By Kellie Schorr
May You Be is a 4-week series designed to coincide with the “Metta in May” theme going on through the month of May. Each week looks at one of the statements of the Loving Kindness recitation.
May you dwell in safety
May you be happy and healthy
May you be free from affliction
May you live in peace
The loving kindness prayer is a little like a fingerprint.
Some start with “May you be safe” and others start with “In safety may you dwell.” Many do the streamlined version, saying each of the 4 elements for themselves, a loved one, a causal stranger, an enemy, and all beings. Others add in repetitions for their teacher, pets, friends, political leaders and nature.
It doesn’t matter if you say the long form or short, keep it blunt or make it poetic, one thing is sure: you always start with yourself. You always end with all beings and, before that, you always include an enemy (or harmful person). What happens when the most harmful being to you is yourself?
You can lock your doors, set the alarm, check the expiration date, carry a weapon, drop a toxic friend, light the signal beacons, or use all the magic words you know but if you can’t create safety from the fears, memories, and criticisms of your own mind all none of that will help.
Mind is our foundation, our spiritual sustainer and, sometimes, our very worst enemy.
- When you lie down at night, ready to enter the restorative bliss of sleep, what keeps you awake three more hours replaying that dumb thing you said in 6th grade to that girl you really liked?
- When an opportunity slides open as you approach like the automatic door at the grocery store, what flashes every reason you probably won’t get inside before it closes, leaving you standing there immobile as others pass by?
- When you make a new friend, what convinces you to change your attitude, hairstyle, and hobbies to match theirs so they don’t walk out on you like your lover/mother/teacher did?
Your mind. That’s why, to empower this prayer, you need a mental panic room.
A History of Shelter
Known by many names, panic rooms have been around since ancient Egypt where the tombs of pharaohs would feature a secret room to hide cherished servants from thieves who might kill them. They were called “priest holes” when they were built into the foundations of English homes to hide priests during the persecution of Catholicism. In 1800’s, they were called “slave holds” and were often dug into the ground to hide the slaves from scouts while they were traveling with the Underground Railroad.
In 1920, they were “stash rooms,” hiding booze and revelers during prohibition. By the 1960’s they were bomb shelters. After 9/11, during a period of national vulnerability and increased home invasions, modern day “panic rooms” became the new trend for those who could afford them.
A mental panic room serves the same function as all of its forbearers. It’s a thought place to take refuge, to be safe, to wait, or to call for help. When intrusive thoughts or damaging memories push you past your ability to feel safe in your skin, you need some way to reset.
What makes a good inner stronghold? The same things panic rooms have always had: A way in, a way to breathe, a way to see, and a way to communicate to the outside world.
When you face a barrage of negativity, fearful fantasies, or ugly internal voices and you’re trying to get back to that truth that you are good, you are loved, and you are able to stop suffering, you need a way escape from the invading thoughts. Preparation is the door and practice is its key.
Think of the things you do to self-regulate. Maybe walking in the park, or listening to a certain song, remembering a place where you were safe and happy, or repeating a mantra (formal or informal) that makes you feel strong. Those things will be your door. However, since invasive thoughts often throw us into flight, fight or freeze, you will need to practice making your way from the trigger to the door.
You accidentally let a bill wait until the day it’s due. Frantic, you search for online payment methods or have to go out of your way to drop off the money at the office. When things get straightened out, you sit back and sigh. That’s when the invasion starts.
“How could you let this get past you? What are you thinking? You never focus on what’s important. You’re irresponsible. This is why nothing good happens to you. Just because you made it this time, next month they will pile on late fees. You’re a screw up, just like your father. It’s shit like this that keeps you from getting published/promoted/proposed to…”
Stop. Sit and remember that time you and your best friend drove to the beach at night, and “Love Shack” was on the radio and you sang the whole way. “Love shack, love shack, baby…” (It’s a surprisingly helpful mantra when you’re frozen and you need to move. Trust me on that). Sing your song, take a walk, and take a breath. Practice this passage with small things, because when the big things come, you’ll need to instinctively know the way.
Once you’ve found the door to a better frame of mind, take some time to just breathe. A panic room that doesn’t have enough air isn’t going to help you for very long. Meditation is a good way to clear the room. It doesn’t have to be a formal sitting meditation in the seven-point posture with rituals of purification and invoking the spirits. Just sit down and practice calm abiding. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe those thoughts right into the sky. Find balance in the space between breaths.
Make sure you plan for a source of light, preferably one that doesn’t take a lot of energy. Invasive thoughts run on the fuel you feed them and they can leave you low in a hurry. Have a list of people you know you can call no matter how high or low on energy you are. Someone who can listen to you, or help you see clearly. Keep books around, with powerful quotes or chapters marked. Journal, if you can, and lay those thoughts out in words. Often, like any other invader, once these thoughts see the light of day, they disappear.
The Call Bell
Why isn’t there any food in this mental panic room? Because it’s not a safe house and not somewhere you want to live. It’s a spot to go to reset, recharge, and realign your thinking. Most modern panic rooms designed with home invasion in mind have enough energy and provisions to last an hour, by then—if you called them—the police will come help you. So, more important than canned beans and a stack of snickers, is way to call out.
If your invasive thoughts resist your efforts to escape them, or lead to a place that culminates in dark fantasies or plans of self-harm, call a professional to help you. It may be a therapist, a hotline, or an ER, but be ready and make a promise to yourself that you are willing to reach out. Have the numbers available. The room is your creation. You can, and should, make it big enough for more than one.
You don’t have to be alone.
Metta is a beautiful practice that connects your altruism to those you love, those you don’t, those you learn from, and those you have not met, but it all starts with you. Take your thoughts out of the enemy category and make your mind a friend.
May you dwell in safety.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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