Safe Haven: Creating a supportive and nurturing home
Do you feel anxious at home or relaxed and secure? A few design tweaks and practices can help give your home the feel of a safe cave and refuge.
Ideally, home should feel like a haven. However, if yours is a place of unease or your life is in a fragile state generally, it’s still possible to cultivate a more emotionally secure and supportive environment, says Anthony Ashworth, a holistic building and vastu feng shui consultant, shaman and teacher.
Change the program
A common fear for many at home is crime, with statistics showing it’s particularly prevalent for less powerful groups, such as the elderly, women and ethnic minorities. Fifty-eight per cent of Australians surveyed by Roy Morgan in 2017 felt crime was a growing problem in their community. In reality, data shows crime has dropped.
Be creative about inviting others into your space: host a hobby group, hire a helper or rent out a room or co-working space.
Constant news and social media on our devices feed such fears, Ashworth says. “We’re constantly being bombarded by the potentials for disaster. As is the human condition, we’re designed to notice negativity more than we are designed to notice things that are actually safe, good and well.”
Be mindful of the negative energies you’re bringing into your home. “Like creates like,” Ashworth warns. “If we bring all this fear into our homes it’s going to generate energy. In some ways, looking at this nastiness on our phones and devices, it sinks it into us, but also into our home.”
Build a compassionate community
Amplifying the fear is the fact that increasingly many people live alone. “Many of us feel isolated from each other, our community and nature,” Ashworth says. “I think that isolation creates a huge amount of disconnection, and that creates a lot of potential emotional insecurity because we feel it’s just us all on our little lonesomes with our consciousness three inches behind the middle of our foreheads.”
University of Birmingham researchers recently found good relationships with neighbours one of the most important keys to wellbeing at home. Meet locals at events and activities — local newspapers and notices, Meetup and Facebook Events are good ways to find these. Invite your neighbours, family and friends around. Be creative about inviting others into your space: host a hobby group, hire a helper or rent out a room or co-working space.
“There’s always been elements in the environment associated with a sense of unease or creepiness,” Ashworth says. For example, darkness and wind can trigger deep primeval fear responses related to our ancient genetic past.
Traditional cultures had a better understanding of the energies latent in different elements. Ancient design practices, including Chinese feng shui, Indian (Ayurvedic) vastu shastra and Buddhist and Taoist traditions, can be helpful in teaching you about the hidden energies within and around your home, as well as what you can do to create environments that make you feel secure, safe and protected.
Having some level of effective physical security can make you feel more secure at home. It’s also prudent if you live in an area with lots of break-ins, Ashworth says. “Have a substantial front door. But don’t have glass front doors. These can make you feel like people can see into your home.” If you’re in a high crime area you may want to install an alarm.
At the same time, you don’t want to go overboard with security. “If we create a fortress mentality it’s a reminder we feel unsafe,” he says. “Like creates like. Have physical security, but not bars so you’re in jail. Make those devices look good.”
Build physical barriers
A barrier between your home and the outside world symbolises to others where your private space begins and ends. “In most normal places in the West, it’s a low fence, garden walls and some planting,” Ashworth says. But, unless you’re in Johannesburg, avoid the razor wire, giant hedges and three-metre walls. “Don’t completely disconnect from your community. That’s isolation. Again, in the feng shui world it’s about balance.”
He recommends having a semi-public place where you can interact with your community, like an old-fashioned front verandah or chairs in the front garden.
“One of the little tricks of almost every ancient culture is the idea of using talismans or guardians at the front of your door to counteract negativity,” Ashworth says. “That’s things like statues of Ganesh, Balinese fierce lions, warriors each side of the door, symbols in the Islamic Middle Eastern tradition like the Evil Eye.” In European traditions, runes and ancient symbols, statues and plants like juniper and rosemary are traditionally used at the front door or gate. “What they do is make us feel a little bit more psychologically secure,” he says.
Keep eyes on the street
Backing up the idea of figurative guardians, research shows images of faces and eyes around railway bridges and overpasses where there’s heavy crime substantially reduce the crime rate. “On some very subtle level they feel they’re actually being watched by the statue or eyes,” Ashworth explains. “So they tend to pick an easier target down the road.” While it’s operating on an energetic, psychic level, it can provide us with literal physical protection.
Jane Jacob’s theory of the “eyes of the street” suggests that where there are more eyes on the street there’s less crime — another reason to avoid high walls, tall hedges and other features that might obstruct the view into your home. Jacob’s research found well-lit, open and visually appealing cities attract more people, who in turn act as informal surveillance.
Connect to higher beings and nature
Ashworth believes that part of humans’ emotional and psychic insecurity stems from their loss of trust in greater powers. “We don’t believe in God or deities anymore,” he says. “In the Western tradition a lot of people would have a deep relationship with a particular saint, and they really believed that saint could bestow upon them protection, love and healing. In the shamanic traditions we delve deeply into our ancestral spirits, those who have lived and died well, and might be able to guide us.”
We’ve also lost our connection to nature, he says. “The Australian Aboriginals, for example, deeply believed that nature and the spirits gave them information that would help them in their environment. It’s a deeper trust in the unseen world.”
Feel-good your entry
Energetically, your home’s entry should make you feel welcomed and secure, that you’re coming home to something beautiful, embracing, and safe, Ashworth says. What makes you feel welcome and safe? Is it the glow of lamplight at the window or scent of gardenia? Things you want to exclude are dark, poorly lit entries, creepy overhanging or thorny bushes, spiderwebs, banging gates or doors, uneven paths and other obstructions, and too many dark colours.
Position for power
The placement of your furniture and its relationship to doors and windows can affect how secure you feel. Ashworth recommends positioning wherever you sit in your home with a solid wall behind you and the windows and doors in full view. “You feel secure and have this solidness behind you,” he explains. “You have command of the room and can see anyone entering. It’s called the ‘Turtle’ or ‘Black Warrior’ in feng shui. It’s like the king going into battle.”
Apply the same concept to the bedroom. And, if possible, your bedroom should be at the back of the house rather than the street frontage. “It’s safer and not subject to noise,” he says.
In similar vein, Ashworth suggests having a bell or something that makes a noise on your front gate to alert you when someone enters.
Scale, and the relativeness of doors and windows, is important, Ashworth says. “It’s OK in a business setting to have lots of light and glass, we just don’t want that yang energy all the time in a home. A lot of modern architects put glass in everywhere. We do want people to connect with nature and views, but moderate these with areas that are more contained.”
More confined, softer, dimmer yin spaces can make you feel held and safe. Ashworth likes the idea of a small zen garden space to retreat to, and the “British snug” — a small, cosy room to snuggle up with a book and a cuppa. “A snug is not just about warmth,” he says. “Womb-like feminine spaces are really important, and we’ve lost them to a large extent.”
Conjure comforting sounds
Sound is so powerful at conjuring fear it’s used as a military weapon. One study on sound design in computer games found high volume the strongest element in causing fear, hence why screeching jets and banging doors can cause our hearts to suddenly pound.
“Sound in a home is really important,” Ashworth says. “And sounds come from everywhere in the home. It’s the way things sound when we tap on them; how your latches sound, and more.” Beautiful ancient art materials have a certain vibration, he says, while plants and soft furnishings like heavy drapes, rugs and fabrics can absorb sound as well as avoid that disconcerting echoey sensation. Double glazing and heavy, full-length curtains with a pelmet and rail to fully seal off the window can help shut out outside sounds.
The Australian Aboriginals, for example, deeply believed that nature and the spirits gave them information that would help them in their environment. It’s a deeper trust in the unseen world.
Bring in beautiful background noises to mask discordant sounds, like small water features and wind chimes, and encourage birds with seed. “Bring in beautiful sounds with door knockers or doorbells. Choose a beautiful ringtone for your mobile,” he suggests. Another option is to stream a nature soundscape from the internet.
“Also be aware of any negative sounds your home makes,” he adds. “People can start to associate noises in their home with being supernatural.” You might want to fix beds, floors and doors that squeak and creak or bang. “Get your WD40 out and do your hinges. Don’t have trees too close to the house — if a tree scratches against your house chop it.”
“Human beings are inherently afraid of dark,” Ashworth says. “It’s a deep cellular memory we have of lions and megafauna. That’s why we retired to caves and fire.”
Light up any dark patches around your home that give you the creeps. Solar lights that come on automatically when it gets dark, or sensor lights, can mean you don’t have to walk to the front door in the dark.
It’s also about the quality of light. “Fluorescent overhead lighting and cold spectrum lighting make us feel anxious,” Ashworth says. He suggests warm-coloured globes, plus lamps that provide pools of light rather than harsh lighting.
Get a pet
The psychological sense of company of a pet can make you feel less isolated, Ashworth says. “When we pet a dog, it releases oxytocin, the love hormone. Pets are often much more able to sense dangers. Their sense of smell is so much better than ours. And we kind of know that. It’s a deep archetypal thing that we had animals with us as alarms.”
A place to meditate
“Feelings of insecurity are directly related to anxiety, which to some large extent is having our consciousness forecast into the future and worrying about what might happen rather than what’s here at the moment,” Ashworth says. Dedicating a small space in your home to practice mindfulness meditation can be helpful. “It’s having a place that’s simple but available and where you hopefully won’t be disturbed. For a lot of people it’s a small place in the bedroom or a lovely upright chair.”
He suggests triggers to help you settle in: a meditation cushion on the ground, a candle you light to bring a sense of ritual, the smell of incense or essential oil. To clear fear and anxiety from our own bodies, he suggests setting up an area to practice yoga, qigong, tai chi or Pilates.
Space and clutter clear
Sickness, divorce and other stressors can create a build-up of psychic toxicity in the house, Ashworth says. “We feel more emotionally insecure the more negativity that builds up in a home. We affect our homes and our homes affect us.” Many ancient traditions conducted a smudging ceremony using antibacterial plants like sandalwood and myrrh to remove such subtle energies, he says.
Clear out items you associate with negativity and regularly declutter. “Clearing out clutter can make us feel lighter and safer,” he says. “A lot of clutter is from fear of being poor, but it’s an overcompensation that actually contributes to us feeling less safe. Decluttering involves consciousness and trust.”
Focus your efforts on wherever you spend most time. “Do a list and prioritise a few things,” he says. “It’s not about structural change to your home and spending a lot of money. You can do this out of op shops, and by moving your own furniture around. Just thinking about this thing is the key.”
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