It is very possible that if we could be mindful in every moment–fully present, aware of our experience in all aspects as it happens, without greed, aversion or delusion–we would really need nothing more to live a life of deep contentment and equanimity. Experience in all its variations would simply pass through us like fresh air, blessing us with life and all its mystery.
The same might be true if we could simply let go of everything in real time; grasping and clinging to nothing, believing nothing painful, not holding on to anything but the absolute truth. Unfortunately, few people, even the most well trained monks are able to be mindful in each moment, or to immediately let go of everything that might cause them suffering. This is why the Buddha created the Noble Eightfold Path and in modern times we have thousands of psychotherapists and self help books.
At the opposite spectrum of mindfulness and letting go is that horribly scary word: Needy. Probably more people can relate to the fear of “being” needy than have had the experience of being equanimous. This is because in many cultures being “needy” is a condition to be avoided or hidden at all costs, even from ourselves. But the problem of trying to hide it–to not being mindful of it–is the energy of our needs are constantly present in us whether we like it or not, or are aware of it or not. Being mindful of our needs, in addition to the other nuances of our inner life, is a path to freedom and greater inner peace.
When we are “needy”, it just means that we have unmet needs, or a very important need that hasn’t been met in a long time. Like everything in life, it is impermanent, subject to change, influenced by causes and conditions. Having unmet needs it not a reflection on who were are. We are all worthy human beings, entitled to have needs, both unmet ones and met ones. The first step is being aware that we have needs at all. That is a big part of what this website is about: teaching us to become aware of our universal human needs. Once aware of them, we learn from them, and eventually befriend them, leading to an harmony within ourselves that did not exist when we thought we were “needy.”
Starting principally with the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1950s and expanded with the taxonomy of fundamental human needs by Manfred Max Neef, modern psychology, neuroscience and self help movements such as Nonviolent Communication (NVC) have now confirmed that only through awareness of our needs can we really live in harmony with their energy. In fact, with an embracing of their energy, we have the power to heal from childhood wounds (which are basically just unmet needs), feel compassion towards ourselves and others, and find long lasting inner peace. In short, our needs can be a portal to having a fulfilled happy life. The very needs that make us needy are the energies that guide us and motivate us to lasting peace, if we let them.
This website is about the practice of being mindful of our needs. It is about including them in our awareness and recognizing their place it what it means to be human. It draws primarily on the teachings of Buddhism and Nonviolent Communication (NVC)–what I like to call the two paths of compassion–as well as modern pyschology, neuroscience, the Twelve Steps and other wholistic self-help and self-healing modalities.
Mindfulness of needs, or having a needs based consciousness is based on the following premises also mostly found in NVC:
- That all actions, including thoughts are attempts to meet needs.
- That needs are energy that motivate and guide life.
- That feelings, emotions and thoughts communicate the status of our needs.
- That empathy, including self empathy has the power to heal.
- That all parts of us, including our ego are trying to meet our needs.
Mindfulness of needs is also about being aware when the past is present in our feelings, reactions and needs, and that if the feelings are disproportionate to the stimulus, then the cause of our feelings is almost always unresolved or unhealed wounds (unmet needs) from the past. Additionally, mindfulness of needs puts emphasis on taking responsibility for our needs, as well as our reactions and feelings. It accepts that the cause of our feelings is the status of our needs, not that some external stimulus caused us to feel a certain way.
The Steps to Mindfulness of Needs
The first step to needs awareness is to understand what our needs are. In Buddhism, we might call this Right Understanding. As further discussed in the chapter “What Are Needs?“, needs are energy communicating what is lacking in any given moment in our existence to sustain or improve our life. All needs are universal and beautiful. Even for the most skeptical mind, a need should resonate as necessary or at minimum useful. If it doesn’t, it is probably not a need but something else, such as a strategy or an action to meet a need.
The needs I am referring to are energy that can be connected to with our awareness, somewhat like a feeling, although the connection is often more of a resonance, an “aha” moment. What can be interesting about connecting to our needs is words are often helpful. Thus, being mindful of our needs can be more than a simple mind-body exercise, like yoga or meditation. It is almost a union of the analytical mind and the body. As a result, it requires learning the vocabulary: the names of our needs.
Other words besides “needs” can often be used to get us to the same place: For instance: value, goal or objective. What is important is that our intention, goal or objective is universal among all human beings, without exception. So long as it is universal; so long as we could imagine all human beings wanting it, we will find it easier to connect to, and to have compassion for ourselves and for others when that need arises.
The more universal we can get, the closer it will be to a core human need that will generate the connection and compassion we want. If we can imagine that we can do without a need with no consequences, it is probably not a need. And while the word “need” can be triggering for some because of cultural biases and personal beliefs, our needs exist whether we like them or not or acknowledge them or not.
When we acknowledge our needs, we have a better chance of meeting them skillfully. When we acknowledge our needs, we are also are in a position to deal with needs when they go unmet, which might include acceptance, or take the form of mourning or grieving. In many cases, just acknowledging a need is all that is required for the need energy to dissipate.
The second step in being mindful of our needs is to become familiar with the names of the needs. Usually the more precisely we can name the need, the more it resonates with the nervous system and the more “seen” the part of us that is experiencing the need feels. For instance we may have a need for connection, but upon further inquiry realize that the type of connection we want is really support or kindness. When we name support or kindness, our body should respond with a relaxing sensation, possibly a sense of ordering and proper placement.
The third step is connecting to the needs. This is often difficult at first. For some, feelings are often the gateway to our needs. In NVC philosophy, feelings and emotions communicate the status of our needs. So if we are feeling unpleasant emotions such as anger, sadness, fear or depression, we have unmet needs. If we are feeling happy, serene, loving or spacious, our needs are most likely met.
Needs are influenced by a number of things and may differ from person to person. Even survival needs such as sleep, food and water can vary, although all are required to sustain life. We probably have all heard of people who only need 4 hours of sleep per night. For most others, it’s 8 hours. The need is the same–for sleep–but the quantity may differ.
This also applies to needs that are less life threatening but also very valuable. Touch for instance. Some people enjoy and want regular touch, others prefer not so much. The need for touch may be influenced by how much touch a person received as a child, how appropriate the touch might have been or even some prenatal DNA combination. In mindfulness of needs, like in Buddhism, we do not judge whether it’s the right amount so much as connect to what the right amount might be and honor that. All needs are universal, but the quantities differ.
There are certain need-feeling relationships that are quite direct and easy to uncover, even in the non-survival groupings of needs. For instance, the feeling of confusion is almost always caused by a need for clarity. A desire to explain ourselves is often to meet a need for self expression, or to be heard or understood.
The final and most beneficial step in mindfulness of needs is developing a relationship with our needs. It’s almost like the needs themselves are little beings that want to be seen and known and, hopefully satisfied. Their intention is clear: to insure our survival and make our life more wonderful. Over time, they become our friends. They care for us and we care for them. By staying conscious of and connected to our universal needs, we can live a life of presence, compassion and choice.
I hope you like it.