August 5, 2010

The Unsafe Litany
…and a longer than usual Tenacity Notes. It has two parts. I hope you can persevere to the end.

Part One

Many of us feel unsafe in the world. And we justify the feeling of unsafety by reciting our list of the things that we believe make us unsafe — our Unsafe Litany. I feel unsafe, let me count and recount the reasons why. But the result of reciting your litany is an enhanced feeling of being unsafe. It is truly a vicious cycle. Your Unsafe Litany is not just a list of reasons why you feel unsafe, it is, in itself, unsafe to use. It is an unsafe Litany. It hurts you.

Do you have such a Litany? Don’t say no yet. First, notice. You may not even be aware that you have one. Then, when you catch yourself beginning your litany, see if you can stop. See if you can turn it around. I used to have a pretty extensive Unsafe Litany myself — polluted water and air, bad emanations from electronic devices, corporations taking over the world, golf courses drinking all the water. Is it any wonder I felt unsafe, reciting that Litany as often as I did? One day, I realized that my Unsafe Litany was making me sick, and I pledged to stop. I chose instead to pay attention to resiliency, to our innate ability to heal, and to the glory of diversity.

The Unsafe Litany is a personal thing; we each have our own. And while you believe wholeheartedly in your Unsafe Litany, you may think that other Unsafe Litanies are baloney. Unsafe Litanies can include many things — gay marriage, black teenagers sighted in the neighborhood, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, taxes, global warming, Communism, Catholics, Republicans…

Whatever your own Unsafe Litany includes, the reciting of it will only serve to make you feel unsafe. In justifying your feeling of unsafety, you exacerbate it. Say it this way — your Unsafe Litany is fear-based. And fear is a toxic emotion, every bit as toxic as plastic or gasoline.

Part Two

I would like to suggest that your feeling of being unsafe in the world has a kernel of truth in it; and that kernel is memory.

It is the nature of childhood to be unsafe; it is the nature of childhood to be unsafe and to learn that unsafety can lead to increased safety, and beyond that to another unsafety, and on and on.

Would you have ever taken your first step if safety was essential? What if you had stopped the first time you fell down and banged your head on the coffee table, and instead of walking you became fearful and vigilant, always on the lookout for coffee tables? A bizarre notion, right?

Thank goodness for development urges, because they keep us going, even in the face of unsafety. The urge to walk is greater than the mistrust of coffee tables. And so we learn that unsafety needn’t stop us, we can conquer it and move on to the next unsafe learning experience. A bicycle!

But for many of us, the unsafety of childhood was truly dangerous, and was never conquered, indeed could not be conquered. And being unconquered, being unresolved, it remains alive within.

I would also like to suggest this: your Unsafe Litany is an attempt to explain a feeling of unsafety that cannot be explained in present time, because it is not a present time feeling, it exists in your history. It exists in your history, but it also exists in your body. All your emotions, no matter where they actually exist in time, are felt in your body, and your body is a present time phenomenon.

Your feeling of unsafety does not exist in present time, but it feels like it exists in present time, because it is experienced in your body. Thus, your Unsafe Litany is inaccurate. Which is why it doesn’t satisfy.

I’ll go out on a limb and make a prediction. When you resolve your history, your feeling of being unsafe in the world will diminish or disappear altogether. Then, no need for your Litany; you will recognize it’s irrelevance.

While this “note” is far from brief, it could be considerably longer. So please, if you have questions about what I’ve said, if you want to argue with it, if you have examples — please contact me (go to my Web site) and tell me. Thanks.