Wobbling toward trust

Bob Dylan sang, “Trust yourself …If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself.” Somehow I think he must have known just how much many of us need to hear that.

Reckless personWhen I wobble in tree pose, or can’t bring myself into a headstand in yoga, it’s not just equilibrium or core strength holding me back – it’s lack of trust in my ability to do it. When the anxiety over my recent move took hold of me, it wasn’t because anything was going wrong — it was my failure to trust myself and my strength. When I worry about one of my kids doing something new, it’s not so much about them, but about me not trusting that I taught them well.

According to Psychology Today, not trusting ourselves often evolves out of being hurt by someone or something we trusted. We become afraid to trust anyone again, and we start to question our judgment. From there, faith in our selves begins to dwindle. So how do we rebuild trust in our own abilities, capacities and judgment?

The magazine offers this simple somatic exercise as a first step to restoring trust in yourself:

“Sit or lie down so that you are comfortable and in a safe place.
Now, how can you make it even more comfortable? Get a blanket, a pillow… whatever will make you feel relaxed and content.
Once you are settled, ask yourself: “How do I know this is comfortable?” This might appear to be a silly question, and perhaps even confusing. However, it is an important one in increasing your skills of building trust.
Continue to explore what sensation you feel that you recognize as comfort. For example, you might think, “I do not feel any pain,” “I breath easily,” or “I feel relaxed.”
You might be anticipating that this feeling won’t last, which is true. We can’t control or grasp on to this pleasurable feeling. It’s only important that you are in the present moment right now, not drifting into thoughts of the future or the past. Thinking of the future can create anxiety; thinking of the past can create depression.
Remain aware of any sounds, the temperature, the light, and your physical sensations. Can you let yourself simply enjoy the moment?
You can practice this exercise for as long as you prefer and as time allows you. Just keep checking in with your level of comfort. What feelings indicate that you are comfortable? With time, you may start to trust your feelings again.”

When we were babies, we learned to trust when our needs for food, safety, warmth and love were satisfied. This exercise takes us back to those basics. If I believe that this warm, comfy feeling I’m experiencing right now is real, then I can have faith that it will come again and I will be able to recognize it.

Great Ocean Road_23.1The other thing worth noting about this exercise is that it is very much focused on present-moment awareness. If we think about trust as the flip side of fear, then the inability to trust is all about fear of what the next moment, or the one after, might bring. By staying focused on the present, we only have to trust what we are experiencing in this moment.

Life is full of surprises, dangers, joys, hurts, disappointment, elation, boredom, passion. In order to have the good with the bad, we need to worry less about what’s around the corner and focus more on everything that is absolutely right, right now. As Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, instead of asking, “What’s wrong?”, we should learn to ask, “What’s not wrong?”

Getting to someplace safe

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came.

The theme song from “Cheers” is the first thing that popped into my head when I started contemplating the idea of having a safe space. A place where “everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” appeals to me, and may have had something to do with the popularity of the show during the eleven years it aired on TV.

The studio where I practice yoga is called “Sacred Space”, but I often think of it as a “safe space” for that exact reason. Everyone there makes a point of learning, remembering and saying people’s names. It’s an incredibly simple, yet powerful, way to make people feel welcome and known. Well, of course, you might say, it’s a yoga studio; they’re going to make that effort. Unfortunately, my experience tells me that it is the exception rather than the norm.

What makes a place a safe space? The safety we seek could be physical, mental or emotional. For some, a safe space might simply be a place they feel protected from physical harm. For others, it’s the place where they feel comfortable enough to speak freely. Or it’s the place where they feel accepted and loved unconditionally, just as they are.

Once, when talking with a landscape designer, she told me that people don’t like to sit outdoors with their backs exposed. So she would plan a row of trees or shrubs behind a seating area. In the same way, we feel safe emotionally when we know that someone “has our backs”, supporting us, not leaving us exposed. Who has your back? Is it your family, a friend, a community? How does knowing you have backup change how you go through life?

Sometimes the safe space is where we go when we need to get away from our own negative emotions. The term “breathing room” often refers to a break, or respite, from work or other stressors that are weighing on us. Thich Nhat Hanh, however, recommends that people have an actual breathing room in their homes, a designated place to go when feeling overwhelmed by anger or other strong emotions. He writes, “That little room should be regarded as an Embassy of the Kingdom of Peace. It should be respected, and not violated by anger, shouting, or things like that. When a child is about to be shouted at, she can take refuge in that room. Neither the father nor the mother can shout at her anymore. She is safe within the grounds of the Embassy. Parents sometimes will need to take refuge in that room, also, to sit down, breathe, smile, and restore themselves. Therefore, that room is for the benefit of the whole family.”

A safe space is where people are valued, and have values in common. It’s the place where we are free of judging and being judged, the place where the masks come off and we can be our truest selves. It can be outdoors or indoors, a physical space or a room in our minds; it can be found in the covers of a book or the warmth of a hug, the darkness of a theatre or the stillness of a church, in a community of people or the solitude of nature.

Growth comes from leaving our comfort zones, but it shouldn’t mean leaving them behind for good. I don’t think growth would be possible if we didn’t know we could return to that part of the comfort zone that holds our safe space. When we fail, when we feel rejected, even when we’re just plain tired, we need a refuge. When we’re overwhelmed by life’s ups and downs, we need shelter. Where is your safe space?