Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Illusion Of Security

In a previous post on the difference between happiness and contentment, I noted that chasing after 'happiness' can lead to a deluded mindstate that creates suffering rather than happiness. This is because the human condition includes suffering. As a result, happiness cannot be maintained as a permanent state of being. We should appreciate happiness when we have it, but clinging to happiness is doomed to failure.

Permanent happiness is not the only illusion which can ensnare us into deluded thinking. Another is the mirage of 'security'. As with happiness, the desire for security is essentially natural and healthy. The problem occurs when we attempt to maintain security as a permanent condition. In other words, when we try to pretend that suffering and uncertainty are not as natural to the human condition as are happiness and security.

While clinging to happiness leads us to chase our tails and stress out, grasping after security leads us to become pawns of fear. We will fear losing security due to not having enough money, terrorist attacks, being lonely, or any number of threats. A deluded mindset driven by fear takes hold. Fear drives how we look at life, prioritize, and make decisions. By clinging to security, we permanently lose it. We end up in a paranoid state of mind, looking for and fending off every potential threat. We are reduced to a basket case always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

As you can guess the ultimate root of this suffering we create arises from no longer being in the moment. Instead of engaging with what is happening right now (good or bad), we focus on some idealized state of security in our imagination and then we compulsively compare our present situation against it. We spend our energy making plans and taking actions to avoid losing our sense of security. This often involves worrying about things that are not true threats or are unlikely to happen. We live in a world of what might be as opposed to what it.

This is an absurd mindset because, in truth, we never are truly safe and secure. No matter what we do, our lives can always be derailed by the suffering innate to human existence. We contract diseases, people we love die, friends move away, we lose jobs, etc. Even at the most fundamental level, we cannot be truly secure. No one ever expects to be in a car accident, a plane crash, or struck by lightning. However, in an instant, any one of these events could disrupt, irrevocably change, or even end our lives.

This may seem like a very depressing way to view the world! But it isn't. It is depressing only if we have a mindset that clings to security. In contrast, if we accept that we are vulnerable to suffering, then we can exist in the present moment and not fear potential threats. Yes, I could be hit by a car tomorrow...but I could also win the lottery. I could contract and die of cancer by Spring...or I could live to be 120. I might walk into work tomorrow and be fired...or I may be offered a promotion. Since anything is possible, it is foolish to spend time worrying about (or celebrating) any of these possibilities. The present moment is all that is real.

Of course, this outlook doesn't mean we should not work towards our own security, pass measures to fight terrorism, drive safely to avoid accidents, etc. It only means that we accept there are limitations to how much we can do to fend off these threats. This enables us to exist in a dangerous world and act in sensible ways to protect ourselves and those we love. Most importantly, it allows us to draw lines we should not cross or set aside things we should not sacrifice in order to provide an illusion of security.

The benefit of such in the moment thinking is that when uncertainty or insecurity inevitably come our way we will react to them calmly, from a place of sense and strength. This will allow us the possibility of remaining content even while we suffer and, in some cases, make our suffering of a shorter duration. We also will have the ability to be happy in life, rather than constantly looking over our shoulder for threats and problems that might happen. In other words, serenity.

No comments: