Trusting Myself is the Ground of Safety

Vermont Farm, Photo by Celia

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”

 ~Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

“Self trust is the essence of heroism.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“For it is in your power to retire into yourself whenever you choose.”

~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“Can we hear the birds singing and the wind in the pines? Can we see the green mountains, the white clouds, the golden moon? The Pure Land is available in the present moment.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

In New England, we are seeing the Maples turn red and crimson, feeling the cooler air, and hearing the calls of the geese navigating their trip south. This is impermanence. This change doesn’t feel threatening or alarming, in fact, it creates delight and nostalgia. We look to see this change each year. This is one example of impermanence and adjustment, or resilience. Recently, I was speaking to a friend about what makes safety. Globally we are feeling unsafe and how can we find internal safety when so much feels threatening and unsafe?

It’s important to look at what creates safety. We feel safe when we trust we are protected from danger. Trust is a specific understanding created over time relating to consistency. When a person, event, or situation repeatedly demonstrates a quality, we trust that is what will manifest. We trust that snow is cold, that night follows day. We trust our dearest friends to be warm and welcoming and that our least favorite people will continue to act in ways that conflict with our values. One area that we tend to overlook, is how we trust ourselves. Right now, how are we trusting ourselves? The quality of confidence and trust we have in ourselves is the source of safety we can expect to find in the world. Another way to say this is, the most important trust relationship we have is with ourselves and that will inform the quality of all other trust relationships in our lives.

So, how are we entrusting ourselves to our own care right now? Are we making space to hold our uncertainty and fear with tenderness or are we running from it into distraction and consumption which fuels more uncertainty? We all know that this world and our lives are impermanent and the bodies we inhabit are subject to change. Even though we see and experience these changes all the time, we don’t recognize how we are made to adjust and adapt.

One practice which comes from Buddhist teacher Donald Rothberg, is noting impermanence. He offers a practice of spending ten minutes a day seeing how things change. When we consistently contact this truth, the fear and resistance around uncertainty shifts and change becomes normalized. Is also helpful, to notice how we have adapted to impermanence and inform ourselves about our own resilient capacity. We can notice this in the small and large. Highlighting that when we were sick in the past, we went to the doctor and we got help. We can notice that when the temperature changes, we get out the winter clothes and create warmth and wellness for ourselves. Most of us learned how to drive a car, call an Uber, or use public transportation to go where we need to.

Noting how we are adaptive and resilient strengthens our confidence in our ability to care for ourselves and for others. We can look at this through a larger collective lens too, when we saw George Floyd murdered in the street, millions of people took action. Globally, we are creating vaccines; we are collectively invested in healing the planet; we are capable of responding with adaptation, creativity, and stamina. This is the strong and flexible nature we all possess.

The mind cannot be in two states at the same time. We cannot be in fear and in trust simultaneously. Those two things may flicker and wobble, but each has a distinct neural pattern and network. When we nourish these seeds of confidence in our own abilities and in our collective abilities, we create a safety and trust that is in harmony with flux. We can trust that whatever comes, we are adaptive and have the strength and resilience to show up for ourselves.

This is not a guarantee that there will not be pain or illness, or death, but we can trust that we have the strength to be present for whatever comes our way. That is how we are designed. We are capable of creating this awareness and nourishing our solidity each day when we make time to stop and care for our consciousness. Returning to ourselves, not abandoning ourselves to speculation, to fear and mind wandering, trains us to trust ourselves. This is the foundation of safety.

The Buddha told his followers, “Everything we cherish and hold dear today, we will have to let go of and be separated from in the future. In not too long a time, I will also pass away. Therefore, I urge you to practice being an island unto yourself, knowing how to take refuge in yourself and not taking refuge in anyone or anything else” (Nhat Hanh, 2007, p. 310). This relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship in our lives. Learning to take refuge in ourselves, despite changes and uncertainty gives us safety independent of any external events.

May we all trust our light,


Reference: Nhat Hanh, T. (2007) Chanting from the heart: Buddhist ceremonies and daily practice. Parallax: Berkeley, CA.