I’m pretty passionate about speaking in ‘real’, non-jargony words, and there are times when I suddenly realize I’ve been using a phrase that not only isn’t clear, but may in fact (for some people) have a very different meaning than I intend!For example, many years ago, I’d say to people “Be gentle with yourself.”

One day as I listened to someone’s response to me, it was clear he was understanding me to say something like “this is too hard for you to handle, so wrap yourself in cotton baton and coddle yourself”. This interpretation was so strikingly counter to anything I had in mind it woke me up. Sitting and feeling into what I was intending to communicate led to the birth out of me of the Attentional Living Cycle – with its familiar facets you’ve no doubt heard me repeat often:

Notice … Accept … Nurture
I recently caught myself in what feels like another of these unclear statements (with multiple possible interpretations) that I’d like to explore and clarify. It’s what I mean when I speak of holding each other in community. This one actually has a double whammy of possible confusion. What does it actually mean to hold someone, especially in the context of the often ambivalent experiences many of us have had in community?

Let’s start with the second part. I end pretty much every eNews with an invitation to connect with our Realizing RICH Relationships community. I know for myself, and I hear all the time from others in this community what a powerful and safe container we co-create. Sadly, I know whether we’re talking about family, work, or social communities, that’s often not the norm.

For most of us experiences in community have often included coercion and limitation; the requirement for sameness, and the threat of censure, punishment, shaming (or worse – exclusion or banishment) of those who dare to be different. Quite understandably, those of us who don’t have positive experiences of being held in community are often wary of engaging in them. Without the experience of being respected or trusted, it’s not surprising we have a hard time respecting and trusting ourselves – or others.

Co-creating intergenerational community – many years ago. The little boy in the foreground turned 35 yesterday. Happy Birthday, Matthew!

Nurturing co-creative partnerships has long been a passion of mine. Whether we gather virtually, or in person, myintention and commitment is to create safe spaces where the unique contribution of each one is encouraged and supported. Just this morning I received a text message from a member of our community that read: “Thank you for your message. It is an incredible gift. I feel so deeply loved and held…beyond my wildest imaginings. So deeply grateful for your love and presence in my life. Wishing you a beautiful and meaningful day…filled with love and laughter!”

As those who join me here know, being part of the community certainly isn’t always comfortable, but it does mean that each one is respected, honoured, and supported in their choices and expression, in the best way we can.

This week I was listening to Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin’s conversation with On Being’s Krista Tippet. In exploring Rebellion and the Human Spirit, they wandered through the complicated and sometimes messy spaces that connect our inner lives and our outer world. I was particularly struck by Parker Palmer’s comment that the complexity of this world can really only be held by communities in which we live with both “chutzpa and humility”, and Courtney Martin’s call to the dance between “solitude and solidarity.”

Together in our Realizing RICH Relationships community, we have a commitment to R-espect ourselves and each other, I-ntimacy and openness to the degree that’s appropriate for the relationship in that moment, C-ourage as we are supported and encouraged in being as fully expressed as we can be now, and honouring our own and each other’s H-umanity in those times when we act in ways that fall short of our best intentions.
There’s a powerful commitment to have our attention flowing between the needs of the community, and the individual. The safety of the container is fiercely guarded, while each individual is supported, celebrated and their freedom honoured – they are held in an open hand.

What does this look like practically? Here are a few examples:

  • While there is absolutely an honouring of our humanity, we hold fiercely, and guard of the safety of the container. So while expression of anyhuman emotions are honoured and welcomed, we have a commitment to holding ourselves and others with respect and kindness in all our interactions.
    Co-creating RICH intentional community today …
  • There’s also a strong stand for the honouring of choice, even when the choice is different from what we might prefer. I remember a situation years ago when part way through a community gathering, one of the members shared they were planning to leave before the main celebration, because she had another group she also wanted to be with. Though there was some disappointment that she’d be leaving, it was crucial for me that she be both appreciated for her choice to be with us, AND, be supported in her decision to leave.
  • As we expand our own capacity to hold ourselves and sit with our own discomfort, we develop a greater capacity to be present to others, and respond to their requests for support without the need to fix or change. Just this week I had a call from someone with a request that he be held in this way. “Do you have some time to talk today? I’m feeling shaky about something that’s happening, and I could use some Maralyn-touch time.” As we ended our conversation, I pointed out that there was nothing new in what I’d shared with him. After listening to him in his shakiness, I’d simply reminded him of some things he knew to be true, but couldn’t in that moment access for himself. This is all that was needed to re-connect him with himself. It’s one of the most common (and powerful) ways I know of holding each other in community.
  • Knowing that community support is there, and they’ll be held as they honour their need to step back from the community for a while is another powerful way we hold each other. Acting on this knowing played an important part in this person’s coming home to and anchoring more deeply in the clarity of what was true for them. They did so confident that when it was time, they could return without fear of pushback or censure, rather that their return would be welcomed and celebrated.
  • Finally, there’s a phrase I often use, “I’m holding you in love, and possibility.” It’s a powerful and open-ended way of holding others that doesn’t require us to know any specifics of what’s happening, and is equally valid when we do know. Years ago a colleague’s wife had been killed in a car accident. When we connected at the visitation he was bereft. “I don’t know how to be me without her”, he said to me. With tears and tenderness I hugged him and responded “As a community, we’ll hold that possibility for you while you figure it out.”
I hope this exploration’s been of value to you – writing it has clarified my own thinking! If any of it has touched a place or triggered questions in you, I’d love to hear about it. Please reach out. I’m excited to partner with those who feel drawn to co-create RICH community, and I hold the vision of a world where these skills and capacities are the norm. In the meantime, I hold you in love, and possibility!

Nurturing juicy co-creative partnerships
…with ourselves, others & life!