Do You Feel Safe?

More than twenty years ago, my real estate agent was helping me find a home to buy in one of L A’s canyons. We drove higher and higher into what I call  “nose bleed” territory,  we stopped beside a For Sale sign, we walked up the front steps and when I crossed the threshold, I exhaled long and hard. I didn’t know I was holding my breath. The view outside the picture windows was breathtaking. The hillside looked like an elaborate train set with miniature cars speeding along invisible tracks. Shots of neon greenery surrounded scattered homes, swaths of pastels streaked the dusky sky, and the odd helicopter and fixed wing plane coursed through broken strings of clouds with black birds gliding in arcs as they rode the gusts of wind. I was home, I felt safe there, I named it “The Sanctuary,” and I vowed to do whatever was necessary to make it mine and keep it clean and clear.

I still live in The Sanctuary. I still exhale every time I step inside and close the door behind me. I have shiny crystals on showcases, the lighting is soft, the sofa and chairs are comfortable and I I keep it protected by not allowing anyone in my house who doesn’t love me and want the best for me. It’s my safe space,especially my bedroom. I lie on the bed against a mountain of pillows, pull up my down comforter and breathe. I take as much down time as I need to get my bearings and I don’t feel guilty for doing nothing. Eventually my shoulders relax, my breath slows down and my thoughts soften.

Our environments, the containers that surround us, are important. They help calm our nerves and de-escalate our anger, but most important is the container called “Me.” We can be in the softest place on earth, we can play beautiful music and inhale soothing
aromatherapies, we can meditate and sing and dance, but if we don’t acknowledge our stress and practice slowing down our breathing, we might as well be on the 405 freeway at rush hour.

This world is a treacherous place these days. There are threats of virus variants, nasty politics and blatant racism, and we need to find safe way to get through it all. I try to always to be with like-minded people, to be in places that help me relax, to turn away from what makes me suffer, to focus on what’s working instead of what isn’t, and I try to be kind and compassionate with my friends and myself.

I had an interesting Thanksgiving this year. You know the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” A close friend invited me to a dinner at the home of a friend of hers, someone I didn’t care for very much. I never felt comfortable with him, he was harsh and judgmental, but I decided to try to tolerate him for the sake of being with my friend. It started immediately. I went inside to ask him if I was parked in the correct place in his driveway and he snapped at me, “I have no f***ing idea.” It went downhill from there. No need
to fill in any more details. I left as soon as I could and set a firm boundary that I’d been around him for the last time. My story has a happy ending. When I got home, I walked across the street and spent the next few hours laughing and eating pumpkin crème pie with my neighbors who always take good care of me.

Safe places require boundaries to keep them that way. My mother was raised with the belief that if someone had you over for dinner, you had to reciprocate no matter what they did or said or how they treated you. I started out following her programming but I let it go. I treat myself better than that, and the older I get, the more I value my time. When I stop judging and putting demands on myself, I get to be with the safest person I know – me. And that’s what heals me.