Cultivating Peace Through Safety

Neediness gets a bad rap.

We’re living beings. We have needs. That’s a simple fact. It’s not a character flaw.

Kelly Burkhart, Life Coach

Photo Credit: johnhain via Pixabay

Too often, social conditioning teaches us to deny our needs or numb them out altogether. Unfortunately, both those paths lead eventually to more pain and a greater disconnect from ourselves.

For those of us choosing to move toward greater meaning, purpose and awakening in our lives, that’s the exact opposite of what is helpful. Staying connected to ourselves and aware of our needs is the most powerful pathway toward clarity and growth.

Transitions in life – expected or unexpected, planned or unplanned, pleasant or unpleasant – often shine a spotlight on needs in a new way. The situation itself might generate needs that were previously met but now aren’t. A close friend moves to a different city leaving us with a greater need for community and connection. Or maybe the need has been there for a while and this life change just allows us to see it clearly. Our children mature and move out allowing us to make room for a long-desired career change.

So it is that change itself can lead us to greater clarity about our needs and encourage us to act with intention about how we get our needs met.

In Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson describes three basic types of needs. Safety. Satisfaction. Connection. When these needs are met, they create feelings of peace, contentment and love. One of the most reliable paths to fulfilling our needs is to develop inner resources that support them. Learning how to activate, and practice absorbing, the experiences that bring about these feelings is the first step. Intentionally deepening those experiences on a regular basis creates an inherent foundation of well-being. That foundation provides balance during turbulent times and equips us to respond to any change.

Emotions that we might tend to avoid are often the most obvious sign of an unmet need.  Grief, fear, anger, discontent, apathy, sadness – they’re all trying to tell us something. To point us to what’s missing or needs our attention.

As we focus on taking action to meet our needs, it’s important to give ourselves the right resource to match the need. Simply put – to make sure we’re not browsing through the book store when what we really need is a new pair of boots. Or getting yet another degree, certification, or award when what we really need is to feel the love & support of a good friend.

So how do we work with this in a practical way?

Since the first reaction to change is often fear, let’s start by looking more closely at our need for safety.

Signs we need a greater experience of safety:  Certainly if you find yourself in physical danger, practical and immediate steps need to be taken to ensure your safety. If that’s the case, please get the help and take the action necessary to protect yourself from physical harm. The practice here is important, but is intended to be used in less urgent times. It helps us counter the negativity bias in the brain by cultivating a lasting state of peace.

Some feelings that might indicate we need to cultivate a greater sense of safety in our life include fear, tension, anxiety, dread, or overwhelm, or any of these that feel out of proportion for the current situation. Repetitive thoughts that speculate about the worst possible outcome & cycles of worry are also good indicators that we need to restore a feeling of safety.

How to get more experiences of safety: A simple & effective practice for cultivating the deeper states of peace, contentment and love is offered in Hardwiring Happiness. It has three primary steps. First, have (or create) an experience of safety, next, enrich that experience, and third, absorb it, or let it land.

So here’s how it works. Take a look around, right now, here, in this moment. Be right here. Feel the support of the earth beneath your feet. Feel how the body welcomes a full breath of fresh air – let yourself notice how good that breath of air feels. Notice the building that you’re in, the protection it provides from the elements, the relative comfort it provides. Notice the health and well-being in your body. There are likely imperfections in your life, but can you identify the basic ways that you are safe, right here in this moment? Let your observation of all the ways you’re safe in this moment to expand to the full extent that it feels true. Include all the physical senses in your awareness – what do you see, feel, hear, taste & smell. Notice what’s special or meaningful to you. Stay with these observations for 20, 30, 60 seconds – longer if you like. Then allow yourself to let that truth sink in. Feel it landing within you, imagine it as a gem that you’re placing in the treasure chest of your heart. Let it be an anchor of peace and calm.

If you’d like more ideas for activating or creating experiences of peace and safety explore these posts on calming the body, getting grounded and finding peace.

Repeat, repeat, repeat: We’re built to remember pain, danger & difficulties. That’s what our ancestors needed to do to be able to survive. Likewise, our brain allows positive experiences to pass by without locking them into memory in the same way. Over time, frequent repetitions of this practice helps us anchor positive experiences that might otherwise be quickly forgotten. This practice that can be done in 30- or 60-second increments many times a day. It can also be expanded into a longer practice & included in daily meditations. The more often we practice it, the more we develop a reliable foundation of inner peace.

It’s helpful to remember that this isn’t a practice intended to deny what’s difficult in the present. Yes, challenges arise. We may not have been safe at some time in the past. We may not be safe at some time in the future. But the more we anchor in the very real safety of this moment, the stronger and more resourceful we will be as we face whatever comes our way.

In the next post, we’ll dive into a similar practice for addressing our need for satisfaction. In the meantime, may you fully embrace the many moments of simple safety that infuse your day.

 

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2 Comments

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  1. Wilma Ennenga November 20, 2016 at 4:11 am #

    Good morning Kelly, this is exactly the practice I need to cultivate right now. I’m printing this post for daily reading…

    • Kelly November 21, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

      Thanks Winnie. You’re certainly not alone. Events of recent weeks & months have triggered fear in a lot of us. Wishing you so much self-compassion!

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