Life is hard. And there are things in life that just seem impossible. Like really, really impossible. One of these (for me) is trust.
Trusting that my partner loves me. Trusting that he thinks I’m worth something. Even typing out that sentence is hard. Worth something. These things are currently only figments of my imagination, and even though I intuitively know I will one day get through this challenge, it feels like an impossible endeavor. Impassable. Literally like standing on the edge of a gaping ravine and somehow knowing you have to get to the other side.
Allow me to expand on this image by going back to the landscape of childhood. Here we have vast lands of wonderful grass, everything is smooth, there is nothing to fear, and we are free to run without concern for safety. We bound about with our hearts full and happy. We know FOR CERTAIN that we are safe and don’t even have to look where we're going or spend a second thinking about what could go wrong. Cause nothing can go wrong in our minds.
Then trust is broken, in one of a gazillion ways, big or small, doesn’t matter. A massive ravine opens up in this landscape, tearing the world apart, leaving a gaping, bottomless hole where we used to run free. We immediately learn to protect ourselves from danger by staying away from this chasm. We can still run and skip about, but now we have one eye open at all times, looking for possible future danger. Life goes on, and life can still be great. But with some changes.
Then, if we have the energy and a supportive environment, and because we still want access to the lands beyond the ravine, we start building a little bridge over the gap. Slowly but surely, we get across, and all is well again. The ravine will always be there, and it’s still scary to run across the bridge, but over time we learn to trust that the bridge is solid and that we won’t fall into the void.
Now, what happens when one day, as we're running across the bridge with a smile, it breaks and we tumble into the bottomless abyss? Firstly, we realize that it isn't in fact bottomless. But we do hit rock bottom. And then we start climbing back out, maybe taking a few days, maybe a few decades. It's a traumatizing and treacherous ordeal, but eventually, we do get out, and we might even feel empowered (or just aged) by the experience.
However, we probably won't try to build a bridge again. We start distrusting again, we fear the ravine’s power, and it even feels like there’s something wrong with us. Do we even deserve to run freely, if all of this keeps happening to us?
We decide that life is totally doable on just one side of the landscape, and to prevent future catastrophes, we just stay put. After years we don’t even think about the ravine anymore, and forget it’s even there. But whenever life brings us closer to the chasm, we unconsciously veer away or become closed off. It may not be constantly on our radar, but it still has a lot of power over our life, keeping us from experiencing the full landscape.
But as many of us later realize, something doesn’t feel right. We yearn for certain things but cannot push through the discomfort to get there. We unconsciously follow trends in our thinking about ourselves and others that make us feel heavy. We worry, a bit too much. We are afraid of letting go. But life is still full and beautiful – there is so much to do and wonder at and experience.
However, there are also times when life brings us right up to the chasm when we least expect it, and urges us to cross. Maybe we really like someone and have been spending time with them, but when the moment comes to open up emotionally, we find ourselves blocked.
Before we know it, we’re standing on the very edge, shaking with fear, with no idea what to do. Sometimes we do an immediate U-turn, arms flailing, and run. Sometimes we stay on the precipice, but unleash all of our frustration and fear, usually at whoever guided us to this point. And other times we have time to just stand there and look out over the void, feeling our heartbeat in our throats.
In these moments we can feel the divide acutely. It feels like the chasm is inside us, about to swallow us. The fear clutches at our chest, battling with the deep desire to be on the other side. We know intuitively that there is more to gain beyond this divide (we’ve been there before, a long time ago), but at that moment it feels so solidly impassable. Nothing we've tried so far has worked to get us over this impossible gap.
Which is the point. The way forward is not by any means that we’ve used before. That’s what makes it so hard. We have to turn inwards, examining our past fears, and looking for ways in which we can grow. We have to imagine. We have to bend our mind into a brand new shape, and somehow take a massive, impossible mental and emotional leap into the unknown. And when that mind shift happens and we start doing the work, something miraculous starts to grow – a little pair of wings.
Cultivating trust after it has been broken, is such a delicate and fragile process. But life does not wait. It continues to throw everything it can at us, including more disappointments and heartbreak. It requires immense amounts of strength, patience, and mindfulness to keep going at life whilst at the same time tending to and keeping this tiny little thing safe inside of us.
For each of us, our “trust challenge” is different. We all have some kind of trigger that jolts us back into our past selves when we had learned to be more careful. But as with most things, time is our friend. The more living you put between you and those painful lessons, the more positive experiences you can stack against the negatives. And slowly, ever so slowly, we learn to trust again.
Once we’ve grown our wings fully (with many little moments of practice), the chasm becomes less of an issue. It will always be there, and we won’t ever be able to run across the vast plains in pure bliss again, without any sense of hurt. That ship has sailed. But what we can do, is trust in the face of what life has shown us. This is 1) much harder to do, and 2) a completely different type of trust, but it’s what we have to work with. And as a reward, we can access the whole landscape again.
And that’s the awesome thing about being an adult – we are stronger now than when we were kids. The challenge is, we sometimes still carry that helpless fear with us, which is naturally very scary and complex to deal with in our big bodies.
So next time you find yourself looking into the chasm of doom, take a moment to breathe. Recognize where the intense fear is coming from, but remind yourself that the danger is not that big anymore and that you are in fact fully capable of handling the feeling now. Then decide, is today the day that I take a leap into the unknown, and trust? Or is it better to back away and try another day?
It takes a lot of courage. But I promise it gets easier every time you try.