The Safe Space of Friendship

Holding Space Takes Courage, Gives Love

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
― Anais Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

I’ve been thinking a lot about safety. The dictionary defines safety as ‘being the condition of protection from or unlikely to cause danger risk for injury.’ But what does safety really mean?

I can definitely feel the sensations in my body when I don’t feel safe! We all are aware of the flight, fight or freeze responses to fear. I used to think this would happen when I was faced with dangers that seem very large in magnitude, meeting a bear on a hike in the Smokies, or stranded in the dark in an unknown place.

But honestly, I have even felt these same emotions in my day-to-day work. The times when I am overlooked in a meeting for another, usually a male member, or when I am stared up and down when standing in a line at a banquet wearing an Indian outfit that is different from the dresses and gowns, when I mispronounce words because of my different accent, or when I look ignorant when people talk about sports that I did not grow up with….

These are times when I feel my palms sweating, my body tensing and the feeling of just wanting to run away. But over time I have learned to take a big deep breath and re-compose myself very quickly. Because I know I do not have a choice, I have to survive! I know I have to put on a smile externally when I want to cry or scream or runaway on the inside.

Contrasting these fight/flight/freeze feelings would be safety to me. A place where I feel that I am valued for what I am and the attributes I bring. When I am asked clarifying questions rather than being assumed or judged or stereotyped. Stereotyped because of my name, my gender, the color of skin or hair, or where I went to school, or where I live…. My body, the human body and heart can sense these feelings.

Similarly, we/I can sense when there is a true welcome, an affirmative energy, an acceptance. I can sense when I am accepted as another human being. This welcome exists even though I am asked the hard questions related to my omissions or my limitations. They are asked in a way that feels kind, that feels gentle, that is not dehumanizing me as a person but pointing out when my actions that were incorrect, wrong or did not meet expectations.

This feeling is a positive energy, it feels constructive, and even results in innovation and creativity. This is safety! This safety allows me to have the courage to be vulnerable, to lean into my hurts, my wounds, because I know at the basic human level I am still valued.

When we find a community that holds us and we hold each other in a gentle way, then instead of fleeing, freezing or fighting, we flock. We find the courage to frame our questions or statements differently. We find the courage to face our fear. We find courage to forgive—forgive ourselves and any others. But more importantly, we find a friend that truly cares, who knows and reads our heart and gives us courage to do the same.

The word courage comes from the root word cor which is heart in Latin. Courage is to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.

Having such a friend who gives us courage is truly a gift that is priceless and that keeps on giving. I am really blessed to have many such friends within my family and my community.

Two of them really made my book Resilient Threads possible. Yvonne helped sow the seed and then Shelly nurtured it to bloom and bear fruit, both of them with love, care and kindness. They each showed tremendous courage themselves and created a safe space for me to be courageous. Shelly has beautifully and elegantly even written about courage in her book, The Courage Way. However to hear her share her story aloud is powerful, energizing and inspiring.

I invite you, my community, to an Awakin Call with Shelly Francis this coming Saturday, July 25 at 12pm ET (9am PT), hosted by @ServiceSpace which hosted my Awakin call in May. Shelly’s Awakin Call will address the question:

What does living courageously mean for you & how do you cultivate personal courage?

Visit this link to RSVP and for more details,

#REFLECT: How does friendship help you cultivate courage?

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

― Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude


How is the coronavirus and civil unrest around racism changing the way you think of self-care, community and resilience? As this challenging time unfolds, I am posting a quote on this blog with a reflection prompt. Please join in the conversation here or on Twitter with your thoughts or about what you are doing for self-care and care of others. My book explores such ideas too: Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being.