Thursday, February 25, 2010

Slow down, you're going to crash

"Fundamentally, every one of us feels extremely insecure. You could have a lot of money, lots of background, education, friends, resources, skills, but none of that is going to make any difference to your security. The more we seek security, the more insecurity that creates. There's something fundamentally threatening and insecure taking place all the time in our lives. Something's not quite as solid as we would like it to be, so we need lots of reassurance--some philosophy, some idea, some kind of backing from the world of comfort, the world of companionship. There is always hollowness, an emptiness taking place in us always. Basically, we feel we are broke and have a poverty mentality."--from Ocean of Dharma: 365 Teachings on Living Life with Courage and Compassion

Mike and I were driving home from a visit with friends and family in New Jersey a couple of weekends ago. I had five hours to sit and think of ways my life or the lives of loved ones could unexpectedly blow up. I have to give my husband a lot of credit for listening to me when I'm prattling on (and on) about car accidents and fires and homicide. I can make a long car ride a laugh-a-minute.

On Monday night Mike was in a good mood and spontaneously suggested dinner out. We went to a new bistro in Coolidge Corner that's usually packed every other night but Monday. Settling in with his Mac and Cheese doused with truffle oil, Mike looked utterly content, as if he were swinging on a hammock on a balmy spring day.

"What if I was in a fire and my face was horribly disfigured? Would you stand by me or look for someone else with a normal face?" I leaned over my plate of grilled steak with asparagus and potato cake to better hear his answer.

Before he could reply, I said, "Because I would stand by you. If your face was mangled in a four-car pile-up, I'd stay by your side."

Later, when we were walking home, sated and a little buzzed from our pints of beer, Mike started talking about joining the community boating group that sails on the Charles River in the summer.

"As long as you wear a life jacket," was my knee-jerk response.

Mike turned to me, his fist squeezed as if he were holding a microphone, "Now we go to Jenn, with The Worst That Could Happen Report. Jenn, what can you tell us?"

"You could fall overboard and drown."

"And that was Jennifer with The Worst That Could Happen Report. Back to you in the studio."

My mind has a tendency to attach itself to the worse-case scenario. I watch television shows like I Survived and memorize the survival tactics of people who get lost in the Amazon or stranded in a dinghy in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean--though it's unlikely that I will ever find myself in either place. Maybe someone I love will be on a boat that drifts off course. That person could call me and I'd know what to do to save them. I treat death like it's a test I'm cramming for.

I hate the thought of losing anything. But it's just that grasping--to things, to places, to people, that gets us stuck and causes suffering. The truth is (say it!) that I haven't been faced with any major losses thusfar in my life and I fear when something really bad does happen, I won't be able to handle it. In the grand scheme of things, I've been very fortunate. But it's hard for me to trust in good fortune because I know that at any moment it can reverse course and leave me stranded and alone.

The more stuff we carry around, the more stuff we fear we'll lose. The richer we are, the more we worry about being destitute (see, The Bag Lady Papers, or for that matter A Christmas Carol.) The more intimate we are with someone, the more we cling to that person. And so on.

How do we stop seeking security and start fearlessly living?


MJ in MA said...

Wow. I wish I could answer that question, because I need to know too. I recognized so many of the thoughts/tendancies that you expressed in this post as my own. If you figure out the answer - please tell me what it is.

Love you,

AJ and Lulu said...

No answer, but I think this points at the first noble truth- that life is suffering because of impermanence.

We know this, and then we don't know this.

We pick up a flower, and we know it will die, and maybe we're a little sad to know how fleeting beauty can be. So we know that, but we don't know that it's normal.

(Love your blog!)