Trusting Together

Lately it seems that the theme of trust is very in my face.  Now and more than ever, in this time of uncertainty and collective media-messaged fear, finding trust in ourselves and each other seems to be in short supply. The “trust the process” or “go with the flow” mantra is not so easy because it means giving up control and opening to potential risk, hurt…and potentially unknown consequences.

Should I or shouldn’t I? (trust, that is).  A retributive or “scarcity” mindset that’s driven by fear definitely paralyzes momentum and the willingness to take risks.  It can shut us down and/or tune us out.

To stay tuned in, an “abundant” or restorative frame opens us up to a whole new world of compassion, gratitude, and…well…trust.  The world becomes a place of invitation, curiosity and wonder.  With trust, we see clearly the good around us and put what’s not so good in its context, with compassion and empathy.

These times are not easy for most of us.  Struggle” seems to be the name of the game. On a daily basis, I wrestle with fear and release of fear in an ongoing quest for openness and possibilities.  That is the energy I want to put out to the world. So how does one stay in a frame of mind (and more importantly, heart) that can come back, time and time again, to trust?

Some tools I’ve used to rework negativity and mistrust into “trusting the process” have included:

  • Staying grounded in my experience and faith that people are essentially good (look, I work with prisoners, and I think the world of them!).  I’ve found that if I give back to my community in some way that’s meaningful to me, that community provides me with equal, and sometimes more than imaginable, abundance.
  • Mindfulness and meditation. There is something powerful about sitting with myself and observing my stories and triggers – and letting them go.  Breathe in, breathe out.   Present moment.  The future hasn’t happened yet, what matters is NOW (and creating the future I want to have by living more fully in the present).  Makes life a lot less stressful.  And it’s one of the hardest things to do.
  • Small group work. Having real dialogue inspired by provocative questions builds accountability and ownership and is a guaranteed way to build trust and develop intimacy, solid connections, and community.
  • Feeling vs. thinking. Moving from “stinkin’ thinkin’” to actually checking in with feelings can be done through processes to help move through the feelings, whether they’re “good” or “bad” (check out Process Coaching).
  • Getting outside. I know this sounds so cliché, but honestly, nature brings me back to myself.  It reconnects me to my deepest being, and helps me reconnect to the earth and others.  This is core of our work at San Quentin. This is what inspires me to want to make a difference…for people, our communities, and the planet.

Reframing to “trust” is hard.  Trying to live a more conscious, mindful and associational life in this world of individualism, consumerism, and polarization is akin to a salmon swimming upstream.  It’s the road (or in the case of a salmon, a creek) less traveled.

At our prison garden program, the beginnings of trust start to happen when we build relationships, get to know ourselves and each other a bit better, and come from a heartfelt place (leaving the personal agendas aside).  Our program has survived at San Quentin for eight years because we’ve developed trust with staff and people in prison – by being there, and working collaboratively, face-to-face.  We are actively “transparent.” Unlike many other organizational systems, there are no electronics allowed in prison, so we must work with each other – even if we don’t want to!  No computers (among prisoners), text messages or emails.  Just people.

When folks ask me “aren’t you ever afraid (of working in prison or with parolees)?,” my response is always “absolutely not!”  Because if I let my mind start making up stories about what could happen, then I move from the present to a future that hasn’t happened yet.  And I don’t want to create that kind of future. I’ve learned to trust through experience.

Trust flows in circles, so I’ve discovered.  In prison, the men have a saying – “you give what you get and you get what you give.”   So when relationships are carefully built, based on authenticity and compassion, the trust flows both ways. For me, hanging out in our prison garden with a bunch of “felons” is one of the safest places (both physically and emotionally), I’ve ever been.

So being in nature – together — is a powerful way to build trust and faith by offering us a glimpse of our own humanity and our place in the natural order of things.

About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. Most recently, as Founder & Executive Director of the Insight Garden Program, I built a $1+ million nonprofit that works across sectors to provide experiential, transformative gardening and landscaping training in prisons, participant re-entry programs, and advocacy for systems change at the intersections of environmental, criminal, and social justice. To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
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1 Response to Trusting Together

  1. Stephen says:

    Beautifully said, Beth. That we have a system of incarceration that seems mostly focused on warehousing, abstract vengefulness, “wars on” and pop-solutions to crime seems clear if you know someone that you love that is in that world. The majority have trouble wearing the shoes of the incarcerated, and think you should be frightened to be in their midst. To see everyone as having positive intentions and just helping them find productive ways to find that peace is as special as having another Virgina Satir in the fray of helping others. Thanks.

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