Feb2018: Self-Trust Leads to Personal Freedom

by Brad on January 28, 2018

 “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”                    – William Shakespeare, Hamlet  

One of the things that inspires me most in this life is experiencing the sense of freedom clients feel when they are able to re-claim their internal truth and potential from the demands and opinions of their external world. As a quiet observer of why and how personal change happens, I’ve concluded that the emergence of self-trust is the most significant factor here. Like the bird in a tree that puts trust in its wings and not the branch, when we shift from an external to an internal view of our well-being, we’re no longer victims of life’s circumstances. Life blossoms into possibility … and freedom.

What’s self-trust about? As the diagram shows, part of our world is known to us; part isn’t. This distinction is important to the unconscious mind – the part of our mind that runs 24/7, trying to protect us from danger. One problem here is that it tells us anything unknown or new is a threat. The other problem is we listen to it. In our chaotic, uncertain world, there’s plenty for that mind to do, so when we encounter the edge of what we know, we retreat to the perceived safety of our “comfort zone.” As a result, we unconsciously limit what’s possible for us. This mental defense is both exhausting and futile, yet it’s actually where most of our energy is spent each day, defending the boundary between known and unknown, an attempt to keep intruders away. We can’t possibly defend ourselves against all unknowns, however, simply because we don’t what they are! Obviously, the more energy we spend defending ourselves, the less energy we have to live our potential and our dreams. And we then wonder why we don’t trust ourselves or feel free.

My experience, both with clients and with my own journey, says the path beyond this stranglehold has two parts:

  • willingness to expand the edges of our known world … through learning.
  • willingness to embrace the mystery of our unknown world … through acceptance.

While both could contribute significantly to our own sense of self-trust, we’re not very good at either. Three obstacles block our way: (1) the unconscious mind – it doesn’t like change, associating it with insecurity (two different things); (2) the rational mind – it doesn’t like ambiguity, seeing it as offensive to its need for order (the world isn’t); and (3) the external world – friends, family, society – it doesn’t want you to trust yourself because you might not depend on them so much (probably so). Yet with conscious awareness, you can indeed free yourself from these obstacles. Here’s how.

Consider what happens when you adopt a daily practice of noticing your thinking. When you use your conscious mind to interrupt the incessant jabber of the unconscious mind, you “catch yourself in the act” – of limiting your own potential. This simple act of noticing opens you to a new power of choice. When an unknown (idea, person, situation) brings you to one of your edges, instead of unconsciously retreating to “safety,” where you learn nothing and accept little, you could stop, look around and decide what’s true – for you, right here, right now. You may be surprised at what you find. As you make new choices, trust in your own truth becomes stronger than both the external world and your old stories. How will you know when you trust yourself? Self-trust is a quiet inner knowing: it doesn’t need to run away; it doesn’t need to raise its voice; it doesn’t need to be afraid. And because you no longer focus on how you think things should be (controllable, predictable, rational), you become open to how things could be (filled with possibility, even if you have no ‘evidence’ for it upfront). Self-trust leads to freedom.

As Rebecca Solnit noted in January’s book selection, we’re really talented at “positive capability” – to plan, predict, measure, control. But this leaves us in a small world, bounded by our fears and a quest for safety, which cause much of the stress, anxiety and resentment we feel. Yet we blame life instead of our own thinking. What we need instead, she says, is “negative capability” – to be in the presence of uncertainty, mystery and doubt without a need to change, control or figure it out. As we relax the quest for evidence, proof and knowing, we allow life to soften us. Our edges expand. And we expand with it … filling a larger space; and grow more comfortable with the unknown at the same time.

Exercise: Get to know your “self-trust equation.” Create 20 – 30 minutes of quiet time. Picture yourself for a moment coming face-to-face, perhaps unexpectedly, with something completely new and unknown: a new situation, a powerful person, a political adversary, a bold or countercultural idea, even a long-lost friend or family member. It could be a real situation or one you’ve imagined. How do you respond? Perhaps you welcome the discomfort, knowing it will lead to something bigger. Perhaps you react, rather than respond, expressing judgment, cynicism, defensiveness or fear. Or perhaps you avoid, retreating to the perceived safety of what you already know. Perhaps your response is so automatic that you haven’t truly noticed what it is. Replay in your mind as many “new” situations as you can recall or imagine. Just notice. Be honest with what you find; this exercise is not about what you should do, but what you do do. Get to know how you handle the discomfort of the new, different or unexpected. Don’t focus on the discomfort itself, but on the unconscious story you tell yourself about how you need to deal with it. This “prevailing strategy” is uniquely your own; no right answers. In doing this exercise, you’re creating a map of “who you are at your edge,” the edge of your comfort zone. From that awareness alone, new choices become available to you … to stop, listen, consider, maybe “allow” the unknown to seep in, and from these things, learn, grow and accept. Remember that to allow a new idea in is not the same as agreeing with it, but rather a way to expand your view of “heaven and earth,” as Shakespeare wrote. A bigger world means there’s more space … for you! Here are a few “big questions” that might guide your inquiry:

What if my mind weren’t already made up about things? What might I discover then? (openness)

What if I stopped fighting with life, and didn’t need to impose my will? What more might be possible? (acceptance)

What if I allowed my inner voice to guide me instead of my old unconscious thought patterns? (awareness)

What if I didn’t have to know how it would all work out, but rather know that it would all work out? (trust)

What if there really were an underlying order to my life? Am I willing to discover, and then step into it? (courage)

What if I could really live with these questions, every day, as a new way of being? (practice)


Life lessons from nature: Nature doesn’t care about results. Results happen (and when you think about it, how truly remarkable and beautiful these results are!); but her focus is instead on the process – of creating. Nature doesn’t know what comes next. By continually focusing on the process of creative expression, she sustains life, regardless of what happens. (Stop for a moment, and think about your relationship to results, to “not knowing.”) The next step is crucial. Nature “listens” to what’s going on in the environment for clues as to what to do next. Because her mind isn’t already made up, her choices are therefore “context-sensitive.” Nature responds to conditions of the moment, in the moment. And those conditions offer unlimited possibility, in each and every moment. This “way of being” is a way of self-trust; nature trusts her process, and just keeps being it. She doesn’t respond to what isn’t; only what is.

OK, so what does this mean in our lives? We are creatures of nature. Not surprisingly, we follow the same laws. Everything we’ve ever experienced, known and unknown, came from this context of pure potential … except, perhaps, the thinking that stops us from accepting it as so and creating so much more. When we (1) shun creativity as unproductive, (2) quell uncertainty to regain our lost sense of control, (3) obsess on the outcomes at the expense of the process that creates them, (4) invoke measurements from the outside rather than listening to what’s already there on the inside, we wage a constant fight with nature’s laws, making “order” a very unlikely outcome. And we wonder why life is tough.


Book of the month: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson. A well-known astrophysicist brings the vastness and complexity of the cosmos “down to earth.” As he says, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” It’s so complex that knowing is impossible, even for astrophysicists. But as this month’s article notes, we tend to ignore or deny the unknown, thereby leaving us deprived of what truly matters … a simple appreciation of our place in a larger world. Tyson makes the universe story approachable, insightful, often funny. Yes, you may think this book isn’t for you, but it will not only give you a great perspective on the workings of the cosmos, but it may also just “break you open a bit,” helping you fall in love with the wonder, but without the need to understand it or control it. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.


Download February 2018 pdf

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Deb Dami January 30, 2018 at 6:56 pm

Brad. Some days I think you know me better than I know me. Thank you.


Pam January 30, 2018 at 7:12 pm

Awesome, Brad – as usual! Thanks for all the time and effort you put in your newsletters!


Elaine M Johnson EMAIL January 31, 2018 at 7:00 am

Thanks Brad_your newsletter this month is a synthesis of ideas I have pondered from a couple of sources; namely Pema Chodron’s work, Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul and his explanation of the ego, and especially Stephen Cope’s work. His latest book The Great Work of your Life. The challenge for me is not getting caught up in the drama of my “known” world as you describe it. I do notice my thinking but have a hard time accepting it. Usually that ends up in a guilt trip of realizing I should be more “evolved” by now. HA. Let’s save this interesting topic for a future chat.


Lynnie January 31, 2018 at 9:02 am

As Pam said, thanks for the time and effort you put into these newsletters. They are always uplifting, thought provoking and enlightening.


Julie Fraser January 31, 2018 at 8:22 pm

You are truly a blessing Brad! What a wonderful way you have of expressing things. My journey into mindfulness, to the point of facilitating others in learning that skill – is paying off big now. Why? Because I’m facing something new and unknown – a cancer diagnosis for my husband. This would have thrown me into major crisis mode a few years ago. Now I’m finding I don’t need to know, that I can be in this moment, and allow and trust the unfolding. That it’s OK for me to thrive when he’s feeling awful, despite what others may think. Can’t wait to carve out time for the exercise, but I know my reaction today is much different than in the past because I practice mindfulness.


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