I am aware that many people recommend having a ‘safe space’ – be that the magical grove in your head or somewhere else you can retreat to for solace, sustenance and security. I have tried it, and I can’t do it. I’ll start by saying that’s probably about me and my relationship with the universe. Safety is not something I inherently feel. I don’t seek it in my own work, because even when I’ve tried, it’s not been a workable option for me.
What I’ve sought instead, is to be able to hold my own boundaries, my own sense of self, and enough inner calm not to crack up. This is not just about dealing with inner landscapes, monsters of the astral planes or imaginary struggles. This is Druidry practiced in self defence when I find myself in difficult situations. Sometimes I do better than others, but the more time I invest in being able to hold myself still, and hold myself together, the better I’ve got at doing just that.
I will admit that in Druidry and Meditation, I was fairly critical of the sacred grove in the head visualisations. On the contemplative druidry facebook group yesterday (yes, you can ask to join) several people mentioned that their inner groves are just as real to them as outer places. I don’t dispute that – I spend much of my working life imagining places such that they become real to me. We can all make vivid and meaningful inner realities, and it is good to explore this.
However, a safe place inside the head is not like an actual grove. You will probably not find dog shit in your inner grove, or litter, or the consequences of vandalism. Real trees are brought down by storms, disease, people who own the land. Having this happen to your special place really, really hurts.
It’s very easy for the things we imagine, to be and do exactly what we want. They will be friendly, gentle, benevolent. They will affirm. They will make us feel good and happy –and these are things we all need. But at the same time, we also need challenges. The grove in your head probably won’t require you to fight tooth and nail to save it from development. And then have to deal with failing. You probably won’t find a dead and dehydrated animal in it. No one else will plant exotic flowers there in memory of a departed granddad. It belongs to you. The world we share, does not, and the world we share offers challenges.
If you can imagine a safe place, and you have a need for one, then go for it. We all have different ways of working, and different needs. But, if the sacred grove inside your head is a fantasy substitute for real life, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you never get actual mud on your actual clothes, if you never sit under real trees and listen to how they really sound… not only are you missing out, but your ability to imagine realistically will be sorely impaired. Do you know what a wood sounds like at night? Or what it’s like in heavy rain? Have you loved a tree enough to be heartbroken when someone else cut it down? Do you know what really lives in trees?
To be a Druid is to be in this world, at least some of the time. Be wary of things that take you away from real life, or that give you easy, feel good stuff of no substance. Be wary of your own romanticising tendencies, and the limitations of your knowledge. Be wary of self indulgence.
In terms of both being safe and feeling well, there is much to be said for sitting under an actual tree, breathing in the tree scent, experiencing the impact of the tree on your body. Real trees are good for you. They are remarkable life forms with an incredible degree of scope to affect your body for the good. Imagining them does not have the same effect.
On the other hand, imaginary trees will not drop branches on your head leaving you shocked and concussed. Only once, mind, but it was memorable. Trees, when you get down to it, are not wholly safe and benevolent all the time, either. Nothing is. Which is why I feel more comfortable not imagining a safety net in the first place.