Hustling for Safe Passage
“...Let’s stop making deals for safe passage; there isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high…”
In Jennifer Welwood’s poem, “The Dakini Speaks,” the ultimate “deal” is addressed: hustling for our own safe passage is a fruitless endeavor--one that will only bring additional pain to the suffering we will assuredly endure in our human lives. (St.) Anne Lamott promises that life is forgiveness school, and when you combine her promise with Welwood’s, you get the ultimate truth: we have to be the buffalo, and head into the storm. The cattle spend their time in avoidance practice--much like most of us in American culture--trying to outrun the shit storms that are universal and also self-created. But not the buffalo. The buffalo tend their snouts toward the smell of thunder, turn, and take the slow march into the rain.
The “why” of this seeded avoidance habit is maybe obvious--safe passage feels, well, safe. It is far more preferable to know an outcome, to see the concrete answer, and to risk little. And yet, we stay here and it is our ultimate fruitless endeavor. At least the cattle are dry for a little while, right? Isn’t t that worth something?
Noticing the strategies we use to hustle for a safe passage is the valuable first step in the process of not doing this anymore, and worth the cushion time, or driving time, or walking time, to notice. What are the ways in which you make deals to stay safe? Which are necessary safety needs? Which are out of attachment, or over-attachment or aversion? Which honor all of your ultimate delusions, practically sealing your bubble so that the real nature of the universe (hint: real love) can never be exposed? Concretely this shows up in risk-averse practices such as staying in relationships that harm us, avoiding self care, ignoring the body’s language for help, separating your “work self” from your “real self” no matter the job, negative self-talk that preserves delusion….the list goes on. We can all find ourselves somewhere in here.
Once we notice the strategies we use to make deals for safety, we let ourselves actually feel them. This is the next right thing. Meditation is a powerful window of consciousness for this part of the work.
Why do this?
Moving the thinking to the heart and energy body happens naturally--it's why we feel tired when stress has taken over our energetic vibration. It’s why there is an anxious, frenetic feeling when we are overstimulated, overexposed to digital experience, and under exposed to nature. So the transfer already occurs, and the work of this portion of the path is to notice and name it. Concretely, this could be noticing a strategy to create”safe” passage as not putting boundaries in place in a familial relationship that is harmful and degrading. Noticing and naming how it feels to be boundary-less when someone you love crosses a line is a powerful connection, both experientially and neurologically.
Mindfulness is owning the space between stimulus and response, and once we have implemented the mindfulness practice of naming the emotional response to our hustle strategy, our mind begins to associate this hustle choice with negative emotion. We start to realize, subconsciously, that our “safe passage” hustle is no longer safe. It is painful, harmful, and induces more suffering than simply allowing ourselves to risk the storm. When we are practicing taking our seat, long enough to notice the hustle, and to name the emotion associated with the hustle--all in the name of avoiding pain, we see very clearly that this is no longer serving us. We see the absurdity in the fruitless practice, we see that it only preserves our delusion and we take pause before implementing that very strategy again.
The alternative to “safe passage” is being the buffalo--turning into the storm. Leaning in, sitting in, floating in the middle of the river--all of these metaphors describe the groundlessness that Ani Pema Chodron so often refers to in her teachings. And dear ones, it is only when we are in this groundlessness that we learn to transcend the suffering. We can’t date our way out of it, or pray our way out of it, or eat our way out of it, or exercise our way out of it...we have to literally float right in the shit before the lotus shows up. Simply stated, there is no other way.
This is, of course, problematic. This feels hard, and ugly. This means vulnerability is the new badge of courage. This sort of floating in the middle of the river--walking into the storm means exposure and risk-taking, and truth-telling. The time limits are never posted either, which proves to be even more problematic for those of us who like to “plan” for our breakdown/breakthroughs. In fact, the shit storm is often totally inconvenient, and obtuse--not in the plan or on the books. It feels like a detour, or a dramatic halt--and it is, and it is not. The paradox of the work in letting go of the notion of safe passage is that it is the path, and yet feels so often like a punishment for some grand, Karmic flaw.
How does sitting in the storm feed us? How does the nerve to know there is no such thing as safe passage lead us closer to our divine self? It is the uncovering of love and self-compassion. When we parent ourselves through such turmoil of the unknown, we rely on the helpers around us, on strangers, on our yoga practice, on our breath, on nourishing food, on nature, on stillness, on radical rest, on poetry...all things that are self-love, incarnate. It is when you get so still that you hear the voice of your inner landscape---not the shitty radio station that plays your worst thoughts, but instead, the voice of love. You are this. And this is love.
And when you find the shore, or the clouds pass and things impermanently show you another side, you are able to receive. You are able to notice. You are able to listen. You are more awake than you have ever been. You are clear about the next right thing, and you are weary of anyone or anything selling you the idea of a safe passage. You know the offering in a real passage is its lack of safety, and the vulnerability it will ask of you.