There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. Wisdom is the direct understanding of the fluidity of life. 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.
The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
But you cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To ‘have’ running water you must let go of it and let it run.
I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split into two 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.
To stand face to face with insecurity is still not to understand it. To understand it, you must not face it but be it.
The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the ‘I’ out of the experience. We pretend that we are amoebas, and try to protect ourselves from life by splitting in two.
Sanity, being whole, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate ‘I’ or mind can be found. Just like to understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.
We have made a problem for ourselves by confusing the intelligible with the fixed. We think that making sense out of life is impossible unless the flow of events can somehow be fitted into a framework of rigid forms. To be meaningful, life must be understandable in terms of fixed ideas and laws, and these, in turn, must correspond to unchanging and eternal realities behind the shifting scene. But if this is what ‘making sense out of life’ means, we have set ourselves the impossible task of making fixity out of flux.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
Written by Alan Watts from the book The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety