The Practice of “Safe-ish”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I hope your new year is starting off peacefully and you are taking faithful steps towards wherever you want to be going even though you cannot see the end result yet.

This month Carrie Heron and I co-facilitated the first of our workshop series Heart Conversations: Nurturing Social Justice Through the Principles of Yoga. We discussed ahimsa, non-harming, and how ahimsa relates to racial and social justice. We talked about where we struggle with this and where we are already putting it into practice.

Carrie usually opens my eyes or my heart in a new way when I am with her. In this Heart Conversation, she shared the idea that being safe and being uncomfortable are two different things. When I enter into dialogue about race there is inevitable discomfort in that conversation for me. But as a white woman I am typically safe. 

I have started to think of safety on a continuum rather than as an either/or option. For example, I have begun using the phrase “safe-ish” or safer to describe the relative safety of a space or a conversation.

To tie this idea back into the concept of ahimsa (non-harming or compassion), learning to distinguish between what is “safe” and “uncomfortable” is a wonderful awareness practice. When I consider whether a situation is making me feel unsafe or just uncomfortable, I can decide whether I can compassionately stay engaged with whatever is causing discomfort or whether I need to protect myself in some way.

If we are not used to having difficult conversations, discomfort can feel unsafe. Here is where our yoga practice can help us. When we are getting into a handstand that may feel uncomfortable or scary, it still may be in the realm of safety. Or we may be getting over a shoulder injury and going upside down would be injurious. This would fall into the unsafe category. We practice navigating the continuum of safe to unsafe, comfort to discomfort, in our physical and mental practices on the mat so we can do the same out in the world.

The Dalai Lama said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” Ahimsa asks us to not harm ourselves or others in our words, thoughts or deeds. Sometimes this means staying in an uncomfortable situation or conversation. Sometimes this means we are overwhelmed and we  take a break or leave. Sometimes this means we try something, we mess up and we try again. Faith can help us keep going.

Ahimsa is not about perfection. It is about doing our best and loving ourselves no matter what. Interested in more of these kinds of conversations? Check out guest teachers, RW Alves and Genevieve Hicks, workshop on Svadhyaya: Acknowledging Privilege, Checking Bias and Exploring Identity and the nextHeart Conversations in February.

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat.