Self-Trust

1996-03-15

In discussing some concepts related to Timothy Gallwey's book The Inner Game of Tennis, my friend Scott wrote:

I have to be willing to lose my desired goal in order to mine the deepest and most glorious riches. If I strive with all of my "effort", to achieve the emotion, it will squirm out of my hand like a fish, and I will be left tensing my body, faking it, and distancing my audience. I'm beginning to believe this is true in most areas of life as well. Some of our greatest control comes from being willing to be out of control. Of course, these kinds of control are in different respects, or else we violate the law of identity. It is how these respects differ that I have yet to fully understand.

Wow, this is hard -- "I have to be willing to lose my desired goal". I think this takes a great deal of discipline -- disciplined spontaneity, we might call it (I like paradoxical formulations). It seems to me that part of this is having mastered your craft to some degree. If were spontaneous on the piano, it'd sound horrible. If I am spontaneous when playing my music, it sounds okay because I know the instrument and the music (I wrote it, after all). As to life in general, I think that much of the ability to be spontaneous comes from a deep kind of clarity about one's values and beliefs. For example, I don't believe in planning or managing my life -- I'm not one to use a daily planner and all that. Yet I get a tremendous amount done in my life. I think this is because I focus on those things that I value most and I'm clear on those things. I don't spend time on things that value little to me (say, TV) and I am quite focused about pursuing my values and especially my highest values (such as friendship). Yet I'm not focused to the point of losing spontaneity. I'm not sure how I do this, exactly, but I believe it's an important "skill" (if indeed it's a skill at all).

There's a concept that Rand expressed once in Anthem that continues to intrigue me, and I think it fits into this discussion (Anthem is my favorite novel by Rand -- I read it every year or two and it always inspires me and touches my soul, unlike her other works, which now repel me in large measure). The concept is "self-trust". Here's the passage (pp. 79-80 of the hardcover edition):

Then we walked on. And we came to a stream which lay as a streak of glass among the trees. It lay so still that we saw no water but only a cut in the earth, in which the trees grew down, upturned, and the sky lay at the bottom. We knelt by the stream and we bent down to drink. And then we stopped. For, upon the blue of the sky below us, we saw our own face for the first time.

We sat still and we held our breath. For our face and our body were beautiful. Our face was not like the faces of our brothers, for we felt no pity when looking upon it. Our body was not like the body of our brothers, for our limbs were straight and thin and hard and strong. And we thought that we could trust this being who looked upon us from the stream, and that we had nothing to fear with this being.

I think that what Scott is talking about with being available and spontaneous comes down to self-trust. If I trust myself (my whole self), then I will be spontaneously available to everything about my self -- my body, my emotions, my senses, my mind, my experience. Not just my reason or my goals, but the whole person.

The reason why your typical Objectivist does not trust himself is that he has been converted to an abstract vision of life and rejects what he was before being converted. I was this way for a long time. But you have to integrate what you have come to believe with what you are (and were long before being converted). It took me many years to learn this and be this in my life, but I have slowly recovered from my conversion to Objectivism and have become spontaneously alive. There are vestiges of the Objectivist repressor in me, but they are mostly gone now. I live now to live, not to be a good Objectivist.

I think that the idea of self-trust overcomes the dichotomy of release vs. control. Self-trust is not a philosophy of go with the flow, do whatever you want. But at the same time it is not a philosophy of rigidity, of repressive self-control. It is not as if I have to control myself, because I trust myself to do and be right. I think that this requires that one be fairly well self-developed as a person. To paraphrase Rand, I cannot say "I trust myself" without first understanding the "I". I think there's an analogy here to art -- you have to develop a certain level of craft, then you can "let go" or trust yourself as an artist and so reach greater heights than control would allow you. The same is true of living -- you have to develop yourself as a person -- your capacities to think and choose and act and feel (in my view of ethics, the four fundamental capacities of the human being) as well as your individual strengths and talents -- then you can let go and spontaneously be the person you are. Of course it's not true that you have to control yourself in order to develop, then you can release when you're 25 or whatever!! Self-trust is essential to development, and it's often precisely self-trust that you lack as an adolescent, tragically enough. But that's for another day.


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