Islands of Safety for Creativity

To write, draw, paint, or to explore any area of expression, one must feel safe and safely permitted to explore. This permission comes from others when one is a child, but as an adult, that changes. The permission to explore and create comes from oneself.

Every new venture requires safety first. When my father taught me to drive, he said, “First, you must learn to brake.” He taught me how to stop the car before I was ready to go anywhere. He knew I would be safe. Life is full of danger. We have to know where safety is so that we know we can always return there, even if we never need to.

Each toddler who knows that a parent or caregiver is consistently there as a safety is more confident about exploring further. These are journeys without maps. (Maps are important, too.)

Each artist or musician, when learning from a teacher, asks for direction as to how to proceed and permission to go there. The teacher may be more aware and say, “No you aren’t ready yet for Beethoven. Let’s work on your Schubert some more.”  A good teacher keeps you safe within your limitations and helps you to go deeper. Bert Collins, my art teacher, often shows me where a bit of color will add balance and interest. She may observe that the composition follows one of the shapes that all artists know about. She may say simply, “Now give it more personality.” She knows the big maps.

Narrative work is like moving into the unknown. I believe that for that reason, many never begin.

I remember being very impressed by narrative therapy teacher Michael White in his seminars and at his lectures. His first concern as a narrative guide was to create islands of safety for his client. He was speaking about the therapist and the person who was seeking help to manage an area of life, but one can create one island of safety for oneself.

I thought more about this safety zone. I remember how as a child playing tag, the feeling of tagging and shrieking, “You’re it!” and then running back to the safety place–a tree for instance–to not be tagged back. I remember the feeling of relief that I would not be tagged as long as I was there.

One thought about the safety zone: It was frowned upon to stay there. All the children knew that that was being chicken and was not playing the game.

Everyone needs a safety zone. A place that you can go back to when you have risked something out there. But to stay there is not playing the game. And if your island is a friend, a teacher, or therapist you can only stay there so long, you have to move out into the game.

If you are without that kind of friend, teacher, or therapist, then it is essential to give yourself permission to begin to create that island of safety. After a while, you learn to internalize this zone and carry it with you, always venturing out. For many, this is an incremental process. For instance, for some it may be finding 15 minutes a day to write or draw. Eventually, that 15 minutes will become your sacred space. As it does, it may seem like a gift from the gods that this space will expand on its own and surprisingly, nothing else will be detracted from. Instead, everything else becomes easier to do.

Renita Wellman
9″x12″ pastel on mounted paper

2 thoughts on “Islands of Safety for Creativity

  1. Sigridh Kiersch

    Yes, after a while I do indeed learn to internalize this safety zone and carry it with me, always venturing out. “Islands of Safety for Creativity” is an inspiring article, Renita. Thank you! I am reminded also of this quote by Anais Nin: “And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

    The painting “Breeze” emits exactly the warmth inherent in an Island of Safety. A perfect complement to the writing!


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