I have spoken of kindness, friendship, and love as involving an openness and vulnerability. We open our heart, our core, both to reach out and to let another in. This vulnerability carries the risk of receiving a vulnus, a wounding or hurt. In the song, Some Say Love, this thought is forcefully expressed. “It’s the heart, afraid of breaking, that never, learns to dance. It’s the dream, afraid of waking, that never, takes the chance. It’s the one, who won’t be taken, who cannot, seem to give. And the soul, afraid of dying, that never, learns to live.”
Openness is essential to growth. Walls built from hurt, fear, and hostility do not allow cracks that permit the light of new life, growth, healing, or love enter or escape. Sometimes it can be a simple act of kindness, a persistent caring that glimpses behind defensive walls, or even pain that startles us to awareness that permits light to penetrate.
At the same time, there is a need for some sense of safety before we are able to open ourselves. Many years ago, a person who was a close friend at the time, told me that I was a safe place for her. That expression really resonated with me, and I have thought of what is a safe place, both for ourselves and others.
Two contrasting messages we sometimes wrestle with for ourselves and our children are:: “I don’t want you to get hurt,” and “I want you to grow.” These are often implied in our responses to life events. In the story of Sleeping Beauty, for example, the king cannot prevent his daughter from experiencing her own pain. Nor can we prevent ourselves from experiencing the pain that is an inevitable part of life. Yet we can help ourselves and others get through and beyond that pain by being a safe place for such feelings
We can be a safe place for ourselves by finding a quiet place where we can allow our feelings, whatever they are, to be felt. To do so requires a certain level of awareness. A helpful realization is that within every human being is found the whole range of human feelings, such as from despair to despair, from fear to love, etc. While these are all present within us, different feelings may arise at different times, depending upon our childhood experiences, our relationships, our life situation, and much else. We may view all these feelings, especially the more difficult ones as visitors, but not let them have the run of the house. In other words, it is important to acknowledge their presence, without judging ourselves for them. At the same time, it is equally important to recognize that we do not have to act upon them.
As mentioned with regard to the story, Where the Wild Things Are, there are wild things in all of us–our powerful feelings, especially those we have labelled negative–that threaten to swallow us up and carry us away. Max stares into the wild things, tames them, and becomes their king. In other words, once we recognize and face these feelings, they may remain within us, lose their hold on us. While they may indicate where we are within ourselves at present, they but do not tell us what to do, and we do not have to act upon them. We are then in a safe place to feel them. We can do so without condemning ourselves for having them, without pretending they are not there, or without unleashing them indiscriminately and in a hurtful way upon others. We may recognize that to allow our feelings to be felt and named does not mean we have to act on them. This awareness can be a safe place for all our feelings.
Others may also provide a safe place for us, especially if they allow us to express our feelings to them without blaming or attacking us, or telling us that we should not feel this way. For our part, as well, it is a matter of entrusting our feelings, our thoughts and concerns, without unleashing them. To do so requires at once a trust on our part and a trustworthiness on the part of another. It is a trustworthiness coupled with caring that creates a mutual safe place for us. I have often said that we cannot talk another into anything, but we can listen then into their own truth. If we have someone to whom we can entrust our feelings, we may come to uncover certain feelings, be able to name them honestly, and possibly discover their roots. We may then decide how to respond–rather than react–to them.
To be genuinely listened to, or to listen from the heart to another, may convey a profound sense of being understood. If someone is acknowledged as who they are and that who they are is valuable, that caring recognition provides a safe place. Such caring expressed in listening with understanding allows us to entrust safely where we are at present, to entrust any of our thoughts and feelings, whether what is bothering or upsetting us, or what brings us joy.
What it comes down to is that there is an underlying sacred worth in each of us. It is deeper than anything that we feel at any given moment. Even the most difficult feelings do not take away that worth. That recognition, or at least the striving to that recognition in self and others, provides a safe place for ourselves and for one another, first to feel, and then to decide a course of action, that honours that sacredness.
May you find a safe place within yourself and within a caring other to feel and name all your feelings, joyful and sorrowful. And may you come more and more to act according to a sense of your own sacred worth and the worth of others worth as deeper than all else.
Norman King, December 5, 2022.