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Holding Space for New Possibilities

April 25


About This Episode

(Season 5, Episode 17)

This is the third is a series of three practicasts centered around “holding space,” a concept we learned from Heather Plett, author of “The Art of Holding Space.” Our co-creator for this series was our OneOp colleague, Kristen Jowers.

In this episode, Bob Bertsch shares a practice for letting go of something in order to let something new emerge.



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Kristen Jowers: New possibilities are opportunities or potential outcomes that arise from changes, innovation, or exploration, expanding the realm of what can be imagined or achieved. Hi everyone, this is Kristen Jowers, guest host for today’s practice. Welcome to this week’s Practicing Connection Practicast, where we highlight a specific practice you can use in your life and work. In this month’s practicast, we’ve been talking about different ways to hold space for others.

Holding space refers to the act of being fully present with someone else without judgment or distraction so that the person can share their experiences and perspective. Bob Bertsch will be guiding us through the practice to help us hold space for new possibilities in a few minutes, but first, let’s learn more about it. Hi, Bob. What does it mean to hold space for new possibilities?

Bob Bertsch: Hi Kristen, thank you so much for guest hosting and for giving me the opportunity to talk about this. As you mentioned before, holding space is about being present without judgment so that experiences and perspectives can be shared. Most times when we’re talking about holding space, we’re doing those things for someone else or even for ourselves. When we’re holding space for new possibilities, however, we’re focused not on people but more on the potential for change.

When there’s a potential for change, we’re in what’s called liminal space, and that’s a place of transition between where we’ve been and where we’re going or between who we are and who we’re becoming. We’re on the threshold of something new in that space, but we’re not quite there yet. Understanding liminal space is important when we’re holding space for others because that’s often the space that we’re holding for them. In her book, The Art of Holding Space, Heather Plett describes liminal space as the space where something, “Has dissolved and a new thing has not yet emerged to take its place.”

When people are experiencing some kind of loss and waiting for the next thing to emerge, we can hold that space for them or help them hold that space so they have the time and support to let that thing emerge instead of clinging to what was before or rushing forward toward things that may mitigate their pain but delay the transition. Let’s think about holding liminal space in the context of any work you’re doing or have done. There’s times when something important in our work, maybe a process we’ve used or a concept that we’ve relied on, or maybe a core value that we’ve realized is not just as important as we thought it was when that thing dissolves.

Our instinct is often to rush to replace it instead of holding that liminal space, the space that we need for new possibilities to emerge. If we can be more comfortable in that liminal space and learn to hold it, then new possibilities will have the chance to emerge. They could be possibilities that just wouldn’t have happened if we skipped over that place of uncertainty, that liminal space.

Kristen: When I hear you describe new possibilities, I think that sounds really exciting, but I like certainty and not knowing can be a really uncomfortable place for me. Why is it so hard?

Bob: It’s definitely difficult because we just don’t like uncertainty, any of us. Like our relations in the animal kingdom, humans are afraid of uncertainty. In an uncertain situation, we will try really almost anything to make things more predictable, including replacing one broken process with another so we can get out of that uncertain liminal space. If we can see liminal space as a space for creation, I think we can balance the fear of that uncertainty with hope and excitement for the possibilities of what is about to emerge.

While that’s helpful to think about those new possibilities with hope and excitement, we also need to be aware that there are cultural norms of efficiency and productivity that are constantly pushing us to move faster and skip over that liminal space. We can’t forget that we’re people as we’re operating within this liminal space. That means that on some level, we’re probably also grieving the loss of what came before. That might sound a little bit weird when we’re talking about a process, but there is going to be some sense of loss and grief even if that something that is dissolving is something that we all agree was not working.. With all of that going on, we need to counterbalance that by being very mindful and intentional about holding onto that liminal space and letting new things emerge.

Kristen: I really appreciate how you punctuate that grief process. How do you decide who holds space and who takes up the space and how do I hold space when no one else in the room is?

Bob: That’s a great question. It’s definitely a challenge to hold liminal space in a group. I don’t know if it is possible for one person alone to hold space for a whole group, like a team, for instance. First, let go of any expectation that you might be putting on yourself to hold that space alone for your whole team or organization. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, and I think we have to let that go.

That said, if the group as a whole is familiar with the concept of holding space and committed to holding space for each other, I think they can hold space for new possibilities even when a particular group member might want to move ahead. When that’s happening, a group can hold space for the member who’s experiencing that fear. It takes some empathy to do that and recognition that way we’re all subject to feeling that way and feeling that fear of uncertainty, and so if the group as a whole can hold space for that person, it can be really effective.

If you’re in a group that hasn’t developed that shared commitment to holding space, recognize it’s not your responsibility to hold that space for the whole group alone, but you can still hold space for new possibilities in your own mind. You can offer new directions for the group if you do it with compassion and empathy. You can point out when the group might be clinging to something that has already dissolved, and you might suggest pausing a conversation when things might be rushing toward a quick fix by just saying something like, “Hey, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Could we take a breath and just think about what might be possible.”

If you express that you feel like something new could emerge, if the group’s willing to hold that space, it might allow the group to join with you in allowing it to do so.

Kristen: Let’s get started. Please walk us through the practice.

Bob: The practice I want to share helps us hold space for new possibilities by getting us used to letting something go and seeing something new emerge. It was inspired by Heather Plett’s personal practice of painting on the same canvas over and over again. Each time she’s covering up something that she created, something that might be beautiful or valuable to her, she’s covering that up with something new.

Heather’s practice reminded me of Austin Kleon’s blackout poetry. What Austin does with blackout poetry is he lets poems emerge from the words in newspaper articles. The practice today, we’re going to create a blackout poem, but if we do it with a newspaper, I don’t think we’re going to get the full effect because there’s no reason for us to want to cling onto a newspaper article, so we want to get that idea of letting go of something and taking some liminal space to let something new emerge.

The first step in the practice is going to be for you to find a piece of writing that has some value to you. My first thought was a page from a book that I love, but you could also use something that you wrote yourself or something that was written for you, like a letter. I think it’s best to do this with a printed copy rather than electronically because we want that little sense of loss.

A note that this is a practice, we don’t want to have really, really high stakes, at least at the start, so you might not want to choose your first edition copy of Walden Pond or the letter your great-grandpa wrote to your great-grandma during World War II. We want to choose something that you value, but something that you can bear to let go of. Now that you have your piece of writing that we’re going to use, next you’re going to need a pen or a fine-tipped marker, so we want something that we can make some fine lines with.

Then we also want a broad-tipped marker, something that we can use to black out the words. If your piece of writing has multiple pages, like a book, randomly choose a page, and then we’re going to scan the page and just note any words or short phrases that stand out to us by drawing a box around them with our pen or fine-tipped marker. Make sure that we’re scanning the page, not reading it. We’re not seeking the meaning of what’s already written. We’re trying to create something new. Once you have some words or phrases selected that stand out to you, and you’ve drawn the box around them, you can start to look for other words that might help connect them into a poem. Here’s an example. Austin Kleon’s got a blackout poem. It’s called Overheard on the Titanic. The main words and phrases that I’m guessing Austin boxed first, the ones that stood out to him was the sentence, “I mean yes, we’re sinking,” the word music, and the word exceptional. Those are the things that probably stuck out to him initially.

Then he found connecting words to turn that into a poem. The connecting words he found are but, the, and is. The poem ends up reading like this. “I mean yes, we’re sinking, but the music is exceptional.” You see how that works. We get our big words, then we can use some connecting words to tie it all together. If you’re having any trouble visualizing this, check out the show notes for this episode at We’ll put a link there to Austin Kleon’s video on how to do blackout poetry.

Now we’ve drawn our boxes around our main words and phrases and our connecting words. They all read the way that we want them to. We’ve connected them all together. We’ve made a little poem. The next step is to take your broad tipped marker and black out all the other words on the page so that all that remains readable are the words that you drew boxes around. This is part of like Heather’s painting over. If we just drew boxes around the words in our book, for instance, we might not have really made anything new and we really haven’t let go of that page.

We could still read that page just like we read it without the boxes around the words. Once we black out all the other words, we’re really creating something new and letting go of something old. Then once you’ve blacked out those words, that’s it. That’s your blackout poem. You’ve let go of something that you valued and held the space necessary for something new to emerge. If you’d like, take a photo of your blackout poem, share it with friends, or you can post it to the Practicing Connection community on LinkedIn, and that’ll give you an opportunity to share your experience and reflect on how it felt to hold space for new possibilities.

Kristen: That’s wonderful, Bob. Thank you for guiding us through.

Bob: You’re welcome.

Kristen: That’s it for this episode. Thanks for joining us. We hope you’ll give this practice a try and share your experience, as Bob said, in the Practicing Connection LinkedIn group where people supporting military families practice the skills that empower us to work together so that we can positively impact our communities and help families thrive. You’ll find that link to the group on our website at We’ll be back next week with an in-depth episode discussing how to watch for opportunities to think big, one of the eight ways of cultivating community resilience that we identified in our Connecting Communities in Asset Based Community Recovery project. Until then, keep practicing.

Kalin Goble: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of One Op and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense, under award numbers 2019-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.


[00:14:00] [END OF AUDIO]


April 25
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