Trust in Self, Others, Life

Last week I spoke about a safe place within ourselves or with another. Such a safe place seems to be essential if we are to be open and vulnerable. A key component in this process is trust–trust in ourselves, in at least some others, and in life itself.

We need to be able to trust that what is deepest within us is not negative or destructive, but positive, something good and sacred. We can admit difficulties only if they are not the last word on us. If we sense that who is are is wrong or totally flawed, we will run frightened from ourselves or, as Richard Rohr says, inflict or transmit our pain to others. We can trust ourselves only if we feel that our core identity is positive; only if any negativity is outside our core identity. That is true as well if we do not see our identity in what we own (reducing us to human havings); or in what we do (reducing us to our occupation or profession, in effect, to human doings). These can then be lost, without losing the sacred core of who we are, a unique human being.

If we see our identity in who we are, and have a sense of the essential sacred worth of who we are–or at least are moving in that direction–we can come to trust what is deepest within us. As I like to put it, we can come to trust the unfolding process of life within us. Our life is in fact not something static but is an ongoing process, an unfolding from within. I have also mentioned though that, although our core self is sacred, around that core self are what may be called walls of hurt, fear, and hostility. While the sacred core self is our true home, we can sometimes live within the walls of hurt, fear, or hostility. We then, so to speak, act as a sniper to others from these alienating places.

The process of uncovering and getting in touch with that core self, and living out of a sense of our own and others sacred worth is a slow process. As Dag Hammarskjold’s has written in Markings: “The longest journey is the journey inwards to the core of one’s being.” The process has, I believe, three interrelated components: creative solitude, personal friendship, and social outreach.

To the extent that we come to trust ourselves and our own inmost script, we become free from the weight of inherited scripts, and social and cultural images. At the same time, we become free from a distrust of self that leads us to turn to outside authority for our marching orders. Meaningful language is then understood as words that name our experience, It is no longer orders barked from outside. We look to literature, music, painting, and all the arts to help us uncover who we are rather than telling us what to do.

In a similar way, learning to trust another, is to discover someone with whom we can unveil ourselves without the threat of rejection or put down. Rather, it would be someone trustworthy, who at once tunes into and accepts who we are, beneath our hurts, fears, or hostilities. At the same time, it is someone who invites us and even challenges us to become who we can be, who helps us uncover our own authentic script and assists in its unfolding. The important counterpart is for ourselves to become a trustworthy person, a person who is a safe place for another. Once again, of course, there is the realization that this is not an easy process, that it involves time and effort, and perhaps some setbacks.

Authoritarian persons and regimes attempt to hook into and prey upon our fears, anxieties, insecurities, and hostilities. They seek to control us and make us subservient by inculcating more fear and guilt in us, which readily flow into hostility, usually toward stereotyped groups. They teach mistrust of what is within so that we will turn outward to them.

At the same time, we need not look upon our own sacred core as a dead end, so to speak, but as the point which open up to and flows from the universe and whatever is most within and behind the universe. Thomas Merton writes: “At the centre of our being is … a point of pure truth. … [It] is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”

Years ago, I read a science fiction story by Theodore L. Thomas, called The Far Look, published in 1956. It tells of two men on a space station and their life-threatening experiences. Upon returning to earth, their minds are transformed by a kind of seeing from deep inside. They uncover a wisdom that is cleansed of the baggage of the past and become “men of untrammeled mind.”

A similar reflection is found in two astronauts, Ron Garan and Yuri Gagarin. “The orbital view gives you a whole new perspective. You realize that each and everyone of us are interconnected and in this together. When you see the planet from space, it puts the common challenges faced by all humans into perspective.” (Garan) “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People let us preseerve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.”(Gagarin)

We may also recall Albert Einstein’s letter to his daughter. “There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE. … This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will. … If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.”

More concretely, these authors are suggesting that this universe (in which everything is connected), is trustworthy. Behind these assertions, we witness the unfolding of the universe, which results in the stars. The stars in turn contain all the elements found in the human body, such that we are, literally, stardust. We also see the bonding of mammals to their offspring, the development of language, and the extended care needed by the prolonged childhood of humans. All these are an intimation that the thrust of the universe, its inner energy, impels in the direction of wisdom and love, of understanding and compassion.

Theologian, Karl Rahner, in speaking of childhood, says that the young child has to trust, because he or she is dependent for survival upon those charged with their care. He adds that the mature childhood of the adult is a basic trust in the meaningfulness of life, despite the conflicts within and threats from without that push us to close ourselves. “I can either reject myself in radical protest” he writes, “or accept myself in the total and concrete reality of life, even though … it remains full of pain and obscurity. However, I can accept it in hope.” Theological writer, John Magee insists that only a vision of life as ultimately meaningful and supportive of the human endeavour, coupled with a living trust in its foundation, source, and goal, can give rise to a maturity of personhood and life.

In sum, the path to a meaningful life unfolds in trust in the unfolding process of life from within our sacred self, in the experience of trustworthy caring from another human being, and in the underlying trust that life itself impels toward a healing and fulfilling wisdom and compassion.

May you come more and more to uncover and live from your inmost sacred self. May your life contain the caring presence of trustworthy others, and may you experience the ultimate trustworthiness of the universe itself. May you, as a result, become a more and more a trustworthy and caring person.

Norman King, December 12, 2022