How can we cultivate trust in life?

“We must let go of the life we had planned to live the life we are given.”
~ Joseph Campbell

Earlier this week, a student wrote to me with this profound insight: “Sometimes I have the impression I can accept what is, but I still feel fear or moments of panic when I think about the future. How can we practice trust in life?”

Indeed, how can we cultivate trust in life? When we live too much through our attachment to thoughts and things, we can easily confuse what is happening “out there” with life itself. We can start to believe that things are happening to us – coming at us – from the outside. If we start to look deeper, though, we can see that life is always happening within us and through us. But actually, we don’t have a life – we ARE life! The events themselves are not where life is found – it is found in our deepest response to them.

Don’t measure the enormity and magnificence of life against the petty anxieties of those who want to squeeze into a narrow vision of it. In order to ride the waves of our human experience with grace, we need to know what we believe in. Without a fundamental philosophy of life, we get thrown overboard and tossed around in the turmoil, even plunging to the depths before being able to resurface.

Regardless of what turmoil has occurred in my relatively eventful life, I have been able to rise quickly back to the surface thanks to my deepest intuitive and – by the grace of my teachers – informed sense of life and living. Before fully trusting this understanding, I always felt a vague hope, even a certainty, that things would work themselves out eventually, once the difficulties passed. In those days, that belief often resulted in me putting aspects of my life on hold in some fashion, as though life as I wanted it to be (!) would eventually commence when all the crappy stuff was finally sorted out.

After several increasingly hard knocks over the years, I came to realize that the real juice of life was exactly in those difficult moments that I had been hoping and wishing to eliminate or avoid.

Naturally, I felt vibrantly alive around the key “highlights” of my life – falling in love, graduation day, my wedding, or the birth of my children – but I have never felt so fully and keenly alive, connected, and plugged in to the flow of life as when I realised I was on the threshold of death, or said a final “Farewell” to my baby son, or woke up to the hot stings of betrayal. Life comes into stark relief in the midst of those events, and every twitch and breeze is felt and registered without taking anything away from the crystal clarity of the moment – pure, present-moment awareness: nothing else matters. All thought falls away.

In those vibrant moments, there is a knowing that comes from deep within, not yet articulated in words. In fact, it’s always there, but the din of our anxious and compulsive thinking drowns it out and makes us confused about what is being felt. The inner guidance is always clear, unmistakable and compelling.

Your heart is your Life’s radar. You don’t need anything more than to listen and respond to what your heart is telling you in each moment – the banal ones as well as the more intense ones. The mind will often try to override the wise guidance that your heart is always beaming at you – through you – so it’s important to be able to silence the thoughts for a while – at least long enough to distinguish a passing thought or emotion from what is felt in the deepest core of your being, which is Your Truth.

Long before the dominance of our Western, intellectually-obsessed culture, the ancients considered the heart to be the seat of wisdom. As just one example of this, in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition the highest mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum, the mantra of the Buddha of Compassion (Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit, Chenrezig in Tibetan) which – at the most superficial level – means: “Praise to the jewel in the lotus” (its significance runs much deeper, but for the purpose of this piece, we’ll keep it to that!). It is considered that the entirety of the Buddha’s teaching exists in these six profound syllables. The lotus is a metaphor for the heart, and the jewel, well – that’s you in your highest expression! The essence of life itself is felt only through the heart centre, the true Self, and everything we need to know or understand about life, small “l” or big “L”, is transmitted through it.

We are all here in this manifest form to express ourselves uniquely. Diversity is what makes life fascinating, enjoyable and gorgeous! Yet, surrounded by the lowest-common-denominator mentality of the mainstream, it takes courage to stand out from the crowd, and swim against the tide.

Most people (sheeple!) unquestioningly fall in line with what society dictates is important and meaningful – the way you are educated, how you are employed, that these things happen in the correct sequence and in a timely manner, so you can of course buy the obligatory car and house, have the kids, take the holidays from the job you resent – and all in the “normal” way.

Trust your heart, although it will often and necessarily direct you very differently from what those around you will want or expect. What you choose from the heart does not have to be in agreement with anyone else – your agreement with yourself is your priority.

I can promise you that when you are walking your unique path, you will come up against jealousies and resentments, judgements and inquisition-like questioning about your choices – including by people who barely know you – because you will have touched a deep and sensitive nerve that confronts people with their own heart’s greatest desires, denied fulfillment in their capitulation to the cult of “normal”.

Life always unfolds one moment at a time. Did you know you would meet the love of your life one minute before you met him or her? Did you know you would live where you do before you saw the place? It’s a painful illusion to imagine that we can map out our life and follow the plan accordingly – or worse, that this should be done on behalf of someone else!

The challenge is to keep a general sense of purpose and direction without getting attached to how the whole experience unfolds, or when, or with whom. Just sit quietly, settled snugly in the warmth of your own heart, and ask: “Where is my journey taking me now?”. It’s enough to ask the question. The answer takes care of itself.

With much love and light as always,