Recently – and I’m afraid I can’t place the source right now – I came across the insight that anxiety is a refuge of Ego.
In my own case it was the last free bastion for untrammeled egotism after I’d been able to leave my chronic depression behind.
As with any mechanism of Ego, anxiety is great at deflecting attention from its root causes. The key is being able to interpret the language of projection and reversals common to all Ego’s tricks.
Anxiety forces our attention onto what appear to be a myriad of external threats and disturbances. These are then the “reasons” why we cannot have the peace and security we crave. Anxiety strives after reassurance and power is the only way to get it. Or so the Ego would like us to believe. Ego, let’s remember, has ultimately, a complete lack of consideration for our well-being. It is supremely satisfied if we are locked away in depression or addiction, living desperate and squalid lives barely surviving, so long as we continue to give it what it demands, our unswerving attention. This drive to chase after power does nothing to make us actually more secure. All it does is make us more dependent and puts us into a cycle of increasing weakness and alienation from any direct connections with life and the world.
Security. I’ve long thought there were three fundamental branches to our predicament; questions of ecological, economic, and security issues. The second, the economic, has collapsed into the first. Now it seems the third, these questions of security, are also the result of a false impression. A strong one, but still something inextricably tied to our present frame of reference, to how we have been conditioned to respond to our world and to look for our place in it.
We tend to think of security as a foundational need, like air and water. After all, how can we live without it? Indeed, how can we live without it? This becomes a pivotal question. As Andrew Taggart has just worded it in his post the other day, “If life is brought into question…” we are not living unless we are open to its fragility and impermanence. As he so eloquently puts it, unless we are willing to live with this open question we are negating life, we are saying No!
So, if security is not a basic necessity, what is it?
I’m finding a clue in the way security relates to anxiety and the way they both address the demands placed on us by Ego.
An old fiction of modern western “ethics” has been the great value this culture is alleged to place on life, usually claimed in relation to the so-called “cheapness” of life in the “backward” corners of the world.
We are seeing this culminate in the absurdity of drone warfare. People leading pointless atrophied shells of a life commuting from suburb to undisclosed locations so they can remotely pilot missiles of death against people half-way around the world who have been guilty of attending a wedding in the open or of perhaps simply showing their faces. Faces that scare those who would rather see them disappear than “threaten” the way-of-life/the-way-of-death of their hunters. As Kunstler has so eloquently put it, “Oh the pity of it, if the young men going off to risk their lives in our wars have nothing more personal to remember as home than an intersection of freeways at a shopping mall, the corner of Burger King™ and Walmart™.”* This problem “solved” by the “advances” in drone warfare! We can kill without risk. Now whose life is cheap!
*A broad paraphrase, that I hope catches the meaning of his reaction to the no-where-ness of modern life.
To come back to reflections on non-human life, to nature as that which is born, how much of what we respond to – in various ways as either chilling or filled with wonder, as we look at other creatures getting on with their lives – and deaths – is how do we respond to their relationship with life put into question, to living without the fictional appeal to security?
This has run into my own experiences of open and direct threat, of those moments when life is clear and there is no time or space to step back from engagement and ponder. Times when all we can do is immerse ourselves in the moment and interact with apparent chaos, or throw up our hands and just give up and die.
Somewhere I’ve seen a traffic statistic that stated that most drivers that have an accident remove their hands from the wheel, cover their eyes, and just surrender to what will happen. This often, if those skid-marks ending at lone trees and poles has any validity, after they have allowed the obstacle to loom and fill their attention and ensure their course is directed towards the worst possible outcome. In aviation, we are taught to “fly as deep into the accident as we can.” This advice growing out of the careful and thorough research of accident investigators over so many years that show there can be a significant change in outcome if this direction is followed.
The giving up referred to here – and so completely different from the “letting go” I’m always on about! – is akin to the reaction that leads to drowning discussed in the last post.
Anyone can be overwhelmed, at some point we all are. Unless we are lucky enough to have fate wrap us up in its mantle before our limits have been reached. This is not to make easy judgments about those who have failed. It is about seeing how our assumptions can be fatal. Especially, and almost perversely, when they most energetically claim to be for our own good!
Chasing after security is such a case.
So then, how does this insight affect how we look at our lives? How we live?
This relates back, not coincidentally, to the rationales for civilization and progress we still hear so often, a reflexive tick these days. It couldn’t still hold much real conviction if the slightest attention is being paid…. “Well, that’s why we suffer the costs of civilization, of progress! If not for – fill-in-the-blank – we would just be “savages,” no better off than “animals!” Without all these “advances” we’d not have “all our advantages!”
“We’d have no security!” Leading off the list.
If we are crude enough, impolite enough to continue to push and wonder aloud how well this bargain has served us, we are dismissed with a sadly shaken head as simplistic, unworldly, naive.
Urgency is brought in “to the rescue!” There’s no time for all these considerations! We must! I must! You must! And off we go rushing into the arms of futility. All “this!” is brushed off as uncaring, as fantastic, as impractical!