Health & The Self

 

Last night, I taught a class focusing on health from an Ayurvedic perspective. (Ayurveda being the ancient 5000 year old healing tradition of India.) From this perspective, there is a well-known definition which outlines the fundamentals of health; going from purely physiological states all the way to a unification of body, mind and soul. But it all begins with the premise that one is “established in the Self.”

Take a moment to sense what that might even mean to you. This is a deeply personal exploration, and therefore, unlike what many of us have been taught to believe, there is no right or wrong here. So, what would it feel like to be established within your own self? For me, just thinking those words is a visceral experience. A kind of felt sense homecoming if you will, where I return to myself. More fully inhabit myself. Often, not even realizing that I have even left, until I am back.

For many of us, we are anything but seated within our own self. Our body is wherever we are flinging it around at hyper speed in any given moment. Or maybe it is collapsing somewhere in zombie-like fashion. Either way, our body being in one place, and our minds somewhere else sets up a kind of leaving. So whether we are fretting over or regretting the past, or anticipating the future and creating scary and unwanted scenarios, we stand divided. Abandoned. Unestablished in anything but misery.

Not quite what the ancients had in mind when they proposed that the very first aspect of health is to be seated in the Self.

In other words, as opposed to standing sovereign and unified within, we are instead bashing around inside of ourselves. Or, we have left ourselves. Like an abandoned building we no longer inhabit, and so falls into disrepair, and worst of all becomes inhabited by transient and vagrant energies, we are established nowhere; becoming lost to ourselves, and therefore the world.

If we are to truly claim the birthright of our health, we must be willing to go beyond what we are currently being offered. For it is outdated. If it ever was in date to begin with. I know this can sound harsh, or even scary. That is not the intention. Instead, this is not a bash as much as it is a reckoning. A willingness to recognize that we are anywhere but in health as a nation. Perhaps even as a world. And that to find our way back into a sane, sacred and healthy establishment within ourselves is to go back to the very roots of what it means to inhabit a body.

What might this look like for you? Perhaps it means asking yourself the fundamental question, Where am I right now? as you race through your day, watch disturbing content across a screen, or engage in the same old same old thoughts that always leave you feeling like shit. Or maybe it is to recognize that the schedule you keep, the people you associate with, the news you obsess over, or the work you are doing is so aversive to you on some level, that you can only try and get out of your very own skin.

We did not come here to leave. We came here to know ourselves. To create, contribute, and grow. To do so requires that we focus our lives establishing ourselves in what is real and what is true. When in doubt, ask yourself, what could a human being absolutely not do without? Leave the rest alone. At least, for the most part.

What Actually Makes Us Better?

 

I am driving on the Mass Pike recently when I see a billboard that simultaneously blows my mind, saddens and outrages me, and brings me right up against the world we are living in. It goes like this: “Springfield is better with Cannabis.”

What The Bleep Are We Doing?

What is happening to us that we would even make a statement like this? Never mind proudly putting it up on a highway for all to see. Including our children. Is this what we want to be boasting about for our communities? Are we so desperate that anything that brings us money is touted as something great? No matter what it is? Are we so overwhelmed and compliant that the best we can hope for is to medicate entire communities into oblivion so that we will not notice what is happening to us?

And what about our children? What message do we send them when we equate drugs with making things better? Especially in cities like Springfield, where like many large cities, they are already ravaged by the ills of poverty, drug abuse, and disenfranchisement. Core societal issues that must be faced and resolved before any city can claim its Greatness. This one example alone exemplifies just how disposable we have come to accept that certain communities are.

Truly, the absolute disregard and disrespect for what makes us great, is staggering.

Like so many things in our world, we are not thinking this one through. Opting instead to take the very, very short view. As in, a populace numbed out? Yes. Coffers filled for some? Sure. But Great? I don’t think so. Not even close. 

Watch closely the words that are being used by others to describe the state of our world, and what it is that we should want and can expect. And then ask yourself, “Is this actually as good, and even great, as it gets?” If it’s not, do not comply. Not in your mind. Not in your words. Not in your actions.

 

 

To Whom Do You Belong?

 

Figuring out to what and to whom I belong has long played a central role in my life. In my early years, there was only one choice: Conform to belong. To not conform was to be left without emotional connection. It was to be penalized. When I hit my teenage years, I had had enough, and so I ceased to conform. I rebelled, hard, against what never felt right to me to begin with. Though this left me on the outs with a parent, I kept going in an attempt to break from what undermined who I authentically was. At the time, I thought I didn’t care what they thought. But I did. So, even though some part of me needed the fight, the boundary, the definition, rebelling against conforming never got me what I needed because I was still defining myself against what I didn’t want. Still trying to belong from the outside in. Still on the outside of a kind of belonging that made any sense to me.

Then came the years that I thought I would try and go it alone. That I would keep myself at a distance from belonging; having come to the conclusion that being in relationship meant I had to negotiate myself in ways that felt harmful to me. That in order to belong, I had to leave really important parts of myself behind. Or at least, in hiding. While this represented another layer in the evolution of my belonging odyssey, in the end, this wasn’t the way to go either. Sure, there were things I didn’t have to negotiate, but there were also important and essential experiences missing.

It was only when I began to turn back towards myself (perhaps for the very first time in my life) that I started to discover who I really was and what I actually needed in belonging. It was a new and vastly unexplored territory to connect with something deep inside me that had nothing to do with my ideas about what I thought I needed to do to belong. This journey has been decades in the making, and continues still, even as I write about this. But at this point, I am so in. Why? Because it has taught me many, many valuable lessons about what it means to balance the Truth of who I am, while belonging in ways that equally support that, and simultaneously, contribute to the Greater Good.

This seems like an unresolvable paradox to many of us. That we actually get to be who we are, and belong. Without negotiation of what is most central to us. We believe this because most of us have been taught and conditioned to believe you either have to choose for yourself (and be selfish and alone) or choose to belong (and give up who you are and what you need). Nary shall the two meet in most people’s world view. And so we usually hole up on one side or the other of the equation of autonomy and belonging.

But here it is, you cannot belong to anyone or anything else until you firmly and completely belong to yourself. First. This is not easy to do. Our most deep-seated, and often unconscious feelings, about belonging go all the way back to being babies and young children where in order to literally survive, we had to belong. No. Matter. What. That meant we instinctively did whatever it took to stay connected to those around us; whether it was good for us and what we needed, or not. Now, as adults, what we think belonging means, and what we believe we must do to belong, has its roots in the minds of infants and babies. In other words, preverbal, and below the reasoning of the grown-up mind.

That is why it can feel so hard to get back to. Or why it is that we do not even recognize it, or feel like we have a choice.That is why it feels so necessary and so compelling to keep belonging in the less than satisfying, and even harmful, ways that we do. How we belong now is what we felt like we had to do back then. What this means is, our very ideas around survival are tied to belonging. From that stage of mind, it would be dangerous to not fit in. The desperate need, often against our better judgment or even our own health, to compromise and negotiate ourselves away to keep from being judged, abandoned, aggressed upon, or ostracized, has its origins in the past, and its expression in the present.

Which brings us to the times of Co-vid. Yes, we are back here again. For to ignore what is being played out on the main stage, would be to deny both how things have gotten derailed, and what it actually is that can bring us back on track. Meaning, we must be willing, each of us, to look at how what it means to belong has been commandeered; centering around outward behaviors that we do or do not do. A kind of “social currency” that we garner, or not, through following a mandate.

This is dangerous to not only personal autonomy, but to your ability to bring a healthy sense of who you are to the group. For the Truth is, we do not belong to other’s expectations of us. Not to their demands, mandates or ideas. We belong to Something much, much greater than that. To begin to question what belonging means to you is to do the work of the Ages. It is to intentionally separate yourself from group think in order to find the Truth within, that you then offer back out as the very foundation of True Belonging.

If this makes any sense to you, begin to notice yourself more closely in relationship. Where do you sell out? Why? Be gentle as this is the work of retelling the little one in you a new and updated version of a story you have long held. Not unlike when a child finds out for the first time, there is no Santa Claus. In that noticing, when you come upon that place where you are locked in an old pattern around what it means to belong, either fighting for your right to be or acquiescing your life in order to fit in, say to yourself, “I belong to Life as it runs through me and from whence it came. It is safe to know this.”

P.S. If you are looking for more structured support in distinguishing between your True Self and what the culture expects of you in order to fit in, check out The Way of Integrity: Finding The Path To Your True Self by Martha Beck.

The Great Divide

 

Years ago, I was deeply struggling around how to live a life that made sense to me when it came to taking care of my health, and the health of my family. It was often very challenging to be making different choices around the food we were eating, and the medicine we were using, and not using, in a world that values the cheap, the quick, and the maintenance of the medical and pharmaceutical status quo. I was trying to find my footing around how to see what I was seeing and know what I was knowing, in order to stand for what felt like health to me, in the face of dissenting, and sometimes very vocal, critical opinions.

Without fighting. Without judging. Without acquiescing to what felt harmful and lacking in foresight to me.

So I went to Source. In meditation, I asked for help. The immediate, clear, and resounding message that came through was, “Nothing that separates.” It broke me. And it broke the internal ping-pong match of a struggle that I often found myself in when it came to standing for what I believed while being in the presence of another’s derision, frustration, and even anger. For you see, I never had any doubt about the choices I was making. It was only coming in contact with others who were unfamiliar or suspicious of what I was doing that rattled me.

Which is why the message, “nothing that separates” landed so thoroughly with me. And why it is that I continue to try and live up to its Truth. For there is nothing more that I want between us than to be able to live the Truth of who I am while respecting the choices that each of us feels called to make. Nothing that I want more than to be able to tap into the undercurrent of Connection that exists between all of us, and that far outweighs the individual choices we make.

Which brings me to us. I know we all see and feel the polarization of our world around how to be healthy in the time of co-vid. Whatever your feelings are on how to proceed, I would like to propose that there is an essential element missing in most conversations. That being, the shaming and coercive energy behind where you place someone on the scale of humanity based on whether or not they choose to receive a shot. And that being, the way that this issue is nefariously and dangerously dividing parent against parent, child against parent, teachers against students, friends against friends, family members against family members, and co-workers and members of a community, against each other.

We have forgotten that Real Medicine does not harm, and it does not separate. It never pits people against one another. It does not divide families. Nor does it legislate its use. Or create caste systems. That is not medicine. Real Medicine is that which heals and makes whole. It transcends agendas and attitudes of the times. And always, and in all ways, it connects, and considers all of us.

Nothing that separates. Such a tall, tall order for a human being. We all have our preferences, our beliefs, and the hills we would die on. But now, in a time of Great Divide, any and all of these personally cherished attitudes must be held, somehow, with Great Unity. Lest we perish. Lest we get our way, but lose each other. Lest we forget that there are many, many ways to live a life that brings health, care, and contribution to the Greater Whole.

If you want to know who the real enemy in the time of co-vid is, it is separation.

Can you stand for what you stand for, without standing apart? Without forcing or coercing or shaming and blaming the other side? And could we all be so visionary as to recognize that to “get our own way” in this may be the very thing that divides us all in the end? Ask yourself what you most want in the world at this time. And then, watch yourself very, very closely, being particularly attuned to when getting what you want creates a divide.

Big Choices

 

Years ago, I did a training with a doctor who was steeped in the indigenous healing ways of his native culture. He told a story to highlight how sidetracked we can get in Life around Truth. According to his tradition, there is an evil spirit by the name of Iktomi. It’s diabolical power? To get you to believe the wrong thing, and then act on it. To quite literally, make the wrong choices based on false and misleading assumptions.

When I look back over the past year plus, and look for a pattern to help explain what has been happening for all of us on a macro level, I would say this: On every single level of life, to the person, we have got some very big choices to make as we step forward. The first one being, What frames of reference will we choose when encountering the world as it currently is? Next, How will we choose to live with ourselves and with each other? Which is of course, based on how we perceive what stands before us. In other words, what will we choose to believe and what choices will be born of those beliefs?

We can continue to approach the world with out-of-date narratives; unconsciously and willfully continuing to do what we have always done. Or…

We can begin to question. For if you look closely enough, everything that is before us now, has already been there for a very, very, long time. Many would say, too long. The depression, anxiety, and despair that has recently skyrocketed has been quietly devastating us for years now. The chronic, life-style related illnesses that are driving the death rates, have been stealing lives for decades. The soul-sucking and heart-robbing consequences of children spending too much time in front of a screen, have been insidiously, and unfortunately agreed to, long before a culture decided to close schools. The growing disparity through recent job losses, between the have’s and the have-nots, has been a condoned social structure for longer than we can admit. A broken medical system that can’t keep up with cases because it does not possess the medicine we need, is the very same one whose death throes have been spinning off harm for far longer than we should have ever tolerated. And then of course, there are the “Big Everythings” that have changed how we live, relate, and understand what it means to be human. Big Tech. Big Pharma. Big Money. Big Marriage Between Industry and Government. All of which have been controlling a greater portion of our lives recently, are the same unregulated and un-thoughtful industries that have been moving in this direction for years.

One little virus has revealed, exposed, and unmasked the very sickest and the most inhumane in us. So, is it a devastation? Or an opportunity? Most important of all, what are we going to do about it? Will we hunker down, praying someone else will make this go away? Will we desperately choose whatever we are fed to sidestep our own responsibilities in this? Will we continue to feed our minds on fear justifying why we get to do what we are doing?

Or will we rise up? Demanding that money not be the driving force behind the decisions being made on our behalf. Refusing to accept any longer “medicine” that harms. Taking back childhood from predatory interests that do not care about their well-being on any level. Finding our own voice and being willing to respect that in another. Regardless of, and maybe even despite, what that other voice is labelled as.

These are big times. Very, very big times. But not in the way we have been told. For as hard as it is to be going through what we have been going through, that would be easy compared to the personal choices that sit before each and every one of us. That being, to decide what seems fair and life-affirming TO YOU. To get clear on what health is and how best to support it. To stand for what is worthy of your precious attention. To put your voice into the conversations being had that impact us all.

But here’s the really hard part. Deciding to take the long and arduous journey of coming to know your own mind. Not what you have been told and sold. But the thoughts and beliefs that are uniquely yours; having been carefully and painstakingly cultivated by deeply questioning all that you see, hear, and think. A questioning that dives below the constant noise, cultural messaging and imagined fears, until it comes out on the other side to the place where you know your own mind as yours and yours alone. Claiming this noble and awe-inspiring power instead of allowing yourself to be a by-product of a paradigm that cares not for you.

Waiting

 

As that old song goes, “The waiting is the hardest part.” I feel that right now. You? I feel it in myself and I feel it in the world. It’s not like I want to get back to the way things were. That’s never made sense to me. But boy am I ready for what I believe things could be. And therein lies the rub.

How do you be with what is here, now? While still standing, waiting, believing, eagerly, openly and excitedly even, in something else? For me that something else always has to do with how we are living as a people. How we are treating ourselves, one another, and the planet. On that level it is both so simple and so straightforward, while at the same time being so complex and so challenging.

If there was one question I could ask when I am no longer here, it would be, Why is it so hard to be who we really are? Why do we fight and avoid our truest nature? Why do we hurt ourselves and one another? Why is it so easy, sought after even, to get sidetracked from what matters most? Sure, I know some would say it is because of our past. Or maybe because that is just how the world is. Some would say it is how we learn. But is this the only way we can learn? If so, we must be really off track to require such extreme lessons to be coming our way.

What would it be like though to change out of love? Out of possibility? Out of the belief that we deserve better? I know it’s possible because these were all of the reasons that allowed me to make such dramatic internal shifts in myself as a young mother. My reasons were not for me, they were for another. But my god did it end up being for me as that orientation grew and stretched me in ways I never could have imagined at the start of it all.

So is that the key? To do it for more than ourselves? What would that even look like? If this was the answer, or at least a part of it, I know for sure doing for others has got nothing to do with following external mandates. It’s not even got to do with whether or not another thinks you are a good person. This can be hard to hear. If doing for others cannot be measured in that way, what’s the criteria then? How will we know when we are in healthy alignment, and when it is that we are following the wrong things?

All I can say about this comes from my experiences as a mother. There was a lot of waiting there. A lot of input with no guarantee. A lot of blind faith. But mostly,  a lot of selfreflection. A lot of being with why it was that I was doing what I was doing that had nothing to do with the specifics of what I was doing. This is what brought me to myself.  And to the understanding of how it is that doing for another brings us back to the Truth of who we are and what we most need. Interesting, how in the end, it is the focus on the other that actually brings us back to our very best Selves.

It is potent and transformational medicine to serve others, to act on behalf of another, to gesture to the world that you care about more than yourself. It is a seriously sacred duty. One that should never be taken lightly. Nor allowed to be misdirected or misguided by the wrong sentiments.For to do so would be the equivalent of allowing children to tell you how you should be in relationship to them to demonstrate your caring. If this were true, it would mean you could never draw a line. Or let them know that what they were wanting or believing was harmful. You could never make a choice, or take an action that they might not understand. But that you did.

A Good Girl

 

Like most, if not all children, I grew up trying to be good. Being a good girl was an organizing principle in my life. A kind of Holy Grail that I pursued with all my might. I was discerning in my endeavors and excellent in my follow through in this regard. I knew that what “good” meant for my father was different than my mother, than my grandfather, than my teachers. This extended to all of the grown-ups I came in contact with. I knew exactly what I needed to do to receive the coveted recognition of “goodness” as bestowed by whatever adult stood before me.

I was so good at being good that it made me physically sick in the form of debilitating stomach pains that had no “cause” according to the doctor. It would be years before I would come to understand it was the price I was paying for a kind of goodness that made others comfortable, as I sacrificed my own well-being to be seen in a certain way. None of this had anything to do with vanity and everything to do with belonging.

I know there is an argument to be made around the perhaps “essential” nature of conditioning children to the mores of the grown-ups in their lives. A kind of “for the good of all,” that I suppose must happen to a certain extent in order to have families and communities where it is clear about what makes for good, and what makes for bad. Whether this is, in fact, how it needs to go, matters not. What does matter to us as children is how absolute to us it all feels. How undeniable, incontrovertible, and inviolate the understandings are that we pick up around what makes us good or not. And how that gives us the right to belong. Or not.

Enter adulthood. While many of us would say that our choices now are based on reason and rationality, if you look at fields that study human nature, what we find is that anywhere from 90 to 95% of what we do emanates from our subconscious. The place in us where the root of all of our attitudes, beliefs and mores live. Including what we believe we need to do to fit in. Including the deep imprints from experiences we had as children around our own autonomy and belonging. This is the very same place that deeply controls our actions, thoughts, and choices. A subterranean world of influence that we typically have no awareness of; despite its powerful presence in our lives.

Which brings me to my point. I recently came across the phrase “Virtue Signaling.” It is being used in relation to whether one complies with the mandates currently in place around the virus, or not. When we comply we signal the virtues of caring and selflessness. When we do not, we signal that we are selfish and dangerous. This messaging strikes deeply at the heart of what it means to be a good person in relation to others. Something we all yearn to be seen as. Something that may feel like heresy to question.

But what if there was more to the story than that?

This is difficult to get to in a world where the preponderance of signalling says compliance with a particular set of instructions is how you do your part. Is how you show you care. Is how you are a hero. Ways of being that every one of us wants to be characterized as by others. But at what cost, and according to whose definition of virtuous? For what if there was far more to this story than the black and white summation of who we are based on whether or not we are masked or get a vaccine? What if there was solid and current science that offered another paradigm around how to be with what is happening?

Interestingly enough, the first reference in the dictionary for the word virtuous is potent. And then, efficacious. When we consider that possessing virtue is about being powerful and effective that adds another dimension to this conversation around what it means to signal to another your virtue. Your goodness. Your caring. Your heroism. What I mean is, what if being virtuous included the courage to ask powerful and effective questions while exploring other possibilities around what it is that brings health to an individual and to the collective?

Where do you derive your goodness from? Does it come from inside of you, from your own mighty well of authenticity and integrity? Or does it come from someplace else? And what is the downside of labeling people as virtuous or not based on one demonstrable piece of information?

The Power Of Nothing

 

Every morning, I begin my daily practice in the same way. I sit. I just sit. I breathe. I look out the window. I might sip hot water. But basically, I sit and do nothing.

What would possess a person to sit and do nothing? Because, I have come to discover that when all of the mud settles, the mud being the difficult and troubling thoughts threatening to take over, there comes a sense of spaciousness that not only allows me to breathe, it reminds me of who I am, and who I most want to be. Believe it or not, out of the nothing, comes everything. Absolutely Everything.

I have found over the years that out of that spacious nothing-ness, creativity, ease, alignment, discernment, clarity, and my favorite of all, Truth with a capital “T,” resides. Which means that any problem I have, any solution I am seeking, any balm needed for my broken heart, or any quieting required for an insane mind, is there. Always.

I first discovered the “nothing” when, after my kids had gone off to school, my mind would kick into high gear in an absolute frenzy over all of the things I had to and wanted to get done. It would hound me about how I needed to do things; in what order, how fast, how well. It was maddening. So much so that I couldn’t settle into yoga or meditation because the demands of the mind were that intense.

So I sat, doing nothing, initially to protest. To say to the thoughts, I want out. I am not playing anymore. I will not negotiate with you anymore. And then, at some point, what began out of an exasperated refusal to participate anymore with a derailed mind, turned into a portal transporting me to a whole new universe that I did not even know was accessible with so little effort. Without me having to work my way into the ease and peace I was seeking. I literally did not need to do a single thing.

But it does take time, and some getting used to. Some days it only takes a small handful of minutes for everything to settle down. At other times, I sit doing nothing for all of the time I have devoted for a morning practice. And even though my crazy mind will still push me to get going, to do something for god’s sake, I know better now. I know that in the nothing, everything that I could have ever hoped for will show up when given the space.

To the busy, stressed out, divided, and fear-based mind this practice can feel like a death. And it is. But not the death of anything but those things that need to go anyway. Not the death of anything other than exactly what you would be better off without. Try it. And when the mind screams and screams and starts rolling out all the heavy artillery around what a slacker-loser you are for not doing more, nod your head and continue to sit, remembering that you do not have to believe everything that your mind thinks. As a matter of fact, when you get right down to it, much of what your mind thinks with all of its judgments and worries and evaluations, is nothing worth listening to anyway.

Someone

 

One of my favorite movies is the emotionally charged “Walk The Line.” It is the story of the country singer Johnny Cash. In an early scene, a young Cash is brought to the bedside of his dying brother. His main confidante, ally and friend in a family filled with the darkness of a father addicted and volatile, is leaving him.

As the adults stand around the bedside, doing nothing, resigned to the fate of his brother, Johnny begs “Do something.” His voice breaking and resounding with a mix of rawness, desperation and command.

It gets me every time. No matter how many times I have seen it the haunting and imploring echoes of his pleas reverberate in my bones filling me with a kind of desperation, despair and yes, a command that derives from someplace deep.

“Do Something.” And its corollary, “Isn’t someone going to do something?” This has been my inner begging, pleading, beseeching prayer my whole life. Sometimes it has taken the form of a child-like need unmet. At other times it has taken the form of the rebel fed up with the injustices of the world. And at other times, it has taken the form of the disappointed and frustrated adult who judges or blames.

Now it is taking a new form. Empowerment. A kind of knowing that when we look out at the world and cry out, “This is not right. Someone needs to do something,” we must come to the realization that the someone is none other than us. As in, I am that someone. It is up to me. I am the one to do something.

Now, this does not mean that we take it all on ourselves trading our power for martyrdom. Instead, it is a deep knowing that whatever I see when I look out there that needs tending to, that needs correcting, that needs starting or stopping, is not someone else’s to do. But instead, mine.

Look out into the world. What cries out within you “Do Something?” And instead of turning away, what would happen if you sought the counsel of that desperate and commanding plea?

Guarantees

 

My husband was recently recounting a conversation he had with a practitioner, who in anticipation of re-opening their office had asked, “Would you like me to tell you how we are going to keep you safe?” To which my husband responded, “I do not require you to keep me safe.” To which I would add, “Nor is that something you could ever guarantee me.”

Safety. We all want to feel safe. It is in fact perhaps our most basic of all needs. And at its very best, it is something we cultivate within and offer without.

Being safe and feeling safe are a major source of conversation in the culture at the moment. As a matter of fact, it is something that has been brewing beneath the surface for many of us for what seems like forever. Given that, and all that is being revealed around what this means in practice (not words) it is incumbent upon all of us to understand what we are asking for, what we are being promised, and what is being justified in the name of safety.

Spoiler alert: No one can guarantee your safety. Not a parent. Not your spouse. Not the government. Not a mask, hand washing, tracing or vaccines. But by God how we want it. And who wouldn’t? This most primary of needs for safety and protection harkens back to childhood when you believed that it was possible that someone else could promise and deliver a guarantee of safety to you. And how well your safety needs were or were not met in childhood sets the stage for how you will perceive the world. For your capacity to determine what is safe, what is a threat, and what is real and imagined around both.

The first time I ever heard anyone talk on this was years ago while I was in the midst of a very intense emotional. physical and spiritually challenging training. At some point, as things were breaking down and people’s fears and woundings were being revealed, in their terror they began to find fault with the training. In their inability to be with what they were experiencing, they began to accuse the program director and staff of creating an unsafe environment. It was a deeply heated and emotional group exchange, as well as something we were all feeling and navigating in our own ways.

Much to my surprise and ultimate deep gratitude, instead of the director going into self-blame and acquiescing because someone had thrown down the safety card, she navigated a brilliant truth: That being, that no one else can guarantee your safety. That being, that when we are afraid and rattled, we will default to that child-like expectation. Instead, she let us know that what she was offering was a sacred container for people to come together, and that what you did within that space was up to you.

The root of “safe” from the Greek means “whole,” with the definition being “free from risk, danger, harm or injury.” And while there are certain practices and ways of being that we agree upon for the well-being of all, a guarantee of life without risk, danger, harm or injury can never be proffered. Nor should it be expected. For to wholly live is to live with the risk of being alive. And to demand safety, to use safety as a protocol in the ways we are using it, is to set us all up for not only failure, but to set in motion the justification of all manner of things that have absolutely nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with a lie.

Safety can be an intention. It can be honored and it can be protected. It can be respected and agreed upon. And when it comes to re-imagining the long-standing and often outdated beliefs we hold around this, I will leave you with something my husband is talking about at work. 

“Safety is a shared responsibility.”

In practice: If you would like to see how this works in your world, do not go to the adult mind that would say, “Of course I know there are no guarantees.” Instead, go below the surface, to the child, to the unconscious, to the place that gets scared. Can you sit with that? Can you feel the need, the vulnerability and the desperation for someone to pledge a certainty for you? Can you open to all of that without trying to have someone take that away for you?

And if you would like to take a deeper look around the maps of safety and danger we create in childhood, the very same ones that continue to inform or drive us as adults, I recommend a book called “Nurturing Resilience” by Kathy Kain.