What does “safe” really mean?
The year before last was a doozy in my little world. That year helped me see that safety is relative.
My beloved husband herniated a disc when he unloaded a bunch of shingles onto a roof and then carried a big fat piece of granite. There is risk in physical work.
Laid low by the herniated disc, my husband was only able to sleep on one side. He then developed excruciating bursitis in the shoulder he slept on. There is risk in sleeping.
An acquaintance who was my very age died in a mountain biking accident. There is risk in riding.
A father of a friend died on his way to the kitchen. The six-year-old daughter of another friend was killed in a car accident on the way to her Daddy’s house. There is risk in living.
Risk can make me want to avoid the “causes”: don’t carry heavy things, don’t sleep in one position, don’t ride mountain bikes. But this risk avoidance starts to break down: don’t go to the kitchen? don’t ride in cars? don’t live? It occurs to me that nothing is really safe.
We can’t avoid risk. Risk is implicit in living. In fact, it’s risky to attempt to live a risk-free life. Debbie Rosas, one of Nia’s co-founders, often says that the most dangerous thing you can do is sit (and the Sitting is the New Smoking movement agrees with her). While Debbie is referring, I think, to the physical implications of a sedentary life, I would go further to argue that avoiding risk is detrimental to the mind, emotions and spirit, too.
So how do we find the balance between safety and adventure, carefulness and exploration, caution and growth?
This is the balance I want to strike in my work, my practice, my life.
A safe risk, a fearless but not reckless choice is both deeply personal and always changing. For some people, just showing up in one of my classes or going to a yoga class in a hot room is a huge risk. For others it may be wearing bright colors or making sound. What feels easy peasy to you, might feel terrifying to me.
Part of what I love about practicing together is that we can all find our own edge to dance on. Each of us can, moment to moment, find the place of aliveness and possibility without carelessness. By choosing safe risks, we are moving into our potential.
The challenge is that we live in community, in a society full of people with differing opinions about what is safe and what is reckless. Even in my classes, the conversation about the safety of the temperature in the room and the volume of the music can get heated in a hurry.
As in the studio, so in the larger world. Politicians talk about “keeping America safe” but honestly, what does that even mean? For a country of our size and diversity, safety seems like a hollow promise. Does “keeping America safe” mean mass deportations and military operations around the globe? Does it mean legalizing drugs or not? Does it mean using chemicals in order to grow enough food or does it mean growing organically so the food we eat doesn’t have chemicals in it?
Yesterday, I saw a customer in Whole Foods carrying a gun. Why in the world someone would need a pistol in the produce department is a bafflement to me. I can tell you for sure that I did not feel safe shopping with him. Did I really think he was going to use it? No. But the potential that he could rattled me more than I expected.
I didn’t bolt the store as some said they would have. I finished my shopping, said hello to a friend, waited to check out. I asked the cashier and manager about the firearms policy. I’ve written to the store to tell them I think it’s a truly dreadful idea to have guns in a grocery store. I plan to contact Whole Foods Headquarters to learn more.
Here’s the thing: I think many things we think are dangerous actually aren’t and many things we think are safe actually aren’t. If that’s true, then feelings of both danger and safety are at least nebulous and perhaps illusory. Even within our complex culture, all any of us can do is listen to our own inner wisdom about choosing what we risk doing and what we don’t.
I will continue to do hot yoga, wear my crazy pants and make sound in class. I will continue to drive and go into the kitchen and ride my bike. But perhaps I will change where I shop.