We’re in unprecedented times, and the unknown can be scary. It may feel dangerous, but is it true? Release both safety and danger and see life as it is. Here’s an excerpted chapter from my book, Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life.
“The wise man in the storm prays not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
The last mistake of the 6 spiritual mis-takes – simple misunderstandings that we can adjust and transform – is what I call the Safety/Danger polarity.
I’ve already talked about the Pride/Shame polarity, and I’ll back up just a bit to talk about polarities, because they are all around us in this 3-dimensional world we live. It’s part and parcel of human existence to experience polarities. There’s hot and cold, up and down, tight and loose – you get the picture. Everything on the planet and everything you experience within you has its opposite.
But on the spiritual path, we can learn to transcend them. The ability to transcend polarities goes a long way towards reducing our anxiety and stress. In The Marriage of Spirit, unity consciousness teachers Leslie Temple-Thurston and Brad Laughlin reveal this practice. “It is possible to find the underlying unity inherent in all the pairs of opposite within us. Finding this unity is an awakening to a more expanded state of consciousness and to our spiritual essence.” Transcendence happens in this unity consciousness.
What is Safety? What is Danger?
In order to transcend a polarity, we first need to pull it apart, to understand what is operating within those opposite forces. Let’s look at safety first.
Safety is the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing any harm, injury, or loss. Right there in the concept of safety is danger. You really can’t think about one without the other. When we feel in danger, we want to be safe. When we’re safe, we’re avoiding danger. We do everything in our power to feel safe, and to protect our loved ones from danger. It’s the most fundamental instinct we have. If we aren’t safe, we’re not as likely to survive.
The idea of safety brings us right back to the desire to control. If things are in our control, then we’re gonna feel safe, right? We like what is known and in our control, and consciously or unconsciously, we spend a lot of our energy every day trying to feel safe.
You may not think that we’re so invested in creating safety, because most of us aren’t running away from wild tigers anymore. But the bigger challenge in western culture these days is our psyche feeling safe. There are all kinds of threats to our emotional well-being and sense of ourselves. Do they like me or don’t like me? Will they accept or reject my proposal? Am I a good parent or a bad parent, and are others judging my parenting? Will I be perceived as successful or a failure? All of these scenarios cause that fear factor to be activated, when we are basing our sense of safety in the world – and our sense of self – on things, circumstances, and people outside of us.
Danger is, naturally, the possibility of being hurt or injured. Danger is relative to how we perceive things. If we perceive threats all around us, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, our anxiety is going to be high.
We often associate danger with the unknown and chaos. When things are out of our control, our spidey-senses inside can be habituated to perceiving danger. Like when we’re walking around in the dark at night. The dark obscures our vision, so we really can’t tell what is out there – it’s unknown. Fear is often projected on the unknown, going all the way back to our cave(wo)man days when we had to be on high alert at nighttime, and carry a big, preferably flaming, stick.
It Shouldn’t Be Like This
There’s a subtle attitude we have when we’re clinging onto the idea of safety. We believe that it shouldn’t be like this – it shouldn’t be unpredictable and unknown. It shouldn’t be “dangerous”. It shouldn’t be chaotic.
When things change, we tend to feel anxious, like it’s not safe anymore if it isn’t familiar. If we didn’t win, that’s bad and our sense of self can feel endangered – oh no, am I a loser? They’re asking me to speak in front of the class – I’m not prepared, that’s so scary! I shouldn’t have to do that, things shouldn’t change, I shouldn’t ever lose. There are so many ways in which we psychologically perceive danger, increasing our anxiety.
But there is no should or shouldn’t in life. Our shoulds exist in our mind alone; life simply is. There’s no document that says life should always be safe. And honestly, there’s nothing that says that life is always dangerous.
We Make It Bigger By Pushing Away
We have explored how resisting and pushing away makes things stay. It also gives what you resist power and makes it bigger than it really is. When we perceive something with fear, believe that it is dangerous, and then try to get rid of it, it looks really huge.
Take a spider, for example. I used to have a big fear of spiders. Growing up, I’d go screaming to my dad when I found one in my bathroom, which is usually where they would lurk. Even well into my adulthood, I had this crazy fear of spiders.
One time, I had locked myself out of my house. I lived in a studio apartment that was on the second floor of an old, early 20th century farmhouse. The only way I could get back in was to crawl around on the roof of the first floor to the window next to my bed, and crack the window open. I knew it wasn’t locked because it was very difficult for me to turn the rusty lock, and the window itself was very hard to pry open.
With a lot of huffs and puffs, I finally got the bottom window frame to slide up, allowing me enough space to slide myself in. But as I looked down, there was my big fear, looking up at me with its hairy brown legs and beady eyes (which I course I couldn’t see, but I knew were there) – a spider. It was probably about an inch from toe to toe (do spiders have toes?), not very big. But to me, it seemed big, hairy, ready to bite me. Potentially poisonous? Not likely, but still, you never know.
What was I to do? I’d have to crawl right over it. It conveniently placed itself right there on the edge of the sill, as if laughing at me – you’ll never cross this threshold while I’m here! I had to figure out to what to do. So I took my shoe, raised it slowly, and slammed it down – and missed. The spider went into my bed.
Oh @(#*! That was the last thing I wanted. Now it’s somewhere in my bed, and I’ll have to find it. What if I don’t, and I go to bed and it comes out in the middle of the night and jumps on me! It could bite me all over. I’d never be able to sleep. My anxiety was through the roof, and this spider was now ruling my world.
The short story here (which is already plenty long!) is that I spent the next 20 minutes ripping apart my bed, jumping all over the mattress whacking at the spider with my shoe, screaming bloody murder. I wonder what my neighbors thought was going on.
After that, I made a decision. This was stupid. OK, I’m not going to judge myself, but this is really silly. I know intellectually that a spider is not a big deal and isn’t really going to harm me unless it’s poisonous, and I knew this one wasn’t. It was just an ordinary spider. But I made it sooooo big with my fear, my perception that spiders are all dangerous.
So I worked on my fear over the years, and now I see spiders as regular creatures who help keep the fly population down, and I have an effective technique of catching them in a plastic cup and taking them outside to the bushes, where they belong (according to me!). And hence, my daughter doesn’t have a fear of spiders, either. I shifted my perception from believing spiders were big and dangerous, and brought it back down to reality.
Being Spiritual Makes Me Safe, Right?
You may be wondering why the Safety/Danger polarity is a spiritual mis-take, because all of these situations are part of anyone’s life. The interesting thing is that some of us pursue the spiritual path in part because we think it will make us safe.
If I chant mantras, I’ll be protected. By visualizing my shield of energy around me, it will repel any negativity. If I just meditated more, I’d be so calm and peaceful that I’d never feel fear again. All of these examples show the subtle way that we use our spiritual practices to create an illusion of safety.
Oh no, you say! Do you mean those things aren’t protecting me? No, not really. They may actually be helping you to feel more safe. But that isn’t really the point.
The Illusion of Safety/Danger
If we deeply look at the spiritual aspects of this polarity, we see that the ideas of safety and danger are both our creation. There is no absolutely safe situation, and neither is there an inherently dangerous one. Handling a cobra would be a very poor choice for me or probably for you, but a skilled snake charmer does it every day for a living. Safety and Danger are illusory concepts.
Life is neither safe nor dangerous. It just is what it is, in every moment. It is true that we can make choices that put us in more safe situations or dangerous ones. But when we buy into the idea that we must feel safe (according to our perceptions of what is dangerous), try to control things (whether spiritually or practically) to avoid danger, and then freak out when things don’t go as planned simply perpetuates the anxiety we’re trying to release.
There are other possibilities of experience besides safety or danger. When we are present in the moment, we can step out of controlling and the mind’s interpretation of things, and learn to be with how they are. Living in the present moment helps us transcend our fears of what will happen and stay right with the reality of how it is right now.
Related to the corona virus, let’s check in to this moment, here where you’re reading this. Is it here right now? Probably not. If you’re sick, and it’s mild, do we need to build it up into something terrifying? Come into the present moment, and use your senses to bring you into reality, rather than the stories that the mind tells. Sitting here reading this blog, you’re probably seeing the computer or phone screen, breathing, noticing what you’re sitting on, and maybe hearing a car drive by outside. This is the present moment in your life. Not what the cable news networks or your news feed on your cell phone are telling you. Stay here, right now, and let those agitating thoughts go. Presence is the first of the 7 keys to overcoming anxiety.
There are many other perspectives we can embrace that shift us out of the Safety/Danger polarity, that have nothing to do with changing what’s “out there”, and allow us to see it differently. Taking my spider story, we can perceive the oneness of all things, and see ourselves in the spider. We can choose to accept the spider and the situation, and wait for a resolution to reveal itself. The spider can be welcomed in (but you don’t have to get too close, wink wink) as part of the wholeness of the world and even some part of your own self. And by surrendering and placing our trust in the Divine (Surrender chapter coming up!), we can allow something greater than us to bring forth our highest good. Doesn’t that potentially sound like a wonderful, calming spiritual practice? Transcending the polarity of Safety/Danger and taking responsibility for changing your perception gives you true freedom to be able to handle whatever life brings you.
How can you reframe the corona virus pandemic – or any challenging time in your life – in a transcendent way, and take it out of the safe-danger polarity? Are you willing to see things as they are, rather than painting danger or safety over them? How can you come more into the present moment? What challenges come up for you with this? I’d love to hear them right here.
And if you’d like some support through this time, join me for the online workshop, Thriving in Challenging Times on Saturday, March 28th.
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