Hello. I was talking to my elder housemate friend about safety. He’d mentioned safety can contribute to laziness. I disagreed, as I see safety as a vibrant, living thing if it’s going to be actually safe for anyone. Sort of like nonviolence. That sparked a fun conversation. My friend suggested I write about active and passive safety.
When I think of safety, I think of the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone. It’s just concentric circles, like this.
Sorry my graph looks like a breast. But breasts I do associate with safety. I’m a mammal after all.
I shift among the comfort, learning, and panic zones multiple times a day. If you are close to me and see my strong feelings and big moods–happy moods and difficult ones–it’s partly due to this ability and desire to shift among the zones.
Learning is one of my favorite things to do, so I push myself to learn. I also need ample rest in the comfort zone. I’m not ashamed to need that.
And I take risks in many ways and feel my emotions, so I pop into the panic zone often. But it’s ok. I’m on earth to try things and feel. I’m on earth to do all this.
Safety is found in the comfort zone, and the learning zone is safe too, but getting to an edge. I’m nurtured by the safety I feel. So then I can take big risks. The risks I take sometimes result in further extension than I can endure, so I panic.
When I consider active and passive safety, I think about containers, like the container we make in a meeting or in any relationship.
Hello, I am a stable, legit person. I show up for the gnarliest. I can be real in the face of intense feelings. You can cry around me, and it’s ok. You can lose your shit and get a bit frothy. I won’t hold it against you. In fact, it’s an honor to see your truth more raw than you might usually express it. I’ll talk to you about your fears, your needs, your past, your perceptions that others might not share.
I’ve done a lot of trip sitting for people who haven’t used drugs. I had a best friend who was often paranoid, and I held her hand for hours, for years, as she churned on fears that were not very connected to shared reality. Being with people who are crazy and going through something is a skill.
When I’m at my wildest, Ming is there for me in that way also. Thank you to Ming.
I have no need for you to package your feelings in an easy way. Violence is too much for me, and I don’t want to feel attacked. Otherwise I can keep it together, especially for an hour and a half of a meeting. I’ll be part of a strong container. I’m here to dive deep. I have a lot of practice doing radical mental health with creative, brilliant crazy people.
Something helpful is I love myself unconditionally. Some people mistake that for confidence. My ancestors and Parent Earth are here for me, and I’m alive for a reason. I trust my own body, my spouse, and my temporary chosen family.
DIY faith leads to a stability that’s creative and ever-changing. I’m a work in progress. The story is not: I healed my trauma, so now I’m an ok person who can do amazing things. My well of trauma is bottomless, I’m constantly working toward being who I want to be. I hope to always move toward more capacity to do amazing things.
A meeting container should be strong enough to keep us feeling safe-ish inside it. The walls should have a semi-rigidity so they don’t collapse. I like having a set format we can rely on, norms that are modeled in a clear way, a safer spaces policy. A ritual element of grounding can help.
But a meeting container should also be flexible. Flexible enough to change shape, expand, and meet the needs of this unique combination of people at this specific moment in our lives. So we need to maintain our curiosity and paying attention. We respect the Mystery and stay open to what happens.
If something feels violent, we hopefully point that out and ask for something different. Otherwise, we show up with support and appreciation. The whole reason we arrive is to be vulnerable and show up for other vulnerable people.
respecting the Mystery
There are no laurels to sit on. Paying attention is work. Curiosity means always shifting our perspectives, asking questions in our heads and out loud, and staying enlivened to truth. Respecting the Mystery is looking at people with a fresh perspective, reminding ourselves that we don’t know what we don’t know, and constantly correcting ourselves when we drift into assumptions. Bring it back to chill awe, over and over.
This is a way to form active safety. Creating safer spaces for other people and ourselves is work. The safety is fertile because of the effort. The safety is teeming with helpful energy. Softening our judgments and trying to see the mortal animals before us is worth it.
If we can do that for ourselves also, in the privacy our own rooms and beds and hearts, we’re in a good position to give of ourselves in a centered way. Deep self-respect gives us a good foundation for doing the work we’re on earth for, which for me is the work of Love.
My elder friend brought up the spoiled rich kid trope. The spoiled rich kid has been handed comfort all his life and comes to expect it. He doesn’t want to work hard on anything that helps the world. All he wants to do is play video games, eat hamburgers, and drink soda. He doesn’t want to make art, go outside, or have heartfelt conversations. He wants money to support his entertainment and to be left alone.
What happens to this person when he grows up? And is it the fault of coddling parents who pad the nest too softly? I have a good friend whose youngest kid reminds me of this trope. She is a brilliant, caring artist who gives and knows. There are two kids who are curious, active, and show up to engage the world and help. This third child seems angry and entitled.
Is it the fault of safety, that he was too safe and got lazy? If so, maybe the safety is passive. A safety of hiding out and hiding his heart. He is not resting to store up well-being so he can go out into the world and take risks. Maybe one day he’ll grow up and choose better values.
People think nonviolence is passive. I think the word pacifist might have thrown us off. It sounds like “passive.”
Nonviolence is a lot of work. It isn’t accepting everything, putting your head down, being a doormat. Nonviolence is an active process of holding the opponent in love, showing up in difficult situations, kindling bravery, speaking truth to power, and taking risks.
If you consider the people who were doing satyagraha, they weren’t casually walking into a space and doing what came naturally. They studied, trained, and were psyched out to stick to their principals as they took risks for social political change. The idea of dying for values is intense.
I do nonviolence when I show up at the line of the Nevada Test Site to pray. It’s scary to encounter military workers with their guns, attack dogs, and smug coldness. Feels so vulnerable to arrive and risk arrest. I’m not wearing a bulletproof vest.
But I’ve chosen to visit the line many times because it matters to me. I pray beforehand, ask Spirit for help, and get grounded so I can stand for what I believe. The spiritual practice has changed me.
I do nonviolence when I stay in community even when it’s hard. I’m disabled and have some social differences that make life with other humans extra confusing. In a way it would be easier to live alone. But I’m choosing to keep my heart open and love one another. I make mistakes in all sorts of ways, but I never stop trying.
Thank you to people who care about active and passive safety, and to the friend who inspired this post. I want to carry active safety with me. I want to live in a pocket of active safety that I constantly form around myself like a glowing aura of light or invisible force field. And other people are invited in.
That sounds weird, huh? But that’s what I’m trying to do. And I think I accomplish that often. When my safety pocket fails, I’m crushed. I lose my intuition. I’m not behaving according to my values.
Active safety means I don’t want to be hardened and closed off. Respecting the Mystery and doing love are all that’s really worth it, to me. Otherwise, why am I here?
Yes, we need to eat dinner anyway. But if we’re going to break bread, we might as well do it with vibrant, curious love.