Someone asked me this week if I have people sign waivers for my classes that include physical activity. When I said, “No” she naturally wanted to know why. My answer was this:
“Most of the danger is within.”
In my life, I have long been running toward danger. Running toward that which I fear, that which will force me to expand, will challenge me, will bust up my life and reshape it in a new way. Over time I grew strong enough, and supple enough, that the reshaping looked gentler, and less like the toppling of a great tower than the raising up of a beautiful new city. The city is my life, my soul, my relationships, my Work. The city is my Self.
Fear is natural, and often a helpful teacher. It can keep us from the sort of danger that will end in trauma. But sometimes we listen far too much to fear and certainly to worry. I repeat over and over that everything is about relationship and that all relationships entail risk. Are we going to risk the results of numbing and swaddling our souls? Or are we going to risk that which is barely known, that which the soul reaches for?
I am fortunate to have some on the ground training in non-violent intervention. At a certain point, I realized that I had re-trained my instincts to run toward the sounds of fighting rather than away. That was the only way I could ascertain whether or not I could be of help, whether or not it was any of my business, whether or not the right thing to do was to interpose my body or my voice between one person and another. I’ve stopped large men with weapons, and teens choking each other over drug money, a grown man threatening his elderly mother, and a beating on a dark street at night.
Learning to do this for others helped strengthen me to do this for myself. Part of me has always run toward the danger of gnosis and toward the difference that would set me apart from most of my peers growing up. Yet, fearing interpersonal conflict, I would shrink away from my own defense. Parts of me would always resist, would try to constrict into a ball and hide in avoiding conflict, or not hurting someone’s feelings, or trying to be a little less bright than I was. This did not serve my soul, though it taught me lessons I hope to never forget.
Self-preservation is a good thing, but not when it comes at a price so high we barely can comprehend it. What is the self we are trying to protect and preserve? Is it the self that has the best interests of our brave souls at heart? Or is it the self that lives in worry and fear that wants to protect us from our brilliance, our power, and our glorious beauty?
The people who inspire me all have run toward danger. They have all been willing to take the risks that form art, that seek justice, that shape the spirit in breathtaking ways. They have risked the silence of meditation. They have risked the exposure of asking for what they really want. They have risked stating an opinion, or standing up for a deep belief. They have traveled the world, seeking the mystery, or they have stayed at home in prayer and study. They have danced around fires. They have fed children. They have sat down, arms linked, in front of riot police. They have written poems and sung songs and painted canvas. They have spoken out. They have looked their demons in the eye. They have done the work to grow toward wisdom. They have grown into themselves: fully present, fully sacred, fully alive.
(Photo is from EPA and can be found in this article.)