Maia Toll
Don’t pass the tissues.

The group looked at me in horror.

Really? The poor woman has snot dripping down her face and I think that’s a little spit on the side of her mouth.

Yup. Still don’t pass the tissues.

This is one of the toughest lessons us humans need to learn.

We want to fix every problem with hugs or cookies or sound financial advice. We wanna show up with screw drivers or swords or whatever the heck is needed to help you get your house in order and slay your internal dragons.

We humans feel good when we’re helping.

And that’s the problem: helping is often as much about the helper as it is about the helpee.

So I’m sitting in the circle of women, clasping my hands together to keep from reaching for the box of Kleenex (it’s not that I lack empathy, it’s that I’ve learned from countless circles and clients that there’s something better than passing those tissues). I shove my internal dialogue about wanting to pass those dang tissues into the back corner of my brain as I focus my attention on the woman across the circle who’s unraveling. My face is schooled to neutral and my body language is attentive (but not invasive. No leaning in, thank you.) I’m picturing a circle around all of us, keeping her safe as she digs into her own dark places.

This is how to hold space. And it’s hard as hell.

When you work in the realms of healing and interpersonal transformation (which is also the realms of being a parent, a friend, or an employer if you’re doing those things consciously), you quickly realize that people need 3 things to grow:

  • guidance,
  • accountability
  • space to learn to hear their own inner voice and to learn to trust it

It’s hard to learn to trust yourself if the outside world is foisting their emotions and opinions and tissues on you.

What you need more than tissues is a safe space to hear yourself think. Click To Tweet


I often joke that, like blood, my thoughts change color when they hit the air.

This is true for many of us; sometimes we need space to speak in order to understand ourselves.

And those of us on the edge of the circle? Our job is to crack open a sliver of quietude in the busy-ness of this world, and then protect that quiet moment with all we’ve got.

When we can voice our thoughts, feelings, and intuitions—even if they don’t “make sense” or conform to societal notions of what you should say out loud—we begin to uncover bits of ourselves that are wounded or uncertain. And bringing these bits to the light initiates healing. It’s the beginning point for wholeness, it’s the moment someone begins to take back their power and comes home to themselves.

People are transformed by being able to safely share their story.

Being heard and feeling understood is one of the most important parts of the process we go through to heal not only our bodies but also our spirits.

And so I wait. It’s hard, hard, hard to wait. To not hug. To give space. To make space sacred.

But in this sacred space, I don’t get to dump my desires on someone else, even if my desire is to clean up the snot stream before it reaches her hair. She’s in charge and even the choice of a tissue is potent with power.

And then the moment comes. She reaches for the Kleenex…. and I ask her if she wants a hug.

If you want a hug, I’m sending a big one—