Safe space and The Sentinel

Maslow started with the basics – first the physiological, simply keeping ourselves alive, then safety. It is a foundation. Without safety our functioning is compromised. Performance stilted by the low-level stress rUnderneath the treeeactions of insecurity. Our cognition often fogged. Our creativity dulled.

Sadly our brains are very good at perceiving failings in safety.

In eastern tradition the Buddha found enlightenment at the foot of the Bodhi tree. In the text the tree provided a safe place, it “had his back" as neuroscientist Rick Hanson puts it. When we feel safe our brains are liberated.

sentinelsWatching the behaviours of social animals such as horses there are similarities, there are the sentinels those that watch the horizon from the periphery of the herd, as well as those that watch over their fellows as they sleep. They just do. They hold a safe space in which their fellows might rest.

We too are social animals.

Humans need their tribes like horses need their herds. Animals in community are animals safe. A primary function is to watch out for each other. To help and to support. According to psychologist Stephen Porges our first level response to challenge is to reach out to our peers.

So we are hardwired to stand by each other, yet somehow we too often damage ourselves. Not physically but also mentally and emotionally. fMRI work has discovered that social exclusion generates the same pain responses in the brain as physical damage. It really does hurt when people are mean to us.

It is not just about actual exclusion but the myriad of mini punishments that our body transmits , the sneers, the narrowing eyes, the slight turn away. A catalogue “micro cuts” that puncture our soul.

We are not singularities

We seek community. Deep within we are drawn to others. Yet in the late 20th century we increasingly become islands, in the 80s and 90s that which bound fractured. Ironically we now look to cyber space to recreate something of that community.

But it is not the same.

A virtual friend in another continent cannot “have your back" like the Bodhi tree. Nor can they stand sentinel like the horses in their herd. Community is foremost something of physical proximity.

We have a responsibility for those around us, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. How we treat others can affect both their physical and mental health. There is a need to hold space for each other, to be present for those proximate.

We are not singularities. Nor have we ever been, and emotionally we do not expect to be. There is a responsibility within our relationships. It is time to re-engage with them.

I am your safety, and you are mine.

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