Trusting the Gold: Summary and notes

In Trusting the Gold, Tara Brach says there is good in each of us. This is what she refers to as gold and like earthly gold, she implies that we have to dig deep to find it. The book is full of fascinating life lessons which are mostly drawn from her decades of experience as a spiritual teacher, but there are also sprinkles of wisdom from the likes of Rumi, Ananda, Buddha, and other great teachers.

If you have read her other book, Radical Acceptance, most of the teachings will definitely feel familiar but you will find the thesis in quotes below to be different.

“My understanding is that there’s a fundamental benevolence in our universe, and trusting this gives rise to activity that serves our collective understanding, peace, and well-being.”

Her goal is to deepen our understanding of this fundamental Buddhist philosophy. You can complement this book with a reading of the wonderful, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Here are the top five lessons that resonated the most with me.
#1 We all have basic goodness
Basic goodness is a Buddhist concept that says we all have Buddha nature or an incorruptible core where we can seek refuge. The concept implies there is nothing wrong with the universe, there is nothing wrong with having troubling thoughts, fear, anger, etc, and that our challenge is to accept everything as is.

The following quote best represents this notion:

“The gold of our true nature can never be tarnished. No matter how it might get covered over or disguised by feelings of anger, deficiency, or fear, our awareness remains radiant and pure. In the moments of remembering and trusting this basic goodness of our Being, the grip of “something’s wrong” dissolves and we open to happiness, peace, and freedom.”

Tara adds that in life, it's normal to have feelings of not being ‘good enough’ but you should never give in to these emotions because enough is right here and ever-present.

She punctuates her point with the story of Sono, a Japanese Zen master who was renowned for her wisdom. Whenever people came to her with pain, ailments, and other afflictions, Sono would ask them to practice saying, “Thank you for everything”. It is said that those who took her advice would find happiness and peace.

Saying thank you for everything is a way of accepting the gold in each of us and as an extension of the universe. There is also a chapter titled ‘This is it’. It reinforces the idea that whatever you are experiencing, is life and there is nothing beyond the here and the now.
#2 Meet your edge and soften
Most likely, you have felt anxious about something or felt great fear in your life. When that happens, Tara advises us to meet the edge and soften. What does that mean? Meeting the edge means exploring your fear while softening is about surrendering.

The point is not to push the fear or any feelings you may have away but to accept that they belong. In another chapter, Tara talks about surrendering again and again. It is the same concept of letting yourself feel because by giving emotions the attention they deserve, you will best resolve them.

I particularly liked her narration of the tale of Milarepa, a twelve-century Tibetan monk who after many years of solitude found his cave full of monsters. Although he knew the monsters were just projections of his mind, they were still threatening. Milarepa tried a few things to get the demons to leave him alone but only when he stopped resisting their presence did most of them go away. He even put his head in the mouth of the most menacing demon daring it to do its worst. It faded into obscurity a little after.

Tara writes the following on how she deals with her demons.

“I have found that it is only when I stop resisting entirely—stop judging, stop trying to control, stop tensing against, stop avoiding—only then do I arrive in an open, tender, and healing presence. In that open tenderness, there’s nowhere for the painful shadow energies to root. With true surrender of all strategies of self-protection, the demons lose their power. When the resistance is gone, so are the demons.”

Rumi also notes: “The hurt we embrace becomes joy”. What this means is that if we allow ourselves to learn from our hurt, we shall draw lessons that will enrich our lives.
#3 Live true to yourself
When on their deathbed, people report regretting one thing the most — not living their lives to the fullest. I recall reading — from a recent study — that just before death, life flashes before our eyes i.e the brain relives its most important moments.

The question is, what do you want your last moments to be like? Do you want them to be punctuated by regret?

Tara writes:

“The longing to live true to ourselves is a natural and beautiful calling from our most pure and loving heart. Judging ourselves only distances us from this basic goodness. The real courage to live true to ourselves begins with holding our inner experience with compassion. This frees us to bring our light and love to all of life.”

To live your true self, you need to do a few things:

  • Embrace the now — there is no moment except the here and the now.
  • Live in love. Tara says love will love you back and will always give back.
  • Explore the goodness in self and others
  • Trust in the universe. If things good or bad come your way, practice saying that they belong because, in the universe, nothing is ever misplaced.

“True happiness arises out of simply being present in this moment, not grasping after anything, not wanting life to be any different from what it is, right now.”
#4 What you practice grows stronger
Tara makes a point that most people tend to overlook — what you practice grows stronger. She says that if we allow negative emotions to dominate our brains, the brain pathways they create become more entrenched. Similarly, if we allow positive thoughts and emotions to guide our thinking, we become more alive.

Throughout the book, Tara offers clues as to which beliefs and practices we should encourage to grow. The first, which is the theme of the entire book, is trusting in the goodness of the universe. The second is to live a life of authenticity and love. Lastly, you need to develop a reverence for everything including for the lives of other animals.

When you practice these things, life becomes easier and the gold that is in you will shine through.
#5 Surrender again and again
Tara talks of a time when she felt superior to the people around her. The way she handled the feelings was through surrender and when they surfaced again, she would surrender again and again. In other words, like the monsters of Milarepa, she would tell them they are welcome and proceed to show they had no power over her.

Surrendering also worked for Buddha’s great disciple Ananda. Ananda had tried everything in an attempt to gain enlightenment and after going at it for an entire night, he only attained enlightenment after letting go of all striving.

Tara writes:

“We can’t will surrendering. Our wisdom knows that the pathway is surrender; our mind can be quiet and present, and our heart can be willing and prayerful. And yet, it is awareness that does the work. In the light and tenderness of awareness, thoughts naturally dissolve, bodily resistance softens, emotional fears and grasping unwind and release.”

Here Tara implies that awareness is always present and the key to effective surrendering is to let it shine and not try to control it like Ananda had done for an entire night.

Through the book, Tara stops to offer moments of reflection. The one that stood out for me is
The RAIN meditation technique. It has the following steps:

  • Recognize. Whisper whatever is happening in your mind. If it's fear, anger, hurt, or shame, name it.
  • Allow. Let whatever you are feeling be. Don’t judge it, don't try to fix it, or ignore it. Whisper ‘this too belongs’
  • Investigate. Out of curiosity, feel into your body. Touch the part of your body where it hurts, or where the emotion is based. Look into what is being asked of you. Is it love? Forgiveness? Acceptance? Understanding?
  • Nurture. Offer care to any feelings of vulnerability. Your touch should be tender as you send the message that offers the most healing.
After a RAIN session, take moments of stillness and sense the quality of presence that has unfolded. Notice how your emotions have changed since you started. The goal is to cultivate a compassionate awareness that is always there.
Trusting the Gold contains a lifetime of wisdom from Tara Brach. Like her other book, Radical Acceptance, it will help you grow spiritually if you heed its teachings. She talks about love, self-care, suffering, gratitude, and a host of other things. Her most important lesson however is the idea that we are all good.
Implementation ideas
Tara offers actionable tips on how to handle different emotions:

  1. Next time you feel fear or anger, try holding the emotions with compassion rather than indulging in painful self-judgment.
  2. When faced with anger, pause and notice the intensity of your feelings. Feel the vulnerability and tenderness of your caring heart. Note whether it is possible to sense the fears and hurt under the anger.
  3. When stuck in self-judgment, pause in the face of the suffering to acknowledge that you are not okay. Notice the different ways the suffering arises in your mind. Offer some kind gestures to the suffering. You can say to yourself, “please be kind” or “please trust your heart”. Notice what happens when your intention is self love.
  4. When faced with a difficult situation in your life, ask yourself, “What is the worst part of this situation? And what do I believe about it?” Direct your attention fully to the sensations in your body and to your feelings. Notice what takes place during these moments of acknowledgments. Imagine saying yes and embracing all aspects of your imperfect life.
  5. When in moments of genuine presence and caring, pause and sense your being as part of the interconnectedness of the universe. How does it feel? Can you observe the same capacity for love shining through the eyes of other beings?