Wednesday, September 8, 2010

9/11 and the Illusion of Security

Natalie Goldberg, the American author and teacher of the therapeutic power of writing, wrote about the illusion of security. “Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce.” To live is to risk. Even writing is a risk. You put the words down in print and then they have a life of their own.

There are few things in life we desire more than security, and yet it is often like chasing the wind. Just when you think you’ve caught it, another gust comes up from behind and knocks you down. Security has an elusive charm that keeps you searching but can leave you vulnerable to surprise attacks and missed opportunity.

It’s true personally. You stay in a job because it feels secure and in the process miss the chance of a lifetime. You stay in a relationship that feels familiar but run the risk of destroying each other with resentment.

It’s also true as a society. Security is tightened at major national airports, leaving the gate open for someone to enter the system in one of the smaller, less secure, airports. It’s like double dead bolting your front door, but leaving the side French Windows wide open. There are gaps in the border walls to Mexico. There are loopholes to laws and tax systems. In short there is no perfect security system.

The anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to reflect on security and abundance. How can our lives honor the awful loss of life? Will we cave to the impossible demands of security, or live with appreciation and passion?

I flew out of American early this year. It was the same day that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped explosives to his underwear and attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit airport. As a result, we passed through the tightest air travel security regimen that the world has ever seen. Countless hours and dollars were poured into patting down 7 year old girls wheeling Dora the Explorer backpacks full of Christmas toys and crayons. (I never did trust Dora with her evil side-kick Boots and that cunning talking map.)

If you take a larger perspective on air travel, you find that in the past decade there have been three terrorist related incidents on US airplanes. Most of them failed or were foiled by other passengers. In the same period of time, according to the Bureau of Transport Statistics, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. That means that there has been one terrorist incident for every 33 million departures. If you look at the total number of passengers on planes in the last decade, the odds of being on a flight with a terrorist incident is 1 in 10 million. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 500,000. You are more likely to die from falling out of bed than as the victim of a terrorist on a plane.

Do you feel safer on a plane knowing that there is a rigorous security regimen?
Maybe. But at what cost? While so much focus is on air travel, what other security threats are being ignored? Are you prepared to sacrifice liberty for security? To paraphrase a text from the Bible, “what does it profit you to gain a whole world of security and lose your life?” What’s the point of security if you are so paralyzed by fear that you can’t truly live?

So how do you respond to the reality of life’s uncertainties? Do you give up flying altogether? Do you avoid tall buildings in big cities? Do you boycott underground railway systems in London? Do you close your heart to love and create a niche for your remains under the desk at your current job? No! That is not living. It is missing the adventure of truly living your boldest dreams.

Where Does The Desire Come From?
We create the illusion of security to cope with pain and fear. It is a defense mechanism. It gives us the feeling that we are safe. You’ve got to love that inner protector. It wants you to be well and out of harm’s way. But without balancing voices such as trust and adventure, the protector can close you down. Remind your protector about the difference between security and safety. You appreciate warning signals around being safe, but you don’t need to be kept secure. There is too much life to enjoy to fall for that myth.

Safety is taking a cell phone and GPS on a long car trip. Security is not leaving your home. Safety is researching all your available employment opportunities. Security is never taking a financial risk. Safety is wise. Security is oppressive because it leaves no room to move.

It’s far better to own your feelings of pain and fear and liberate them from the inside out, than project them out onto the world around you. What is your fear revealing? Are you looking for some unchanging identity or status? Are you dieting because you are afraid you are unlovable as you are? Skinny might not give you the security you were hoping for if you don’t learn to appreciate who you are to begin with.

Put your fears at ease. Remind them that you are whole and lovable, abundant and brilliant to begin with and this essence doesn’t need to be protected. Shine a light on your fear and it will be revealed for what it is. Break the vicious cycle of fear that creates an attachment to security that is not serving you. You have done everything you can do to keep yourself safe for now, and it’s time to move towards your dreams without distraction.

As Glenn Close’s character says to a group of acting students in her recent film Heights, “For Christ’s sake, take a risk sometime this weekend.” Here is a great way to honor lost lives on 9/11. Take a risk. Take a chance, if for no other reason than to remind yourself that you are alive and you are open to the adventure of what’s unfolding. Take a risk to remind yourself that the beauty of life is that it offers no certainties. It is open and dynamic. Open your heart to love. Make a decisive career move. Book flights. Drop the applesauce.

We live in a world that offers no certainties. The fearful have just as much risk of tragedy as the bold. Be safe by all means. But don’t forget to truly live while you are alive.

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