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.