While sharing our personal experience with one another can be very helpful, and is referred to as “word of mouth” in advertising circles, most of us find the information necessary to fulfill our wants and needs through some form of print or media advertising or marketing. Whether we watch a commercial during our favorite television show, see an ad in a newspaper or magazine, or do our own research on the Internet, this is how we’re informed about what resources are available, and how and where we can acquire them.
Advertising is often based upon desire and fear-mostly fear. It can play into our longings, hopes, and dreams, and offers what it’s selling as the solution to everything that stands in our way. Toothpaste is sold as a necessary ingredient for romance, while cars are sold as the key to adventure, self-esteem, and a luxurious lifestyle. Yet our hopes and dreams, while seemingly positive and goal oriented, can often be pain and fear based.
Our basic core desire/need, from which all other desires arise, is a desire for survival. Out of this, most of our thoughts stem from an aspiration to protect ourselves from our worst fears: poverty, illness, starvation, loneliness, abandonment, emotional and spiritual emptiness, and the list goes on. We long to feel, and know, that we’re going to be safe, and we fill this longing with the belief that the products and behaviors we’re being sold will save us from our long list of fears.
This is where the desire for certainty comes in. We believe that safety comes from knowing- having a high degree of certainty about-what tomorrow will bring, and that controlling life is the vehicle for that certainty. This leads to our belief (or more accurately stated, our fantasy) that we have the power to control what happens to us, and thus avoid uncertainty and the natural chaos of life.
The truth is that much of life is a mystery. Until we arrive in the next moment (the next “now”), we don’t really know what’s going to happen. We can make an educated guess, based on our past, and on what’s happening in the present moment, but we don’t really know. And the gap between not knowing and being certain is a deep, dark and scary chasm to most people. To assuage our fear, we crave certainty.
In the absence of our own sense of certainty, we look for someone-anyone-who claims to have the answers, so that we can hide from our fears in their certainty. We look for someone who confidently claims to have the answers, and who’s willing to tell us what to do and how to secure our life, so that it’s never unpredictable and never changes. We usually don’t have to go very far to find someone willing to share, or sell us, the certainty we’re looking for.
Our desire to control life, so that we can know for certain what comes next, leads us to believe many things that aren’t true, and buy many products we don’t need or that won’t have the effect we’re hoping for. The illusion that we can control life is what sells many products, seminars and books. The heart of most marketing material states that “This is THE WAY to success/happiness/enlightenment. All you have to do is follow the path (or steps, or universal laws) that I’ve laid out for you, and you will succeed.”
This sense of certainty is not only what we long for, it’s absolutely hypnotic. “Do this and you will succeed. Follow me and you will succeed. Buy this and you will succeed.” And since we want to be hypnotized-to sooth our fear by giving ourselves over to someone else’s certainty in the absence of our own-we gladly buy.
But what are we actually buying?
While we want to buy relief from our fear, and feelings of uncertainty, what we’re really buying is a promise of our dreams coming true attached to a product that fulfills a particular need for information, training, or support. That’s it. What we’re buying is a very practical solution to a specific question or problem, not a magic wand that makes our uncertainty disappear.
To live a conscious life, it’s our responsibility to practice discernment in every moment, relationship, and transaction. It’s our job to be aware of our own motivations, and to not give our power away to someone else’s confidence or salesmanship.
While the experts we’re buying from are selling us what they have learned, practiced, and proven in their own life, relationships, or business, as well as in the lives of others, it doesn’t always translate into something that would be right for us. We have to stop, listen, think, and be aware-be conscious-in the decision making process.
When contemplating a purchase, ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Is my desire to hit the BUY button coming from a practical need or consideration, or am I trying to alleviate a sense of uncertainty and fear about what might be lurking around the corner by leaning on this as an emotional crutch?” This calls for ruthless self-honesty and a willingness to live with all that comes up for us around uncertainty.
If we think it’s possible for life to always be solid and secure then we will continually be shaken and disappointed. Our life will be more fulfilling and peaceful if our decisions are based on a grounded sense of the world and ourselves. Yet as Alan Watts’ title, The Wisdom of Insecurity, suggests, there is a wisdom available to us when we let go of trying to force certainty to be present in an uncertain world.
(The Seduction of Certainty-part 3)
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