings and thoughts and sometimes laughed and sometimes cried.
I learned about what it means to hold space for myself and for others. I had the opportunity to practice this as I met weekly with my "buddy" to discuss our thoughts and feelings about what we were learning about each week. Initially, I thought I would not have time for a "buddy", however, I heard someone talk about how valuable this was for them so I rather reluctantly decided to have a "buddy." I was deeply surprised at the depth of our meaningful conversation and the impact it was having on me, and I soon looked forward to the time we had together. When the course was over, we continued to meet and hold space for each other and we now see each other as treasured friends.
When I attended the course, my role was that of a volunteer coordinator. I found everything I learned improved and enhanced all my relationships at work with co-workers, learners and volunteers. This also applied to all my personal relationships as well. I continue to grow in the concepts we explored and I would recommend this course to everyone."
And finally, Chery Lovstrom, Central RSS
What was the experience like?
"My first introduction to Holding Safer Spaces was at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Like everyone else, I was busily trying to pivot with the times and this was taking precious time away from that exercise. That attitude changed in a hurry as those Friday meetings quickly evolved from a minor inconvenience to the one thing that kept me going from week to week. As the world seemed to spin out of control I found a space where I felt in sync with the people around me. Fridays became a time to drop my shoulders and release some of the tension of the week.
I’ve had the privilege of being in Holding Safer Spaces several times now, and will fully confess to being a reluctant learner the first (and second) time through. This training is designed to help participants hold safer space for those they work with, but, in order to do that successfully, it also requires some personal work. The training asks for investigation and reflection around some topics I wasn’t initially ready to address fully. But the beauty of Holding Safer Spaces is its flexibility. I was able to stay at the surface of topics I found difficult and dive more fully into those I was ready to tackle. Each week there is an opportunity for discussion in the large group and in smaller breakout rooms, where participants can talk about the readings and share the ideas/concepts that resonate with them. And build community."
What impact or difference has it made for you?
"The Holding Safer Spaces community continues to grow within CALP and, as more participants come through the program, there is a shared language and understanding about what it means to create that safe space for those around us. I have learned a lot about myself and how I process both information and emotions. A fixer by nature, I often find it difficult to really listen without jumping ahead to the “solution”. Attending Holding Safer Spaces taught me to slow down, pause, and listen for the real issue. Is this a fixing question or is it a listening question? Now I actually wait to find out!"
First, I want to thank each one who shared their story. Your honesty and insight continue to inspire!
Next, I want to extend an invitation to join the circle. The next Holding Safer Spaces training will start on January 17th and will run every Tuesday mornings from 9:30 am -11:00 am until March 28th.
Watch the training calendar in December to register, as we would love to have you join!
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