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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.

 

Safe rooms.

The other day, Kris asked how I’d managed to not go into my victim stuff while getting pulled out of the line again at the airport.

It’s complicated. And it’s worth a few posts, but in order to talk about it, I need to explain about safe rooms.

A safe room is pretty much what it sounds like.

It’s a room. Or a series of rooms. And it is completely and utterly safe.

It is the space you invent for the part of you who can’t cope with things as they are right now.

So that the part of you who can cope is free to do what needs to be done.

My safe rooms are all in Tel Aviv.

Which is slightly weird and slightly not.

A lot of really unbelievably not safe things happened during a decade of living there.

But it was also a refuge.

At any rate, any safe room I come up with invariably ends up being at least loosely based on my old place in Florentin, or the last apartment of my friend who is dead.

My clients generally do not recognize their safe rooms. The rooms vary.

Sometimes they are otherworldly. Futuristic or medieval. Sometimes they are on beaches or in a forest.

They can be magical or mundane. Silly or practical. Or both.

It doesn’t matter. The main thing is: you are safe.

Or, better, the parts of you who desperately crave safety and sanctuary have places to recover.

“Create a safe room for the you who feels vulnerable and helpless.”

Or the version of you who feels vulnerable and helpless.

This was one of the many exercises we did at my last week-long retreat in Asheville.

Here’s what I wrote:

It’s his apartment again. Except.

There are floor to ceiling bookshelves.

You can never run out of books.

There are beautiful skylights that can only be opened from the inside. With automatic shades. Press a button and cover them up.

The windows are double paned glass, and open outward. With locks.

The door is thick and oak. The key is black.

There are thick rugs and wood floors and a corner that is just for yoga.

Plants everywhere.

The refrigerator is always full.

The closet is spacious and well-lit.

It smells wonderful.

She doesn’t ever have to leave ever ever ever because we own it forever.

Someone brings hot meals. She can just whisper into a plant what she would like, and it will appear in a secret hallway between two doors.

There is no mail except for cards that say sweet things. No phone calls.

There is a giant bathtub. There are flowers.

Guilt is not allowed.

No one needs to know she is here.

You are cared for forever. Without ever being bothered.

And there is enough. There just is.

“Create a safe room for you now.”

Similar. More spacious. Much bigger windows. So much bigger.

And they’re open to the breeze.

A trampoline, of course. In the trampoline room!

The bath is larger.

There is secret door to the Playground!

A business magic planning wishing room for convening and counciling.

Charts and maps and nautical things, pirate ship toys. Singing.

Books. Colors. Wood. Elegant solutions. Water.

Now we can talk about the V.

Once you have a safe room, it’s there for as long as you need it.

This helps you re-order the V.

Right. The V.

This is something I took from Hiro.

She gave me this wonderful image of all the various parts of me flying together.

They’re flying in a V-formation. Like geese.

And sometimes the version of me who is leading is not the right one for that situation.

We need to switch.

How I used this at the airport.

Here’s what I know. If I’m experiencing tension, anxiety, anger …

That’s a pretty good sign that the me who is currently at the front of the V is a) unhappy and b) young.

Sometimes it’s bartender me (who is good in a fight but not so good when I’m trying to avoid getting in a fight). She takes stuff personally. She’s up for anything. And she’s unpredictable.

Again, it makes her fun at parties. Not so much in airports.

Or it’s a much younger version me who knows about the pain of being a victim, but has not yet learned about practicing sovereignty.

Either way, I’ve learned it’s definitely not the me who needs to be at the front of the V.

Not helpful for her and not useful for the situation.

So I ask for a volunteer.

Who would be best at heading up the V?

Possibly pirate queen me. Any version of me who is not impressed by authority, but is also kind, discerning, funny, relaxed and wearing her crown.

Totally regal but not snobby. Not imperious. Casual, lighthearted, powerful, playful, confident, at ease in the world.

I’m not always sure I know that she exists, but I have a sense of what it’s like to be around her.

And I can have her accompany the strongest version of me to the front of the V.

Then we make a safe room for whoever is currently at the front. They get to decide what it’s like, what’s in it, who protects it and how long they want to be there.

They go to the safe room. I stand in the front of the V. Reconfigure my force field. Smile. We begin.

And then.

I also make a safe room for the passage through security.

There are flowers. I’m the only one who can see them.

There are trees that ground the room, and skylights that only I know about.

The trees whisper encouragement. Not so much in words but the general sense is something like this:

“Good for you. You’re interacting with your stuff, in a way that is not confrontational and violent.

“Whatever happens, you’re consciously, actively engaging.

“Your internal scientist crew is taking notes on this round.

“You are safe. You are loved. You are a strong, beautiful, sovereign being and so is everyone you meet.

“All your encounters are harmonious, or can be. None of this is personal.”

And I remind myself too:

“This person in front of me is a human being, who happens to be wearing a uniform.

Even though my monsters say that only an abusive person would do this job, do I honestly know that to be true? Always?

Even though I’m going into my past narratives about abuses of power, I can still remember: this is not what is happening right now in this moment.

We are two people. Each interaction is new. I can expect to be treated with kindness. And if that doesn’t happen for whatever reason, it isn’t about me.

I will do my part to alter every part of this encounter and my perception of this encounter that I have influence over.

The rest is out of my hands. It’s about how I react and how I react to reacting. And there isn’t any way to screw this up because it’s all an experiment and we’re taking notes for next time.”

And comment zen for today.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff.

It’s a practice, which means that it is ongoing.

You might not be able to use most or any of this right now. Or it might seem way too weird, too conceptual, too far-off.

I have the advantage of having spent the past seven years working on my stuff as my full-time occupation. There are a lot of skills and mindset-shifts that I’m referencing or skipping over here that take time to practice and develop.

As always, use what works and skip what doesn’t. Mess around. Try things. See what you like. See what you need to change, rename, do differently.

If you want to play, you are more than welcome to. One of my favorite things in the world is to learn about other people’s safe rooms, so if you feel like inventing one and sharing it, that would be awesome.

41 Responses to Safe rooms.

  1. Kris B. says:

    Just…beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Shannon
    Twitter: clover
    says:

    I love this.

    And all the TSA people I met on my last flight wanted a copy of the Nonviolent Communication book… all hope is not lost.

  3. Jude
    Twitter: judespacks
    says:

    My safe room has a lovely organic non-techy woosh sound that goes off to tell me to come read something utterly inspiring like this post so I remember I’m not in there all by myself, I have company, such good company doing such great work all the time for real peace in the real and juicy moment all over this living world.

    Beautiful. Grateful.

  4. steph says:

    This is so beautiful, Havi. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  5. Emily
    Twitter: emilyroots
    says:

    Random thoughts…

    Is it wrong that I call my safe room “the padded room”? It’s soft. It’s quiet. No one can hurt me there…

    I regularly get pulled out for a pat-down. (Last time I got patted down even after going through the scaryscan.) I have a theory about why this is, but regardless of the why, I’ve learned that for the most part, just being friendly and allowing my nerdy/awkward self to shine through to the TSA agent tends to get a pretty good response. (Actually, that’s my theory for why I’m regularly pulled out for the pat-down….everyone just needs someone to be nice to them sometimes…also, it’s kind of a “see? we’re not profiling. we’re searching the nerdy white girl…”)

    When I was in my early 20s I lived next to a scary crackhouse where people could often be seen with weapons. It freaked me right out. My coping strategy then was to pretend I was invisible. Literally invisible. Not shrinking-in-fear invisible. But no-one-can-see-me-so-I-can-be-confident invisible. Weirdly, no one ever seemed to see me.

    When a person (TSA agent or otherwise) is bringing their own stuff to an interaction, and I feel like that stuff is affecting my energy in a negative way, I borrow a word from Harry Potter. Protego. The Shield Charm, remember? I say it in my mind. Sometimes, I even have a little hand motion to go with it. Somehow, it makes me feel like my personal space bubble is protected from the negative stuff coming at me.

    The V formation! This is a new thought. One that I like very much. And there are Vs of geese everywhere these days, so I know I will remember.

    Thanks for reminding me of some of my own tools. And for the new ones.

  6. Christine Myers
    Twitter: ladychrismyers
    says:

    There is so much usefulness in this post!

    Especially:

    “there isn’t any way to screw this up because it’s all an experiment and we’re taking notes for next time.”

    That’s where I’ve been getting hung up. If I don’t do the experiment correctly, I feel like it’s a total failure. Excellent reminder.

    And Emily? I am absolutely copying your “Protego” charm usage. I am also now inspired to see what other magic the HP world can offer me in the Muggle world!

  7. Joy says:

    I’m flying next Wednesday, and with all I’ve been reading about the Icky New Security procedures…well, I’m stressing. The (very wonderful) men in my life are all about how _no one should have to put up with having their bodily autonomy violated like this_ and while I am 100% on board with that…the fact is, I’m going to be flying. I might or might not have to face the ScaryScan and might or might not have to face the OMG Icky “Patdown”.

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for these strategies, these things I can keep in mind while I face situations that _no one should have to deal with_, but continue to persist in this world.

  8. Ty Barbary
    Twitter: tybarbary
    says:

    Thank you so very much for this.

    My safe room winds up being my old second-story apartment in Colorado: shared walls with no one, so many windows, a sliding glass door to the balcony, and so much sunlight and wind. Even in winter, the snow was bright enough to give the illusion of non-darkness outside.

    It’s that bright, open, clean, clear spaciousness that I took with me and that I still miss. And that’s my idea of a safe room. A space that is mine, that is me, that is open and bright and comfortable and secure.

  9. Hiro Boga
    Twitter: HiroBoga
    says:

    Mmmm…lovely.

    The last time I flew to the U.S. from Canada, Canadian security folks were required to do random pat-downs and carry-on baggage checks for all passengers going to the U.S.

    The young woman who patted me down was very apologetic. So was the woman who had the not-fun job of opening my carry-on bag and going through my things.

    They’re doing a job they don’t like doing, and it stresses them out. Being kind, loving and gently playful helps them complete a difficult task with a bit of lightness and ease.

    By the time we were finished, we’d created a little circle of love, kindness and laughter that changed the energy for the folks who came through that security gate after me.

    These new regulations offer another opportunity to bring the transformative power of love into a difficult situation.

    Yay for you, your Pirate Queen self, and for safe rooms and sovereignty boots, Havi!

    Love, Hiro

  10. laine says:

    I love that flying is optional and that I (we!) can opt out of flying.

    I love that my house is my safe room and my mind is my safe room. Also, the ocean is my safe room. Floating.

  11. Jess says:

    I just want to say thank you for this post . . . The flying V formation is so sneakily amazing that I can’t wait to journal out this idea & try it on.

    You so rock my world Havi!
    xoxoxo

  12. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat
    says:

    The V formation — oh, that is brilliant. I’ll be playing with that, for sure!

    I think one of my safe rooms is a lighthouse. I can be secluded and solitary in there, and at the same time, I can know that my light can be seen, and may even be of help to a traveler in need. Meanwhile, in my cozy, lofty perch, I can see people coming from a long way off. There is time to prepare. There is peace, and beauty, and the ocean’s embrace.

  13. Rupa
    Twitter: theyogaofliving
    says:

    When I thought of safe room, I suddenly found myself as a teenager in my Dad’s NY apartment, sipping seltzer water in a wine goblet with a twist, listening to jazz and carrying a metrocard in my pocket. Huh.

    What a great concept! x

  14. Johanka says:

    Awesome, as always!

    My safe room could be a cabinet of curiosities of an early-modern noblewomen, with a huge library, antique furniture, wooden walls and ceilings, picture gallery and fast Internet connection; located in Prague, where I live, with it’s awesome Baroque garden architecture, but inspired by various other historical places I’ve visited or seen in movies.

    The only sad thing is what you say towards the end – it seems to be taking ages to really internalize all the techniques you’re teaching and not to lose it in an *unexpected* emergency situation. With airline transport, you can always expect the worst, nowadays…

  15. Tori Deaux
    Twitter: ToriDeaux
    says:

    Oh, thank you for sharing this, Havi… and thanks to all the commenter mice, too. It helps.

    I seem to be struggling with “Safe” a lot lately, and don’t seem to be able to find a place that feels right. The two places I had before aren’t working – one, feels violated. The other? Empty. Hmm.. a few years ago, my safe place was an imagined circus train car. Maybe I can create something like that in my head again? *ponder ponder*

  16. mish
    Twitter: shellbelle
    says:

    Um. I’ve really been thinking about this whirlpool tub at the hotel I stayed at recently, and how any place where I set down permanently has just GOT to have one, because I’ve never relaxed and enjoyed getting clean so thoroughly in my life.

    So my safe room right now, invariably, is a big, luxurious bathroom. Large, shaggy rugs, slate shower with perfect water pressure. Big tub with jets. So much bubble bath! Fresh pears and pomegranate seeds. Windows to the backyard, private and my own, in the country. My gentleman friend smiling with me. :)

  17. Kimberly says:

    Beautiful, and this post appeared right when I needed it. Thank you. <3

  18. claire
    Twitter: claireofRA
    says:

    Dig it.

    “Your internal scientist crew is taking notes on this round.” Yes!

    I really like the concept of changing up who’s leading the V because I know I have versions of myself that are practical, TCB types while there are many that get hung up on old stuff.

    A few safe rooms come to mind, or pieces of them at any rate. The comfy green chair of my friend who lives too far away, sitting across from his little kitchen as he cooks up some lovely Lebanese dish while we chat. Doesn’t have to be that apartment since he’s moved, but that chair. The deep purple bath tub with claws I had when I was young. The cool blue wallpaper with blue, green, and purple fish. A large tree I can climb so I can see everything but not be seen. Nearby a treehouse with a deck and chairs, a lovely view of the sunset, and somewhere to take a nap. Somehow only I can get to it. I can invite people to visit but if they misbehave I can boot them off the deck. It’s a long fall but they’ll land safely in a net. Think I’ll stop there before more justice fantasies seep in. ;)

  19. Amber
    Twitter: AmberStrocel
    says:

    “… there isn’t any way to screw this up because it’s all an experiment …”

    This? I love it. So much. Thank you.

  20. Miriam
    Twitter: VizierBiz
    says:

    as always, thanks for the sharing.

    I also appreciate the incredible efforts (perhaps not the right word? perhaps it needs to be re-said) you take to keep this ‘space’ safe for the culture you create here. Safe rooms are great and sharing in safe forums is amazing.
    It strikes me that these safe spaces would make really great nurseries or incubators for tiny little, newborn, ideas that aren’t yet ready for sharing.

    x

  21. Laila Atallah
    Twitter: LailaAtallah
    says:

    So it’s not just me who gets singled out for special TSA treatment on a regular basis??

    When we flew this past October, TSA decided to pull me aside for patting down and extra luggage checking after everyone else had already boarded the plane. I just happened to be the last to board. They were nice about it but 5-on-1 seems like a ratio better left to porn videos, in my book.

    The withering looks I got from fellow passengers when I boarded the plane about 7 minutes later almost took my breath away. They clearly seemed to think my late arrival was my doing, and the hostility was palpable. I didn’t know passengers tracked things like that, or that 7 minutes could piss people off so much. Talk about icing on the cake.

  22. Rose
    Twitter: celestialrose
    says:

    You said “safe room” and I saw this round room – no corners, blinds against all the windows that I control and floor to ceiling books – Beauty and the Beast style [like the library in Beast’s castle.. but not as tall].

    I’ve a computer and plants and my cats. there’s a massive bed which lets me sleep in peace and a comfy sofa to lounge on with my books or art/writing materials.

    I may have to look into this room further :)

    And like Amber, I found this to be particularly useful information:

    “… there isn’t any way to screw this up because it’s all an experiment …”

    Such a helpful reminder.

  23. julekucera says:

    Today is another day when I read the post and the comments and I start to cry. I think the one crying is the little girl who is so often at the head of the V because that’s where she needed to be back then but really, now she just needs to sit in the little rocking chair that is just her-sized. She is crying because she thought she was alone at the head of the V and now she is happy because she knows she’s not alone and because she can let go of the head of the V and that feels very, very good.

  24. Jack
    Twitter: JackOutLoud
    says:

    Do you mind if I link this, um, everywhere? Because I’ve been trying to explain the room-in-head concept to people for years. The furthest back I can consciously remember doing it was about 6 – so obviously, it wasn’t very thought out in the intellectual sense, it was just… there when. Since then I’ve expanded and ended up with a whole House of Useful Rooms. And it took me years to find out that no, most people didn’t have one of these.

  25. Tracy
    Twitter: verdissage
    says:

    Wow, the V formation… very powerful image. Thank you, Havi (and HIro).

  26. […] What I could have done to improve this, was let someone stronger take over and send me fear to the safe room. […]

  27. Cherilyn
    Twitter: Bikeblisschick
    says:

    Love, LOVE the idea of the V! Thank you Havi and Hiro! The idea of sending the me who’s having trouble to a safe, nurturing room instead of to their room for being “bad” because they couldn’t handle the situation is so very kind. I can’t think of a situation where I’ve seen this done in real life with children, which would be so very helpful for everyone. How can I do this for myself? For my children?

    There’s so much sky over this idea. Must think. Must write.

    I need to find a way to do this as friends are coming for Thanksgiving and I’m feeling overwhelmed by the cleaning responsibilities now and the cooking responsibilities later. Need to send my incredible hostess self to the front of the V. She knows how to get everything done simply, easily and graciously.

    I think my safe room is actually outdoors. Not locked in anywhere or told to stay home. I’m outdoors biking on a gorgeous, balmy day and I’m invisible in the sense that I’ve just vanished into the day. I am the day. The breeze. The birds swooping. The light itself.

    Oh, oh!

  28. Reinis says:

    Hi, Havi!

    I just spent about two hours reading your site. In short – you’ve got a new fan! :)

    I especially loved this article – I’ve been playing with similar ideas. And sometimes it’s good to know that I’m not the only one having conversations with many characters.. and it’s sometimes hard to know who’s the ‘real’ me. :)

    Sort of a ‘Multiple Personality Order’. :)

    Best wishes to you, Havi!
    Reinis

  29. Hannah says:

    This might just be my favouritest post ever (just found it back after reading the ‘Wheeeeeee the people’ page ;).

    It’s so powerful to imagine a safe room or a safe house. It’s so incredibly powerful. And it seems to describe very well what you are doing on the blog – crating a safe space.

    THANK YOU

    best wishes

  30. […] arisen from tools mentioned at The Fluent Self; such as the Hello Day exercise, knowledge about Safe Rooms and the V Formation, or general destuckification basics. However, I have my own in place – the knowledge that opening […]

  31. asrai
    Twitter: asrai
    says:

    From far in the future land where I just refound your blog after seeing it mentioned and then never subscribing. Anyway, I have a whole island. It started out as a beach in a visualization. I have a house there and a garden. There is a forest and a babbling brook in the forest. There is a beach and I can swim with dolphins and my spirit animal lives there. And some faery guides from The Faeries Oracle by Jessa Macbeth live there.

    I also have an entire house in my mind, but that’s different from my island.

  32. BradenRussom
    Twitter: BradenRussom
    says:

    Oh man – I needed this. I’ve been trying to create a safe room in my mind for months but haven’t been able to drum it up. It never feels safe enough. The idea of a whole safe house, or a big, heavy door is so useful.

    *letting out a big sigh* Thanks for this post.

  33. […] Any scared parts of me from then who need attention and/or safe rooms? […]

  34. […] And then, I felt the surge of my inner phoenix; a part of me who has been learning from Anger Management and Buddhism, who has been slowly shifting the neurons in my brain to see things differently, who is slowly learning to stand up for me, to move to the front of the V. […]

  35. Simone
    Twitter: sustainobrain
    says:

    It’s soooooo strange. Every time, when I need really a big hug because there is just a lot of stuckiness in my world, I find this hug here.
    And now I’m reading about safe rooms and I know I need one for myself. I understand now quite a lot about what has happened last week and what I am still struggling with. Next time I will be prepared with a safe room and a very strong AND loving V-formation. I don’t know yet what this room will look like or feel like but I will find out.

    Thank you Havi for all this hugs and help.

  36. Chrys says:

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been having a rough go of it today, as past versions of me have set present me up to accomplish some things that present me really doesn’t think she can deal with. I’d already employed all of the not so helpful coping strategies that she usually reaches for, and (surprise) none of them were making it any easier. Reading this again, I realized that there’s a me who really likes getting things organized and “all set up” for the big endeavor. I asked her to come to the front of the line, not to do the work, mind you, but just to get everything in order for the future me. She was most happy to oblige!

    Of course, once I got to the party and realized that most of the tough stuff was already done, I actually felt pretty happy to join in. :)

  37. […] a safe room for the part of me that’s super tired and […]

  38. […] I’m angry, rather than upset, I usually build a safe room for angry-me. It’s a loooooooong room and internal-angry-me is at one end with a ton of […]

  39. […] of yourself; thank the part that’s been trying to take care of you all this time. Give her a safe room. Give yourself credit for working through your […]

  40. Will says:

    I would like to make a saferoom for a me. I know it’s a bit strange commenting on a years-old post, but if I put it here, it’s out there somewhere.

    This room has bamboo furniture. It creaks when you sit on it, and there are so many cushions and blankets you can get comfortable in a hundred hundred ways.

    There are steps down into the kitchen area where there is food and a big table and all the arts supplies you ever need to make things, if you feel like it.

    There’s a door to the bathroom, which is tiny and white. It has no windows, and the door locks tight like a banksafe, but unlocks smoothly from the inside. The light is always on.

    The rest of the room has windows, they look out on a garden no one can enter because there are walls around it a million miles high.

    Or rather, this place is outside of normal space, like a fairy hideout or a dimensional pocket. No one can enter it ever, except cats, and they all can. The cats slink in and out when they want to. Some visit regularly, some I see only once. Sleek, haughty cats, playful toms, big old lazy cats who come to bask in the sun.

    The best place for this is the floor. It has a warm yellow carpet, soft and toe-scrunchy, and when the sun falls through the window there you can just roll around and lie on your back and no one else can ever ever be there because there aren’t even any doors.

    Thank you, Havi.

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