We easily translate our experience of security from feeling secure to being secure, when in fact they are quite different. Feeling secure is a fleeting sentiment guaranteeing very little, while being secure suggests something substantial and enduring. However, confusing the two tends to leave us feeling quite insecure. The things and events allegedly empowered with the ability to have us being secureonly have us temporarily feeling secure. Two old meanings of the word secure are free from apprehension and free from danger. It may be helpful to identify some of the common experiences of feeling secure:
*Milk and cookies at Grandma’s (assuming Grandma is a nurturing soul).
*Sitting around a crackling fire during a winter storm.
*Cuddling with a puppy.
*Financial investments doing well.
*High on drugs or alcohol.
*Feeling loved by someone.
*Receiving positive notoriety.
*Being invited to a prestigious event.
*A smooth landing on the runway of your destination after a long flight.
None of the above frees us from danger, nor takes the sting out of possible danger. Let’s explore what it might mean to actually be secure.
Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with feeling secure. Problems start when we confuse feeling secure with being secure. Being secure is an extremely humble endeavor. It has nothing to do with puffing ourselves up with some inflated bravado suggesting we are impervious to feeling the vulnerability accompanying insecurity. Rather, real security is about getting honest about the perilous nature of life and accepting the fragility of such a journey. Let’s look at some of the particulars of being secure.
*Acceptance of your death. There is inherently a level of insecurity when we deny what is real. Dying is inevitable. The more we accept it, the less power it has as a thief, stealing life from us. It can be viewed as part of life, a transition and not simply an unfortunate event. Our grief can then be a testimony of our love and valued contributions made by friends and family who have passed on. It can be helpful to remain mindful of life’s impermanence, acknowledging that change is about one thing after another ending.
*Making peace with suffering. Our lives will inevitably experience emotional and physical suffering. It won’t help to decide we should be exempt from suffering. The key is to remain in relationship with suffering, being curious about what it may be asking for. It is also helpful to notice that nothing diminishes arrogance and increases compassion and empathy like suffering. It ushers us to the heart of the human condition where pretense peels away with great ease. Suffering possesses the facility of helping us become more authentic.
*Accepting life on life’s terms. This means accepting life as mysterious and unpredictable. It means accepting that what happens in our lives will mostly be out of our control. This can become an immense opportunity for the deepening of humility.
*Striving for depth and meaning rather than happiness. Happiness suggests a positive feeling state such as joy and excitement. Such feeling states are subject to great variability, jostling us from one mood to the next. Struggling to maintain some level of delight can seriously distract us from what really matters. When depth and meaning are prioritized, our moods lose their authority. As we search for depth and meaning we remain in apprenticeship to what sustains life rather than to what produces a pleasurable mood.
*Being the recipient of presence. When someone authentically joins us, especially when we are vulnerable, a channel is created between feeling secure and being secure. Of course, another’s presence does not free us from being impacted by danger. Authentic presence is a sacred offering where the recipient has a deep knowing about being accompanied amongst the slings and arrows of life. The message of presence is, “I’ll stay with you and offer as much care, comfort and protection that I can.” Such presence frees us from the horror and dread of danger. We know we are the recipients of care that is not necessarily earned, but freely given simply because we travel this perilous journey together.
*Learning to forgive ourselves. Since the only way to be fully alive is by taking risks, we can attain a level of emotional safety by learning to forgive ourselves. Mistakes are inevitable, and if we lock into ridiculing and chastising ourselves each time we make a mistake, then pulling away from life is also inevitable. Since self-forgiveness cannot be willed, we must start by opening our hearts with compassion when we falter, acting in ways considerably less than ideal. The hope is that compassion yields a level of mercy that begins to release us from a demand for self-punishment.
We’ve been exploring the difference between feeling secure and being secure.Since our instinct for survival is so strong, it is easy to believe that feeling secure must mean we are actually secure. The second edge of the seduction happens because being secure calls for some hard work, while feeling secure is attained by anything temporarily calming the nervous system. Ultimately, being secure calls for coming out of denial, admitting that life is a perilous journey. The more we are honest about the nature of life and accepting of it, we move beyond simply massaging our apprehensions. We come to an embodied knowing of what it means to belong on a mysterious and unpredictable odyssey.
(Originally published on June 21, 2016 on The Huffington Post.)