Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I am stuck. Literally, I am in my house all day every day this week while construction workers rip the siding off and the roof off and replace them.  It’s so loud and floor-shakingly noisy that I can’t seem to find a safe place to hide.

 And it’s frighteningly expensive, especially when the contractor apologetically knocks on the door all too often to ask me to come out and look at another problem where the wood has rotted.  Of course, my husband is out of town, toiling away and earning more so that we can afford these unforeseen problems that are eating away at our old, beloved safe haven.  We determined that I must be here and not go wandering off on errands or impetuous trips to the grocery store.  So, I am stuck.

As my faithful puppy, Stella, frets at my side, erupting in wild, frenzied barking several times each hour, I alternate between trying to soothe her anxiety and sternly reprimanding her.  I take her outside to meet the workers, most of whom are dog people, but some of them are obviously afraid or annoyed by this wiggling, tail-thumping black beast.  I assure her that they are not going to hurt us, and she can trust them.  But it’s a funny thing about trust. 
It’s got to be mutual. I learned that many years ago from Silk.  I was feeling very frustrated that my horse wouldn’t trust me, and then one day, I realized that I didn’t trust her either.  So, I decided that I would go forward on faith and totally trust her. And almost immediately, our whole relationship changed.  We got along great, and we have ever since then.

I think a lot of us are feeling stuck right now.  We don’t know how to respond to so many crazy things going wrong with the world. There’s nonstop suffering all over, mass killings in places that we used to believe were safe, racism is running rampant, and the Middle East is exploding with problems that seem impossible to solve.  And let’s not forget severe economic injustice, climate change and the current circus of grotesque political candidates who blither endlessly and then deny the hatred that they are fomenting.  The extremely biased 24/7 news cycle and the non-stop opinions on social media only make the hole we are sinking in feel deeper.

 I know that I’m not the only one who is feeling this way. I read an essay this morning by Sharon Salzberg, the well-known Buddhist meditation teacher, who hit the nail on the head. “Can we find a resolution to a problem when our vision is so fixed and confused? Can we recognize ourselves in one another when we are so on fire? When we dwell in a baseline feeling of separation, alienation, and isolation, it’s hard to think in a different way… Once we establish a desire to control, we create fear. And when we inevitably fail to control our lives and keep things from changing, we become angry. What we can control, however, is our resistance to this whole process. Rather than resist and resist the anger, we can open ourselves up to the idea of practicing generosity with ourselves. We can simply allow ourselves to feel.” She’s right. And by honoring how we feel, we can move forward to a more open-minded position where we can consider who and what we can trust.

Distrust grows when you feel that something important that you have shared with someone is not safe with them. Trust involves “choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else”. (thank you, Charles Feltman for that wise definition).  Whether it’s the workman who is afraid of my dog and Stella’s mirrored response to his fear or two people of rigidly opposing political views, there needs to be that leap of faith on both sides to trust that everything will be okay. 

Sometimes, the fastest, easiest way to be brave is to keep it simple. “By creating an environment of permission for ourselves, we release the expectation that painful states of mind like anger or depression or desire will consume us. They can arise, and we can let them go — like the tides of the ocean or the waxing and waning of the moon."Sharon Salzberg tells us, "It’s a practice of not holding on, of choosing not to identify. When we realize that we create the conditions of clarity with the passing of these feelings, our energy to try to make a difference becomes cleaner and stronger.”

Then suddenly, we are no longer stuck. Right now, very easily, I can remind myself that in the near future, the construction crew will be gone, and I will be free to come and go at my own discretion, and I can move past feeling so myopic and self-centered. We always have a choice of squeezing our hand shut tight in a fist or opening our fingers and exposing our palms. Which feels better? We can, I believe, as time goes on, help each other find a way to trust that joining together will bring us closer to where we want to be than pushing away or digging deeper ever will.


Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria,

I have resonated with many of your posts so far, and this time I wish to send you a comment too :)

There is a simple yet rare art in your way of recognising big and small hurdles in human life, examining them, checking what kind of energy or help they ask in order to be cleared, what accomplishment they lead to.

This time I felt so close to your thoughts about trust. Definitely, trust is both the foundation and ultimate goal of a meaningful relationship. I thought about what it means for me and the people I live with, and what actually means "make myself vulnerable to others". I believe that it is better to know my vulnerable spots before opening myself to someone/something else, or alternatively, pick someone/something with whom I feel safe that these spots will not be carelessly wounded.

I have also been thinking about so many life teachings that I encountered so far, and none of them is as useful as taking into account the feedback from others and understand it. It is so easy to summarise, but it take so many forms, so many exceptions; you surely have seen it with your horses. There is no behaviour that guarantees a response, if you're not ready to tune it to the current situation.

I look forward for your next posts, and wish you the best for the festive season among construction works - I hope they will be finished soon.


Victoria Cummings said...

Dear Anne - I really appreciate your thoughtful comment and I agree with what you have said. It's not easy to make yourself vulnerable and knowing when it is safe and when it is not is something that must be determined with care and patience.It's really good that you are open to listening to others. Best wishes to you too for happiness during the holidays!