Mindfulness of needs can be applied as a separate meditation or as a tool to deepen your regular meditation practice or to deal with persistent thoughts in your meditation practice. Following are a couple stand alone MFN meditations.
Find a comfortable posture in a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted for 20-30 minutes. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Follow the inhalations and exhalations of your breath through the body. Feel the rise and fall of your chest or stomach, the passing of air through your nostrils. Literally try to feel the breath as it passes through your body.
After a short time you will no doubt notice some thoughts or feelings. You may even follow these thoughts or feelings such that you are no longer paying attention to the breath. When you awaken to this fact, note the content of your thinking or the type of feeling, and then gently return your attention to your breath. Feel your breath. Try to pay attention to your breath. If your mind returns to thinking, especially if it returns to the same topic you were thinking about previously, or the feeling continues or returns, linger with that thought or feeling. Allow it to be without trying to change it or stop it. Silently empathize with the feeling or thought.
After a moment or two, if a thought is present, ask yourself, “What need is my mind trying to meet with this thought?” If a feeling, ask yourself, “What need is my body trying to meet with this feeling?”
Possibly, a need will pop in to your head right away with these questions. Or it might require some empathetic need guessing. Using the needs on the universal needs list, you can make guesses to your self until one resonates. Ask gently, as if to a child. Many of these unmet needs are deep and old. Sometimes the resonance when a need is correctly guessed is so strong that tears may arise. Let it all in. Do not push anything away. Once the need or needs is identified, linger with the need. Feel how universal and special that need is and honor how important that need is for you. Notice how compassion might arise in you when you focus on the unmet need. Hold it gently, like a baby.
You may also notice that the needs trying to be met by thoughts, especially planning or remembering, are the same needs that would be met if you were actually doing what you were thinking about. It is like the mind is trying to meet the need by pretending to take action. Empathize with the mind as if it were separate from you (which it is!) Treat it like a child. You may even use the second person with your mind, “What need are you trying to meet with that thought?”
After a short time the energy of the need will most likely decrease. Return to the breath. Stay with the breath until another thought or feeling arises. If the feeling or thought returns one or two more times, again try to identify the need that the mind is trying to meet or the need that a feeling is trying to connect you to. Again empathize with yourself by trying to guess the need and then linger kindly with the need. Return to the breath.
The Need Beneath the Need
Many times the first need that may resonate with us may also turn out to be a strategy to meet a deeper need. In this meditation, after you identify the need and linger with it awhile, you then ask a second question, “If I meet this need, then what need will be met?” Or you might say it, “What deeper need is this need trying to meet?”
With each need that comes up beneath the prior need, linger with it for a few breaths and then ask yourself again “What deeper need is this need trying to meet?” You may also change the language to, “What longing is this need trying to meet?”
Eventually through this form of inquiry you may uncover some deep longings that have possibly persisted since childhood. Embrace these deep longings. Mourn the fact that they have not been met for a very long time and celebrate that you have finally brought them into the light.
It takes lots of practice to learn to connect to and identify needs. They can very subtle, and initially can be underwhelming compared to the sensation of emotions. But this is part of the beauty of this practice. It deepens our awareness. It grounds us more firmly into our bodies, our experience, and the present moment. Through intention, it helps us become more mindful, more present and more attune to what we need.