#2 The Spanish Butterfly Blog: Holding Space for Pain

Ah Sevilla! The beautiful land of flamenco, polka dots, paella, sangria, orange trees, Moorish architecture, painted fans, and labyrinth-like streets.  Oh how I love it!  And during Easter Week, Seville is home to one of the largest Semana Santa celebrations in the world.  

Every day, all day, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the streets are filled with long processions, each one snaking through crowded streets, sometimes as many as nine simultaneously.  Hundreds of hooded penitents holding yard-long candles followed by marching bands escort the main events.  First Jesus and then his mourning mother each on their own large ‘Paso’ (float) carried by dozens of strong men hidden beneath.  

Each passing day tells the story of Jesus, from entering Jerusalem on a donkey to his hanging from the cross. But Mary is unchanging, always silently following her son. She is canopied behind a shield of candles with crystal tears on her cheeks and a sword in her heart. The Virgin Mary neither runs from her son’s horrors nor does she fight to stop them. She maintains the strength to hold her pain and his, to accept his fate, and to stay with him on his difficult journey.

As a therapist, holding space, being a container for other’s trials, pain and sorrow has been the bedrock of my career. Yet, in my private life, it can still be a challenge: if my daughter calls with a problem, my quick impulse is to advise, to solve, to suggest solutions.  However, what she needs from me is more simple: to be with her in her pain and to accept the necessity of her path.

As I watch this grieving mother paraded through the streets, thronged by solemn crowds, I am reminded that our world is rich with emotions that cannot be fixed: sorrow, disappointment, betrayal, and grief. And I take in this lesson, that holding space for the emotions of others and accepting the healing power of their experience are the most powerful acts of love.  Offering this, in the end, provides comfort and solace to others in a world desperately in need of such gifts.

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