Holding Space for Learning and Practice

As I’ve deepened my meditation practice I’ve found the concept of holding space to be deeply transformative. I can describe holding space best as listening deeply and giving the other person room to express themselves. When I feel this quality of presence from another person, I am uplifted.

Holding space can be particularly powerful in communities of learning and practice. People hold space for each other and in that space they create a container for authenticity and mutual support. This is the intersection of individual expression and collective integration. By holding space for others we create space for openness. By cultivating openness we become more receptive. By becoming more receptive, we are able to learn better and understand more.

Transformative experiences happen when we find small groups of people that hold space for each other to practice and learn. Yet even in communities that share the same values, it can be hard to find people that share the same level of interest and availability as you do.

There may be people around you who share your values. These people might also want to learn and practice the same things that you do. How can you connect with those people to hold space and support each other?

Over the last year I have been exploring ways to make it much easier to connect people in mutually supportive ways. I’ve built a simple tool that lets members within a community self organize into small pods around a shared intention. My hope is to find ways to foster more peer to peer support and, in turn, offer people a direct experience of deep presence and genuine connection.

We have so much potential to uplift others, provide accountability, and share our inner wisdom for mutual benefit. Each of us carries a lifetime of experience to share as a lens on almost any subject. When we hold space for each other in this way, we can shift our energy from competition to collaboration. We can support each other in being, learning, practicing, or just about any sort of co-creation.

Learning vs. Knowing

Knowing is less important than learning. Remaining open and always being curious. It is the curiosity itself, the willingness to be open, the increasing capacity to learn which is liberating. The willingness to be open takes love because it requires us to constantly unattach ourselves from what we have learned. As human beings, we crave identity and validation, which knowledge provides. Knowledge thus liberates and simultaneously binds us as we become captive to it for our sense of self worth.

The delicate balance lies in learning to learn without attachment – in loving ourselves so much that we need no external input to validate who we are. This involves both an open love towards ourselves and a curious love about the world around us. Less about knowing more and more about becoming better, more open learners; becoming more receptive to life itself.

The Wholeness of Being

When we become dependent on external factors for how we feel about ourselves (what we do, who we’re with, what we have), our energy shifts. The difference can be subtle (or not) but profound. It is the difference between being an energetic giver or an energetic taker. As long as we are looking for something outside ourselves for how we feel about ourselves, we are taking energy from a situation. Our intention may be well meaning, but the awareness of our full intention is lacking.

By becoming firmly established in our being, we are able to participate in the world without selfish motive. We are able to engage others with genuinely pure motive because we are not looking for them to contribute to our sense of self worth in some capacity.

This is difficult to understand and see. To observe it we must deeply examine our motivations for why we do what we do to recognize that we are most likely looking for some form of emotional validation in most of our actions. Once we can clearly identify that energy, we can examine why that validation is important to us. Can we find that satisfaction, that wholeness of being, without the external stimulus? This wholeness is a function of our being – it is our birth right. It is present in every moment, we just need to become aware of it.

Being affects our very relationship with time and space, both of which we often use in pursuit of some form of validation. If we can become aware of this self perceived lack we can begin to engage in each moment as a whole being. Not looking for the moment to satisfy some expectation, but rather experiencing the fullness of the experience itself. This is the wonder of life, the miracle of every moment.

Observations of my finger

This last Burning Man I sliced my finger deeply and had to get eight stitches. Interesting enough, cutting my finger has turned out to be a “deeply” rewarding lesson…

I have observed that the human finger is made up of many layers and that each progressive layer, as you go deeper, is more sensitive. As the finger heals, part of the healing involved is the gradual reduction of sensitivity. In fact, at some point the finger looks almost entirely healed but is still much more sensitive than the other fingers. It continues to lose sensitivity as part of the healing process as the skin thickens to protect against the environment.

I am struck by the likely similarity to human beings in general. We are all so sensitive. Our hearts are so tender. But we have so many layers of armor. Healing, for many people today, is a process of reducing sensitivity because the outside world is so harsh. It’s hard to be exposed because it would be too much for our sensitive hearts. And so, our natural survival mechanism is to develop a thick skin. Much like the skin on our fingers we can’t really shed that skin but we can train our skin to be more sensitive.

A few months ago a friend of mine was teaching me how to sharpen a knife using a stone. He had his fancy Japanese blades and was showing me how you shave one side of the blade against the stone and then at some point this produces an overhang. Then you flip the blade, shave off the overhang and you’re done. You can’t actually see the overhang, you have to feel it because it’s so fine. He could feel it easily. I couldn’t feel it at all. We tried over and over, and I maybe barely felt it at the end. Maybe not.

My take away at the time was that that was a practiced sensitivity. With practice I could train myself to feel that overhang with my finger just like him. Maybe if I tried sharpening that blade right now with my healing finger I could be more sensitive to the overhang. I could certainly learn how to feel it with my regular fingers with enough practice.

My point is that emotional sensitivity is much the same. The way we are with other people, the way we perceive the world, the way we are with ourselves. We have so many layers to work through, but the sensory input is there. We just have to cultivate a sensitivity. Hopefully without having to slice ourselves in half.

Free Your Mind

Sometimes I have long philosophical conversations with my mother. We talk about the nature of love and she often challenges my perspective. I’ve had similar conversations with other people debating the notion that love and acceptance mean giving people a license to walk all over you.

This is not what acceptance means.

Acceptance is how we free our mind. Through acceptance we find liberation. We are not captive to the past, to the future, or to anything that anyone has done. We free ourselves from all emotional shackles. That is acceptance.

From that place of freedom we find remarkable clarity.

Acceptance is the bedrock of inner strength. Whether it’s a challenging business predicament or a personal conflict, we can examine our expectations and accept the situation exactly as it is. From this position of clarity, we are free to engage fully in the constructive pursuit of change.

We spend so much of our energy caught up in expectations. We expect things from others, we expect things from ourselves. Frustration is a product of expectations not being met. It stems from our desire for things to be different than the way they are. We become emotionally bound by our circumstances. When we respond from this state, we do so from a position of weakness because we’re not operating at our full capacity.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Acceptance can feel impossible and downright unjust at times. But acceptance isn’t an ethical judgement. It’s the internal process of reclaiming our identity. When we don’t accept a situation, it owns us. Our energy is consumed by an external factor outside of our control.

Liberation happens when we identify the underlying expectation in each moment. Why does it exist and why is it not being met? Love offers the recognition that our energy and peace of mind are far more important than any external circumstance. It is through acceptance that we find the fruition of our full potential as human beings. The hardest part might be accepting ourselves.


We are the product of every experience we have ever had – both good and bad. Every hardship we have overcome has come to define us. Now, in our moment of realization, the conditions are perfect for us to realize what we are realizing and move forward with our transformation. By loving ourselves in the present we can find gratitude for everything that has made us the way we are – including any current challenges we might be facing.

Were things not the way they are, we might not be in a position to see things the way we do. By finding deep love for ourselves, we can accept ourselves exactly the way we are. Acceptance is not complacency. Rather, it’s an objective way of acknowledging our current reality as we engage fully in becoming the person we want to be from a position of love.

By replacing frustration with gratitude we free ourselves up to be the best we can be. Frustration is a form of expectation. When we’re frustrated our needs are not being met in some way. We’re operating from a place of lack because we want something different than what currently is. Gratitude allows us to appreciate the value of even the most frustrating of circumstances. Gratitude liberates us to be fully present in the moment and engage fully in making the best out of any situation.

Leading by Example

A few weeks ago, I was inspired by a story I heard.  My friend, Pierre, works with low income kids from rough neighborhoods.  A kid he mentors recently lost one hundred pounds by changing his diet.  Here’s the kicker though: he accomplished all of this on his own and his family thought he was crazy.  He did all the research, grocery shopping, and cooking himself.  All the while his family looked on and made fun of him.  Until they didn’t.

When they saw how dramatically he was able to change his life they began to change themselves.  He inspired them with his example.  He could have tried to change them.  He could have complained to his mother that she doesn’t feed him right and made everyone around him feel bad about the way they were living.  But he didn’t.  He saw that the only thing he could actually control was himself and his actions.  By taking control, not only was he empowering himself, he was empowering the people around him through his example.

It’s easy to lose sight of just how influential we are.  Humans are social creatures.  We are at once resistant to change and deeply influenced by those around us.  Human psychology works in mysterious ways.  When we feel like someone is trying to change us, we get defensive.  On a deep level it becomes about protecting our identity.  But when we see someone doing their own thing and rocking it, we want to be part of the fun.  The feeling is aspirational, because who doesn’t want something better?

I catch myself judging others in small ways all the time.  Whether it’s strangers on the street, my friends, my partner, or my parents.  Whenever I see myself having an expectation that someone else should be acting differently I try to examine my assumptions.  Even if I’m 100% sure that it’s best for them, most of the time the best way to get the message across is to have the wherewithal to be the change I want to see in the world.

Recently my mother and I had an argument about trusting people. I felt that it’s important to approach all people with an open heart, especially in business, and she disagreed. I spent an hour trying to change her mind and got frustrated in the process. When I got off the call I realized I was being ridiculous. The best I can do is lead by example and show that it’s possible to build a successful business career by being a trusting person. The same applies to everything else in my life – the best I can do is lead by example. I try to do this in small ways by working harder, spending less time on social media sites, buying less stuff, and being available to the people around me even when I’m busy. I recently realized that I was ordering small items from Amazon almost once a week. It’s not a big deal, but it seems wasteful to ship a book at a time so I’m trying to be more mindful of how often I order things.

There are so many things we can all do every day to create a better world.  We can buy and use less stuff, recycle, be generous, practice random acts of kindness, and find small ways to serve the people in our lives.  Instead of trying to change the world, how we can start leading by example?  By being the best we can be we create an environment that uplifts others and creates a better world for everyone.

Being a Peaceful Warrior

Sometimes I have long philosophical conversations with my mother. We talk about the nature of love and she often challenges my perspective. I’ve had similar conversations with other people debating the notion that love means accepting everything and giving people a license to walk all over you.

Accepting other people doesn’t mean letting them treat you badly. Love starts with loving yourself first. Loving yourself means being true to yourself. Loving others means serving them. This may seem like an oxymoron – how can you stand up for yourself and serve others at the same time?

Lets take a look at the difference between serving and pleasing. Often it’s hard to truly serve a person because we want some sort of validation or positive response. It becomes about making ourselves feel good. So we end up pleasing a person instead and this might mean letting them walk all over us.

Service is grounded in being honest and direct even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. Thus you are serving truth and genuinely considering the other person’s best interest. The fact is, every person’s best interest is always grounded in truth. If it isn’t, they are living a lie and that doesn’t serve anyone.

To live a life grounded in love you have to be a peaceful warrior. It takes great strength to always be honest with yourself and everyone else. It takes great strength to stand up for yourself and be truly selfless at the same time. Being selfless isn’t about giving yourself up. It is about being the best that you can be so that you can truly serve this world. Seeing that connection between yourself and the world around you is the foundation of love.