The Crush Cage



What does it mean to feel psychologically and physically unsafe?


This question has been much on my mind of late and this morning I found myself writing random notes to answer my query.


First I typed that I feel psychologically and physically unsafe when my body is in deep distress from exhaustion. When I don’t have the luxury of being able to experience my feelings and allow them to flow through me like the 70 percent of me that is made of water I am literally floundering above an unknown sea walking on air … I am also forced to live on a hard military edge of “might is right” where it is impossible to feel fatigue. My body becomes rigid, stiff, and headaches, backaches, stomach troubles, and free floating anxiety peak, creating a negative feedback loop that results in insomnia that had become so severe that I was unable to sleep, relax, or even rest to relieve the exhaustion that held my body and mind hostage to another person’s insensitivity and self absorption. My pleas for help went unanswered. Serious physical illness became a threat, and recently my body succumbed to that indignity as well.


I am a sensitive, perhaps a mystic, that is, a person who is keenly attuned to others, both human and non –human beings, as well as to her surroundings on both a mind and bodily level. Does this tendency make me “difficult” as I have been so harshly accused?




I do know that because of this predisposition I am unable to protect myself from sudden noise, the worst form of psychological assault that I personally experience. Trapped in a house where incomprehensible slamming of cupboards, pots being smashed, screen doors screeching, wood being rammed into a stove, frightening thumps and buzzers going off at midnight are just a few examples that come to mind. Hyper -alert, my body goes rigid with unpredictability. As anger surfaces it has no place to go because I have no control over the timing of the threat I am facing.


Victimization is the unfortunate result.


Many of us also know that sleep deprivation is also a form of torture and can actually result in death.


To have this basic physical need for sleep so wantonly dis respected is not just painful but makes it clear that human invisibility is the core of the problem. As a living being I do not exist except as someone’s bizarre fantasy. Over the past two months I have witnessed myself disappearing – literally – withering away like the plant that I loved as a sister who did lose her life to this travesty. As my own physical situation deteriorated I was simply ignored.


The second most devastating feeling of not feeling safe develops out of a fundamental lack of respect for a person’s ideas and beliefs. When one person holds truth with a capital “T” and is always right there is no room to express opinions, to share ideas, to have different priorities. This process is insidious. Not to be heard at all is a kind of death, and after a while a chilling silence pervades the empty places where love is not. Without mutual respect friendship cannot survive.


Physically, sleep deprivation leaves me feeling unsafe, but emotionally, not feeling heard or seen destroys my sense of self.


Because I am a person who finds beauty in all of Nature there is another facet to this emotional tendril of feeling unsafe. Nature has sustained me throughout my life and has been both mother, father, sister, brother, lover, and when I am told that I have no aesthetic sense – “that I love everything indiscriminately, that I am common” I feel indescribable grief. I am in love with Nature. To speak of the astonishing wonder and beauty of swaying grasses, sunrises and sunsets, a sea green river of red willows, waxing moons and a starry firmament is to invite ridicule and perhaps this is the most devastating, certainly the loneliest aspect of attempting to cultivate a viable friendship. I learned quickly to shut up.


My guess is that a pervasive feeling of safety, or the lack thereof varies greatly with each individual.


In my case simply putting words to my feelings re ignites my capacity for joy, and returns what was stolen from me by this cruel and devastating experience.


That, and getting out.




(1) I noted as I wrote this reflection that I had difficulty staying in one tense while writing. My sense is that my experience is still too present and that this is what is causing the confusion.

(2) The excruciating photograph was taken by someone who has witnessed what horrors the Asian Black Bear is subjected to as s/he spends her entire life crushed in a cage where the animal cannot stand up or move as a crude catheter is inserted into the animal’s belly to extract bile that is used in Chinese medicine. Some of these animals live fifteen years before they eventually die.

As I was writing this reflection the image of the “crush cage” inserted itself into my mind and I couldn’t get rid of it probably because it’s how I’ve felt over the last two months… However, next to the suffering that these animals experience my own vignette becomes insignificant.

Most amazing is that these extraordinary animals when rehabilitated (by Animals Asia an international organization initiated by the work of Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff) not only forgive their oppressors but learn how to love humans. They also learn to play and experience joy after years of unspeakable abuse. Forgiveness is divine it is said. If so, animals are our teachers, and anything becomes possible.





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