The word “safety” used to annoy me to no end! Friends and family would tell me time and again, “Be safe!” My stomach would knot up in anger. “Safety is for sissies!” I felt. “I’m tough! I don’t need to feel safe!” In attempt to prove to myself that I was immune to danger, fear, and pain I climbed unstable rock cliffs without gear, rode my motorcycle wrecklessly, took drinking and drug use to extremes, and put myself in places and situations that threatened by life. I created a perpetually adrenalized mind and body, which helped me to overcome obstacles but also numbed me out. A sure way to overcome fear, I agree, is to die inside.
I see now that what I was longing for all along was to FEEL SAFE because I usually did not and could not. Now I can say to anyone that I LOVE FEELING SAFE. I don’t risk myself like I used to. I practice cultivating a felt sense of safety every day because rewiring the brain takes dedicated practice.
What I see in virtually every client I work with is a quiet yearning to feel safe- safe to feel what they feel, safe to say what they want to say, and safe to do what they want to do.
Without some sense of safety, we are so caught up in trying to protect ourselves that we have difficulty remaining mindful, and mindfulness is essential to changing anything in our lives.
But there is an interesting block that happens in us. Oftentimes we can know, rationally, that we are safe in this present moment. But the body in that same moment can feel like it is under attack! This is because of prior traumas that root themselves into our nervous systems. Our work is to come to realize that the traumas are over, that NOW is safe, and because NOW is safe, it is okay to physically, mentally, and spiritually RELAX.
“Easier said than done, Gary!” (I know, I know, I’m well acquainted with the obstacles to feeling truly safe.)
Cultivating a felt sense of safety is possible. Trauma release, relaxation exercises, exposure therapy, mindfulness training, and strengthening our relationships on the 5 Core Connection Levels (Self, Other, Nature, Existence, and Work… on which I will write at another time) all serve to create a felt sense of safety inside us.
Another common barrier to allowing ourselves to relax is the belief, “If I relax, my guard will drop and I will be invaded and overwhelmed by an attacker.” Ouch! If you are at war or actually under attack, it may indeed be unwise to drop your guard (although I would argue that a properly trained martial artist maintains inner calm even during physical attack). But most of us are not at war for most of the time. So, when it is appropriate to relax, why not relax? The adrenalized, hyperactive state wears down the system and actually narrows one’s awareness, both of which, in reality, REDUCE one’s ability to protect oneself from harm! We have reason to challenge the intelligence of the always-on-guard way of living.
Experiment. Practice relaxing and see if it hurts you. What do you have to lose? As you gain evidence that you can both relax AND handle challenges, you will come to believe in your own power. Safety is not future. Safety is NOW.
My question for you is, “What in this moment will allow you to relax?” Is it a deep breath with a full exhale? Is it stopping to watch the clouds? Maybe you need a hug? Do you need to cry a little bit to release some pressure? Perhaps a laugh would remind you that everything is ok?
It doesn’t have to be much. And I assure you, whatever you are feeling right now is ok. It’s ok to be you. It’s ok to say what you are thinking. It’s ok to do what you feel will help. It’s ok.