09/28/2007 03:21 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Feel Safe and Secure (Part 2)

It would seem illogical that national security depends on how you handle your own personal fears, but in large part it does. One can take for granted that governments play a role in policing the streets and keeping vigilant for possible dangers from abroad. However, those strategies can go only so far. At a certain point the law of diminishing returns comes into play. It is impossible to track the comings and goings of every suspicious person in the world. Nor is the manipulation of mass psychology effective. In the early Fifties there may have been a (mild) threat from internal Communists in the government, but McCarthyism became a noxious threat because of its tactic of playing on public hysteria.

By analogy, jet travel is safe enough that when someone suffers form fear of flying, he is asked to seek treatment. Flight attendants don't grab the microphone and say, "We have someone on board who is afraid to fly. This means we are all in great danger." Yet in regard to terrorism, the most frightened voters are being allowed to dictate security policy. Unless you are personally anxious, you are considered unrealistic in the face of the terrorist threat, and politicians feel forced to be "strong on security," meaning that they must appeal to fear rather than to courage, patience, and trust. Therefore, it is up to each individual to nurture those qualities at home and spread their influence to others. Security is a quality of consciousness and always has been. Now is the time when personal security needs to come forward to counter mass insecurity.

Patience, courage, and trust are linked. They depend first of all on reason. Whatever the threat of terrorism, you personally are not going to be hurt or killed. This is a rational expectation, because statistics inform us that public life in this country is safe for more than 99.9% of the population -- this includes safety from jet crashes, crime, automobile fatalities, and (far down on the list) terrorism. Another rational factor is that terrorism creates an overblown sense of danger. Society is much stronger in every way than domestic terrorism; it will survive any number of foreseeable onslaughts. What about dirty bombs, nuclear hazards, and biological weapons? Here is where courage is called for. The U.S. and Russia changed the world's fate by introducing nuclear weapons after 1945. This step vastly increased public insecurity, and ultimately a return to safety lies in abolishing every atomic bomb on earth. We are gradually catching up to an insight that Einstein had: "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal." This certainly seems true of military technology. finally, trust is called for by having faith in the human potential for embracing good over harm.

Yet for all that reason can do, the mind leads the emotions only so far. Fear and anxiety must be addressed at a deeper level. Meditation has recognized benefits for reducing stress, yet there also needs to be a turning point in each person's life. This is the point where detachment becomes a real option. Collective fear has an enormous pull, and the more you fixate on the ever-present free-floating anxiety that permeates modern life, the harder it is to find your own center of stability. Worry is not a virtue, and it offers no practical benefits toward solving a problem as massive as terrorism. Detachment, in the sense used by Eastern spirituality, isn't the same as passivity or indifference. You aren't being asked to forget terrorism or pretend it isn't serious. Rather, detachment brings a stable sense of self that isn't prey to the wild mood swings of current events.

The first step toward finding your own sense of safety and security is to take responsibility for it -- there is no external source of safety, and those who promise it are usually among the most insecure and fear-ridden. We live in dangerous times, but unless threats are turned into realistic challenges, terror has won the battle before the first blow has been struck.