In my work with people, whether it is in the daily guided practices, groups or individual Living Inquiries facilitation sessions, at some point I refer to two things. Safety is one. Kindness and compassion for ourselves is another. People nod and seem to understand. I didn’t know what was really going on inside until much later when person after person admitted they thought I was a “bit off”, that they couldn’t relate to either of those. Until they experienced it for themselves.
In our daily practice we begin with attention to sensation in our bodies from head to toes. It is very common to hold contraction in the neck and upper back. The muscles can be tight and often there is a sensation or energy of protection. I sometimes ask “Are you safe right now? In the room you are in, do you need to concern yourself about survival right now?” My intention for asking is for you to notice. If there is no threat, then you can remind your system you are safe. It is okay to let go of vigilance and relax for fifteen minutes.
We know in our conscious mind that we’re not in any immediate danger and yet there’s some part of us that is not fully convinced. We look and notice “in fact, right now I’m OK.” It helps to loosen the grip of that automatic protectiveness from our survival system. Then we have the direct experience that we’re OK without that protective energy tightening our neck and back. Clenching our jaw.
Direct experience is the only thing that’s going to convince us. Because the part of our system with that automatic protectiveness isn’t the conscious level of the mind. It is a lot deeper and we have all had the direct experience of not being safe. We need direct experience of being safe to counterbalance that, open that up as a possibility.
We are hardwired to notice danger because that’s what keeps us alive. When we’ve had a certain amount of danger and harm, then our system assumes it’s always going to be there. We’d better be prepared to defend ourselves. The hardest ones for me are the ones that come out of the blue, when I don’t expect it. I was assaulted in 2005 while riding my bicycle to work one morning, a random event with a mentally ill man. It happens when I’m talking with someone, they get triggered and say something nasty. My defenses go up and it makes me very careful around that person. I learn from experience that it’s not safe to relax.
Our experience of trauma and harm is what makes us stay on guard all the time. This is our evolutionary survival system but when we live with that constant state of stress in our body it never gets a chance to settle. Our bodies are continually flooded with tension and stress hormones.
People who haven’t been highly traumatized in their lives can relax because they’ve had so many more experiences of safety and fewer experiences of not being safe. They are able to more accurately assess risk. We’re convinced that pretty much 100% of the time something could go wrong so we are on guard all of the time. It is true for many of us that we were hurt as children and at the time we couldn’t really protect ourselves. That happens to adults as well. Holding ourselves in kindness and compassion helps.
These practices are where we really tune in and see for ourselves if we are safe, right now for these few minutes. It is safe to let down our guard, relax our vigilance, let go of the tight energy in our jaw, neck, shoulders, gut. Experience safety directly.
Right now, the fact that we are all here doing this work affirms we have confidence we can heal. I know this to be true in my own life and yours.
Try this for five minutes and experience it yourself.