Sometimes a person will seek to awaken because of a hunger for an all-encompassing solution to life’s difficulties. A kind of global guarantee of okayness. Freedom can be seen as a source of security.
What is security? In ordinary life, it’s establishing circumstances expected to provide stability and safety. A reliable set-up of some kind, a stable sort of container for life to move along in. The desire for security often comes of having not had it, or being afraid of losing it. Something to do with physical circumstances, financial well-being, health. Knowing you will have ready access to what you need. That you won’t have to reinvent the wheel, or maybe do without, every time a need arises. When the rain is falling, there will be a roof to get under. When there are meds to buy, there will be money, or a health plan, so you can get them. A reliable car in the driveway, or proximity to good public transportation. Somebody to look out for you when you need help or love.
When you wake up, you stop having big sighs of despair and big sighs of relief.
Sometimes when some of this hasn’t come together very well, a person will turn to the spiritual life as an alternative source of security and well-being. A set of beliefs enabling faith, a way to believe that all will be well, that the universe is benign, that a divine goodness is overseeing all. There’s a wish for life to be understandable. Life is seen as a series of lessons, or the playing out of karma or destiny, something with a larger meaning. A frame of reference to make the hard times tolerable or at least comprehensible.
When a person awakens, no assurance of security comes with the revelation of the truth. What happens is that you’ve stopped needing any sort of promise that all will be well. It stops mattering. You stop looking for meaning. It stops being important to be able to count on something, somebody. Yourself even.
When you wake up, you stop caring very much about what happens to you. Not because you don’t cherish your life. No, it’s that you no longer feel quite real to yourself, at least not in the way you used to. Why would you need to keep yourself in a certain kind of condition when you have nothing to lose? You have let go completely of needing to keep your sense of self intact. You cannot be threatened. You’re okay with whatever happens.
How can you feel afraid of something unknown, something in the future, if only this moment feels real to you?
What you come to see is that there never was any security. Ever. Only the impression of it. That is the truth, and one of the things about awakeness is that it is entirely comfortable with changeable reality. It’s no longer uncomfortable in the presence of even an ugly or painful truth. The truth is, even when you thought you had attained some kind of security, in your life before, you hadn’t really. Secretly, you knew this. (We do know this.) It’s just that — well, back then, when security was something you valued, you sort of held your breath, day to day, year after year, hoping the flimsy edifice would remain roughly stable. During the intervals when it did hold (by luck mostly), you told yourself (because you wanted to believe it) that now you had things pretty much together, and maybe this time it would be for keeps.
The problem is, you always deeply knew that someday something would go wrong. For instance, you always knew death would come. (The trend is observable.) The fact that we can manage to forget death is coming, most of the moments we live, is the ultimate indicator of the thinness of the appearance of safety.
So when somebody wants to find their way to a reliable, solid piece of ground to stand on, and they think waking up will provide that, I want to look them in the eye and gently say — well, no, it doesn’t work like that.
You don’t wake up so you can finally feel safe. You wake up because you want to stop needing safety and predictability. You wake up because you want to know what it’s like to live in the present instead of in the future.
For what can security possibly mean, if there is never any such thing as tomorrow? as continuance? as predictability? If this moment, this exact one right here, really is the only one that’s ever real (this is one of the pieces of truth that smacks you right in the face, when you wake up), then how can the question of providing for the future even be taken very seriously? And if you don’t have any built-in resistance mechanism, whatever any moment holds is just what it is — neither okay nor not-okay. Just real.
Oh, of course you will keep paying the rent and registering your car and putting gas in it and trying to save a little money. The practical stuff will keep happening, as it should. But you will stop being in the least invested in any of it holding up as it might have previously. You won’t assume anything will continue, let alone improve.
When you are awake, none of the little successes gives you a warm fuzzy feeling anymore. Nor does some upheaval in your life turn your stomach to water or interfere with your sleep. You pretty much stop having big sighs of despair and big sighs of relief. You no longer identify with how things are going in your life. None of it affects your sense of self worth, well-being, security. The ever-changing circumstances are a practical matter, that’s all. You respond as you need to, and you move on.
So if you appear to have the circumstances that amount to somebody’s idea of security, you don’t feel any different inside from how you’d feel the day after some or all of it fell completely apart.
Because it isn’t about you. It just isn’t. And you know what? It never was. You just thought it was.