The Old English version of the world behold is bihalden, from bi (thoroughly) and halden (to hold). Behold: to hold thoroughly. How lovely is that? It turns out the notion of ‘watching’ or ‘looking’ is unique to the modern English translation; our common definition is “to see or observe, especially something of remarkable nature.” I much prefer “to hold thoroughly,” and I believe that the act of beholding reveals the remarkable nature inherent in all things.
I have been smitten by the word behold on many occasions, but it took on deep significance for me during my coaching certification process. After first supporting our ability to get grounded and fully present with ourselves, our teacher stated matter-of-factly that our main work as a coach was to behold our clients. He bent his arms at the elbow, held up his palms in just the gesture you might imagine when someone exhibits reverence, and took a few long breaths as he kept a steady, connected gaze. Then he lowered his arms, laughed, and said, “Unlikely you’d want to strike that pose in real time with your clients, but that’s exactly what you want to do with your energy.” I knew in the moment it was a deep teaching.
I began practicing. It was a profound experience for me to behold others in this way and experience feeling beheld. What an enormous shift to be with someone and “hold them thoroughly” with my attention—seeing, feeling, and sensing all that is remarkable within their nature. The other person is not consciously aware of what is happening, but I know they sense the net of being noticed with love, and it deepens the conversation. Trust and connection are palpable.
Of all I learned that year, the practice of beholding remains seminal. My goal more recently has been to expand the practice beyond coaching conversations and into a way of being in general, with others and with the world at large. Of course not every interaction or moment is like this, but that is the nature of practice; one is never finished.
In honor of poet Mary Oliver’s long life and tremendous contributions to helping others become more attentive, awake, and present, I offer the practice of beholding. Whether with a person, another living thing, an inanimate object, or a landscape, try coming to know it through beholding: considering it fully, attending to the details, facing it directly, contemplating it for an extended period of time—all the while letting the beauty and remarkable nature of it, just as it is, fill your senses.
If this is new to you, it may be easiest to start with learning to BE first, and HOLD whatever is in your field of awareness without distraction—whether it be the physical space you’re in, a sensation in your body, an emotion, or a truth. Then try beholding people it’s easy for you to love. Over time, you’ll grow in your ability to behold people you know less well, or those you have some uncomfortable rub with. See if it softens you, expands you.