Your life is like a sailboat. The “boat” of your life needs to be buoyant and watertight, with sufficient integrity to withstand the force of waves against it. And the “sail” needs to be tall enough to catch the wind, as well as broad enough to harness its force. A sailboat with no sail can only drift about, and without a seaworthy vessel it will eventually sink. It needs both.
And so does your life.
In this post I will translate the analogy of boat and sail into your paradoxically equal priorities of security and fulfillment in life. Without security you are vulnerable to “sinking” into depression – that is, after anxiety has compromised your capacity to withstand the variety of pressures and assaults a normal life brings your way. And without fulfillment, you are adrift amidst the random conditions and changing circumstances around you. Life will feel like “one damned thing after another.”
Security and fulfillment are paradoxical in the way they pull your attention in opposite directions, and yet play with/against each other in the full picture of a life well-lived.
I have done it myself, and observe many others doing what I call sacrificing fulfillment on the altar of security: abandoning our aspirations in the interest of just staying afloat. Security feels more urgent than fulfillment, and if one has to be set aside or postponed for the other, “drifting” is preferable to “sinking.”
But here’s the thing: life is inherently insecure. “Pressures and assaults” at its surface are never-ending; just as you get one issue under control, three more pop up and demand your attention. If you suffered some damage previously and took in some water, you tend to be more vigilant around those areas where integrity has been compromised. Lots of us are just doing our best: bailing out and patching leaks, staying low in our boat to keep from capsizing and going under.
And because this is the nature of life, we can spend our whole life fixated on the trouble we’re in.
Before we take a few precious minutes to consider what else life might be about – that whole thing about a sail, the wind, and your need for fulfillment – it will help to clarify the basic elements of security. Of course, you can worry and fret over anything, but at least these things are relevant concerns when it comes to managing the persistent insecurity of existence.
The first element of security is safety, referring to your need for protection against the buffeting waves of life. Here we find another interesting paradox, in the way a strong boat holds out the water while at the same time resting upon it.
To be safe and feel secure, this dual aspect of adversity and providence, along with the corresponding skills of “withstanding” and “surrendering” to the reality of life, reveals an essential bit of wisdom. If you should invest all your effort in keeping life from hurting you, your inability – or more accurately, your habituated unwillingness – to release yourself to the greater mystery of being alive makes you increasingly inflexible and depletes your resilience.
We might say that safety is about holding your own but also trusting the Process.
It can take a while to learn this skill, and if your early family environment was both protective and empowering, you likely already have it within yourself – although you might not employ it as often as you could. If your infancy and early childhood did not equip you with an ability to withstand life and surrender to it, the good news is that it’s not too late to learn how.
The second element of security is belonging, which refers to a sense of inclusion and being at home in a reality larger than yourself. This has a pretty obvious connection to the dynamic of releasing, surrendering, trusting, and resting which is essential to feeling safe. With belonging, this action of release opens out to an expanded awareness of that in which you belong.
Staying with my analogy, there is a sense in which your boat “belongs” in the water – not underwater, certainly, but also not merely on top and separate from it.
Similarly, you belong in a family, a human community, a web of life, and a provident universe. Belonging is more than just sitting inside this hierarchical arrangement; it is also about connecting, relating, and participating in its higher wholeness.
Third, and completing the set of elements basic to security, is self-esteem. This shouldn’t be confused with egoism, conceit, or the interesting personality complexes that form around a core of insecurity and the desperate need to control how others see you.
Self-esteem simply refers to your need for a positive and empowered sense of self, the sense that you are worthy, that your desires and gifts matter, and that you have something worthwhile to contribute. Always feeling like you have to prove yourself to others, exhausting yourself in the effort to please them, placate them, flatter or impress them, are all symptoms of a deficiency in self-esteem.
The healthy combination of safety, belonging, and self-esteem is what provides you with the security you need to successfully manage the pressures and assaults of life. Holding your own against the sea while resting in its provident support; understanding that you are part of something greater that both bestows and invites the dedication of your unique gifts – with this very practical wisdom, your boat is strong and ready to sail.
Granted, with a seaworthy vessel you could merely continue drifting on the waves, but why would you when there is so much to life around you and out there?
It’s time to raise your sail: to start thinking about where you’re going and why it matters.
A sail is not designed to displace water but to catch the wind. An entirely different set of values to the security needs down below require your attention now. These values, or ideals, are the Five Aspirations of your human spirit. They inspire and motivate every human being to desire, seek, and strive after fulfillment. Aspiration is not just another word for “happiness,” but involves reaching full capacity and realizing the full potential of your human nature. Fulfillment.
I have explored the Five Aspirations in another post, so we won’t go too far into them here. Suffice it to say that, when your basic security needs of safety, belonging, and self-esteem are adequately satisfied and you can devote your attention to the art and adventure of sailing, the quality and enjoyment of your life is amplified exponentially.
It’s not to say that you will never feel insecure again; you will because you are an ego on a human journey.
The point is that, with a healthy realism and responsibility for the integrity of your boat, you have more creative freedom to explore deeper meaning, to clarify your higher purpose, to cherish genuine love, and cultivate inner peace.
Raise your sail and catch the wind! There’s more to life than just what’s going on inside your little boat.