There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. But the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I,” but it is just the feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want.
“Out of any epoch in civilization there may arise things worth while, that are the flowers of it. To abandon these, when another epoch arises, is only stupid, so long as there is still in them the breath and flux of life.” — Stark Young, 1930
It must be obvious, from the start, that there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. But the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I”, but it is just the feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want. To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.
We look for this security by fortifying and enclosing ourselves in innumerable ways. We want the protection of being “exclusive” and “special”, seeking to belong to the safest church, the best nation, the highest class, the right set, and the “nice” people. These defenses lead to divisions between us, and so to more insecurity demanding more defenses. Of course it is all done in the sincere belief that we are trying to do the right things and live in the best way; but this, too, is a contradiction.
I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split into pieces. There must be a good “I” who is going to improve the bad “me”. “I,” who has the best intentions will go to work on wayward “me,” and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently “I” will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make “me” behave so badly.
We can hardly begin to consider this problem unless it is clear that the craving for security is itself a pain and a contradiction, and that the more we pursue it, the more painful it becomes. This is true in whatever form security may be conceived.”
“Herein lies the crux of the matter. To stand face to face with insecurity is still not to understand it. To understand it, you must not face it but be it. It is like the Persian story of the sage who came to the door of Heaven and knocked. From within the voice of God asked “Who is there?” and the sage answered “It is I.” “In this House,” replied the voice, “there is no room for thee and me.” So the sage went away and spent many years pondering over this answer in deep meditation. Returning a second time, the voice asked the same question, and again the sage answered “It is I.” The door remained closed. After some years he returned for the third time, and, at his knocking, the voice once more demanded, “Who is there?” And the sage cried, “It is thyself!” The door was opened.
Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety (1951), pp. 77-80
She seemed to have passed into a kind of dream world, absolved from
the conditions of actuality. She watched the sordid streets of the town
go by beneath her, as if she were a spirit disconnected from the
material universe. What had it all to do with her? She was palpitating
and formless within the flux of the ghost life. She could not consider
any more, what anybody would say of her or think about her. People had
passed out of her range, she was absolved. She had fallen strange and
dim, out of the sheath of the material life, as a berry falls from the
only world it has ever known, down out of the sheath on to the real
— D.H. Lawrence,from Women in Love (Dover Publications, 2003)
An emotional shipwreck
tossed about like a rapidly deflating
balloon in the ever changing currents.
I am an endless array of shifting paradigms,
of diagnostic parameters in a constant state of flux.
A life spent being shaped by the undertow
At this point I may as well project the DSM V
so the organizers and rearrangers that insist on moving me
between the card catalog drawers can spend
less time on the categorizing.
Here is where I drop into the rapids with no assistance.
Here is where I let myself float free, untethered,
as the currents reshape and round off my sharp edges.
Watch as they remake me as palatably smooth with no corners
to catch your caressing hands on.