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Our Needs Make Us Strong

7 November 2010 No Comment

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.(Gandhi)

This quote sums up my approach to life.

My aspired approach to life, that is. I’ve still got some way to go as the truth is, at the age of 46, I’m still unlearning a lot of accumulated rubbish from my first 35 years.

This stuff is not deep, painful, unusual or traumatic. Sometimes, I think it might be easier to deal with if it was because it would be more obvious. It’s all regular, everyday beliefs about how the world, society and I function. There’s nothing extreme or extraordinary there.

For example, I believed science, logic and rationality rule and mind and thought are King! I imagined once I left college I would be fully equipped to deal with the world and I even knew how the world worked.

I was brought up on a middle-class path of a steady job, slow but regular promotion, saving for retirement, marrying my childhood sweetheart and buying a small house and car (big enough for a family). It was a well worn path trod by my parents, their parents before them and pretty much everyone I knew.

Choosing another way never entered my head.

Live as if you will never die. Learn when you have to.


A Life Changing Idea

In 2001, I was presented with an incredibly simple idea that changed my life.

This idea was the start of the answer to questions I’d been failing to ask myself but were lurking under the surface creating an underlying existential dissatisfaction.

The idea wasn’t anything new or weird. I’d even studied it at college, though I’d not been encouraged to think about it beyond a theory of human behaviour to be learned for exams.

At the risk of sounding like some New Age Salesperson I’d like to say how it changed my life:

  • helped me understand the dynamic flow of who I am as a human being. Never static. Always changing. I am unique.
  • discovered my inner power, my engine. Deep, rich and full of potential.
  • felt my connection to every other human being on the planet. I am part of the human race. I am not unique.
  • started to sense my connection to the soul of the universe, God, the Source (whatever word works for you).

The very simple idea is I have ‘needs’.

It was really that simple – and that profound!

The word ‘need’ might not speak to you, perhaps because you associate it with a lack of something. I often use the word ‘driver’ or ‘motivator’ instead.

Needs Are To Be Lived

I studied Maslow’s theory of needs at college and intellectually it made sense.

He said we have sets of needs arranged in a hierarchy with Physiological needs at the bottom and Self-Actualisation at the top (with Safety, Love/Belonging and Esteem in between). My understanding of his theory (which may not be his understanding!) was that the hierarchy is fixed and I move up between levels as I mature and my living conditions change. Once I’ve reached a higher level I’ll stay there unless I temporarily regress due to changed conditions.

The idea that changed my life was similar but with a crucial difference. It was introduced to me by Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication and you can find his list of needs here, as an example. The main difference is that Rosenberg describes needs as dynamic and to be lived, and not static and to be studied.

His approach raised several questions:

  • What if needs are not arranged in a hierarchy but are within me all the time?
  • What if they are in a constant state of ebb and flow?
  • What if the feelings I experience are signals about my needs?

Internal Orchestra Of Needs

Consider an internal orchestra, with my needs as the instruments and my feelings as the music.

The instruments are often hidden yet they play a unique tune of my own composition. If I choose to listen!

All the instruments are present at all times, sometimes playing together, at other times a solo piece. If not attended to, an instrument may become louder or discordant. When handled just right, they sing out beautiful and joyful music.

For example, right now I’m filled with the note of joy when I imagine you reading this. It’s created by my needs (the instrument) for sharing and contribution (to peace and tolerance). I’m also feeling a little nervous coming from the need of understanding. (I have no feedback yet, so I can’t check if my writing is clear). And I’m a little peckish and that’s my need for sustenance playing a side tune.

This is right now. In a few moments everything will change and I’ll be playing a different tune.

Needs As A Source Of Strength

I grew up learning that needs were often a lack of something, or a sign of weakness. Being a ‘needy’ person was not a positive thing. So for me it was a huge revelation to redefine needs as my inner resources, as my strength not my weakness.

Without them I cannot experience life.

Aligning needs, thoughts, emotions and actions gives an amazing integrity, clarity and inner power. When I have inner alignment I feel my connection to the Source of all things. I sense I’m part of something bigger.

Needs are at the core of everything I do and the bridge between me and you and all human kind.

We all need food, water, safety, respect, understanding, freedom, autonomy, community, meaning etc. etc.. We share the same needs and they bind us together.

Whenever I think we have different needs, or that our needs are in conflict, they are not needs. I must look deeper to find what sits underneath. When we find our needs, there is no conflict and no fighting.

We see the beauty in each other.

When I’m connected with my needs I’m living here and now and I’m constantly learning. Life is ever changing, so how could I possibly stop exploring it?

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