Breathing Space

Breathing space: a reply to our questions!

This short paper returns to the questions which Geoffrey developed at the beginning of our journey and seeks to simply outline what understanding we have articulated in our three year journey into Breathing Space.  I think in many ways we have answered our questions – even if in a partial and tentative way.

          The physical space needed for Breathing Space

A safe space which invokes from the participants openness and suggests many possibilities.  It will often be a beautiful space

          The relationship between the 'host' and the 'guest'

The focus is on the guest as they tell their story but mutuality emerges as the host also lets his/her story emerge.  The host is conscious of deeper issues such as power and sexuality

          The process of Breathing Space

It begins with a welcome and safety and develops through the telling of stories into the true complexity of life which is reflected on and chewed over.  It feeds back into day-to-day life where it makes a real difference, here it challenges the politics of power and control

          The language of Breathing Space

A dominant language is the language of story.  We repeatedly talk about it.  Other important words are listening and questions.  There is also a focus on the person and the human, on life and experience and hosting and hospitality.  Other words which recur are process, attention, awareness, time, deep, power and political.  The verbs make and create are often used.  Guest and friend are also used, as are soul and spiritual

          The questions that arise

The purpose of Breathing Space is to enable people to ask their own questions.  People tend not to get the space to be able to do this.  Breathing Space seeks to challenge the power that is always making its questions dominant.  The questions Breathing Space gives room for are often difficult and awkward.

          The stories that are told

Again the purpose of Breathing Space is to enable people to tell their own stories.  We try to tell true, authentic stories.

          The connections that are made

Breathing space above all enables host and guest to make connections between their stories and their questions.  When we realise that someone else has the same questions then we can experience liberation and can perhaps begin to join hands with those people who are asking the same difficult questions.  It is by telling true, authentic stories that these questions and connections are created.

         The new possibilities that are seen

We believe that the simple, normal process of offering Breathing Space does begin to open up new possibilities, of course, we and other people need to work this out in our day to day lives but it does provide hope and strength and new ways of looking at things.

         What skills and understanding are needed for hosting Breathing Space?

The skill is to get yourself out of the way and listen with attentiveness and awareness.  It is the ability to create an environment which evokes the authentic stories and the difficult questions.  Then as connections are made the host can risk introducing his or her own story in the hope that it will illuminate and create a true sharing and mutuality.

         What skills and understanding are needed for someone to make use of Breathing Space?

The ability to tell your own authentic story.  The courage to ask the difficult questions.  But above all, simply, the desire to go on this journey.

         How we listen and what we are listening for

We listen with attentiveness, looking for patterns and the wider picture.  We listen to the person’s heart, to their story and their questions.  We let ourselves as a fellow human being be drawn into their life but without ever forgetting our separateness or their uniqueness.

         What distinguishes Breathing Space from

-         therapy
-         work consultancy
-         non-managerial supervision
-         mentoring
-         coaching
-         spiritual direction

It seems to me that at its heart Breathing Space attempts a certain mutuality.  It is a space with very clear boundaries which is different from friendship or a sexual relationship but it does believe that it is only through the mutual sharing of stories and questions that our true humanity can emerge.  Certainly there is a difference between host and guest – the host creates the space and the guest and enters into it.  The guest brings their story and this is always the main theme but both host and guest draw nourishment from the encounter as their stories interpenetrate and mingle with each other.  This does not require full disclosure from either partner but it develops in its own way and with its own pattern in each unique relationship.  Perhaps it is somewhere here wherein lies the distinctiveness of Breathing Space as we have tried to articulate it.

         What difference does Breathing Space make

-         for the individual
-         for the world? 

For the individual their stories become more vivid and real.  Their questions are better articulated.  They are not so alone and are better able to connect with others who are travelling a similar journey, asking similar questions.  They learn a lot about themselves and are better equipped to live their day to day lives even though Breathing Space may actually make them more dissatisfied!  For the world we believe Breathing Space opens up alternatives – it is a vital part of a democratic society.  It challenges the hegemony of the powerful by asking awkward questions and enabling different stories to be told.

James Ashdown December 2009