|About David Spangler|
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is © 2016 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org. Previous issues of “David’s Desk” are available here. You can also buy a volume of twelve of David’s Desk essays, entitled The Flame of Incarnation.
~ David’s Desk, Current Issue ~
DAVIDS DESK #111: SAFETY
As a teacher, one of my primary objectives in all of my classes over the years has been to create a safe environment. I have wanted the people who honor me with their time, money, and trust to feel safe when they put themselves into my educational hands. Not all spiritual teachers share this objective, and over the years, I’ve sometimes been criticized by colleagues for making safety a priority.
Not that these other teachers wanted to terrorize their students or taught by fear, but they had a more confrontative style and felt that a student who was on edge and uncertain what might be coming was more likely to make a breakthrough. My philosophy, though, was that if a person felt safe, he or she was more likely to relax and be open, and it was through this openness that change could come.
It’s like the fable of the contest between the sun and the north wind as to who could make a traveler walking down a road remove his heavy coat. The wind felt he could win through the force of this wintry blast that would blow the coat off, but the more he blew and the colder the wind, the more tightly the man clutched his coat around him. But when the sun took his turn and simply shone, the man felt warmed by the sun’s rays and gladly took the coat off.
These days it seems like a very cold north wind is blowing through the world. Increasingly, people do not feel safe, and when a person doesn’t feel safe, he pulls the “coat” of his boundaries closer and tighter about himself. He clings more tightly to what is known, what is familiar, what is in his control—however little that may be—and hunkers down with those who are like himself. He wants to build walls.
Heaven knows, there’s a lot to feel unsafe about in the world. African-Americans feel unsafe around police; police feel unsafe around African-Americans. Everyone feels unsafe from terrorists and crazy people with guns and grievances. Jobs feel threatened, familiar ways of life seem to be disappearing, cultural values seem to be melting away, leaving many feeling vulnerable and angry in their vulnerability. There are too many places in the world that truly are unsafe: battlegrounds, cities shattered by civil wars, slums, ghettos, the no-man lands of societal neglect. But even in places were there are no conflicts, no overt threats, no obvious reasons for insecurity, there can be a sense that one’s safety is on shaky ground.
This is obviously a problem. There’s no question our world is facing huge problems both human and environmental. When people feel unsafe and vulnerable, though, a mental and emotional constriction can take place, making creative thinking and problem-solving harder, making trust and cooperation seem more risky, and thus reducing rather than expanding our capacities to meet the challenges of our time. So how do we deal with this? How do we find a safety that is not dependent on walls and guns?
Recently, I had to go into the hospital to deal with a situation that arose out of unexpected and unwanted complications of medical treatment. I’ve been in hospitals frequently over the past decade, and while I’ve always received good care, I developed a fear of the place. I would have nightmares about being in the hospital, and seeing a hospital show on television (something I usually avoid) might trigger a fearful memory of pain I’d suffered in hospitals in the past. Hospitals were for me very unsafe places! So voluntarily going to the Emergency room knowing that it would most likely lead to a new stay in our local hospital was something I kept putting off until sheer physical distress drove me to their door.
I was in the hospital for five days, and the first two days were emotionally like my nightmares come true. Fear prowled the corridors of my mind, and I felt every bit as vulnerable, powerless, and unsafe as I’d imagined I would feel. At one point a hospital worker doing a survey came in and asked me if I felt any anxiety. Incredulous at the question, I looked at her and said wryly, “I would say so! I’m in a hospital!”
Then something shifted. The routine was to wake me up at 4am every morning to take blood samples. On the third morning, as I lay there in the semi-dark of my room after the phlebotomist had left, I realized that I no longer felt fear. I felt relaxed. In fact, I felt safe. I looked around the room and said to myself, “Omigosh! I feel safe!”
As I analyzed this change, I realized that it had come about entirely due to the compassion, the caring, I would even say the love that all my nurses, both male and female, had been showing me. While they were entirely professional in carrying out their duties, they conveyed their very human concern for me as a person, and it was obvious, even when I’d been most fearful, that they were each holding me in their caring and their empathy.
This brought home to me a reminder of what I already knew but had not been in a position to experience so directly and dramatically. We are each other’s safety. Even in the direst circumstances, if we can be open to each other and reach out with caring and compassion to be present and, where possible, helpful to each other, we create an aura of safety. When the north wind is blowing, we can be each other’s sun, bathing each other in the empathetic rays of mutual support.
There’s nothing new in this realization. People in disaster areas prove it time and again as they reach out to help and comfort each other. The truth is that as much as we can create unsafe conditions, we can also create safety. Realizing this gives us power to make a difference, but it means having courage to be open and to build bridges rather than to constrict, hoard, and hide behind walls.
But there was something else I realized as I lay there in the hospital bed in the dark feeling the welcome release and comfort of knowing I was safe. Even more than the positive effect the caring love of the nurses had upon me, I realized that I was trusting myself. I felt safe with myself.
I’m not sure I can fully explain this, but I realized that much of the fear I’d been feeling and hence the feeling of being unsafe came from feeling out of touch with my own sovereignty, my own strength, my own sense of being capable of meeting whatever life brought to me. Some of this was due to the state of my body, which had become dangerously weak; but some of it was due simply to defining myself in a vulnerable way and fearful way.
I’ve thought a lot about this since coming home and feeling my strength and vitality return. I realized that as a result of many years of surgeries and medical treatments, part of me didn’t trust the rest of me to keep it safe from pain and suffering. I didn’t feel wholly safe in myself. But at some point in this recent hospital stay, this was released. That morning as I lay there, I knew that I felt safe in the hospital because I felt truly safe in myself.
The future can be a scary country, particularly these days, and it’s one we’re all entering all the time. We can’t avoid it. Knowing that we’re doing so together can be a source of safety if we can be open-hearted and willing to share support with each other. But perhaps most of all, we need to know our own resilience in the face of potential change. We need to know our own inner strength, our own capacities. The bedrock of our safety isn’t “out there” but within us. That is where the true sun lies whose rays warm us and enable us to relax and take off our coats of defensiveness. We must be open to ourselves and to the life within us.
When we are, we discover a truth, that we embody change. Life is always a dynamic of change. It is a balance of the fixed and the fluid, of that which gives stability and that which introduces new possibilities and unexplored potentials. Our safety doesn’t lie in things never changing. An unchanging future is a dead future; it offers not safety but stagnation.
When we know we have the ability to meet life in its dynamic nature, because that is essentially our nature as well, then we truly discover the safety that lies within us. That is when we can feel safe with ourselves, trusting in ourselves, and that is when we can truly co-create trust and safety with each other.
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is ©2016 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
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