What Makes Us Feel Safe?

Last updated on January 11, 2021

daffodil unfolding its petals
Unfolding the petals of a flower is a delicate operation, and it happens best in a safe environment.

Certain Conditions Allow for Deeper Inquiry

I’ve done The Work of Byron Katie with hundreds of different people over the years. And I’ve noticed that with some people I can drop into my work more easily. What is it about those people that allow me to focus inwardly?

Self-inquiry is a delicate process. I am used to being careful around other people, guarding myself a bit. I present my best side, the parts of me where I am not confused, for the world to see. 

But the part of me that needs self-inquiry is not the part of me that is working well, but rather the part of me that is still confused, hurting, or stuck. To even admit that I have those parts to another human being takes courage, let alone to question my beliefs around them.

Safety Comes from One Main Thing

What makes me feel safe when working with someone is this: are they trying to change me? If so, I don’t feel safe. If not, I can relax.

If someone is trying to change me, it means to me that they’re not okay with me the way I am. They think, “If he would break through this belief, his life would be better.” For me, even if it’s well-intentioned, this feels like a judgment and a pressure to “improve.” 

When I feel this pressure, I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel heard. I don’t feel accepted. Instead of allowing myself to expose the real me inside with all its messiness, I start to be careful. I hide parts of me, and I try to change myself to avoid further judgment from the person I’m working with. 

This Is a Feeling of Contraction

This is just the opposite of what I came to The Work for in the first place. I came to expose my most vulnerable side to the light so that I could see what was going on. If someone is pushing me with an agenda, or judgments, I feel shame about my vulnerable parts, and I push them down as I always have.

To allow my most vulnerable parts to come out and really be seen requires a lot of acceptance and tolerance on both my part and on the part of the person I’m working with. When we both are suspending our judgment, there is room for The Work to work.

The Work Is a Funny Thing

It works when you don’t push yourself with it. It works when you allow whatever is inside to be heard and looked at objectively. Then, very naturally, anything that doesn’t make sense starts to fall away. 

But this doesn’t happen if I think it should fall away, or if the person I’m working with thinks I should change. It happens of its own accord when awareness is brought to the sticking point. 

That is the beauty of The Work. It is nothing but awareness. And awareness alone is a huge healing force. But it can’t be manipulated. All you can do to foster this kind of healing is to set up the conditions for it to happen. The rest must happen naturally on its own, or not.

What Are These Conditions?

In my opinion, two main conditions create an ideal environment for the growth of self-awareness.

1. Feeling safe: not judged, not pushed, understood even when exposing confusion.

2. Being held in self-inquiry: being gently held in the questions of The Work so that I can allow them to challenge me, even while I’m not pushing or judging myself. 

The combination of non-judgment and the four questions and turnarounds of The Work provides the perfect environment for the growth of self-awareness. There is no pressure to change, but there is often a curiosity about what I may be missing in my state of confusion. 

There is no shame in exposing my weak parts, yet there is a gentle invitation to challenge what I’m believing. This gentle holding is not only safe but extremely conducive to growth and new understandings.

How Can You Create an Environment Like This?

There are many ways to find a safe environment for doing The Work. One of the easiest is to hold yourself in The Work in written form. This is akin to journaling, but instead of describing situations in your writing, you take a stressful thought from a situation and question it. You can use the templates in The Work as Meditation Start-up Kit to give this to yourself.

Another favorite way to create a safe environment for doing The Work is to find a friend, or work partner and meet regularly to do The Work. If you both agree that you will be neutral listeners and hold each other in the questions of The Work, then a safe space gets created. This often deepens and opens over time as you learn that you can bring anything to your sessions and you will not be pushed, or judged, or dominated, but you will be held in The Work instead.

A third way is to do The Work with a trained facilitator, like me. When you work with someone who had facilitated a lot of people, and who has questioned the motives that come up when holding someone in inquiry, you may discover a very safe space. This is actually the one thing I offer to my clients: a safe space. There is no promise of anything other than a safe space where they will be held in inquiry and will discover whatever they discover. Join me for private sessions here.

Another way to find a safe space for inquiry is to take a course, like The Work 101, where everyone is there to learn The Work. Within the structure of the course, everyone learns to respect the vulnerability of each other and to hold each other in the process of inquiry. Because group support in this way can be so powerful, that is why I also created Inquiry Circle, my ongoing practice group for The Work. There, we continue to hold each other in this simple process on an ongoing basis.

Give to Others What You Want to Receive

The more you experience the value of being held in inquiry without a push and without judgments from the person you are working with, the more you appreciate it. The effectiveness of this kind of safe holding is amazing. 

So when you hold others in their work, you may notice that you have less desire to interrupt their process by teaching, guiding, enlightening, changing, improving, transforming, or any other action of yours. Instead, you find yourself sitting back with a full heart as you listen to both the vulnerability and the wisdom of each person as they do their work. There is very little to do other than to simply hold them and remind them of the questions when they wander.

That is how I like to be held. And it shows me how to hold the ones I work with. Anything that would stop me from this beautiful, simple approach, I write down and question.

Do The Work with Us

I’d love to work with you in one of my courses, retreats, or private sessions. Come experience this kind of safety yourself. 

Or join me for a virtual retreat. I will be available for 30 hours during this Zoom retreat to do The Work.

There are no prerequisites. Come do The Work with us, and learn as you go. You will have a lot of support during this retreat. And if you’re alone this year, it’s a great way to “get out of the house” and meet some wonderful people in inquiry.

Because we have more than six participants, the cost will only be CDN$300 (approx. $234 USD, €194, £175, $315 AUD) for the three days. Join us here.

Have a great week,

“When someone is facilitating The Work, giving the four questions, he’s receiving at another level what I originally received inside me. If he’s really facilitating from a neutral position, without any motive, then he’s in the place where I am on the other side. It just gains in its freedom. It’s in or out: unlimited.” Excerpt From: Byron Katie. “Question Your Thinking, Change the World.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World

Further reading: Is It Safe to Do The Work?

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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