The first time someone told me to “Stay safe,” was when I was working on a book with a retired Secret Service agent. I’d met him for lunch and when we were leaving to go to our cars, he looked me in the eye and said those two words. Stay Safe. It felt warm, like he cared, and it reminded me to be aware of what was going on around me.

Over the last year, we’ve often said, “Stay safe” to each other in a perilous world. We end our texts and emails with it, we end our phone conversations with it and it feels good to say and good to hear. But what does it really mean? How do we stay safe during a pandemic, insurrections and race riots?

We start by doing the prescribed things like wearing masks and staying six feet apart. At least most of us do. And more and more people are getting vaccinated. But the truth is that we aren’t safe until everyone is safe, so what do we do with that? The way I see it, feeling safe comes from the inside out. We can’t change anyone else. We can’t choose what’s going to show up in an unpredictable world that is filled with obstacles and trials, but we can learn how to feel protected and hopeful. We can work on becoming a warrior, not of the body but rather a warrior of the mind as we get in touch with our thought patterns that make us feel fearful and insecure. We can stay aware of our surroundings and how we feel around other people. And we can find a way to be kind to ourselves when fear is running the show.

I was stuck in traffic on the freeway a few days ago, feeling anxious and trapped and thinking unkind thoughts about the other people who were stuck there with me. Why is that person trying to get ahead of me in my lane? Why doesn’t the car on front of me pull forward into the space? I felt unsafe as I searched for a way be a mind warrior and protect myself from negative thinking. I became aware of my breath, I loosened my shoulders, I felt the leather on the seat, my hands on the wheel, and I reminded myself that I was on the road because I chose to be. No one else had demanded that I go anywhere. I reminded myself that I could exit the freeway any time I wanted to and if I did, there was no shame in it. Staying or going were fine.

It didn’t take long to feel a difference. When I stopped judging and started noticing my fear, I felt compassion for the people around me who must have been feeling the same way I was. I acknowledged our connection. I told myself that I was safe and in a few minutes, I was breathing easier, my body felt relaxed and I didn’t feel trapped any more.

When we do the hard work of building our self-awareness and inner strength with mindfulness, something I talk about in many of my blogs, we feel secure that we can manage ourselves in an unmanageable world. I took a self-defense class years ago and the first thing they taught us was to keep our eyes open and be aware of what was going on around us. Then we could decide if we had to stay there and fight or if we could run and get the hell out of there.

After a full ye
ar in quarantine, things are getting better but we’re still in a pandemic and we still see racism and violent protests that we can’t seem to stop or understand. What we can understand is that we have the choice to use our inner strength and our inner warrior attitudes to face the world with compassion. To learn to tolerate discomfort and walk our way through it. When we put our minds to it, we can trust that we know how to keep ourselves safe. We just have to do it.