Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Inner Refuge’ Category

Among the Trees

This week I was able to spend a little time outside during the early dawn hours.  I enjoy and savor the quietness of the mornings.  I can rest in the soft melodies of the birds, the scurry of the squirrels, the wind, the leaves, clouds just becoming visible, adrift in the sky.  My inner dialogue and the world’s still in an easeful slumber.  Lately, I often pause in awe of the trees.  The Grace with which they meet the seasons of their life.  They are a vision of exquisite surrender, not resisting the wind, the sun, nor the rain; simply rooted, their leaves falling and returning every spring.  And if it was meant that they were to be completely uprooted, then that too is included.

This morning my attention began to settle a little lower.  The earth beneath the trees and the beauty in this.  I could feel the earth holding all of these trees through the seasons of their existence.  The earth does not seem to have an agenda, not fixing nor changing.  It just holds what is.

My attention settles a little closer to home, to the terrain of life within me.  Was the earth not holding me through the seasons of life just as she holds the trees?  Is she not holding all of Life, at all times?  Here, no experience and no one is more or less worthy.  For a while, I rest in this open embrace, just the experience itself.  After a few minutes I walk back inside, remembering Mary Oliver’s poem.

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”


The word ‘safe’ has been in the forefront of my experience and mind a lot recently.  Both national and world events have given me time for pause and personal reflection.  I am also immersed in a month long training with SAFE Alliance, an organization in Austin, TX, that is committed to bringing an end to violence and abuse through prevention, intervention and advocacy for social change.

The training has been profoundly eye opening on many levels, and I am still in the midst of learning and processing.  My heart has opened to the unimaginable ways in which felt safety can be broken and humanity undermined, and this has also inspired me to engage in a meaningful way.

The name stands true to their mission, which in great part is to create safe spaces, relationships, and support for those that have been oppressed, victimized and abused.  The underlying message they have consistently conveyed throughout the training is to meet the individual where they are, to hear their story, and to be a compassionate presence.  Over and over again it comes back to this simple, yet profound act.

If you can remember someone doing this for you in a time of distress, you know that it can feel incredibly safe and healing.  There is space for your experience and your humanity to be seen and heard, without agenda and judgement.  So much can happen by way of compassionate presence and listening. Individuals can slowly begin to reclaim their experience, worth, and strength. When a friend or an advocate can be with us without needing to fix or immediately advise, they gift us the opportunity to experience that which never needed to be fixed, has always been complete and whole no matter the circumstance.   The depth and breadth of the work that SAFE does goes far beyond what I can convey here, but their training has been incredibly enriching in ways that I could not have anticipated.

For many of us, we might be meeting challenges of a different nature, perhaps less extreme than what I am describing above.  When we take time for refuge and rest, we nourish ourselves so that we can ultimately meet life’s challenges and thrive in the face of them.  We can remember our wholeness in the face of circumstances that may feel broken.  And when we are not consumed only by the shadows of our experience, we become available to the unending depths of wisdom and light within.

The reason why it is important to practice opening to ease and safety regularly is because without it, it is very hard to touch into felt safety in a time of distress or difficulty.  While the idea of this may seem too simplistic, I have personally found that the simple things seem to have the most profound impact on my life.  Perhaps your doorway into safety is regular walks in nature, time with a pet or a friend.  It might be periods of solitude or play, music or art.  Explore how you can bring safe spaces and periods into your day and notice how it makes you feel in your body.  More so, notice how it begins to impact your life.

If you would like to explore a guided practice, the following is a 21 minute guided meditation I offered many months ago.


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.