Saturday, February 8, 2014

Inner Safety: Finding Center

Last week I raised the question of whether internal safety could be a benefit when living in unsafe conditions.

I have never lived in a war-torn region nor crime-infested area but I have been employed in unsafe conditions. Back in the 90s I worked in a drop-in on a drug ravaged street in a poor part of town. The centre supported people with mental health issues but many of our members abused substances and… we had an open door policy. Some days could be dicey. But, in truth, that wasn’t what made it dangerous—it was the unsupportive management. One that didn’t listen to staff concerns; did not perceive issues until late in the game and who felt the best way to end a physical fight was to join in.

Back then I was not only ignorant of who I was beneath my wanna-be tough self but was woefully unsafe. My persona was that I could handle anything. The truth was that I did everything I could to feel needed and loved. Moreover, I had no center to guide me. No, that is untrue, our center is always there. What was really happening was that I had no idea where it was, it bobbed up and down like a buoy in a turbulent sea.

With a wobbly center my sense of safety was quite inadequate and I was more often than not lost in trying to navigate the turbulent waters in which I found myself. I trusted the wrong people, stayed silent when I should have spoken up, was intimidated by bullies, and found myself overwhelmed with an increasingly inability to cope with minor issues.

I stayed working in that neighbourhood in different jobs for seven years. When I left I told people it was because of burn out. Thinking back, however, I feel it’s more because I had found my center again. I was finally able to look inside and say, enough, time to go. I was fortunate. Many people who find themselves in dangerous or even uncomfortable situations cannot leave. They may not have the financial or physical means; they may feel protective towards their home or that they can change the circumstances; some may be in service to the specific community at risk.  These people who either choose or are forced to stay must find their center, the calm in the storm, or be crushed. And this is not to say they will not lose it from time to time but they have figured out how to realign and re-connect when things go awry.

This center I talk of is where our truth lies. It is the foundation for our morality and guides us in complicated and confusing situations.  But rather than being rigid our true center is compassionate and open-hearted when faced with life's gray areas. When one has no doubt where their center lies they can ferry storms and withstand the fear-based actions of others. Most of all, they know their center can never be hurt by another regardless of how malicious the other’s behaviour may be. I imagine Nelson Mandela had no doubt where his center lay.

When I found my center, I knew I could not stay in the community in which I worked— I was not strong enough. I needed to recoup my strength, solidify self trust and further develop the tools needed to re-center again and again, each time life threw me off balance. I still work on it every day—not with the need for survival but for the joy it gives me and the surety of who I am.

So, how does one find their center? In as many ways as there are unique individuals but the first step is figuring out how to take healthy care of one self. My first step, besides therapy, was spending time in nature. I hiked nearly every day, sometimes obsessively, until I finally slowed down and realized I didn’t need the exercise as much as I needed the safety and stillness the forest provided. It took time and commitment. But after awhile I was able to transfer that sense of security to a place within, knowing it wasn’t so much the trees that protected me but that I was inseparable from the natural environment, a part of the intricate web of life. As such, I could find my center (and safety) wherever I was: a dark urban street or facing an angry person.

I now know where my center lies and how to reconnect when I am troubled, confused or just plain hormonal. And even though I live and work in safe environments, connecting with my centre is part of my committed practice to living well.

This is but my experience. I invite you to tell me how these words fit into yours. Does inner safety mediate the dangers of one’s environment?

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