Active Listening and Holding Space

The Magazine: Active Listening and Holding Space

Alexandra Roxo is a writer, transformational coach and the co-founder of Moon Club. She went from a career in film and television to hearing the call to help assist others in sharing their voices. Alexandra helps women gain the confidence and courage to take a stand in their lives and own their transformational processes.

What is “active listening” and why is it important?

The way I teach active listening is similar to being in a transcendental meditation. It’s as though words are your drug — you should be that connected to what someone is saying. You do that by holding a straight spine and a soft belly, breathing deeply and continuing to offer your breath, spine and eye contact to whomever is sharing, whether it’s two people in a conversation or you’re listening in a group.

It might seem obvious, but it also requires you to stop looking at your phone. Most of the time when we’re talking to someone, we’re thinking about something else. When our phone is in our hands, we’re even more likely. A lot of the time we’re just postering connection — we’re not really connecting — so we’re still hungry for it, and we seek it in food, alcohol, drugs, or from dopamine hits we might get from “likes” on Instagram. So when the opportunity to connect with a real life human is there, it’s vulnerable to give them your breath and your attention, even without saying a word — far more vulnerable than eating something that’s going to give us a fast hit of pleasure. If we really allow someone’s words or story to be breathed in, it’s a risk because it might impact ua, it might change our internal state in a way that we cannot control, and that’s scary to most people.

For example, what if I ask, “How are you?” and I’m really listening to you, and you say, “You know what, I’m not doing well. Someone passed away and I’m really sad.” If I’m really allowing you to speak and I’m listening, there is a real risk that I may be impacted. Or, that I might have to show up in a certain way. So most people would rather keep it surface, keep it light, not get vulnerable, not get real, not get authentic, and get their connections or pleasure or sense of well being from places that are “safe.”. But then you have all of these people feeling incredibly lonely, scrolling on social media all day. Loneliness is a huge issue, and it’s getting worse. So the act of committing to listening and sharing with depth, is a radical act these days. It’s much easier to stay in your bubble of safety and stay disconnected.

Everyone should practice active listening. It will help you to become a more present, vibrant, beautiful, alive human — which is literally just putting your phone down and paying attention and breathing with the person.

What exactly does it mean to “hold space” for someone?

“Holding space” has become a trendy buzzword, but it can mean so many different things. To me, holding space is showing up for someone and creating a “container” between two people. A “container” is another trendy buzzword, but to me it’s an “intentional space.” That “intentional space” can be defined by time, a financial exchange, a setting — even if that sounds abstract. When two people are sharing from depth, a “space” is created. Say I run into you in the grocery store and I’m having a bad day and you ask, “How are you really doing,” and you want to hold space for me.Well, it might not be a safe container to have that depth at the grocery store, so set and setting really matters. If you think about it, holding space is creating the set and setting so a person can share the vulnerable truth from their heart with another person.

You don’t want to go around asking people if they want you to hold space for them because essentially, you’re saying that you can hold whatever is going to come. Well, you don’t really know if you can hold that, so don’t go around offering to “hold space.” Depending on what is being said, you might not be the one to hold space. People that are holding space for other people’s transformations or healing (like I do) do it in a safe container, in a certain amount of time, and there are very clear boundaries.

Holding space is not about fixing people.

Holding space for someone needs to be intentional. Otherwise it’s not your business. “Holding space” implies you’re holding a bowl and someone is pouring water in the bowl. If you’re holding space for me, you’re the bowl and I’m the water.

Can you hold space for yourself?

Yes, but I would call it “making space.” I think a part of self-care is making space for yourself. Making space is putting time on your schedule to do nothing or sit outside or take a walk or not be in “productive biohacking” mode.

For me, I have “Surrender Saturdays” where I really try to keep my phone away all day, take a hike, I go to 5Rythms Dance and I really try to drop into my feminine, into my wildness, into my fierceness, into my softness — all of the things that I may not be able to access when I’m sitting at a computer all week.

You talk about “dropping into your feminine.” Can you explain the feminine and masculine paradigm?

I use the binary terms “masculine” and “feminine” to give us a language to quantify certain human properties and qualities. The universe exists in polarities, in opposites.

If you look at the patriarchy in the last few thousand years of men primarily being the ones in power and biologically, the desire to hunt or to kill, or even to go out and protect young, it’s about rebounding from that patriarchal place. The amount of animals that are near extinction is really sad and alarming, along with deforestation and climate change. The place where we’re at globally shows that there’s a feminine and masculine imbalance. Things got a little out of whack.

We haven’t had many women in power, most cultures are not sharing feelings, and most cultures don’t have women’s voices and stories present.

I’m speaking in a generalization, but in the loss of the feminine — not just the soft feminine, but the wild feminine, the angry feminine, the fierce feminine, the rageful feminine — all of those properties have been washed away.

If you look at an imbalance in the body, and you realize that you haven’t eaten vegetables for years, it’s going to take time to repair. It’s not an overnight job — to not play in the capitalist, patriarchal ballgame. It’s going to take people taking risks to continue to shine a light and say the system isn’t quite working, verses coming into that already-existing system and playing by the same rules.

Why do you teach women how to reconnect with their bodies?

A lot of women come to me because they feel disconnected from their bodies, from their hearts, from their femininity — they feel like they’ve been living in this capitalist, masculine paradigm of “go, go, go” and “do, do, do,” and they’ve been disconnected from their intuition, from their wombs, from their natural cycles. And so oftentimes, part of “claiming your voice” and “owning your story” and having the courage to speak vulnerably starts with coming back into the body.

That may sound far out for some people, but it’s reconnecting to the body as an internal language. We’re comfortable listening to our minds, but listening to our bodies is a language that we don’t do as much, otherwise we wouldn’t be working such long days. If we had a direct dialogue with our bodies, we would potentially have greater harmony and be sharing our messages and gifts from a deep place, and not from what we think the world wants, or what we think might make us money, but instead, what our hearts really want to share, which is usually the medicine that the world needs..

I’m helping women reacquaint themselves with their hearts, their bodies, their fullness, and with the full-spectrum of their emotional self, creating emotional literacy and emotional intelligence, and then learning how to share or how to love from that place. I lead circles and workshops and retreats using really ancient and simple modalities like storytelling, breathwork and ritual. So it’s not dogmatic, it’s non-hierarchical; I’m a facilitator and a guide, and my goal is to not just perpetuate the old ways of teaching and learning, but to create the space where people can learn from each other. It’s about discontinuing the patriarchal paradigm of, “You pay me to be your expert and to help you,” but instead, “I teach you how to help yourself.”

What does it mean to share space?

Part of the problem is that we haven’t been inclusive — it’s a “me for me” world. We don’t want to share spaces. But somebody has to be willing to walk to the edge and create it. When we get there, the point is not just to elevate alone until we’re at the top of a cliff, but to say, “Come here, it’s safe.” When we share our story, our heart, the things we’ve been through as humans, the things we’ve all overcome, we stop pretending that we’ve all got it made — we become more human. So why are we avoiding that and only talking about the great stuff? Why aren’t we acknowledging that we’re all in a human struggle, and that if we talk about it, we may alleviate some of it?

What have you learned through holding space for others?

I think the thing that I’ve learned from being a transformational coach is that one of the most powerful things we can do is give each other a platform to share, to share authentically and vulnerably and with people that are actually listening. That in itself becomes a part of one’s personal process that can skyrocket you into a new zone in your life — in your finances, in love, in your concept of self — and often we don’t have to do as much as we think. There are so many great practices and tools out there, but this old basic thing that we have lost, which is the depth of connection between two humans, has to happen in spaces with safety and depth.

Once that happens, I’ve seen women come into a room and share something from depth and leave a whole different person — just by claiming their story, owning it and sharing it with others. And now they have the power to change, to transform, to heal and to expand. I really hope that we are able to pull down the masks that we’ve been carrying (the “keep calm and carry on” mentality) and get real, and be real, because the masks separate our hearts and our human experiences so we don’t care that we’re hurting the earth and each other. We don’t care about any of it if we have our masks on that are saying, “No I gotta keep it cool, I gotta look good, I gotta get the likes.”

My hope is that for those of us that are willing to share again and again how embarrassingly human we are, that we can come together again and regain empathy and connection to the earth and one another. It starts with us being real within ourselves; there’s no way we’re going to feel the pain of the earth or others or indigenous people if we can’t feel it within ourselves first. Otherwise we’re just faking it.

Editor's note: interview conducted on May 20, 2019 and edited for length and clarity.

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