What does it mean to be secure, and is security possible? We talk about security in a number of contexts such as financial security, national security, security in relationships and so on. But what does it really mean to be secure?
To secure something means to get a hold of it in such a way that the thing cannot be loosened or lost. It means to have a permanent fixture. To be secure means that once you have grasped or possessed this thing you have it forever. You will never lose it.
The idea of security means having a sense of consistency, stability and permanence, and therefore having a sense of being safe and protected. So, for example, job security means that once you have obtained employment and you have shown yourself to be a good worker you’re going to be able to rely on that job indefinitely. And with that job secured, you will always have the means to provide for yourself and your family in the way of food, shelter and other necessities.
But the question I’m raising is whether or not one can truly have this kind of security. So, you get the job and you work very hard and your boss is impressed with your work. It becomes your routine. It becomes familiar and comfortable. And you settle into it with the sense that the job is secure, that you can rely on it to always be there to support you.
But over time, what many people find themselves doing is having to increase their work performance in order to keep the boss satisfied. If you begin with a certain quality of work or a quantity of sales that becomes your quota. And what often happens is that once your boss sees that you are capable of fulfilling that quota consistently, they will often raise that quota. Or you will be given other added responsibilities. And if you want to feel secure in your job you have got to keep your boss pleased, so you do whatever is required. You take on more work. You give up more free time and energy. You may even compromise your ethics. And you find yourself in a very miserable position. You do all of this for a greater sense of security, but in the background there is this looming sense of insecurity. You’re always afraid that you might lose the job, that you might not be able to pay your rent or whatever it is. You only have to make one mistake or fail to meet your quota and the whole thing could be pulled right out from under you. So there is a lot of fear there. We are afraid that we are going to lose our security, but I would ask if we had any security in the first place? Just this very sense that we might lose it is a sense of insecurity. This means that we are not secure.
Let’s look at this in regard to relationships. What does it mean to have security in a relationship? You meet someone, there is a mutual attraction, you get along well and you date that person for some time. And you find that there is some consistency, some stability and this sort of thing. But you really want to secure the relationship. What this means in our culture is to be married. That’s the big step. That’s the goal for so many people. If you want to have security in your relationship you get married.
You exchange vows in front of witnesses, in front of God and his representative, in front of hundreds of friends and family members. You exchange rings and sign a contract. You make the whole thing official. And once you do this it’s very difficult to go back on it. So if there was any sense of insecurity in the relationship, you feel that now it has been resolved.
But what often happens is that sometime into the marriage we become settled, comfortable, relaxed. Once we have secured this thing we don’t have to put in so much effort. And maybe we begin to get on each other’s nerves a little bit. Or we find that the relationship isn’t quite as satisfying as we had hoped, and we blame one another for this. Maybe one partner is feeling that they aren’t getting the attention or affection they require, and maybe they look for that in someone new. So all these various problems arise, and now the relationship is beginning to feel strained, and the sense of insecurity is creeping in.
And if you want to keep that relationship secure you may have to put in some work. You may have to sacrifice, make compromises. So it’s very similar to the work situation. You’re having to work harder to please the other person, to keep them satisfied so they don’t leave. But if we’re trying to secure the relationship, what this indicates is that there is no security. We’re always chasing after it, and it’s always just ahead of us, just out of reach.
There are so many examples of this kind of thing, this grasping for security, but never getting a hold of it, or creating more insecurity in the process. We can see how nations do this. They take up arms in order to protect themselves from potential enemies, but when two nations take up arms they become suspicious of one another. They see the other nation is building more weapons and there is fear that they might use them against us. So we build more weapons, bigger and more destructive. And each nation is always competing to have the most sophisticated weapons. But instead of feeling more secure, everyone is more fearful of one another. So there is actually less sense of security.
Another thing that nations do is put up borders and limit the freedom of their citizens, all in the name of security. If we go back and look at relationships, we find the same thing. When we get married we put up boundaries and we limit one another’s freedom. We do this also with our jobs. We have to abide by certain rules and restrictions. We have to make compromises. We have to limit our freedom. If you work a salary job you don’t clock out at the end of the day. You take work home with you. You’re always on call. So again, we are limiting our freedom in order to have more security.
So the question is what is most important, that we have freedom or that we have this false sense of security? And it is a false sense. It’s an illusion. Because at any moment you can lose that job, or your partner can walk out on you, or your country could be under attack. So where is the security really?
Let’s go back to relationships again, because what I have observed is that there is a great deal of insecurity in relationships. There is this underlying fear that we might lose that person, or that they might stop loving us. You can still remain in a relationship even if there is no love, but then you find that there is no affection, no intimacy.
In many relationships there is this buried insecurity that fail to notice in the beginning. We’re not aware of it. It may be the very driving force behind our seeking for relationships, and to seek to secure the relationship by marriage. But it remains hidden until later when challenges arise. And this may be because one’s partner is very busy with work and doesn’t have much time and energy to give to the relationship. Or it may be that one’s partner is not as attentive and affectionate as they were in the beginning. Or perhaps they are showing some interest in someone else. And even if your partner isn’t attracted to this other person, we will often interpret their interest as attraction. Or your partner may be finding other people attractive, which is normal, but we interpret this to mean that there is a lack of interest in us. And we become fearful, angry, upset. That insecurity that has been buried and forgotten is now coming up to the surface.
So we begin asking ourselves all these questions. “Has my partner lost interest in me? Am I not attractive anymore? Am I not lovable? Is there something wrong with me?” And all of this is our insecurity creeping up.
What I’ve observed is that insecurity seems to be at the root of so many relationship problems. If you take any relationship issue and really go deep into it, often you will find that there is this sense of insecurity behind it. It is this underlying sense of insecurity that causes so many problems in life. So again the question arises, can we ever find true security? And if so, how?
I think we need to come to terms with the fact that we cannot have true security. That means we cannot have a permanent grasp on anything. But I’m also not suggesting that we should become insecure. Most of us are already deeply insecure, which is why we are seeking security in the first place. But insecurity means there is fear, fear of loss, fear of not having. So if we don’t want to remain in this fear, how do we come to a place in which there is no fear?
Can we acknowledge that insecurity is there? Can we accept that without trying to escape it? Can we just look at it, recognize it, observe it? And can we find some comfort in knowing that we can never be fully secure?
What I mean is can we recognize that the future is uncertain? We don’t know what will happen. We can convince ourselves that we will always have the job or the relationship, but we don’t really know. Anything can change, gradually or very suddenly.
If we look at our insecurity, is it a reaction to this knowing that the future is uncertain? Is it a reaction to the fact that everything is impermanent, that nothing in this world lasts? Even thoughts and emotions are transient. They come and go.
In our search for security we are looking for consistency and stability, but it has been pointed out that the only constant in life is change. Everything is constantly changing, transforming, evolving or dissolving. So our insecurity is our resistance to this fact that nothing lasts forever. And if we are trying to grasp onto something and preserve it, we are bound to be disappointed.
So again, when we are trying to secure something, we are acting from this deep sense of insecurity, which is resistance to impermanence and uncertainty. So can we accept this impermanence and uncertainty? Can we embrace it? We think that once we have secured something then we can relax, but if there is no real security then we are never truly relaxed. We’re always anxious. But can we relax in the knowing that nothing is certain? Can we be at peace with this fact? Can we simply be present in the situation without needing to know the future, without being afraid? Because fear is based on the future. Fear is anticipation. That means we’re concerned with the future. But in the present, can we simply be with the situation, attending to it?
Insecurity is fear. It’s the fear that we might lose something in the future. And then what? Will you ever fall in love again? Will you find another job? Will you have to sleep on the street? We have so much fear of uncertainty.
But can we just give all our attention to the moment, knowing that the situation will eventually change? Knowing that the relationship may not last, can we give more attention to it in the present? Can we be more loving, more affectionate, more appreciative of it, instead of taking it for granted? How we behave in the present determines the future. So if we are present, and we give our attention to that situation, with appreciation and gratitude, then it’s more likely that however the situation evolves, it will evolve in a positive way. But if we are projecting our fear onto that situation, we cannot be present with it, and we are likely to cause all kinds of problems.
So can we, right now, come to terms with the fact that the future is unknown and that nothing is permanent? Can we accept this? Can we be secure in the knowing that there is no security in anything?