That Illusive Safe Place


For Sunday Scribblings writing prompt: Safe

and Writers Island writing prompt:  Illusion

According to Gavin de Becker, fear is a gift (The Gift of Fear) because it awakens all of our senses, including our intuitive faculties. There is also a belief that artists must suffer before they can make art. Art is an intuitive process, a sort of brailing through the process of taking an idea, or concept, and making it into something that speaks to the senses of sight, sound, and emotions. Yet, we all fear pain, and its consequences, and attempt to avoid it at all costs.  

I’ve worked in two different Women’s Centers, one was an actual shelter for abuse victims and their children. The first rule in such an environment is that the victim will not hear, or see, what she needs to do unless she first feels safe. All of her senses are honed to run, to make distance between herself and further abuse. Unless she feels safe, she won’t be able to sit down and make plans: she’s just too busy running, avoiding, making that distance. She is in self-preserve mode only.

Then there is what has been called The Dark Ages. It is defined as such because nothing creative: no written words, no artifacts were created during that time period. The making of Art was simply not done because the people of that time were living at a subsistence level. Like the abuse victim, they were moving only on a survival level, didn’t have time or energy for anything else except staying alive.

All of these examples are about being, or feeling, safe. But, does safe mean an end to fear, and if it does, how does safe affect our creativity? The examples almost seem to contradict one another. The people of the Dark Ages were solely involved in obtaining the sustenance that would allow them to live another day. The abuse victim is running away from abuse and has no time or energy to make plans for an eventual safe place where she can stop running and start living. And if the Artist creates a safe place, one with no pain, will he dull his own senses to the point that he will have no more desire to create?

Is safety no more than an illusion? And if it is an illusion, is it a necessary one? I understand why de Becker calls fear a gift. It brings all of our senses to optimum alertness. It feeds the adrenaline that is necessary for movement as well as fast decision making. But, can we live at that optimum for any amount of time without burning out? Without exhausting ourselves to the point where any decision or action is simply impossible?

There is a Zen practice defined as being present to the moment. Being aware each moment. It is a difficult practice, but one that is possible. The past is done, and can not be changed. The future is yet to be. And although both of those can be opportunities to learn and grow, the only moment we really have is now. Keeping our senses alert, not allowing them to be fogged by things that can’t be changed and others that might or might not happen, means keeping ourselves here and now. Not fueled by fear, but by the awareness of simply being present.

I have been doing another Zen practice for the past month. It is that of practicing observation. Writing out one detailed observation a day. It sounds easy, but can be quite difficult if one is not used to doing such a thing. Making note of what one sees, hears, tastes, feels, or thinks is bringing oneself into the present moment. It hones those skills by practicing them.

Observation is the beginning of Art. It is where the ideas and concepts stem from that must then become a vehicle for an Artistic Statement. Observation is using intuition to find that idea because what we note must be associated with what we know in order to find definition. A regular practice of observation makes us alert and aware, much more able to see what is right there in front of us. It prepares us for the unexpected. And, in a very real sense, allows us to create a safe place in each moment.

No, that doesn’t mean the end of fear, or that bad things won’t happen. What it does mean is that we will be far more prepared to deal with those things when they do arise. Far more capable of responding rather than just reacting.

I often write about individual comfort zones. We like what we are comfortable with and seek it out to relax. But, a comfort zone can swiftly become a prison, a cage, a personal Dark Age where nothing new or meaningful can happen. Comfort zones are for sleeping or drowsing in, and they can and do rob us of our ability to respond to what might occur. And anything can occur at any moment, and probably will.

Learning to be present to the moment begins with a practice of being observant. Slowly and regularly using those senses that we need to counter whatever we encounter. It also builds self-trust, a major ingredient in feeling and being safe. That thing that the abuse victim, the Artist, and that individual lost in his/her personal Dark Age all seek, that safe place where life can begin fully.


About 1sojournal

Loves words and language. Dances on paper to her own inner music. Loves to share and keeps several blogs to facilitate that. They can be found here:
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27 Responses to That Illusive Safe Place

  1. Jae Rose says:

    ‘the victim will not hear, or see, what she needs to do unless she first feels safe’ – I got lost in that..thank you…learning even to describe before you can ‘analyse’ is indeed a move away from fear and a step into taking control..I shall be reading your piece again..your words are a reassuring hand..Jae

    • 1sojournal says:

      Jae Rose, I’m glad they were meaningful to you. So many things jumped into my head with the word “safe”, I had to sit for a while and really think how to sort them out and find my own response. But, because of my own background and experience, safe is usually followed by the word ‘place’ within my psyche. They are inextricably tied together, I guess.

      Thanks for your comments,

  2. Nice write about safety, fear and reaction. Somethings will always be a surprise, no matter how prepared we try to be. Because it is life, and life has a way of taking unusual turns, all that is unexpected. That’s my test, when I wonder, is this really life? Life is never what you think it will be. It seems what we get ready for, never happens, it’s always something else, something unexpected.

    • 1sojournal says:

      And fear is an all to familiar response to the unexpected. It’s as though we are constantly caught off guard and that may be due to our own expectations about what life is and how it works. Although creativity can bring on that fear response, it can also open the doors to more of the life we are seeking. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Annell,


  3. No Excuses says:

    This was incredible! Your words meant so very much. Thank you.

  4. pamela says:

    Elizabeth, something that was very hard for was
    leaving my country and putting forth a no fear
    attitude in another country. Different language,
    culture and general outlook on life. A big adjustment.

    I now appreciate living here, but that only happened
    in the past few years. That is when I chose to live in
    the present. Thanks for writing this piece, as always
    you do stir up my emotions.

    • 1sojournal says:

      Pamela, I don’t do that intentionally, honest. But, it’s still nice to know that what one says does have an impact. And yes, I can see how trying to form roots in foriegn soil would definitely be fear inducing. Glad you found a way through that or we might not be able to be impacted by your wonderful poetry. Thanks my friend,


  5. I agree with you on most of this – an excellent analysis. I would disagree with you about the Dark Ages, however. There is plenty of evidence of much art and intellect during the period, but in the main it was not in stone, etc, so didn’t survive well.

    • 1sojournal says:

      Anthony, that is surprising because it wasn’t what I was taught. Mostly we were told that the majority of life was lived on that subsistance level. And it would be my guess that the art and writing was done only by a small group of the elite of that day and age. That the very words The Dark Ages comes from the fact that it was a dark time in History when Art had very little space to shine its light on everyday existence. Might be because I was a student of social history. Anyway, thanks for sharing that info and I always like reading your comments.


  6. Old Egg says:

    I would have to agree with Anthony North, the Dark Ages were a misnomer to convince people things were better in Britain when they were not. Later spin doctors I expect and poor record keeping. Something like we have now.

    It is good to read a post that tests the mind and our perceptions. Safety is of course relative. We may feel comparatively safe but still be in great danger.

    • 1sojournal says:

      And I agree with you about the spin on most things. It has always been there and will probably always exist, and is one of the basic reasons that safety is relative, often hiding very real danger. Just one more reason for practicing observation and staying present to whatever moment we are in. Thanks for the dialogue,


  7. very well written & so right on time. I have resolved to make myself ‘be’ in the moment. it’s constant work. 😐

  8. Mary says:

    I will shoot from the hip about what I feel at this moment, a way I haven’t always felt. Today I feel that most everything is an illusion. Maybe that is because I don’t want to recognize reality. I also think there is no such thing as safety. I am well aware that I could step out of my door and slip on black ice as quick as a flash. As far as living in the moment, I do that. It is all I have. I don’t look far beyond. My life has narrow boundaries right now. Writing poetry is as far away as I get. I enjoyed the comments about the Dark Ages. I enjoyed your reflections, as always, Elizabeth.

    • 1sojournal says:

      Thank you, my friend. And I agree that you have many reasons for those narrowed boundaries. However, I love what I see happening with your poetry. For me, the boundaries are never quite as narrow when I can write and you are doing that and growing in the process, it shows. Poetry can and does take us anywhere we are willing to go.

      I think, because of my own background, I related to what was said about the Dark Ages on a personal level. Realized, that on many levels, I had been living on a subsistence level without being aware of it, and yet, like you I was writing, not often, not a lot, but suddenly realized that the writing was actually the light I needed in that Dark Age of my existence. I think sometimes, that it actually glows and radiates outward, beyond my own perceptions. At least I like to think it has that potential, lol.

      And I happen to like shooting from the hip, it makes sense, no flourishes, no fancy tricks, just the truth as we know it. Thanks so much Mary,


      • Mary says:

        Thank you, Elizabeth, for your response!! I’m feeling even narrower boundaries today with being trapped by a blizzard that will go on all night and tomorrow. Glad you like me shooting from the hip! Actually I think we would get along well that way…and someday we will have to have a glass of wine (or two) together and find out! LOL.

  9. vivinfrance says:

    You have given me a great deal to ponder on. Observation – that screwed up eyes looking deeply into things is something I did all the time when I was painting a lot. Maybr I need to get back into that habit for my writing. Safe: definitely an illusory state for me. We never know when life is going to get up and kick us in the teeth. The only wise way to live, as you say, is in the moment.

    • 1sojournal says:

      Viv, another straight shooter from the hip. We are a group, are we not? Don’t they tell beginning painters to poke a small hole in a piece of white paper, then look through it to really see what is there but hidden sometimes in that wider view? How that far more intense scrutiny brings out an array of shades and hues not otherwise seen because they blend into only one or two colors, something about how the lens of the eye and the mind work together to find definition?

      As writers, I think it is always a good idea to look at a subject from at least two views if not more. One way of keeping us from getting too comfortable and losing the view that alters with each moment. And that’s why these comments sections are so important to me. I like those other views, even when they don’t agree. Have to look away from what I’ve been staring at and widen my own perspective. There are always subtle hues that get missed.

      Thanks for your comments, and I especially like the kick in the teeth statement. It echoes, lol.


  10. As always I really enjoyed reading your post, Elisabeth.
    I think it’s exactly because we don’t feel safe in the present moment that we grasp at a non-existent past or future to give us that illusion of safety. Feeling safe in the present moment – just as it is – is the ultimate challenge. I think you’d like Pema Chodron. Her book “The places that scare you” might be of interest to you. It’s about staying with whatever feelings arise within us and to just observe them. Amazing stuff but very hard to do.

    • 1sojournal says:

      And you, Flying Monkey, have reminded me of something I have been avoiding doing. Just letting the feeling rise, and observing it, letting it just be there. Riding it, exploring it. Letting it speak, say whatever it needs to say. Really good practice and just as you said, hard to do. Have been in one of those places for over a week. Watching myself react in an inefficient manner. How really simple, and how difficult all at the same time. Thank you so much for bringing it all to my attention. I love it when that happens,


  11. Reflections says:

    Very well done, a powerful message… needing to be heard, to be let out to help others. Nice!

    • 1sojournal says:

      Thank you Reflections, but as you can see, I needed to hear what others were saying in response. Putting our words and thoughts out there is taking a risk, always. Not only of being silenced, but of having ones trajectory corrected. We don’t learn without the risk, but many times it is worth all the effort.


  12. Susannah says:

    Hi Elizabeth, I really enjoyed your response to the prompt ‘safe’ .

    My post was titled ‘safety is an illusion’ but I agree that a certain feeling of being ‘safe’ is necessary to allow our focus to shift from survival issues and to allow ourselves to unfold.

    Lots of food for thought here.

    • 1sojournal says:

      I did see your poem, Susannah, and almost changed my mind about what I was going to write. Glad I didn’t. These responses have been more than helpful, they were necessary. Thanks for reading and taking part,


  13. Safety is an illusion, coz we don’t know what’s ahead to decide what is safe and what is not.. everything has its own risk I think..

    Your post is thought provoking.. yes, the abuse victim does need to feel safe before further help can be given.. but what will she feel safe after that attack on her soul?

    • 1sojournal says:

      Leo, you bring up a very good point. So much abuse goes way past the physical and does attack the soul. It is possible, but very difficult to heal all of that. I still retain a startle response even after years of counseling and healing. It is a hope of mine that someday I will not flinch away from even the smallest of surprises. Thanks for putting down your thoughts,


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