Sunday, January 24, 2010

Finding Safety in the Whirlpool

"Why is it so hard for me to feel safe in my own life?" Lindsey Mead asks this core question in the latest post on her blog, A Design so Vast. It's a beautiful, honest post that articulates what most people feel when the neon curtain of the 10,000 distractions parts for a moment. In those spaces of clarity we see that obtaining safe levels of food, shelter, clothing, love and delight is a pursuit with no end in sight. If we don't attempt to answer Lindsey's question, our lives will be burdened by the dread of constant danger.

So, what is genuine safety and what threatens it? We define safety as a condition where our minds, bodies, loved ones and surroundings are protected from injury or loss. We feel safe when we believe our lives are intact and whole and nothing will violate that completeness. To establish safety, we build lives that have a footing of certainty with a few delightful surprises on the side. We look for predictable patterns of nourishment, detect enemies and create sheltering structures. We eat safe food, associate with safe people and go to safe places. We believe we can achieve lasting safety by solidifying structures and patterns of healthy support.

The problem is, life doesn't cooperate. The concrete footings, brick walls, and slate roofs of our life-sheltering structures are shaken by earthquakes of change. Working harder, acting smarter, or loving more, will not hold off the tides of transformation. Building green cities, eating organic food, meditating and doing yoga all day make make living smoother and more comfortable. It will not halt aging and eventual death. Investing with the smartest money manager does not prevent the market from rising and falling. Arming ourselves with nuclear weapons and tanks, doesn't prevent wounds to our armor. As long as we pursue the strategy of safety through solidity we will feel threatened because life is not a solid object.

To feel safe, requires that we acknowledge and accept life as an ongoing process of birth and death, gain and loss, balance and imbalance. Instead of believing we can force life into being solid ground, we must engage life as a fluid ocean. Not because I say so, but because it is the nature of life. To engage life as a fluid process requires us to abandon the old tricks we used to inhabit our illusions of solid ground. Trying to always stand at the head of the food line and keeping the burglar alarm on high alert doesn't work in in a watery world with no center and no circumference. Feeling safe in an ever-shifting world requires that we allow ourselves to be as fluid as that world. We leave off looking for the fixed pattern and enter the moving patterns. We leave off waving our feet toward rock bottom and circle our arms with the curl of the waves. We leave off seeing cycles of beginning and endings as enemies and invite them in as friends bringing unexpected renewal.

Essential to feeling truly safe in to be aware that the only thing that doesn't change is not an object we can hold onto. It's also not an object we can push away. Yet, the safe place we seek is already and always here, now. It is the silence permeating our words and the stillness surrounding our actions. To paraphrase and ancient scripture: Earthquakes cannot shake it. Tsunami's cannot wet it. Wildfires cannot burn it. H1N1 cannot kill it. Famine cannot starve it. Terrorists cannot explode it.

Containing and permeating constant change, is the non-changing spacious silence of awareness. It's been there from the moment we were born and there through every transformation we have passed. The safety of this ungraspable, unavoidable spacious awareness is the real you. It's the you that is unaffected by the whirlpool of constant change. We know this deeper than in our bones, yet we forget. In our forgetting, the safety that is already and always here is obscured.

Yet, for as long as we have been forgetting the real safety within the whirlpool of change there have been wise, loving people to help us remember. Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Lao-Tsu are some of the many celebrities gently and not so gently tapping us on the shoulder, reminding us that things aren't as they appear, that we are living the human journey of discovering the mysteries of being within becoming. They aren't the only ones to help us remember. Most often, it's the person beside you. In some unexpected way, they poke a hole in your fear and reveal the safe spacious awareness you are.


  1. I am both humbled and grateful that my paltry words may have in part triggered this gorgeous essay.
    And it is so right. And so, so hard for me: being fluid is the absolute opposite of my nature. This is the way in which safety is inextricably linked to faith (in my mind): only with the tether of faith to keep us from flying off into the dizziness of fear and anxiety can we trust enough to let go and be fluid.
    Lots more thinking to be done, but thank you, thank you so much.

  2. I so appreciated your comment on Lindsey's post that I clicked over to read more from you. How delighted I was to find these musings, expanding on the ideas you shared at ADSV.

    I especially appreciate your imagining of the world as a fluid, shape-shifting entity: "Trying to always stand at the head of the food line and keeping the burglar alarm on high alert doesn't work in in a watery world with no center and no circumference. Feeling safe in an ever-shifting world requires that we allow ourselves to be as fluid as that world."

    Thank you for some more food for thought this afternoon.

  3. Thanks so much for these beautiful, thought provoking words. I really like the idea of trying to be fluid.

    And you are right, it's the people beside us that help us remember. Thanks for helping me remember the safety in the whirlpool of change!

  4. Another great post, Anthony - I was reminded of the role of the Earth element in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Shiatsu practice, how it allays that feeling of rootless anxiety. With a strong Earth element, we can trust that life will support us - it gives us a foundation from which to spring and fly. Without strong Earth (which is nourished by touch, by community, routine and self-nurturing, among other things) there is little feeling of safety no matter what life brings us. It is no surprise that in a time when our collective relationship to the Earth is a bruised and sometimes broken thing, so many symptoms of Earth-element depletion are everywhere. For those who have difficulty feeling safe anywhere, working with the Earth element in the body can help them feel grounded in themselves, supported by the archetypal mother.

    And yet, as you suggest, there is a deeper grounding that can occur - this can, in fact, be a gift of a wounded Earth element: that we ground ourselves not simply in our bodies, but in the nature of change itself, looking beyond body or mind, to the deeper presence of 'is' that experiences the moment.

    How we get to there is another matter! Enter the mystics & their countless variations on a theme of stillness :)

    I love reading your posts - after the blip blip blip of twittering to each other, it's a joy to break into a longer form. Thanks again!


  5. Hej Tony,

    Thank you for your words. I read Lindsey's post, it gave me a lot to think about although fear isn't the word in my life.
    Now I am trying to see how I can use your fluid ocean to accept my deep feeling of being alone in my loneliness. Some say: do something for someone else. Well that advice isn't getting me at all kinds of places, it consumes a lot of my life but still this feeling won't take a hike.

    Maybe this is my lesson for life, who knows I may find the answer eventually.

    Have a lovely day Tony and thanks again.

  6. Thanks for your wonderful comments. Elizabeth's comment sparked the thought that each of us has some unresolved disconnect with life. It might be safety, loneliness, health or sadness. Perhaps, what each of us seeks can be found in the opposite of what we think. Maybe loneliness is healed through being alone, opening to that quiet space and finding we are already connected to the rest of life.

  7. Apparently I'm fascinated by the concept of SAFETY. Without meaning to, I'm working on two stories at the moment that deal with this topic. Nice post--thanks.

  8. Cynthia et al, Safety is a fascinating topic. It plays into every thought , word, action and place. What is true safety and true danger is a constant human occupation.

  9. Tony, another wonderful, thoughtful post. "Yet, the safe place we seek is already and always here, now. It is the silence permeating our words and the stillness surrounding our actions." I'm learning this daily. We look for safety everywhere but within ourselves sometimes (or maybe it's just me), and the only place to truly find that safety is within ourselves. From within we build strength and courage (because that's where those things live, within the self), and from there we create the outer world that we feel so safe in, whatever that may be. And I'm finding that my definition of safety is constantly being is our world.

  10. I love your posts and the conversations they have started. I love how you think and express yourself. This is beautiful, Tony. Thank you. You bring me back to my peaceful center.