Face Up Tarot: holding space

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Some nights sleep is a joke. You’ve been there, the place where you don’t know what will ease you. Or even when you do know – the right snack, time to journal, conscious breath – knowing doesn’t help you do these things.

A few nights ago I lay under a dense layer of unwillingness, the blanket that wouldn’t let go, the bars of the prison of a sleepless bed, a greenhouse of useless thoughts kept me stifled, trapped, and floating in a bog of unnamed feelings. This particular sleepless night happened before the last day of a tantric weekend intensive.

I arrived the next morning with bags under my eyes, feeling numb and restless, and dreading the moment when I’d need to share how the evening’s practice went. Especially the part where it unsettled me so much I couldn’t sleep. Cut to an hour or so later when the instructor asks:

“Are you ready to let go of your childhood trauma?”

I may have been mid-sentence at the time, stumbling through a list of things I had learned, things I was proud of, things that were uncomfortable but that I was willing to feel again. I hadn’t gotten to the part about what I’d learned about my yoni. (Yoni – in Sanskrit ‘sacred space’, in English ‘vagina’ – traditionally a place not so sacred.) Surely it was relevant in an intensive about Yoni Healings?

Relevant or no, there was no space for me to share about this experience. Even though the day began with the reassurance that it was a safe space to talk about any experience. Instead, there was space to talk about trauma and instantaneously letting go of it. Even if I don’t believe that’s how it works. Even if the worst of the sting of my past ordeal is long gone and I already have a daily, monthly, and yearly practice of letting it go. These things, apparently, didn’t matter.

I celebrated my yoni discoveries after the intensive when there was space for it. I celebrated a greater level of awareness and acceptance for this organ. I celebrated a newfound harvest of yoni trust. I let go of the story that there was anything wrong with this part of me, and I did so, in part, without the support of my instructors and also in spite of them.

These lessons might seem unusual looking back, but the truth is I have a lifetime of practice discerning when places are not safe (for me) and then holding my own space. It’s become my passion. It’s why you’ll often find me writing about how to hold space and how to discern when it’s safe to be held. This is the book I’ll write. This is the theme in my readings. This is my purpose.

What does it mean to hold space?

Recently I met this turtle. With the rain we’ve had, there are turtles all around Austin, Tx. But this turtle was big, directly in my bike-riding path, and somehow unique. I didn’t know why exactly but my intuition moved me to pay attention. So much so that I recorded the encounter.

During my tantric intensive I was visited by this animal spirit and reminded of our dance. How it moved slowly toward the grass, and I crept up with my agenda. The turtle saw me and then slowly retreated into its shell, only to come out again once I went away.

The turtle didn’t know what I would do, and though obviously, it was afraid of me, I doubt that turtle wished to be other than it was – faster than humans or predators. It didn’t philosophize. It went into its shell. It trusted that process. Sure, shells are a challenge to wield and require more time to move, but the payoff is the intimate knowledge of, and permanent access to, safety.

I think this is what it means to hold space. Knowing what you need. Giving yourself what you need. Giving others what they need. Silence. Recognition. Security. Practice makes perfect. How do you know it’s safe for someone to hold for you? This topic deserves a book. The short version – it comes down to what they believe, what they are willing to do, and what they can do.

Willingness and ableness are not always the same thing.

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Which cards represent holding space?

I pulled, face up, the cards that reminded me of my dance with a turtle: Knight of rainbows (pentacles) from the Osho Zen Tarot and the five of earth (pentacles) from the Gaian Tarot. These cards show two kinds of spaces, ones that are a part of you and ones out in the world.  Both look secure. The five of pentacles has always reminded me of collaborative safety, the kind we gain with the help of others.

Not once before have I thought of the knight of pentacles as a card for holding space. But it makes sense with its Virgo roots, its mutable earth flavor. The sign that grounds us into our calling and into our diligent acts of service. This knight holds in their hands the seeds of cardinal air and represents the energy that precedes the balance of Libra. This knight’s stillness allows space to contain other things. Who better to hold space?

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Which cards remind you of sacred space? Holding space?
How do you determine if it’s safe for someone to hold for you?
Is willingness enough?

Answer in the comments or use #faceuptarot on Twitter
Keep in touch!

Featured Decks:
Gaian Tarot Colbert Schiffer 2016
Centennial Smith – Waite Tarot US Games 2015
Osho-Zen Tarot Padma St. Martin’s 1995

4 comments

  1. anemonerosie says:

    I love my turtle for a similar reason. He comes from a rescue, and yet (unlike my rescued and anxious cat, or traumatized humans) he is able to move about his world totally unselfconsciously.

  2. Beth
    Beth says:

    What a story, Siobhan. Thanks for sharing it with us and I’m so sorry you had that experience with the instructor.

    The Five of Cups is for me a card of holding space. It’s permission to breathe. Permission to be with whatever I’m carrying, whatever I’m feeling. It doesn’t rush me, it gently witnesses whatever is happening, and lets me know I’m safe, and that when I’m ready to move forwards, there’s support there too. I love it.

  3. jendireiter says:

    Thanks for these wise reflections. I also have been in spiritual or healing-oriented groups where I’ve felt unsafe because the leader or members seem to have a rigid agenda for how healing should occur. The challenge for me then is to accept that this space is not right for ME, but not project a judgment that these people are bad or dangerous.

    Cards that represent holding space for me: in the Gaian deck (the one from your photo of “Five of Earth”) I like the Nine of Fire — depicting chakra meditation as something beautiful and active — and the Eight of Water. The latter reminds me that sometimes the liminal space, the unknown and unsheltered middle of the journey, has to be my safe space because it’s where I am right now.
    http://www.gaiantarot.com/eightofwater/

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