Holding Space in the Weight of Time
A few years ago, I found myself in conversation with a wise, older woman. She was a midwife and I was asking her about her work and in turn, she asked me if I wanted to have children some day.
“Someday” I said, in the highly-practiced, non-committal way I had been answering the question since my mid-twenties.
“It will teach you to relax your need for control,” she responded, not at all snarkily, but genuinely – the dark blue pools of her smile-creased eyes gazing deep into my being.
I laughed, but made a mental note:
Work harder on burying evidence of type-A personality.
Today, I am not too concerned you know I’m a little bit neurotic and quite a bit of a stress-prone, overachieving perfectionist. Rather, I am concerned about hiding the truth from you. As a pastor, I talk a lot about being primarily interested in walking alongside a community in authenticity, in relationships of presence as we spiral closer to each other and the Holy. But to do more than just pay lip service to that vision, I have to be willing to live in a place of authenticity and presence…which is a scary place for most of us to be. Being authentic means telling the truth about who we are – not moving from a place of shame, but a place of truth-telling, courage, and compassion.
So, I want to tell you a piece of the journey I’ve been on in the temporal space of the last 6 months. I want to tell you because I think that you want to experience life as a present, integrated, embodied and connected being, too. I think you might not always know how to root yourself in this embodied moment when there are things to worry about – the mortgage, credit card debt, your kids, your aging parents, your partner, your job, your … etc., etc. And I want to tell you this because I believe becoming who we are (present, integrated, embodied and connected) is a profoundly spiritual journey.
So here’s how this story begins – six months ago with an invitation to encounter anxiety in a way I have never before experienced.
I use invitation on purpose – because, for me anyway, pregnancy hasn’t forced me to relinquish control. I can still choose to grit my teeth and plow through. It might not serve me very well, but it is an option.
The only other option that seems available to me is an invitation to another way of being, which doesn’t involve denying my experience, but is curious about what it would be like to be fully present to my experience – even if that means sitting with anxiety, loss of control, and fear.
I suspect feeling so close to the invitation is triggered by the bodiliness of my experience. I am a person who lives mostly in my head – who has to practice starting sentences with “I feel…” because my natural inclination is to say “I think.”
But I did not think I was so exhausted I could sleep entire Saturdays away the first 6 weeks, or think I was sick every day from week 7-20, or think the baby moved on the Wednesday of our 21st week together.
My body is holding knowledge in a way I didn’t know was possible, feeling and mediating reality in a way I have never trusted it to do. This is a new (and frightening) way to move about in the world.
My mind cannot control what my body is experiencing.
I’ve had a plentiful amount of late night (and early night, and afternoon, and morning) sessions with myself, mind in overdrive as I maneuver my way through whatever anxiety I’m currently experiencing, using every tool in my bag to take back control from my weepy heart or tired spirit or nervous body. It works – takes great mental effort, considerable time, and lasts for … approximately 30 minutes.
It will teach you to relax your need for control …
Yes, but only if I welcome it as a teacher.
Maybe you don’t have any issues – no anxiety or worry or self-doubt or fear or shame … But on the off-chance you do, I wonder what is making itself available to you as a teacher?
What is inviting you to enter time in a different way?
As I’ve been on this journey, I’ve started to think about time in moments, rather than hours or weeks or trimesters. Rather than focus on the anxiety of the results of a test in the next few hours, or what *might* happen during the next 13 weeks (and beyond), I’ve been trying to breathe space into moments.
What am I feeling in this moment? The one I find myself in currently?
If I find myself feeling anxiety, can I just hold it – rather than trying to reason it away?
Can I remember the presence of God in this moment?
Can I notice what else is happening – am I breathing or holding my breath? What does it feel like to inhale and to pay attention to the exhale?
In these moments, time seems to become more spacious. It is not a moment my brain is convincing me to “get through” – it is just a moment to be fully present in.
My dad’s been sick. Since mid-summer, our family has spiraled in and out of doctors appointments, phone calls relating a strange new symptom, medications that make things better and then worse. The path is just beginning to feel familiar to me, now. The cycle of seeing a new doctor, waiting anxiously by the phone for a report of the diagnosis, a wave of hopefulness that too soon gives way to fear. This is our new normal – it will be our pattern. It’s a little bit like liturgical time – repeating the same seasons over and over again, moving through familiar scriptures, living more deeply into the story of our faith by tracing our footsteps. What would it look like to be fully present in the liturgies of our lives? I imagine it would mean breathing into and with the familiar (even if uneasy) patterns of time. Being present in the moments. Holding space in the weight of the time that we find ourselves in – rather than working hard to occupy space in the past or the future.
As I begin to practice holding embodied spaciousness in time – I need ritual to remind me what I’m doing.
I need to burn a bit of sage and sit cross-legged in the middle of my bed, eyes closed and palms facing up in a receptive posture as I breathe slowly and deeply in the morning. This is the only way I know to pray right now – breathing into the certain flow of the current that is the Holy.
In the evening, I need to light candles and turn off the lamps, the television, my iPhone – reminding myself that there is a different way to move about in the world. We are not bound to the frantic pace of our anxious minds. We are meant to hold sacred space, to be present in the moments, to create spaciousness in time.
During the day, I need to see the beads of my prayer bracelet – a constant reminder that to enter into prayer is to enter kairos time – the time of the Holy, unbound by minutes and seconds, the fullness of time experienced in the presence of God.
I need these reminders and rituals because I am not practiced at moving through the world in this way. I succumb very easily to the rush of a lifestyle and a culture that moves as quickly as it can, toward some indeterminate goal, eyes closed to shut out whatever might distract and slow us down – as if moving quickly will prevent pain or sorrow or loss.
Where do you need to slow down – to experience time differently – to be fully present? I suspect it is within the space you struggle. Rather than pushing it away, what would happen if you welcomed it as your teacher? If you walked with it into the fullness of time?
You won’t be there alone – I will be here … burning sage, lighting candles, twisting the beads on my wrist … breathing, as together we learn what it means to become present to ourselves, to each other, and to God – to hold space in weighty time.