Safe Places or Safe Spaces in Meditation

Not too long ago I had an experience with two students in a meditation group who had clearly defined ‘safe places or safe spaces’ and used them extensively in their meditation.  They probably didn’t even use the word ‘safe place’ but I think that’s what they were talking about.  They alluded to pain, hurt even trauma in their lives.  It was clear that a ‘safe space’ provided comfort for them.  One person clung to it like a life raft.

I imagined their lives couldn’t be more different. One was a young black woman, the other an older white woman. But in their sharing you could feel the connection, the understanding.

My heart went out to them. I was curious about what could have caused them so much pain. They gave no details and of course, and they didn’t have to.  

We’re such vulnerable creatures so we all have these tender places, we protect and defend.  Where are your tender spots?

A safe place is defined as a place that provides assistance and services to people in need whether that’s runaway teens, people being bullied, or women being abused for example.  Other terms can be sanctuary, refuge, asylum, haven or shelter.

When we need a safe space we’re so caught in our dukkha we can’t find a way to be with it.  It’s hard to look closely at an experience if we’re too afraid.  The body reacts, the mind frantically looks for relief.  We may not even know consciously when we’re afraid but the body knows.  It may feel hot or cold, tight even painful or vibrating with alarm.

 Reflective Meditation builds in a safe place by encouraging us to be curious about what is happening but only to our tolerance—a gentle, soft and careful approach from the safe place.  

There are many ways to create a safe space: Imagining a comforting place often in nature is a common one.

But I’ve found other safe places or rather places that help me avoid the pain/fear/discomfort that becomes too much. Distraction is a favorite one of mine—keeping busy, reading, watching TV, exercising.  All of these can be a kind of ‘safe place’.  Instead of seeing this as a problem we begin to appreciate how they help us and hopefully over time we make more conscious choices on how we can be with our pain.

It’s from that safe place we can begin to look out and see what the fear is, how it wraps itself around our lives, how it moves through and then unwinds itself.  

What is your ‘safe place’?  How has it changed over time? How do you work with difficulties?  What works for you? 

Over time, the fear is replaced with gentleness and curiosity.  We take a peek at our fear rather than throw open the door to it.  This is gentleness to ourselves.  We become curious about how it arises, under what conditions and how it fades a little, maybe to a more tolerable level.  We see the myriad ways we defend against the fear, protecting ourselves from the full onslaught.  We begin to appreciate those ways instead of seeing them as the problem or an enemy.  We hold ourselves gently in our pain until the pain softens.  No rush, no pressure.  Just giving it time to unfold at its own pace.

I want to leave you with a poem.

This is by Hafiz, a 14th century poet in Persia.  One of my favorite poems of his is called “And Applaud” where he talks about a young man who comes to his Master, feeling strong and brave and wants to know the truth about his attachments.  Hafiz refuses with one reason or another until he finally says this.  This is only a part of the poem. Here it is:

You’re attachments!  My dear,
Let’s not speak of those,
For Hafiz understand the sufferings 
Of your heart.

Hafiz knows
The torments and the agonies
That every mind on the way to Annihilation in the Sun
Must endure.

So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
And applaud,

And Applaud
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!

Photo by he zhu on Unsplash

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About Erica Dutton

Erica Dutton is an experienced teacher and practitioner of Reflective Meditation. She has dedicated herself to sharing this practice so others can succeed in meditation, see their experience as important and valuable, and realize the benefits.


  1. Great blog post, Erica. Very helpful.

  2. A very insightful post. It is indeed difficult to acknowledge past but persistent painful experiences much less learn how they may color our present perceptions of ourselves and others. A “safe place” where we can gradually allow our pain or fear to surface so that we can come to accept it as a part of life is a welcome approach.

    • We all have painful parts to our histories. Hopefully, we can integrate them and learn from those experiences. They help me be more compassionate with others and their pain.

  3. Jody Burton Slowins

    This is a wonderful post! Clearly stated and beautifully presented. Thanks for keeping me in the loop.

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