Photo by Hannah Jacobson-Hardy
A friend of mine who is a nurse once told me, “There are two types of dementia patients: the happy ones and the scared ones.”
His observation points to a few worthy questions that bring us into a conversation about trust, a conversation you will have to engage sooner or later—in every moment of your life, if you are practicing, or in the final moments before your death, the culmination of what you have (or have not) practiced. When you come face to face with the realization that you do not and cannot grasp who you are or what’s going on here, what happens? Does that bring you happiness, or panic?
“Well, of course it would make me freak out.” Hold on a second. Of course? Fear is not the natural or inevitable response to the unhinged, anchorless state of not-knowing. There are a multiplicity of responses that can perhaps be divided into two basic categories: terror and rest.
What is your relationship with the unknown, with mystery? When you no longer know what is real—which is to say, when you find yourself unable to believe anything too much or for too long, take anything as certain or absolute, your convictions gone, every analysis and interpretation seen as not quite true, nothing sticking—do you experience that place as a stormy sea, malevolent and untrustworthy? Or do you experience it as rest, a great sigh of relief?
You can only experience it as rest if you are willing to trust. Trust in the unknowableness, the space between thoughts, the silence within and behind every sound. Faith is this kind of trust, trusting that, at its essence, reality is not, in fact, flawed or fucked up. Investigate how it might be true that the worst thing that ever happened to you, or that you ever did—the thing that is your evidence for how fucked up and flawed the world is at its essence—how that very thing played a part in bringing love into the world. If you can’t find it, investigate the ways in which this “worst thing” could have the potential to be a part of love’s unfolding someday.
That the world is not, at the root of it all, malevolent and untrustworthy is verifiable in a concrete way through this kind of inquiry. But don’t get stuck thinking you know something about it. As you investigate and find the ways that the worst of us is an inextricable part of the best of us, remember that, although you may be able to trace some of the ways that the most heartbreaking suffering led to the most heart-opening love, you cannot possibly grasp the intimacy of this marriage, the vastness of it, how closely they are related and interconnected, how the worst and the best are, in fact, somehow, one. And let the fact that you can’t grasp it soothe you, rather than frustrate. Where does this need to “see the whole thing” come from anyway? Why do you want to grasp it? Rest in what you are receiving here and now, what is apprehend-able and observable now, what is being offered by this moment. Rest in this. Trust.
“But hold on,” I hear, “I’m still stuck on the fucked-up-ness of this whole goddamn thing. How can you tell me I can trust even a tiny little part of the world if I know that in other parts of the world such awful shit is happening? If the world is interconnected, if the world is one, then even the least bit of suffering implicates everything else. I can only rest if I can trust, huh? Well how the fuck am I supposed to trust anything after I’ve been so hurt and seen so many others getting hurt? How can I trust this human experience, given that my body is subject to injury, illness, and death? Why would I trust that, and whatever it was that came up with such a sadistic idea, evolution or God or whatever? How can I trust my own mind, given that I’ve believed so many bullshit thoughts in the past, thoughts that caused such suffering in me and in others? How can I trust myself, such a fallible, contradictory mess? How can I trust you, who I don’t know, who I can never really know? Fuck trust. Too risky. Too naive.”
There is something profoundly powerful about trust, and it’s that very same something that pushes so many people away from it. That something is this: there’s no guarantee that your trust will be reciprocated. Your trust will not ensure your security or give you the answer or get you anything at all, other than peace. Trust is futile as a form of control, and worthless as an exhibition of power, if power is understood to be one’s ability to control and manipulate others and oneself. What the experience of trust reveals, however, is that the obsession with control and manipulation commonly misunderstood to be power isn’t real power at all. There is a higher power available to us: the power of not needing to control and manipulate, the power of accepting and trusting in your essential powerlessness, of no longer flexing every muscle you have in order to gain the upper hand, of choosing not to play that game anymore, the game of dominance and submission, winning and losing, control and manipulation. This higher power is not experienced as some ego-trip, as power is so often depicted as and misunderstood to be (as dramatized by Jafar before he realizes what it means to be a genie). Real power, the power of trust, is experienced as rest. A sober calm. Peace.
Which does not mean you will never get hurt again. You will. And knowing full well that you will, you trust anyways. That is the beauty of it, to me. The power. “I recognize that my offering of trust will not get me anything in return, certainly not immortality, not even freedom from suffering. And I trust you still. Trust that this was not a mistake. Trust that you and I belong here. Trust the sensations in my body and the thoughts in my mind and the words coming out of my mouth. Trust where I am in my life, where we are in our lives. Trust life.”
Examine and investigate. How does it go for you, living without trust? And living with trust? What stands to be gained or released? Is trust really trust if you are not trusting everything? Is there such a thing as partial trust, or is that simply the absence of trust? Is trusting a little trusting at all? What does it look like, to trust it all?