Safety and Happiness


When I was twelve, I wrote a note to my future self.

The note said: “don’t confuse safety with happiness.”

Sometimes I stare at those simple words in awe. How did I know, at twelve, that those were the words I would most need to read at nineteen, and twenty-four, and thirty-two, and now again at forty-four? How did I know at twelve that my future kryptonite would be the thought of life without a hot bath, a fire in the grate, a cup of tea, and a sense of security and belonging?

It is so easy to say this is enough; this is safe.

But the words “safe” and “happy” have never been synonyms in my book and my twelve-year-old self understood that best. She was meticulous and structured with her fear — and trust me, she had plenty of it. Ski slopes were conquered one bunny hill at a time and horses were walked in big circles while the other kids trotted fences and cantered across the turn-out field. That twelve-year-old was terrified of life: and she never let it stop her.

From the outside, I suspect that the slow fight against fear was not apparent. When everyone else headed up the mountain for a day of skiing, she worked her fear on the beginner trails, forcing herself to ski on one foot, then the other, without poles, and, finally, backward. Fear led to skill, then to ease and exhilaration. But she had no need to tell anyone. For years she left her family at the foot of the mountain every morning and met them at dusk. They assumed the baby hill as she slowly conquered the mountain.

In Five Element Theory — a theory that documents changes and growth — winter belongs to the element of water because, in the winter, it is water that is most changeable. It freezes and thaws, and as it does it changes the world around it: creating mud, cracking pipes, making roads impassable.

Fear is like this: it creates mud and cracks and impasses.

And yet, the wheel turns, spring comes: the time of wood, of growth, of small structured steps that carry us from winter’s fear to summer’s passion.

Why am I contemplating fear? Because change is once again afoot in my life and it would be so easy to go there and wallow a bit.

But as I once again read the wise child’s words, I know in my bones that safety is not happiness, that this year I will once again leave Safe.

And when I do, I will honor that twelve-year-old kid by taking small, meticulous steps to grow beyond my fear.

As always, the plant world offers a bit of support as change creeps in:

Aspen Flower Essence

for when my soul is quaking a bit

Passionflower and Milky Oat tincture

for the brain that races ahead

Catnip and Chamomile tea

for when the nerves hit my stomach

Jasmine essential oil with a hint of Lime

to remind me of sultry summer and the need to follow my passion

There are many ways to support yourself when change comes. Tell us about how you cope with your own fears below.



  1. Dana says

    A lovely piece, Maia. I’ve found it helpful to distinguish between fear that warns of real danger, and fear that comes from an irrational place, and needs to be “leaned into” in order for growth to happen.

  2. Randee says

    The perfect reminder to me in this moment of my radically shifting life… that sometimes leaves me feeling as if I have been left to find my way out of a dark forest with only my inner light to guide me.

  3. Lizzy says

    Fear comes from my mind; peace comes from my heart. When fear has me in it’s grip I focus on my Center, my Heart and this allows the Spirit to calm me, assure me, guide me.

    Maia, this is a beautiful piece you shared with us today. I think it behooves all of us to connect with the child we once were; it’s cathartic.

  4. Laurie says

    I suddenly know after reading this that I’m *definitely* in the right place…..I’m one of those people who goes into change not just uncomfortable, but kicking and screaming to boot. All because safe is easier than happy. And my life is moving into an area of transition, and like that 12 year old, I’m moving into it baby steps at a time. Thanks, Maia….I’m pretty sure “Don’t confuse safety with happiness” is going into my journal today! :)

  5. Maria says

    Just signed up for Witch Camp, and this just confirms that I did the right thing. Looking at turning forty (!?) at the end of 2014, and feeling like I need to make some changes for me, focus more time on me. This post reminds me that much of what I do in my mundane life is based on what is “easy” or “safe”, not always what will make me “happy” or closer to my ever-evolving divine self.(And a thank-you to Debora Geary for sharing this lovely place with her readers)
    I can’t wait to get started! Here’s to a wonderful year full of growth and true happiness.

    • says

      I don’t know that I have ever conquered my fears, Claudia, but I have nudged them, worked with them, and broken them down into little itty-bitty pieces. Size really does matter. 😉 Sometimes we need someone else to help us re-envision things, perhaps calling in the support team (professional or otherwise) might be useful.

  6. says

    Maia, love your article! Especially the flower remedies for busy times! :-)

    I found my Bach flower book over Christmas again – I must have left it at home when I moved out. Flowers & plants are so strong and wonderful healers/helpers. I need to use them more!

  7. says

    Fantastic article and explanation of the 5 elements- I’m a 5e acupuncturist and your descriptive words are powerful and clear. Thank you!

      • Maia Toll says

        The flower essences are so useful Courtney! I mention them hear and there through-out my posts; if you search on “flower essences” in the site search bar, you may find some more helpful tidbits!

    • Maia Toll says

      It took me a long time to figure out how the 5e system– which I love– meshed with the 4e system, which is deeply imprinted on my psyche… so I’ve thought about this quite a bit. :) Feel free to share any bit of the article that are useful and just credit back here.

  8. Nataliya Parsons says

    Dearest Maia You sure putting “feel” into a motion. It resonates with me.
    How truthfully described! Be brave to start with single step and one step at a time

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