How we hold space

IssueApril - May 2022
News by Muzammal Hussain

It wasn’t just about the day. As we walked to the bus stop that evening, we felt a deep gratitude for the experience we had just been immersed in. As the three core members of an Islamic ecological training and change-making group – Wisdom In Nature (WiN) – our day in North London at a private gathering with the Zapatistas along with local activist groups, felt reaffirming, inspiring and growthful.

What was reaffirming about the day was the emphasis on how to hold space. The richness of the transformative sharings we had experienced was not only because of the day itself. It was also the careful and clear framing of the day that had happened in the lead up to it.

In Wisdom In Nature, while we have always emphasised process – how things are done, and not just the what – sometimes we have felt shy in sufficiently centring this how in our engagements with other groups.

After all, what normally tends to be valued when we connect is racing forcefully towards hard, attention-grabbing outcomes resting on the ‘foundations’ of superficial interactions. Valuing process and authentic relationship-building, where we let go of assumptions to allow space to understand one another, can make you seem like you live on a different planet.

The Zapatistas had been very clear from the start. There were to be no recordings, no photographs, no filming: this was not about ticking another box and posting on social media.

It was about meaningful sharing.

There was to be no alcohol consumed in their presence and they were not interested in big demonstrations.

The day was framed to be for a handful of different groups to listen to each other about one another’s struggles. The Zapatistas wanted to listen as much as to share.

There was interpretation from English to Spanish when the local groups’ representatives shared, and from Spanish to English when the delegation of six Zapatistas spoke.

Rather than creating a barrier, this enhanced the intended quality of slowness and taking time for us to understand each other’s journeys and challenges.


Yet, this wasn’t talk that is meant to stay in the realm of ideas. The story of the Zapatistas we heard also embodied the quality of ‘discernment’: knowing when it is the right moment to pause, to gather and to reflect – and knowing when it is the right moment to take concrete action. Both are necessary.

WiN’s strap-line is ‘Awareness, Reflection, Action’.

In our own experience, when we have applied this discernment, albeit on a much smaller scale, outward action has been much more grounded and meaningful because the foundations of that necessary inner work have taken root.

Thus, the day was an invitation for us in WiN to step more courageously into the values and story we believe in – the story where process and authentic relationship are much more central.

We are being invited to not be shy and to trust in that which we value.

On a practical level, this may even mean saying ‘No’ to certain superficially-attractive collaborations where meaning is lacking, and instead directing our limited time and energies along a different direction: one that co-nurtures what we see the world as more deeply needing and what we are practising to more maturely and skilfully embody.

It is about being receptive and valuing these partnerships of resonance.

While I also feel a fear as I share this, sensing this to be a path that is less travelled, I feel a power and magic that I know we need to embrace for the emergence of the birthing of what we are here for.

Topics: Zapatistas