I published this Reflection during the winter of 2019, on the eve of publication of my first novel, The Yoga of Strength. I had been contemplating the process that led me to that point and decided that I had something to say about it. Hats off to every person reading this that is following their dream.
Trust is a word that is thrown around quite a bit. It is commonly used when you try to convince someone, to use an appeal to your own authority. ‘Trust me,’ you might say, hoping that is the end of a debate that has come to a standstill. Or, when you pass out of this life, you might want to put whatever bit of material wealth you gained into a trust, a legal device that ensures that your money is dealt with after your death according to your own wishes. Most importantly, we put our trust into those that we love. The trust I want to talk about is a bit of a riff on this. Trusting the process of life. But when someone says, ‘trust the process,’ what on earth are they referring to?
Well, maybe we can start at the end of the phrase: what is ‘the process?’ It could be applied to any endeavour. The process of getting a job, the process of buying a car, the process of falling in love. It is a going forward, an advancement. It is rooted in the concept of time. As time unfolds, we are seeing a process proceed.
And so, at its very root, we are asked to trust the advancement of time, in one context or another. This can be extracted further – have patience, is another way of putting it.
Patience. It is a virtue, this is true. There is a reason that people respond to it favourably. It is like wearing a shirt in a cold climate – we should be thankful that we have it, and when we lose it, well, we certainly feel it. Losing one’s patience is easy – you can let it go and flip your lid at whomever, or, perhaps less defensibly, whatever, pushed you over the edge. When we lose patience, we get angry. When we get angry, we get spiteful, mean, or even violent. Yoda would tell us that this emotion is rooted in fear, and he, wise old fictional alien that he is, is quite right.
Losing one’s patience is an act of fear. Some imagined outcome has us by the short and curlies. We fear that the process might screw us over, that we might not get the job, that we might not have enough credit for the car, that the girl or boy or person might reject us as we proceed down the dating path, so why would we ever trust this process?
As a writer, one of the most difficult things that I ever attempted was learning how to write. First, I should state: I am no Shakespeare, but I have developed my skills enough that I am happy with my writing abilities. But this wasn’t always the case. Over the course of getting to where I am, I had to learn to trust the process.
When I was younger, I knew I wanted to write, but I told myself that I didn’t know how. When I consulted others or read their books, the consensus was the same: ‘just write!’ When I did so, I produced shit that I had no call to be proud of. My perception was tainted by a dose of crippling self-doubt, which all artists have to deal with, but the fact remains that the grand majority of my early writing was not very good at all. I joke all the time that it will never see the light of day, and that is the truth (I reserve the right to go back and overhaul some of it down the road – who knows whether there were any fair-smelling gems within the raw stink ore?)
It took many – many – false starts and total stops. The longest total stop began when I was in Grade 7. I was tasked with writing a story for my English class. Being a nerdy child with a penchant for the electronic arts, I wrote a short little tale that was a mash up of video game Resident Evil and a few others I was playing at the time. I enjoyed doing it at times, but mostly I just wanted to get back to losing myself in video game worlds. It was bad – damn bad – and it straight ripped a bunch of elements from the games. I think I got a C or a B on the project – the litmus test for a C seemed to have been simply producing a finished product – and I found myself completely disheartened.
Disheartened. Yes, that is a good word for it, because what I did after that was to lose connection with that organ that beats within. I just stopped trying. My heart, full of dreams of writing, was placed on a shelf in some dusty corner of my soul and subsequently ignored. For a long time. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I finally realized that it had been whispering to me all throughout my teenage and adult life, telling me that I should at least try. So, eventually, I did. And, at first, the writing was still bad.
But something had changed. No longer a kid with his entire life ahead of him, I had tasted some small bit of my own mortality. There were several instances of this occurring, but there is one particular instance of a brush with the reaper that comes to mind. A man who had been a friend of mine when I was a kid up and died. I should clarify: we were no longer friends – or, truth be told, even acquaintances – but here was someone who had passed out of this life before he even had a chance to accomplish anything.
Accomplish. According to an online dictionary, the word originally meant “to intensely fill up.” But what is being filled up? The one that accomplishes? And why is the feeling intense?
Having grown older in years and somewhat more decorated with wisdom, I would say that there is something to the notion of spiritual fulfillment from following one’s dreams. I have had many dreams, and it was only when I started saying ‘yes’ to them that I pulled my life from a black pit of despair and out into the respite of sunshine. The anguish of listlessness, of being without purpose – that diminished. My own mental health struggles – part of what pushed me to actually try and write in the first place – are in remission. And it wasn’t just writing – I married the love of my life, we have a wonderful daughter and a home together, I have many friends and family whom I love and who love me back. My life isn’t perfect, and I might be being a little overly-effusive, but I am content. And I know that all of those positive things are connected the way a tapestry is woven from bits of coloured thread. If one colour was missing, the whole thing would look off. Even worse, if the weaver herself could not be found, what kind of tapestry would we end up with? And the most earth-shattering question of all: who exactly is the weaver?
Whoever she is, we just have to trust in her process. Yesterday, I put the finishing corrections on my debut novel, The Yoga of Strength. I had no idea that I would end up here when I first started to write - certainly, the subject matter of the book is something I did not expect. Where I expected my writing to improve gradually, it rocketed into decent territory overnight after long years of practice. Whatever my mind assumed to be true about the process, it was normally wrong or incomplete. In order to trust it, I had to put aside my mind and its self-defeating thoughts.
To be perfectly frank, when I first started to write, I was filled with horrific self-talk. I thought that becoming half-way decent at it was a pipe dream, something that would forever elude me. I didn’t know it then, but those negative thoughts were more helpful to me than the brief moments of inspiration, the little glimpses of what was possible when I wrote a little piece of something moderately good as I shoveled the mounds of crap (metaphorically speaking with my keyboard, of course). If I was a piece of iron, self-doubt was the hammer that smashed me against the anvil of improvement until the blade of my Self began to gleam brightly. I had to learn the ins and outs of the consequences of failing to trust. When I didn’t trust, the writing sucked. When the actions and consequences finally clicked, I began to trust.
But trust what? Again, that weaver of beauty: the process. I had to trust that, by hook or by crook, the advance of time and my disciplined practice would eventually bear fruit. This is what every self-improvement guru will tell us, dressed up in some way or another. You have got to trust the process. But if you do not engage with the process – if you simply hang up your dreams and leave them to rot – you will always feel like something is missing.
And that would be a shame. Because, sure, you will technically have a life. But it will be one ruled by fear. When you kill your dreams, you usually do so out of lost patience. You start at the base of the mountain, and it always seems so enormous. The patience required is just as monumental. So you fear. Fear that it will take too long, fear that you won’t succeed, fear that you won’t be good enough, fear that you will die out there in the unknown. The only antidote to these fears is courage – the courage to trust the process. It’s a choice: the hardest one we ever have to make. And you have to keep making it.
Following your dreams doesn’t mean you have to uproot your life and run off to some quiet monastery, deadly mountaintop, or arid desert (unless it does – cool if it does!) All that following our dreams requires is the courage to trust. I am a writer, and I had to trust that I could make it to where I am if I worked on my dream during my down time, if I made time for my writing when I could have been playing video games or watching movies. Or sleeping – definitely sleeping.
I won’t lie: fear won – a lot. I procrastinated, played games when I should have been working, tripped on all of the traps. But I never let the failures finish me. They say that if you are knocked down seven times, get up eight. If you don’t trust the process, you might stay down, defeated. But there always seemed to be a reason to get up, a desire to trust bubbling up out of some depth within me.
The thing about trusting the process is that it makes the process into the goal. If you break your habits of fear, if you trust that you are on the correct path because it is the one of which you dream, well, then, you’re there, aren’t you? If you’re not, when will you arrive? When you write three novels? Five? When you get recognition? When you amass material wealth? All those things are no doubt tantalizing, but they are fleeting. Their substance is insubstantial. The true grail is the wisdom that comes with the experience of trust. Your cup is full, you just have not looked down to your hand in such a long time.
When you trust the process, you are trusting exactly where you are and what you are doing, at any given moment. When that lightbulb goes off, it spells the end of suffering, because you are willingly in the hands of the process. The now. Those self-help gurus, they’ll tell you that living in the moment is where it’s at.
If trusting the process is not the key to happiness, I have no idea what is.