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.
A safe space which invokes from the participants openness and suggests many possibilities. It will often be a beautiful space
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
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
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 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.
Again the purpose of Breathing Space is to enable people to
tell their own stories. We try to tell
true, authentic stories.
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 seenWe 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 forWe 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
- 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
James Ashdown December 2009