What drives you? What is it that underlies the ways you respond to the world and react to people? It’s your need to feel safe. But, here’s the problem, your pursuit of safety has become a habit. You seek safety even when you no longer need to. And there is a much easier way to be in the world.
Safety is our foundation
Safety is at the foundation of most psychological models. And if you look at the first six to seven years of our lives, safety is a primary concern because if others don’t care for us and protect us we’ll die. We cannot fully care for ourselves until about the age of seven. So safety plays a very large role in our primary years. But do we ever switch gears and focus on something other than safety?
Or, does our emphasis on safety become habituated? That’s what I think happens. And I believe this is why I commonly hear expressions like the following:
Are you sure you’ll be okay?
You never know what could happen.
Be careful out there.
You’re just asking for trouble.
These are scary times.
Trouble comes in threes.
Bad things happen to good people.
Take care of yourself.
These common expressions, and so many more, are driven out of our need for safety. And, yes, we may start out in life vulnerable and dependent, but why are we so focused on safety in our twenties, thirties, forties, and beyond? I think it’s because we’ve created a meme, a massive cultural context that I describe as “safety consciousness.”
Safety glasses color the way we see
When I live in safety consciousness I see the world through a particular set of filters. I see the differences I have with other people as potential threats. I worry, “If he’s right, does that mean I’m wrong?” I often perceive others as competitors. Much of the time I seek to be right more than I seek to connect. I judge others and assume they’re judging me. I feel the need to defend myself when challenged. I blame other people—for embarrassing me, hurting me, abandoning me.
Yet, being social animals we want to connect with other people and form tribes—as small as a family or as large as a nation. Being part of a group increases our sense of safety, but when viewed through safety consciousness we worry that even those close to us may hurt us, or we may experience the loss of loved ones so we feel the need to protect ourselves even from the people we think of as “family.”
And speaking of families, if we truly value safety, why do so many people end up in relationships and family dynamics in which they don’t feel safe? It’s because we mistakenly equate familiarity with safety. If a woman grows up with a father who is emotionally unavailable, when she is older she may go in search of more of the same. It’s familiar, but not safe. If a man grows up with a mother he is emotionally dependent upon, later in life finding such a woman to be his partner will feel familiar, but not necessarily safe.
Safety has its limits
Safety consciousness is pervasive and I’m not suggesting we can live without it. I’m suggesting that as long as we live primarily in safety consciousness we will limit ourselves. Safety consciousness inhibits us from having deeply intimate and loving relationships. Safety consciousness keeps us perpetually anxious. Safety consciousness keeps us from growing and reaching our full potential.
It is possible to transcend our emphasis on safety by learning how to access heart consciousness and spacious consciousness (here is some more information).
Multiple times every day I practice shifting my consciousness from safety to heart consciousness or spacious consciousness. A simple example—something happens, maybe my wife, Hannah, makes a comment and I feel myself starting to react. I immediately notice that I’m reacting from safety consciousness—energetically starting to push her away—and then I ask, “What experience do I want to have?” Usually, I realize I want to connect with her—heart consciousness—and I shift to a different set of filters that allows me to see her comment as a statement about her, not me. I realize my reaction was temporary, fleeting. Maybe I experience empathy for her, or curiosity. As a result, I move toward her instead of away. I look in her eyes and remember she is my best friend.
By practicing specific meditation techniques both Hannah and I have learned to quickly identify and move between the three degrees of consciousness. By asking particular questions—different questions stimulate different levels of consciousness—we move seamlessly between the different levels.
We are now teaching these meditation techniques in our retreats and will be adding more information on our website to help you identify and learn to move between the levels of consciousness.