A New Look at Safety

“A key goal is building a community in which you are willing to risk.”                                                                                                                                                 Emilie Townes

“Safety is not the absence of threat...it is the presence of Connection.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Dr. Gabor Mate


Participating in God’s Power is a program that will invite participants to go deep spiritually. So how do we address safety in the middle of the spiritual work of uncovering, unmasking and moving toward wholeness and authenticity, what Thomas Kelly named as “living from the divine Center,” and Jung called “individuation,” the process of coming to a fullness of self, conscious where we had been unconscious, in touch with our soul and its connection to the Divine.

When we initiate and participate in that work, a sense of safety is important. We are guessing we have all been in many scenarios where that sense of safety was ably facilitated by reliance on group leaders to maintain group rules and group boundaries, where there were others “holding the space and radiating God’s love.”  Both are very important in developing and maintaining a sense of safety.

Using rules and leaders holding the space, however, leads to a sense of safety based on external realities. Those structures can at times inhibit risk taking, personal responsibility and empowerment. They can even become a way to try and contain or manage the messiness of spiritual growth, to stay comfortable instead of experiencing the good stress that is productive to emotional growth and spiritual discovery.

We will instead encourage participants to start to develop an inner sense of safety; this is the awareness of safety that is most difficult to attain and sustain, and it is the safety that is not an illusion. We believe the Inner Guide can lead us into this inner safety. And we intend to invite and encourage folks to start to ascertain the degree of safety they need to do this work, and how to find what they need to provide that degree. Examining our core beliefs about safety can aid in that process. Safety is a basic need, and too often we settle for a superficial layer of safety that inhibits deep relational work. It is our experience that we can create a safety-first environment that is participant led, communal and individual.

In any spiritual journey, people are aided by a sense of empowerment and choice. These are especially important to trauma impacted people, and, for all, these knowings are especially important in a journey that addresses surrender.  What passes for spiritual surrender in our culture is often a form of personal abandonment, a way of masking a fear of moving into wholeness and appropriate adult responsibility for oneself and others. The former might be likened to a dog rolling on its back in submission.  We seek instead to help people into an enlivened dance, a dance with God as a partner, and the one doing the leading.

We posit that it is only when folks have fully owned their responsibility for their personal safety and personhood, and the responsibility that conveys, that they can come to the fullness of surrender to the Holy One.

So how do we suggest concretizing a framework that can facilitate this process?

Prior  to our first gathering participants will be sent three short PDF documents. The first will be information and a worksheet on uncovering core beliefs on safety and trust. The second PDF will be developing an understanding of safety and trust as a continuum, a continuum which names that in this or that area, in this or that instance, “I feel safe or I trust” ranging from “not at all” to “complete and totally.” Participants will be encouraged to check in with themselves, throughout the program, about where they are on that continuum, and if their place on the continuum fits where they need to be in order to feel safe. In other words, they will begin proactively choosing levels of trust, and what is needed for a sense of internal safety.  The third PDF will be education about internal and external safety, and how to create an individual safety plan to facilitate both.

These steps are key in understanding and implementing an awareness of safety and trust needs, safety and trust core beliefs, and to navigate the internal choices when needs and core beliefs don’t match up.

This awareness can lead into a deeper understanding of our own inner strength, our choices, and to a deeper ability to surrender in a way that does no harm. This is a more thorough understanding of surrender as a choice in wholeness, honoring personhood, instead of surrender as an abdication, abandonment or capitulation of personhood and wholeness.

This individual awareness, discernment and inner negotiation can be brought into the group process, crafting a container of and by each person present that honors individual continuums of safety and trust. Folks can be invited to move more into risk, or reminded to care for themselves more fully.

As a community, we will be facilitating more body connection, giving language for sensations, and asking for continual body check-ins. We will learn to notice, in both ourselves and others, when we check out. Through using the three R’s we will learn to change our brain state, and give ourselves the ability to be more present. The three R’s: Regulate, through deep breathing, rocking or a self-hug – this helps us to be able to feel our safety and brings us out of our survival brain stem, that fight, flight, or freeze syndrome. The second R, relate, being present with others through active listening and connection, helps us to know we are loved, and moves us out of the limbic brain state. And the third R, reason, moves us into the cortex and the ability to learn and think. Through this easily remembered process, folks will start to move into conscious awareness of their ability to hold themselves present, in Holy Presence, something most of us already do intuitively. “We discovered that establishing a living process for constantly negotiating values-based rules was more important than being bound by inflexible lists and rigid laws.” (Sandra Bloom) This negotiating will be encouraged to be both individual (the inner contract) and communal (the community contract).

With this attention to individuals knowing what safety means for them, it is our experience and belief that we will be able to work through difficulties and conflicts as they arise, knowing them as opportunities to move our trust continuum, experience bravery and risk in our safety needs, deepen the group, and increase intimacy.

As facilitators, we will be “setting the table” for the work by starting each session with Predicting, Acknowledging, and Disclaiming (PAD’s) each large and small group time. PADs look like this:We predict as we start this residency that our work may be uncomfortable or stretching, we acknowledge that everyone is entering with different life experiences, and different spiritual journeys and that some of the feelings that arise may be uncomfortable,  (disclaim) we will not be able to fully explain every bit of what Incarnation looks like or how we embody Holy Presence.  PADing helps provide a sense of knowing what might be coming, potential impacts and outcomes, and what we won’t be able to fully explore or explain.

We will also ask each individual to find and name a contact person who can be a resource person for them while attending the residencies. We ask this individual be a therapist, spiritual director, or spiritual friend. We will also ask each participant to have a cohort buddy, someone they can reach out to when they need a presence (like a peer sponsor).


Bloom, S.L., Creating Sanctuary

Harris, Bud,. Becoming Whole, A Jungian Guide to Individuation

Lakeside Global Institute, Deepening Trauma Awareness

Open Hearts Ministry, The Journey Begins Leaders Guide

Rosenblum, D., Williams, M.B., Life After Trauma Workbook

Townes, E., Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil