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The Art of Holding Someone in Inquiry

Last updated on June 30, 2021

succulent flower
I could never sculpt the delicate structures of this plant. The plant must do that for itself. But I can give it a safe space to grow with plenty of sunshine, water, and nourishment.

Holding Someone in Inquiry

When I do The Work of Byron Katie with another person we typically take turns. One person asks the questions while the other answers. Then we switch roles. When I am asking the questions, I am holding the space for the other person to do their inquiry.

This is often quite different from a normal conversation where both sides are wanting to share what is on their mind. When holding someone in inquiry, I am simply allowing them to explore within themselves while answering the question of The Work that I just asked them. 

I trust each person to notice what is going on for them, to identify the thought to question and to find the answers that are true for them when they sit with the questions. I also trust that it is okay if they don’t find much.

This Can Be Hard at First

The mind wants to help the person, to make them feel better, and allowing them to find their own way seems counter-intuitive at first. 

But remember for a moment what it looks like when a parent or teacher does everything for you. For me, it feels disempowering. I want to learn how to do it myself, even if “getting nowhere” is part of the learning. 

So I try to give that same respect to the person I’m working with. I’m encouraging but I’m not interested in doing their work for them. At best, that would be an isolated gain for them and could make them think that I hold the key for them. The Work is about discovering that each person holds the key for herself and that it is within easy reach if one looks for it.

I don’t want to rob them of that experience in favor of a material gain of a quick-release delivered by me (assuming I can even do that). In short, I would rather teach them to fish than to give them a fish.

But There’s a Balance

If I take this thinking to the extreme, I might never say anything to the person. I might become robotic or mechanical or say nothing at all. I might remain cold and distant. And I might never share an insight when it came to me.

This is the other extreme of parenting: don’t give any attention at all and let them figure it all out alone. For me, there can be a meeting of these two opposites, and it becomes clearer with practice. 

On the one hand, I don’t interfere with the person’s process. I know that they will find better answers than I can give them. And that the ones they find themselves are the ones that tend to mean the most. On the other hand, I like to be warm and encouraging and, when appropriate, I do share an insight or two from time to time.

When to Share and When Not to Share

The key to knowing when to share an insight that is coming up for me lies in noticing what is going on for the other person. If someone is struggling, I might share something about how I would answer the question just to give them an idea to get started. Then, I let them find their way. Or I might ask the question again in a slightly different way to support them in answering it.

But if someone is not struggling at all, why would I want to interfere? With people who are experienced in doing The Work, or who are diving in deeply, I most often say nothing at all. I just witness and enjoy their process.

If someone is wanting me to do The Work for them, I encourage them to do it themselves by asking questions in response to their questions. I point them back gently to the task at hand. If someone has doubts or frustration, I listen to their point, let them know how understandable it is (I’ve been there too), and then move back to The Work. 

Sometimes There’s a Connection that Happens

Each interaction is different but there are times when the boundaries between two people seem to almost disappear. We are both working together as equals on the same thing. I don’t know how it happens, but there is a joining and we are both coming up with answers like popcorn. No one is leading the other but we are both deep in our own work, yet enjoying the insights of the other. 

When this happens, it is fun. But I don’t get attached to that approach either. It’s a nice gift, but not at all necessary. When I am open to all the variations of being with someone, I can move from one mode to the other depending on the situation. 

How Do You Find This Flexibility?

For me, this has grown over time. And the number one thing that has helped me become more flexible with the varying needs of my work partners has been this: I question my thoughts about partnering.

I have done it many times, and I continue to do it. After a session with someone, I like to write down any stressful thoughts, especially “I want…” or “I need…” thoughts related to working with them. 

When I question my wants and needs about working with someone, not surprisingly I become less needy. I don’t need them to remember me or be grateful. I don’t need them to have a breakthrough. I don’t need them to ever want to do The Work again. I don’t need to share my insight with them. I don’t need them to see what I’m seeing at all. It is also not necessary to say nothing, or do it “perfectly.” 

The more I question my wants and needs the freer I become when doing The Work with someone. I can’t encourage this practice enough. It changes everything. What is left without all these wants and needs is an open heart, ready to listen, able to support when needed, but not interested in interfering. That is what I would call holding the space for someone as they do their work. This is also how I like to show up in life outside of doing The Work.

Join Us for Nine Weeks of The Work, Sep 13 – Nov 14, 2021

Want to practice doing The Work in a supportive environment? Want to question some of the wants and needs that interfere with holding space? Want to get really clear about the fundamentals as well as the nuances of this beautiful process of self-inquiry? 

The Work 101 is a great way to give yourself the structure and support to do The Work. And after the course, you will be able to join my Inquiry Circle ongoing practice group as we continue to hold each other in this practice for years together.

Learn more and sign up for The Work 101 here.

Have a great week,

“When someone is facilitating The Work, giving the four questions, he’s receiving at another level what I originally received inside me. If he’s really facilitating from a neutral position, without any motive, then he’s in the place where I am on the other side. It just gains in its freedom. It’s in or out: unlimited.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

Further reading: Are You Making Facilitating Harder Than It Is?

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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