I was driving near the river this week. The water was just starting to freeze over, so that there were glassy smooth patches along with the rippling spots that were fresh and running water. Flocks of geese were circling overhead, each group starting to break its V-formation as it saw the water, as though one goose shouted, “There! Down there!” and left the pecking order for what appeared to be safe harbor. Feet first they came down and down and down. Plop! Such an amazing feat, getting that big body and those long wings out of a flying pattern and into water – orange webbed feet as landing gear.
I’d been driving through my little town – past the hospital where I and my kids were all born (Geminis each), past the side street that holds my new place of employment, past the building where my dad worked before he got sick – when I saw the geese. Their yearning for a safe place reminded me of my own pull toward this town that I thought so many times in the last several years that I might have to leave, that perhaps I should leave. Was I too fastened here?
A woman in a grief writing workshop I taught told me that writing was a tool for helping her to find a new life; “Not that I wouldn’t prefer the old one.” Familiar equals safe. But safe can be found in so many other ways and places. I was so safe this summer at Kripalu, a place where I didn’t even know I’d be a year earlier, a place where every person was new to me. I felt safe every night, snug in my twin bed in the dormroom filled with 22 sleeping yogis. I was safe on my mat with its very exact dimensions from which I couldn’t stray, and where, though I might follow others’ instructions, I was ultimately my own teacher. And I was especially safe in the company of other like-minded people on their own paths of self-discovery.
I agree, too, with my student, that writing is also a safe place. I never know where I’ll end up – which is scary, but it’s a safe scary. Writing allows a place for discovery and curiosity, anger and grief. It’s a safe space for imagining something new – perhaps better. I know most of my artist friends go to their studios – whether the “studio” exists on a computer screen or is a physical place they are honored to visit and even live within – for these reasons: Taking up a camera after a loss, picking up a paintbrush after a newfound joy.
All sorts of things can happen from a safe place – some of them entirely gutsy. This time last year, it hadn’t occurred to me to spend a month getting a yoga certification. From the safety and love of a new relationship, I suddenly envisioned this possibility and made it happen – all in a short while. And now I teach classes three or four times a week, helping others to find the safety of their mats, while going a little outside my own safe zone each time as I take on the role of teacher – a role that necessitates courage and self-love.
I am firmly planted in this little pond in the Midwest, my village with the river running through it. I admit that at times, the place has felt stale. But more importantly, its safety allows me to envision bigger and bigger undertakings – knowing that each time I fly away, I have a safe place to which to return.