My annual retreat was cancelled because of the pandemic. The retreat director, though, is offering an alternative, on-line retreat. Instead of eight days, she is offering eight weeks of virtual retreat.
Every Sunday, she sends prayers, scripture passages, reflection questions and poetry, plus a link to a video with reflections and guided meditations.
Last Sunday, during a guided meditation, the director invited us to recall a time when we felt safe—perhaps a childhood memory or a particular place or person. She gave us a bit of silence to recall.
But the recollection time she allotted was not enough for me, because I could not remember a time when I felt safe.
I had to pause the video, as I flipped through memories of my childhood and came up empty—no places or events when I felt safe for any length of time.
There were moments, glimpses into how safety might feel, but my anxiety and feelings of dread usually rush in before I can hunker down into a deep sense of security.
I am the person who asks, “Is it safe?” when someone tells me she is going for a walk in a park or for a bike ride alone. I am attuned to incidents of unsafety—a runner mugged, someone carjacked, purses snatched, etc. Every incident reinforces my not feeling safe.
Even where I go on retreat is carefully researched. A friend once suggested a place he had gone—”lots of woods nearby for walking,” he said. “I can’t walk through the woods,” I said. I need a retreat center with open grounds.
Eventually, a memory surfaced from when I was thirty-five—a weeklong windjammer cruise off the coast of Maine, my first real vacation.
I grew up in a house where planning a vacation was useless because something always happened to cause plans to be abandoned, or at least changed so dramatically that they bore little resemblance to what had been planned. The lesson was don’t make plans.
But after several years of therapy, I was ready to move against my history and plan a vacation. I loved being on the water and a windjammer cruise sounded like something I could relax into.
A friend agreed to go with me, and we booked our August trip the prior January—eight months of worry about what could go wrong. But, other than a minor traffic delay on the way to Maine, the trip happened as planned.
Every morning, I would wake at my usual 6:00 a.m. and sit in silence on the deck, sipping my coffee and praying in gratitude. Throughout that week, I remember being aware of how relaxed I was, how comfortable I was in my own skin. This is what it is like to feel safe, I remember thinking.
Then another memory surfaced: A massage therapist suggesting that every night before I go to sleep, I take a deep breath and say, “I am safe.”
I returned to the retreat video gratefully holding these two memories.
What are your memories of feeling safe?