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We all yearn to trust ourselves. We want to trust that there is some basic goodness in us, an intrinsic capacity for love, honesty, wisdom and for serving our precious world. The presence of this trust in ourselves entirely affects how we live. It impacts our potential for intimacy with others, and our capacity to be able to relax and enjoy our moments.
Our Evolutionary Path
From an evolutionary perspective, our deep sense of mistrust comes from our limbic system and our reptilian brain. Our survival brain perceives us as separate and threatened, and drives fear-based behaviors. By contrast, our ability to trust basic goodness corresponds to the more recently evolved frontal cortex — the seat of empathy, compassion and mindfulness. Our evolutionary path is to shift from being identified with an insecure, separate self, to realizing the loving awareness and intrinsic connectedness that is our true nature.
There are two pathways that directly facilitate this evolution: Cultivating a mindful awareness, and learning to see the goodness in ourselves and each other.
Bringing Mindfulness to Our Inner Lives
By intentionally cultivating mindfulness, we discover the presence that is the very essence, and goodness, of being. Training in mindfulness starts right where we are. We begin to notice what is between us and happiness, and practice bringing a mindful, compassionate attention to doubt, mistrust, or any other difficult emotions as they arise.
Just out of college, I was living in a yoga ashram and the ideology was one of climbing a ladder to perfection — trying to purify ourselves so that we could transcend our ego and experience the pure light of wisdom and love.
So there I was, trying really hard to get rid of my ego. The harder I tried, the more I became aware of just how big and flawed it was. In a daily way, I saw how vain I was about my accomplishments as a yogi, how I’d try to impress others with the size of the yoga classes I was teaching, how insecure I was about my weight, how self-centered my thoughts.
As I watched my ego doing its thing, I was increasingly discouraged about the possibility of ever being free. One evening in our community woman’s group, I confessed that even though it seemed that I was doing so well, I just didn’t trust myself. It was a really big deal to put it out there: “I don’t like myself and I don’t trust myself.”
In naming that shadow, something inside me cracked wide open. I went back to my little room, so in touch with all the pain of something is wrong with me. It came in waves, the sense of how imperfect I was.
After a while of mindful presence — being with it, feeling the heartbreak and making space for it—I began to rest in a tender space. From that place, I witnessed a cartoon-like version of my self-character acting out in different ways: bragging, exaggerating, covering over insecurity, striving for approval. I realized: That’s not me. That’s a story of self. The depth of who I am is this presence, this tenderness, this kindness. I went from being identified with the flawed ego-self to the awareness that was witnessing it, but not hooked or narrowed by it. It was a huge shift.
I’ve watched how mindfulness allows for this transformation with myself and many others. The ego still does its thing, but with non-judgmental witnessing, there’s less of a sense of being defined, confined, or dominated by it. Rather, we begin to trust that who we are is much more mysterious, vast, deep, and beautiful than our temporary patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This shift gives us the freedom to respond to the world in a more spontaneous and healing way. When we remember loving awareness as the source of our being, a natural and universal intelligence and compassion flow through these body/minds. The ego then serves consciousness rather than undermining our unfolding.
Seeing the Goodness in Ourselves and Others
The second practice that deepens our trust in our own being is to actively and intentionally look for the goodness in ourselves and others. Our habit is to fixate on what’s wrong, so it takes practice. We can remember what we love, remember our humor, our honesty, our capacity for awe, our dedication to waking up. And we can look for these same qualities in others. The more we trust our own goodness, the more quickly we see the same light and warmth of awareness looking through the eyes and heart of another
The most generous, healing gift that we can give another is to see and reflect their goodness back to them. Letting someone know what we appreciate is a beautiful expression of love! When we mirror their goodness, that draws it forth – especially when they are caught in suffering and doubt.
You might bring to mind someone in your life who is easy to love. Sense what it is about them that touches your heart, taking some moments to look and see the love, the sentience, the intelligence, the beingness that shines through. Imagine that person when they’re happy, loving, in a space of freedom. Just sense the goodness. Now imagine letting them know what you perceive about their goodness and expressing your appreciation and notice what happens when you do.
Thomas Merton writes:
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart . . . the person that each one is in the eyes of the divine. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more need for war, for hatred, for greed, for cruelty. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.” 1
Each day we get so much news that can discourage and alarm. But no matter the state of the world, each of us can choose, in this moment, to turn to presence and love. It’s a choice. When we bring mindfulness and compassion to our own doubts and fears, and actively cultivate noticing the goodness in ourselves and those around us, we begin to trust the intrinsic love that is our truest and deepest nature.