Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Safe spaces, or lack thereof

I'm still very much a humanist, but I'm a pretty open minded one who believes in metaphor, so part of my spiritual journey is listening to people whose beliefs differ radically from my own.  I was listening to a well-informed pagan talk about his faith this evening.  He said a lot of things that I'm still chewing over*, but what I think struck me the most was at the very beginning of what he had to say.  

He talked about ritual having to be in a safe space. 

'There is no safe space,' that voice in the back of my head, one that seems neither still nor small, insisted. 

I knew what he meant, intellectually at least.  But my instinctive response doesn't seem entirely inaccurate either.  

A lot of what white people have been figuring out over the last ten years or so is that the places that seem the most safe to us are still dangerous to people of color.  I can't speak to that, I can say that having my spouse "out" as a transgendered person has brought home how safety out on society exists on a bunch of levels.  Legal protections can't prevent the actions of people willing to break the law, or even the petty-but-not-illegal humiliations that a depressing number of people are capable of. 

bell hooks even observed "“The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.” 

There is no safety, not really. 

In a pagan circle we can, a few dozen people in a room, declare a safe space, but don't we on some level know it to be otherwise.  

Pagans aren't the only ones who demand safe places for our religious practices, of course.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame's Esmerelda demanded sanctuary in the cathedral and they gave it to her.  In a metaphoric sense, we might go to a congregation looking for a place in the world that lets us be with ourselves without the distractions of modern life bugging us, at least for the hour between 11:00am and noon.  (Sanctuary from the modern world is something I have never known myself to want.  But I know other people do.)

Ultimately Esmerelda left the cathedral.  Noon comes, and even the most quiet-loving congregant has to go back out in the world.  The safe physical spaces are always temporary.  

So what about a safe space?  

The best I can do for a safe space is to have one in your own head, and maybe in times of ritual or other deep spiritual connection entertain the idea of letting someone else in.  That in itself is a tall order. But maybe there's something to be said for noticing the times, rare in my case, where one does feel truly safe, drinking that in and keeping it.  

I can't say I have a better idea. 


(Image of a sign in the library basement of Georgetown Law that reads "Area of Refuge is Within")

*I love the idea of a sort of ritual that lets you safely practice a situation that gives you difficulty in regular life, forcing you to respond to it a different way, for example.  I am something of an introspection nerd and have a long list of such situations I could work on.  

I don't think "introspection nerd" and "obsessive narcissist" are the same thing, though one could probably make a good argument that the are. 

1 comment:

Joel Monka said...

None of the groups I've ever been in have created a safe space for ritual, we created a sacred space. We created a space with a foot in both worlds, but we never believed nor claimed it was a safe space. I don't know what that says about us.