Inner Refuge & Felt Safety
Felt Safety. What does this mean and why is it important? How do we orient to it, and is it possible to orient no matter the conditions and circumstance?
Safety is one of our most basic needs as a human being. When we feel safe, our organism feels regulated and balanced. We have space for the more evolved aspects of our humanity: self reflection, growth and learning, insight and understanding, connection and empathy. When we don’t feel safe, we usually attend to the more immediate needs of survival. Instead, our attention is scanning for threat, the need to guard or defend, or perhaps to fight or flee, in some instances freeze. While this is an important survival mechanism, it also places us in a heightened state of vigilance and activation. When unconsciously prolonged, it adversely impacts our sense of well-being and health.
So what does safety mean in daily life?
There is the safety of our physical environment. While there may be troubling situations arising in the world, I may feel physically safe within the bounds of my home or perhaps in the serenity of nature. There is also felt safety within relationships. Some relationships may put me at ease, while others make me uncomfortable or uneasy. If I am in a relationship where I am regularly criticized, or perhaps the object of snarky humor, I may not feel safe or at ease. Instead, I am awaiting the next remark that I may need to protect myself from. On the other hand, we may have a trusted friend, partner or an animal that exudes a compassionate and kind presence toward us. We feel at home in ourselves when we are with them.
Equally important is the safety of our inner experience. If I constantly judge or diminish myself, tell myself I need to do better or do more, I might not feel at ease within myself. Instead I might constantly be striving to become something else, rather than feeling at rest with how I am. This is not to suggest that change is always unwholesome, but if it is regularly rooted in a sense of lack or not enough, it can be incredibly depleting.
So what allows you to feel safe with yourself? This may call for clear and compassionate boundaries at times, an inner atmosphere of kindness and acceptance, taking refuge in your home, safe communities, or nature. The answers are unique to each individual.
In the practice of meditation and specifically iRest® yoga nidra, we take time to explore this felt inner refuge during the beginning pieces of practice. This can create an atmosphere of ease through which we meet the moments that are arising. By felt safety I am referring to the lived experience of safety in your body as sensation and vibration. We can think all day long about what safety is, but its impact becomes real when it is embodied. The more we touch and taste the felt quality of security, ground, and ease, the more accessible it becomes in life, and especially in the moments that something distressing arises.
How do we evoke this inner refuge? We can call forward imagery or memory. It might include a wise being, a trusted friend or community, beloved animal, a place, or a memory. There may be corresponding images, sounds, tastes and smells that make it all the more vivid. Slowly, we feel what is lighting up in our body as sensation, the rhythm of our heart beating and the body breathing. We come to know the lived experience of safety and well-being in our flesh and bones.
While imagery and visualization can be a great support, the ultimate expression of this inner refuge may arise through the ground of simply Being; being with moments as they are, without pushing anything away or needing to pull anything closer. There can be a profound experience of safety in meeting life in this way.
We will continue to explore this in classes this week. If you would like, you might explore at home with the following guidance:
Find a posture that feels easy on your body, sitting on the floor or on a chair, or reclining. You can choose to keep your eyes softly open, or closed. You might take a few slow breaths in and out through the nose, a little longer on the exhale … as you feel your body grounding toward the earth below … Feel yourself held and supported as you allow your breath to return to its natural flow.
Call your attention within your body, resting heart centered, feeling the rhythm of your body breathing and your heart beating. You might feel a quality of ok-ness, or perhaps well-being in this living, breathing body … Gently open into the feeling of safety and ease. Notice what you feel in your body… You might call forward imagery or a memory that enables you to feel safe and at ease now. Perhaps there are images of a trusted friend or community, a beloved animal, a symbolic object. It may include a place or a memory. There may be sounds, scents, taste, color and shape. As this becomes vivid, begin to feel how your body is resonating with sensation and vibration. Open to sensation across your head and face … eyes, ears and jaw. Feel through the inside of your shoulders and hands … your torso, across the front of the chest into the low abdomen … the upper back to the low back. Feel the subtle vibrations through your hips … the length of the legs, the soles of your feet … Simply Being, feel the whole body of sensation and the felt safety of an inner refuge … just to the degree that it is available… Rest here as long as you like.
When you feel ready, begin to feel your body, the ground, the space you are in. Slowly open and close your eyes, gentle wiggle your fingers and your toes, wrists and ankles. As you begin to navigate your day, know that you can return to this inner refuge any time you want to feel safe, secure and at ease.