by Jamie Pekarek Krohn

Editors’ note: Jamie Pekarek Krohn is a participant in the CORE network, currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice. She and yoga teacher Alex Pfeiffer will be leading CORE’s Sept. 21st Circle of Transformational Practice, 9:30-11:30am at Madison Central Library.

Safety, although a simple word, is complex and highly personal. For me, being mindful of my learned sense of safety and the reverberations it has on my wellbeing has been instrumental in creating space for positive change. Recently, I found myself curious about how safety informs our current state of social and political discourse. Why is it so difficult to be civil with those who hold differing views? This past year I’ve felt every emotion, but mostly frustration, anger and disappointment in our collective abilities to treat one another with dignity and to hold truth in the highest regard. I found it helpful to process this by holding the understanding that we are all motivated in both thought and action by our learned sense of safety.

The definition of safety is clear: freedom from risk or danger. No harm to one’s self or another being. Yet we’ve all experienced, to varying degrees, harm. So, how do we make sense of this?  We each learn and cultivate our sense of safety from many things, but most strongly from how others understand and respond to our authentic self (our innate truth). It is our very foundation. From our first breath it is our internal compass, and the earliest directions come from primary caretakers and other members of our family. We are connected to feeling safe with our innate truth if our authentic self is responded to with love, deep listening, and in a way that fosters our dignity. Unfortunately, many of us are attuned to harmful responses that can create cracks, small and large, in our foundation.

These cracks can be psychological, emotional, and physical. To feel safe we have to focus on and learn how to deal with the cracks, but in doing so we disconnect from our self. This can create a negative cycle. To stay safe and address the cracks in our foundation we adjust our sense of the truth, moving further from what we intrinsically believe.

The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold. ~ Aristotle

This foundation of learned safety determines how we move through our lives and is embedded in every belief, judgment, assumption, and perspective we hold, as well as action we choose to take. It informs the internal relationship we have with our mind, body, and spirit as well as how we listen, respond, and feel connected to others.

There are many places to explore how our sense of safety shows up in our mind, body, and spirit. For the upcoming CORE Circle (Friday September 21st, 9:30-11:30 am at the Madison Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St.), Alex Pfeiffer and I invite you to deepen knowledge of both your own sense of safety as well as understanding that others operate likewise. This can be very helpful as we navigate collaboration, compromise, and civil discourse. With any issue there are multiple interpretations of truth based on what helps each one of us feel safe; however, multiple truths can block us from meaningful dialogue and reverence for dignity.

To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen. ~ Thich Nhat Hahn, How To Love

There are innumerable ways to delve in to feeling safe; for this Circle gathering we’ve chosen to use the first and fifth chakras as touchstones. Chakra is a Sanskrit term that translated means wheel or disk. In yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda (traditional medicine of Indian heritage), this term refers to wheels of energy throughout our body. There are seven main chakras, which start at the base of the spine moving up to the crown of the head. They each hold a particular kind of energy. This energy is made up of psychological, emotional, and spiritual experiences. This energy can be strong, fluid and life giving or it can be weak, stuck and draining. We can have a conscious awareness, but often our experience and choices in expressing our energy is unconscious.

The first chakra, called Mūlādhāra, is located at the base of our spine. It is where we hold our primal sense of survival and self-preservation and is the root of our somatic (body) responses. It is our foundation for all other chakras and holds our most basic formation of safety. If we feel harmed (in many different ways and degrees) we naturally feel afraid. Fear can amplify our awareness and cause us to become hypervigilant. In this state, our triggers are more sensitive and more likely to respond in extremes. As a result, the body is in a continual state of stress, which over time becomes a normal feeling.

The fifth chakra, called Viśuddha, is located around our throat, mouth, ears and nose. It is the place of communication, creativity, listening, resonance, and self-expression and holds our right to speak and hear the truth. It is a resource for power, which can be used with consideration as well as manipulation and abuse. As we’ve recognized earlier, sometimes our safety and psychic survival is counter to our innate truth, forcing us to live in lies. Lies can be told with words, but they can also be told with actions and held in the body. Conversely, when we live in our truth, there is a resonant continuity between our self and others. This allows forward movement of the self to occur with grace.

Through open circle sharing and somatic experiencing of these two chakras, we welcome the possibility of creating more awareness of how learned sense of safety shows up in how we feel, talk, listen, and choose our truth. Please join us Sept. 21st!