Have you experienced a lack of understanding and acceptance when you had opened up to someone you trusted about your interior journey? We need people who can be safe spaces for us as we make this journey, but we need to know how to identify them.
In this first half of a two-part conversation I have with experienced soul guide and spiritual companion Edwina Yeow, we discuss why we need safe spaces and how to identify if someone can be a safe space for us.
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06:30 - Why do we need a safe space for the interior journey?
11:14 - What constitutes a safe space?
13:51 - Why our loved ones may not be safe spaces
20:24 - How can I tell if someone is a safe space?
29:40 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act.
- As you listened to today's episode, what struck you? Does something resonate particularly strongly with you?
- Can you remember any time in your life where you have experienced what we describe as a safe space? Who was it that made you feel like you could really just be who you are and not be judged or evaluated or criticised?
- Where you are now in your journey could be quite different from the last time that you experienced being in a safe space with someone. This would be especially true if you have begun this interior journey only recently.
- Try to identify someone whom you think could be a safe space for you now, at this point of your journey.
Blog Post: Where can I be unafraid to become who I truly am?
Other episodes that would help you understand and apply the lessons in this episode:
- Ep 7 Be Curious, Courageous & Compassionate with Yourself
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EP 21 | SAFE SPACES FOR BECOMING (WITH EDWINA YEOW)
What does it mean to have a safe space for you to make your interior journey?
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.
Hello again, dear listeners. So, every now and then, on this podcast, I talk about the importance of having someone to support you. And I also always mentioned how it is important to find someone that understands what this interior journey is about. And that's because for us to make this journey, we really need to have what I would call a “safe space” in which to unfold. Right.
We need a safe space where we can learn to just be ourselves without judging ourselves. So, in order to better illustrate for you what I mean about having someone that can be a safe space for you, I have invited a dear friend and companion on this interior journey – someone who is also a safe space for me, to come on to the next couple of episodes of this podcast, so that through this conversation you can hear and better understand what it's like to have someone be that safe space for you.
So, the conversation that you'll be hearing is between me and Edwina Yeow. Edwina has training in counselling, theology and spiritual direction. But the way that she describes her practice, the way that she accompanies people in the interior journey; she rather describes as “soul befriending” or “spiritual companionship”.
So I genuinely hope that you enjoy this conversation between Edwina and me. We had a jolly good time, I think, which will be clear when you hear the laughter. I hope that you have as good a time listening to this as we did recording it.
Ann: So, welcome to the Becoming Me podcast, Edwina. It's so good to have you here with us.
Edwina: Very happy to be here and hello to all who are listening.
Ann: So, Edwina, could you tell us a little bit about what it is that you do?
Edwina: Okay. It's a little bit difficult to explain what exactly I do. But to make a long story short; I accompany people who are at a point in their lives where they are asking the question: “who am I”, or “what is my life all about” – kind of existential.
And so, I see, together with them, what their life is saying to them, and join them on a discovery of who they are. So, that's what I kind of do with people. And this would include seeing them on sort of like monthly sessions, to just see what their life is showing up. And also, longer stretches; like on retreats, days of recollection – where they have time to just sit and let their lives catch up with them, so that they can look and see what is actually happening.
Ann: So, the name of your ministry – it's called Anam Cara ministries, am I right?
Edwina: Yes, that's right.
Ann: What language is that? And what does that mean?
Edwina: Okay. “Anam Cara” comes from the Gaelic and it's a term that was introduced and made popular by John O'Donohue – the poet philosopher who passed away not so long ago. He's Irish and yeah well, then this is Gaelic. So, “anam” is Gaelic for “soul” and “cara” is the word for “friend”. And so, the word “Anam Cara”, together means “soul friend”; the friend of the soul.
And this is what I envision, or what I hope to offer in this practice or in this ministry – to be a friend to the one who desires to befriend their souls, in a sense. To hear their soul speak, to hear their lives speak.
Ann: That's very evocative and beautiful about the soul being befriended. So, Edwina, I know this may be a bit of an awkward question, although I know the answer already: Do you listen to the Becoming Me podcast?
Edwina: And the answer is: yes, I do.
Ann: Thank you. Thank you. Well, and the reason I asked that was I wanted to link today's conversation to all the preceding episodes that I've put out. And, you know, I often talk about how we need to make space for this interior work, right; this interior journey into authenticity and wholeness – how we also need support. I think I mentioned every other episode or so, that we can’t make this journey alone.
Ann: And I mean, up to now, so this would be episode 21, I think. As we're recording this, I still am kind of laying the ground work, right – for people who are new to this concept of making an interior journey. And I thought before I continue further in the podcast, I would really like to introduce the concept of what it means to have a safe space for this journey.
[00:06:30] WHY DO WE NEED A SAFE SPACE FOR THE INTERIOR JOURNEY
So, the episode before this one, which is episode 20; Why Things Get Worse Before They Get Better? – I share a little bit about why I started, into this interior journey; you know, specifically the part where I start looking at the psychological aspects, my emotional wounds. And I also mentioned how we can't do this on our own.
But I think for a lot of people, maybe the idea of a safe space is still a foreign concept. Maybe they haven't quite, you know, understood what I mean. So, I thought today, we could unpack a little; what does it mean to say that we need a safe space to make this interior journey? Because it seems to me that your work is very much about creating and helping people create and enter into safe spaces for the interior journey.
Edwina: Yes, you are absolutely right. And it's true. So, I need to go back a little bit to the name Anam Cara. When we talk about soul friendship, we are not talking about friendship in the platonic sense or the romantic sense, all right? It is a very particular kind of relationship that we are actually dealing with.
And so, in an Anam Cara relationship where two people enter into a circle, it's a closed circle. A space is created – an intentional space that is created between the two. And it is for the purpose of serving the one who seeks. It is so the one who comes looking for an Anam Cara is prepared to be seen for who he or she is by the Anam Cara – by the other.
And so that this other person might be able to see with them what is truly there present in their lives and be able to honour it, and to bring it to its fullness. So, this kind of work cannot be undertaken if the person seeking does not feel safe. And if the person who is seeking cannot be themselves, no work can be done, and the discovery will be hampered.
So when we talk about safe spaces, it's about feeling at home with another because you are not judged; you are welcomed as you are. You are respected, honoured, and just welcomed exactly as you are; without having to put on a mask or any kind of pretension, as would be the norm in any other kind of relationship, especially one in the workplace, or even at home sometimes – when we feel that we have expectations to meet, or a certain way that we need to behave in order to be acceptable. So, in order for the work of – the inner work of self-discovery, and if I really want to listen to my life, I need to, as you say, find someone who can help me because I have blind spots; I can’t see all of myself.
And so, I need someone whom I can trust and who will welcome me as I am – whatever comes up; the good, the bad, the ugly, and will receive me with compassion and welcome. And only then will I be able to open up and look with compassion myself, to what is coming up, and so be able to embrace and deepen my knowledge of who I am and, perhaps, even what I'm called to in my life.
Edwina: That was a very long way round.
Ann: Yes, but it was a helpful introduction to the idea of safe space. So, I had two questions that come to mind. One; let's start with the first one. If so, maybe you could help to sum up what you have said.
[00:11:14] WHAT CONSTITUTES A SAFE SPACE?
Ann: So, what would constitute a safe space for someone? – If you can just pare it down.
Edwina: If we look at physical spaces, and when you think about, for example, childproofing a room, let’s say – to make it safe for the child, what do you do? You protect all sharp corners. You put gates around where you know there may be steps so that the toddler or child won't be tempted to go beyond and potentially hurt themselves.
So you create a space that is specifically suited for the child and what the child needs at that time. So, when you translate that to relationships, a safe space would be someone who when you are with them, is able to hold you, to contain you – not physically, but to create an emotional safety net around you so that you don't feel you have to pretend; that you don't have to put on your best face or hide the things that you might be ashamed of, but rather with whom you will feel comfortable enough to dare to bring that which you might be afraid of, ashamed of, or unsure about, to the light, so that you may look at it without fear and see the gift that it has to give.
So this is what the person who would create a safe space for you would do. So, it could be a teacher, it could be a spiritual guide, it could be a wise elder. But not everyone does offer safe space. So, some people you would know instinctively that no, no, no – they expect me to be “X-Y-Z”. And so, I will put on that face and that mask and that persona, and I will perform. So, this person may not be a safe space for you because you can't really be yourself.
[00:13:51] WHY OUR LOVED ONES MAY NOT BE SAFE SPACES
Edwina: So, having said that, it's also not necessarily true that the persons you love most or who love you are safe spaces either.
Ann: I'm glad you brought that up because that was going to be my next question. Because oftentimes, I will hear from people who are beginning on this interior journey that, you know, this line often comes up from them.
I realized that not even my closest friends can understand what's going on with me right now, or that I can't share these things with them because they make me feel like I'm crazy. Right, so that’s an example.
Edwina: We've all been there.
Ann: Yeah. And could you elaborate a little bit more about that?
Why – because I think it's not intuitive for most people, especially when they just begin. Usually, the first people we look for are the people that we love, or the people that love us – could be family, it could be close friends. Why is it that sometimes these people are not safe spaces for us?
Edwina: I think that there are many reasons – possible reasons.
Perhaps, part of the problem is that we get used to one another – meaning that we feel comfortable in one way of relating. So, say a mother and a child, or siblings; you know there is a particular way in which I would relate to my sister and/or with my mother. And sometimes if I want to go deeper and to share something even more personal, more intimate, and I don't get a sense that they might be ready to receive that from me because they are used to relating with me in one way – I may not be able to share it with them because it is not safe then.
Because my sense is that they are not able to meet me where I am, or where I would like to bring the conversation. And it does take a very intentional way of listening to the other in order for this kind of conversation at the soul level to take place because the parts that are most precious to us, the things that we keep closest to ourselves, are the ones that are the shyest, the ones that are the most vulnerable to rejection or judgment or criticism.
And so all the antennae, if you like, are on high alert to pick up any sense of danger, or to sense if the person that I'm talking to is going to be able to hold what I reveal, or if they will stomp on it.
Edwina: So that's why it's difficult. It's not just a matter of whether the person you are wanting to share with, whether it be a loved one, family member. It's not a matter of whether they love you, but it's the question of capacity and intention.
Ann: Could there also be this dimension that I've also often mentioned in the podcast; I tell listeners that when they are looking for someone to accompany them on this journey, to look for people who are also making this interior journey because I think oftentimes, the people that we're close to may not have yet entered this process themselves.
And when, when we begin to make this journey, usually big changes happen, right? I mean, we change as well, and that could make the people who are close to us sometimes, actually uncomfortable or unhappy with us.
Edwina: Yes. That is very true. So, yes, you're right that not everybody is at the same place when it comes to the inner journey. And so, if you are already on the journey and you are asking these questions about who you are, who you are becoming, what is the unique call on your own life. Now, these are questions that, well, for each person, we will be at different places where we are mulling this, you know. So, if you happen to be on the journey already, you would need others who are like you on the same journey so that you can see together and you can talk together – you share the same language, in a sense.
And you kind of understand what it is that you are talking about. You know the subject, even though you don't fully understand it, you have a sense of it. But for someone who hasn't yet begun to ask the questions, and who hasn't arrived even to begin the journey – this part of the journey, then it would be very difficult for them to meet you, or to even understand what it is that you are struggling with, or that maybe you find very curious and you want help unpacking.
[00:20:24] HOW CAN I TELL IF SOMEONE IS A SAFE SPACE
Ann: So, speaking for myself, by this point in my journey, I instinctively or intuitively know who could be a potentially safe space, and who wouldn't be. And sometimes even without trying, I can already tell, right?
Ann: But when I first started, I didn't know what to look for. And when I began this journey, there's very much a need to be able to talk to somebody about it because there are all these strange new things that are, I mean, feelings and emotions that are coming out, that are surfacing, which I, you know, don't quite know how to respond to.
So, thinking back to my journey, my instinct back then, because I'm a Catholic, would be to look for a priest. And I went to someone that I didn't know because I was in a new church, a new parish. I honestly wouldn't know which person, which priest to look for. And really, I'm very grateful that the person I ended up speaking to turned out to also have a particular gift for spiritual direction.
Okay, so at that point in my journey, which was still quite early, I didn't know what that would entail, but so that maybe those who are listening to this podcast may have some way to tell, what would you say would be some indications that the space is safe?
I mentioned in the last episode also, that sometimes even people with a profession or a title, whether they are counsellors or spiritual directors, for example, may not necessarily be a very safe space.
Ann: So, if that's the case, I mean, you know, especially for people just starting out, how can they tell?
Edwina: That's a very good question.
Ann: Which is why I'm asking you!
Edwina: So smart! Okay, from my own experience, the times when I was able to embrace who I am and all that was coming up in me – these were the times when I was accompanied by someone who most importantly, made me feel welcome. They were ready to listen. They didn't interrupt.
You know, I might have just started by saying: Oh, you know, I have this problem, and you know, this is what I noticed is always happening – and they just listened. They let me tell them my story however I told my story, and they just listened; gave me space.
Then they did one other thing: they did not try to solve my problems; no advice. Because we are in a culture where we are very quick to try to fix something that, you know, we think is wrong or is broken or; you should do this, you can try that, and to make it better. But these people who offered me safe space did not try to fix anything.
They just received what I shared with them and they allowed me space to just be in my experience. So, they didn't try to fix my problem. They didn't try to give me advice. But they asked me questions about what was all this showing me, you know, like, so what is actually important for me? What is it that that is causing this angst?
Or why am I so triggered and things like that. So, they asked questions and they were interested in understanding what was happening inside, underneath all the emotions or upheavals that I might have been feeling. So, the person who offers a safe space makes it comfortable to ask with curiosity, the question: what's going on? – and does not presume to know they know the answer.
So, because my experience is unique to me – even if 25 other people have gone through divorce or, you know, have lost a loved one through death, or they have, you know, they're single parents; my experience of single parenthood, my experience of death and loss is unique to me. And the person who listens to me makes it safe for me when I feel that my experience is validated.
Ann: I'm going to just add something to the same question that I asked; speaking for myself, when I was earlier on in the journey, I didn't realize – I didn't know it then, but I did not feel at home with myself. I think I've lived for so long always kind of scanning the environment and the person that I'm with, trying to figure out what's the acceptable way to be – what's the acceptable way to present myself, and that's been going on for so long. I think I didn't even realize I was doing it. It's automatic. When I'm in the presence of someone who is a safe space, I find that I can relax. I mean, okay, so I'm somebody that I think most of the time I'm tense. All right.
Because I guess, if I'm always scanning what's the appropriate response and how I should present myself, it makes sense that I would be tense without realizing that I'm tense. But yeah, when I'm with such a person, I feel like I can relax. I feel like I can begin to maybe listen to my own thoughts.
So, I'm a very judgmental person. As in, first of all, with myself. I think I constantly sensor my thoughts and my feelings. It's always like, oh no, I shouldn't be feeling this way. That's wrong for me to think that way; that's very unkind or, you know… et cetera, et cetera. It's hard for me to let my own emotions and thoughts surface without me, kind of like, already pushing them down or like, you know, sorting them out.
And when I'm with someone who is a safe space, I felt like I could air these feelings and thoughts because the person before me was less judgmental than I was of my own feelings and my own thoughts. You know, I would say I wasn't a safe space for myself.
Ann: Would you say something about that – how being in a safe space actually allows us to unfurl? I have this image; it’s like a flower unfurling; like up from being closed and tense to “Ah…”
Edwina: And you can breathe.
Ann: Yes. You can breathe in the presence of someone who is a safe space.
Edwina: Yeah. I think you just described the safe space beautifully. This is exactly what a safe space does. It allows you to be yourself; to allow all that is real within you to come up, because your defences can go down. You don't have to protect yourself from judgment or criticism or, or belittling. So, you can drop those defences. Your whole being can relax. And whatever is trying to surface feels it is safe to come out because it will be kindly received.
Edwina: And so, in a sense, the person who listens to you who offers safe space, models for you what you can do for yourself. So, you learn that, yeah, you know; I'm more at ease when I do this, when I welcome, when I'm not judgmental, when I embrace, and then I can practice being a safe space for myself.
Ann: Thank you, Edwina! I think that's a very nice place to end this part of the conversation.
[00:29:40] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT
So, for my dear listeners out there, let me give you our praxis prompts from this episode. One: Listen – as you listened to this conversation between me and Edwina, was there any emotion that emerged? Was there something that particularly resonated with you?
Two: Ponder – can you remember any time in your life where you have experienced what we describe as a “safe space”? Who was it that made you feel like you could really just be who you are, and not be judged, or evaluated, or criticized?
Three: Act – where you are now in your journey could be quite different from the last time that you experienced being in a safe space with someone. Now, this would be especially true if you have begun this interior journey only recently. So, for this step in the praxis, I would like to invite you to try and identify someone whom you think could be a safe space for you now – at this point of your journey.
Well, that's it for now. I hope that you're looking forward to Part Two of my conversation with Edwina, which will come in two weeks.
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction no matter how small those steps might be. And no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.
The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!
Soul Guide & Founder
Edwina has been guiding, companioning and encouraging spiritual seekers for over 25 years. She has a Masters of Arts (Theological Studies) from Broken Bay Institute, Australia, a Masters of Social Science (Counseling) from Edith Cowan University, Australia, and is a certified Labyrinth Facilitator from Veriditas. Edwina also trained in retreat giving and spiritual direction at St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre, Wales.
Edwina is the founder of Anam Cara Ministries and a sought-after soul guide in Singapore. She is known for her unique, interdisciplinary, whole-person approach to soul tending which helps people of different ages and backgrounds to enter the holy ground within and encounter Christ.