This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
What does it feel like to trust?
I trust so few things in my life.
I would like to trust more.
This was the thought I had knocking around my head as I took an Amtrak train down from New York the other day. My boyfriend lives in the Bronx and normally we drive to each other during the pandemic but a combination of east coast winter storms and my schedule meant I had to brave public transportation for the first time in nearly a year.
But it wasn’t the thought of coronavirus that rattled me on the train. It was the self-observation of myself doing an automatic, unconscious, and relatively ridiculous behavior.
The conductor called the final station before DC, New Carollton, which is like a good 15 minutes away from DC’s train station. And yet, like an unthinking windup doll, with that announcement, I gathered all my things, took my suitcase down from the rack, and moved to go stand by the train exit door… on a nearly empty train car… for the next 15 minutes.
As I moved toward the door, I paused and took in my automatic actions and thought:
“What the hell am I doing?”
Why did I feel the need to get ready to exit the train with the amount of time and preparation that goes into executing a minor war? What, exactly, did I think was going to happen in those 15 minutes to prevent me from getting off the train? Why did I feel the need to stand at the ready?
I’ve been aware of my hypervigilance for some time, but only in the past couple of years have I started to really work with and through it.
A couple of weeks ago I was journaling using a technique I like when I’m trying to shift a behavior or even identities. Knowing that I have been struggling more with trust and hypervigilance lately, I journaled about a future version of myself I jotted down as “Trust + Flow Catherine.” Then I wrote out 20 things that, if I truly one day embodied trust and flow, I would actually do, say, or act as.
As usual, the things that came forth from my pen surprised me. “I would take an entire month off of work, knowing opportunities would still be there when I returned.” “I wouldn’t track expenses and revenue so obsessively.” “I would wake up without an alarm clock.” “I would only write and create the work that gave me the most joy, not the work or opportunities I thought would give me the most exposure or revenue.” “I wouldn’t look at my phone or email more than once a day.”
As I stood there in the train aisle ready to make my moves, I thought of “Trust + Flow” Catherine. T+F Cath would, for sure, not be preparing to exit the train grasping her suitcases to her like precious gems, monitoring the view out the window to gauge how far the destination was. T+F Cath would probably be absorbed in a good book or podcast, taking in the scenery outside, but not so lost that like, she would… not exit the train time and be shunted back to NYC? Which is apparently what current-day Catherine was thinking.
I resolved to try Trust + Flow Catherine’s approach and sat back down and read my book for the next 15 minutes, my bags back in their spots. It felt so against my nature, but I tried to relax into it. And yes, I was able to exit the train just fine.
Why is it so hard to trust?
I also journaled, in that same night, all the things I do trust. My family and boyfriend. That the sun will come up the next morning. That water will come out of my taps when I turn them on. That, as impossible it may be to feel it right now in the midst of a dangerously cold and storm-filled February across the country, spring will arrive, and even right now, that roots and buds are preparing themselves to unfurl with just a little more sunlight, a little more warmth. After years of doubting and being blocked, I now trust my creative well, and that if I do the right things to nourish it, it will always be replenished. I trust my body to carry me through this world in the best way that it can. Despite the fact that I am the kind of woman who thinks she has to rigorously monitor all exit doors on an Amtrak car, I do also, believe it or not, deeply trust the universe and the unfolding of my own life.
A friend with a new job and a new relationship, having been wounded in both arenas beforehand, asked me recently how she could settle into trusting.
I didn’t have a good answer for her, but her question brought up a recent memory of mine:
A year and a half or so ago, when I was first starting to go solo hiking more frequently, I drove into the parking lot of a Virginia state park in the middle of a weekday, hesitantly testing the boundaries of my new self-employed work schedule. The park and its miles of paths were new to me, and with my sense of direction being, let’s just say… truly awful, I was nervous. I hadn’t hiked much alone by myself. I am legendarily bad at reading maps. What if I got lost? Cell service was spotty out here. Surely this wasn’t safe? I’d never hiked these paths before.
Nevertheless, I strapped on my back and stepped timidly onto what seemed, as far as I could tell, the simplest trail. A few hours later, after a quiet and restorative hike, I was back in the parking lot. I had done it, with only a few false turns here and there.
Much more recently, I drove up to that same park on a day off, singing tunes down I-66 on my way there and nothing on my mind. As I got out of my car and strapped on my pack, I knew decisively this time which trail I would follow, and I realized, I had no sense of timid nervousness.
The walking of the path the first time had prepared me to trust it now.
And so, that is the knowing I lean into now: that trusting is not a destination but a choice to walk the path over and over again. Trusting that person. Trusting this body. Trusting the unfolding. Trusting the decision. Over and over again, leaping out of the nest, stumbling down the path, throwing open the door, even when you have no proof or certainty of how it will turn out; yes, even in those times in the outcomes when you will be hurt.
As I wind down this essay, I was struck by a thought that is making me laugh now: Choosing the path of learning to trust, to play with trust, to teach yourself, over and over again, to pick trust, is either an act of deep faith, or an act of high lunacy.
The reality is that maybe it’s both. But I’ve lived the alternative, the hiding and the shame and the fear, and I’m determined to believe there is a different way forward.
Would you like to walk it with me?
I don’t have a map, but I have a willingness to try.
Oh, and snacks. Lots of snacks. And I can go back and get more water… and a compass… and maybe I should pack the rain gear, too, yeah? Oooh, what about an agenda blocked out by the hour…?
No no, you’re right. We’ll be able to figure it out along the way.
Let’s go, shall we?