What we’re really doing when we attempt to achieve fixity in the midst of change, Watts argues, is trying to separate ourselves from all that change, trying to enforce a distinction between ourselves and the rest of the world. To seek security is to try to remove yourself from change, and thus from the thing that defines life. “If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life,” Watts writes, “I am wanting to be separate from life.” Which brings us to the crux of the matter: it is because we want to feel secure that we build up the fortifications of ego, in order to defend ourselves, but it is those very fortifications that create the feeling of insecurity: “To be secure means to isolate and fortify the ‘I’, but it is just this feeling of being an isolated ‘I’ which makes me feel lonely and afraid.”
This is a strikingly counterintuitive notion: appreciating it entails a mental shift similar to that moment when the famous optical illusion switches from resembling a beautiful young woman to an old witch. We build castle walls to keep out the enemy, but it is the building of the walls that causes the enemy to spring into existence in the first place. It’s only because there are castle walls that there is anything to attack.
“The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing,” concludes Watts. “To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest, in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”