Bring the Safety Inside

After another night of near-total sleeplessness, I spent the afternoon putting up Christmas lights, affixing illustrated children’s books to the walls, and hanging my partner’s grandmother’s paintings. She seems taken with the pastoral Southwest, reverence for natural beauty, landscapes devoid of humans. What resonates most with me is her painting of deer in the snow, mountains in the background, and no subject privileged over another. The deer and the snow and the mountains and the creek and the grasses and the sky all take precedence simultaneously. No commas. They just are.

This sort of boundarylessness is sometimes desirable, sometimes terrifying. You blend into the landscape. The landscape blends into you. If the landscape is beautiful, calming, infinite, you can absorb it.

And if the landscape is one of horror or trauma? You can absorb it.

Contexts are inescapable, histories are inscribed on/ in the body, we are always-already interpellated. “People who have endured horrible events suffer predictable psychological harm.” (Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 3).  All baselines: we are human subjects who are profoundly impacted and shaped by our environments.

One of the most important projects of individual mental health is figuring out how to impose boundaries, filters, on the environment and on experience, how to derive from living only what one consciously chooses.

We can always create safe(r) spaces, sure, we can always manipulate external reality to an extent, but the issue whose questions loom most pressingly for me is “How to bring the safety inside?” And how to keep it there, in my perhaps-naive and overarching belief in ideological impermeability. Or this: how to bring the safety inside, and how to mostly keep it there, all while navigating the world’s chance/ circumstance/ change/ horror/ beauty/ simultaneity/ boundarylessness?

Where is that still, inner place? And can it grow bigger?