The biggest mistake a workshop facilitator can ever make

school teacherI will never forget an event at school in which I learned a huge lesson about the art of teaching. Our history teacher was sick, and the geography teacher came to stand in. Usually a stand in teacher would just have us do some homework or reading, but not this teacher! She began to write on the board and teach us history.

Well, us savvy students were quick to point out she was not a history teacher. But she turned and said to us “once you know how to teach, it doesn’t matter what you teach.” and she continued on her way, book in hand, and taught us an astounding class of history.

She had a point I have never forgotten. This teacher had a skill that was much more than just knowing the facts. She had the ability to hold space. She knew how to bring us all into a place of attentive listening, and she knew how to share facts in a way that we really learned them.

Many years later when I went to join part of the Osho Therapist Training in Pune, I found I was being given the same lesson in a new form. There I learned not about the content of workshops, but the way in which a facilitator can create a space for transformation to happen. Before even starting to facilitate, we spent days simply looking at what happens within us when we connect with other people.

It was then that I discovered the biggest mistake any workshop facilitator can make: to overlook the art of holding space.

Having run a retreat centre for five years in Thailand, I have met and worked with so many facilitators and healers of so many different healing techniques and paths. Continuously I see reinforcement of this fact…that those teachers who look only at the content of what they are teaching never attract as many students as those who know how to hold space well.

zen potLet’s break it down. A workshop can be seen of as two aspects: the content and the container. The content is the seen aspect, and the container is the unseen. The content is the information, exercises and practices. What then is the container? The container is the space in which the content is delivered. It includes of course the physical space (it is vastly different receiving a class in a cold village church hall than from a polished wood floor yoga hall). It includes the boundaries that the facilitators has set. But most of all….it is created by the presence of the facilitator.

In my experience so far, it can be one of the biggest mistakes a facilitator can make, to overlook the importance of the art of holding space.

In our teacher training programs at Tao Tantric Arts, we make sure that in addition to teaching the methods of Tao and Tantra, we also focus on the many factors of how to hold space. This in a way is the facilitator’s journey of growth, that happens in parallel to the journey of the participants. It is a journey that follows on from being a student…the one who steps into the role of teacher begins a new path. But still it is a path.

In this blog I intend to share some of the lessons I have learned on this path, and what I have learned from others walking beside me.

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