Finding Trust in an Unreliable World

Reflections on an evening question from a recent retreat :
Given impermanence, unreliability, and not-self, where do we find trust?
This is a deep question – an important question for us.  From our usual, everyday perspective we think things are trustable when we can take a stand on them. Yet the teachings point us in a different direction around trust. 

Sometimes the deepest freedom and peace is called unshakeability of mind, which seems to convey an image of stability. Yet, as I reflect on this image, the way unshakeability feels to me is not like something solid, rather it is unshakeable because it’s not landing on anything, there is nothing to shake.

The trust that develops as we practice is explored not in terms of “where can I land,” or “where can I find stability,” but rather in terms of what leads towards freedom from suffering. That trust is not about being anywhere or being anyone or having anything. Rather it is a trust that whatever is happening in this moment can be known, even as it is changing, even as it is slipping through. We open to a deep trust as we realize we cannot know what the next moment will be.

At one point in my practice, the experience of impermanence and unreliability was quite strong, and there was a lot of fear: “What is there to land on, with things changing so rapidly?”  As I kept practicing with this, I realized that the fear was about the idea of the unknown.  During one walking meditation, I determined to face this fear of the unknown. And yet, every single moment was known. Then that moment fell apart, and in the next moment, everything was known. An image came to mind of standing on the edge of a cliff – it was like I was being asked to step into the abyss with each moment. I had no idea of what the next moment would be. It was a bit frightening. As I took the step into the abyss, in the next moment, there I was, standing on the edge of the abyss. Each moment. Step. Everything was known. Each moment. Step. Always at the edge of the abyss.

So, we learn to trust that this moment can be known and non-clinging in this moment leads to freedom in this moment. We’re not looking to trust a particular outcome. We’re trusting non-clinging. We’re trusting freedom.