To Be A Pilgrim … The Journey to Living Well

Why we use the phrase a journey to living well with an experience.

For those we support recovery or restoration of what was before may not always be achievable. The experience of abuse and trauma within faith often changes lives and the way we live. The term journey to living well with an experience is we feel a kinder reframing and takes of any pressure to conform to a standard of recovery. This personalises the journey and allows living well to be defined by the individual. This allows the individual to redefine a renewed selfhood and to honour what was lived before if they wish. The concept of journey rather than a destination allows for living well to evolve over time and allows for the journey to take as long as it takes. This removal of expectation in relation to destination, time and others opinion is kind, respectful and person centred.

“For the one whose life cohesion has been shattered, the ideal being sought is not the restoration of what once was, but the potential creation of a renewed self and/or communal identity.  Such a “new” identity must be capable of honoring what was lived before while nevertheless being shaped into a selfhood now rearranged to be able to more fully engage its present world.”

W S Schmidt 2009

Holding Space and Creating a Safe Space.

At Replenished Life we hold space and create a safe place for those on a journey to wellness or living well with their experience.

“Shame dies when stories are told in safe spaces.”

Ann Voscamp

Holding space is about being present for someone without judgement. It means you donate your ears and heart without wanting anything in return. It involves practicing empathy and compassion. You accept someone’s truths, no matter what they may be, and put your needs and opinions aside, allowing someone to just be. Holding space may appear to be easy, but sometimes our own opinions and egos can get in the way, making it a bit more difficult to put into practice.

There are some skills needed to hold space but these can be learnt. It does require a bit of internal reflection and practice– a pilgrimage of its own!

How to hold space effectively and safely!

Keep it safe for everyone!

The most important point is that this needs to be done safely. If you are holding space in an organisation this should be done in contact with pastoral care teams and safeguarding to ensure that this is done safely.

This should be collaborative, empowering, encouraging and supporting, if someone does not want you to hold space then don’t hold that space. Individual needs may vary from day to day so if someone doesn’t want to talk on a given day then don’t push it. Just letting someone know you are available if and when they are ready can mean the world.

This can be a difficult experience for the listener so make sure you have support for yourself too.

Know your Limits

We must be clear that this is not about providing therapy or counselling. You need to be clear that your role here is to listen and not to fix or even to provide first aid. Any trauma first aid, pastoral care, mental health advice, counselling or therapy must only ever be delivered by those who are qualified and trained to do so. If you need to seek advice or signpost them to other resources or services then do so.

Start by practicing active listening. 

Active listening is the art of listening not just to hear what the person is saying but listening to understand. It involves not only your ears but also your heart. It requires you to be fully present so remove any distractions such as phones, laptops and let others know that you should only be disturbed in emergencies.  

Listening without judgment. 

This one can be hard, but the true definition of non-judgmental is someone or something that does not express an opinion. We all have opinions, and it is in our nature to share them, but when holding space for someone, you must remove your opinion from the conversation and allow the other person the space to present theirs. 

Practice loving kindness. 

Loving kindness is a Buddhist philosophy that involves cultivating compassion and love for all living beings, Earth, and the self. There is a popular loving kindness meditation mantra that reads, “May all human beings everywhere be healthy, happy, and free.” It is the art of sending positive and loving thoughts to all in the universe.

Loving Kindness is also echoed in the second greatest commandment.  

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Mark 12 v 30 and 31.
Make room for others

Make room for and allow the other person to feel all that they need to feel. Hold them if they need to cry, or allow them to yell or scream, if necessary. (Bearing in mind safeguarding, gender and personal choice or needs).

Let go of the “fix it” mentality. 

Our natural instinct in most cases is to offer solutions when we see people in pain, sometimes mentioning things that might make us feel better. Be there to listen only. The process of moving through pain is individual, and the only way past it is to sit with it.

Be careful with scripture, prayer or prophecy. These could potentially be triggering or difficult for those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith. These are powerful tools and the language you use in prayer or prophesy need to be carefully thought through and selected, especially if there has been an experience of abuse and trauma within faith. Please also remember that those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith may find it difficult to say no or feel under an obligation to say yes because of past expectations.

Reflective Practice

We would advise practising these skills 5 or 10 mins at a time and asking for feedback. We should also be asking for honest feedback in our conversations and listening. That is all part of building relationships in which space can be held.

We are all on our own journeys and if we all practice holding space all our journeys become that little bit easier.

William S Schmidt June 2009 Transformative Pilgrimage Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health 11(1-2):66-77

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