I am embarking on a long-awaited journey. It was one that commenced one year ago when I spent a week of solitude at Tara Mandala in Pagosa Springs, CO. I was the recipient of the kindness of a few close friends who knew that my life was at a point where deep contemplation could be just the right intervention to examine, and potentially address, some of the growing dis-ease I was experiencing. Throughout my life, I’ve been thrilled to have experiences born of a world-view that is based on well-being – the capacity for an individual to engage at liberty without diminishing the equivalent capacity for others. For as many years, I’ve marveled at the near-universal response I encounter to my chosen path of life. While an intrepid few are more than delighted to receive what I offer and manifest and find their own pathway to equivalently offer and manifest that which I and others can experience, the vast majority absorb and take with no recognition of the exchange and currency of well-being. As a photon in isolation is not light until it engages in coherent energetic transmission with other activated photons, so I was finding my light illuminating far less than I thought it could. So, my week long hermitage was a moment to disentangle from the reflectors, absorbers, and diffractors, and examine the photon that is me.
In a recent message, a dear friend made the statement, “I’m glad you have finally found what you needed.” Today, in a casual conversation, another friend said, “It’s sure hard to find good news we need these days.” As I was engaged in the curious human activity of selective aesthetic biome alteration (better known as weeding) in which I was removing plants that seemingly effortlessly proliferate in favor of the selected plants I want to thrive, my biome altering accomplice mused about how plants find “what they need” to survive. Find. Need. There they were again. Two words that serve as a cognitive fulcrum in my brain over the last year. What was it about these two words that so voraciously consumed my thoughts and emotions? How could it be that the first statement did more to confirm my friend’s lack of awareness of my essential nature than almost anything else she could have said? And is there anything about the three comments that all converge around something that is worth considering more deeply?
The etymology of the word “need” suggests that the term is derived from an old Germanic word signifying “danger”. Since 1800, it’s prevalence in English literature has increased nearly 800%. This may suggest that in about 200 years, we’ve become needier. Ironically, need’s companion “want” is a bit less prevalent and only doubled during the same 200 year literary period. In 1943, Abraham Maslow’s paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in the Psychological Review put “need” into a social model built around a “hierarchy of needs” that has become the de facto justification for nearly every enterprise or effort. The base of his pyramid is elemental – calories, air, water, shelter – and is based on a principle of “protection from the elements”. As though the ‘elements’ are conspiring to do you in. From there, you get to “safety” – another term that implies an absence of a generative, caring nature. From there love, belonging and then esteem – all needs that must come from others. Somewhere at the top – and loosely linked to the concept of “need” – he placed self-actualization and later self-transcendence. Tragically, Maslow succeeded in brainwashing an enormous swath of humanity to a belief that they were operating in a secular model identical to most religious dogmatic memes which place cosmology in a conflict with humanity. Something’s out to get you. Be afraid. NEED, for Christ’s sake!
Do plants “find” the nutrients they “need”? Do humans “find” partners and settings that fulfill their “needs”? Does the 8ft ceiling in your home fulfill your “need” for shelter? Does the job you have or the degree you earned fulfill your “need” for esteem?
What’s wrong with “finding what you needed”? Well, for starters, everything. Let’s assume that you are the sum of about 724 trillion cells (give or take a few trillion if, like me, you are follicularly challenged). Let’s assume that your amazing fact of existence is so delightfully complex that you don’t even think about your breathing, your heart beat, your digestion, your animation, or much of any of the other 7 primary organ systems in your body. Do you have any idea what actually benefits the very systems that you don’t even know exist? Are you sure that whatever you put in your mouth last is good for your lymphatic system? Did you even know you had one of those systems? Of course not! And even if you whipped out your Wikipedia, you’d still not know if the chocolate you ate was pro-reproductive but anti-digestive. So just eat the chocolate, enjoy it, and read on. What’s the point? The point is that none of us live in abject “need”. None of live in relative “need”. And if we think we “need” to “find” something – or think someone else does – how presumptuous can we be? Millions of people fill their experiences of living with NEED. Need stuff. Need connections. Need relationships. Need intimacy. Need relevance. Need, need, need.
Here’s an idea. I’m starting a discipline of removing “need” from my vocabulary. And not just my vocabulary but the vocabulary I choose to be exposed to. The irony is that my friend who was glad I “found what I needed” never realized the joy of living in a world in which being fully grateful for the abundance that surrounds each and every moment calls forth a human impulse that never entered Maslow’s hierarchy. There’s another form of humanity – one that inverts the pyramid of need. One that realizes that the basis for human existence and interaction STARTS with emanating from one’s core essence. Being the most beautiful and authentic expression of who you are and what you’re meant to manifest on this earth. Oddly enough, starting from that point, you’ll find yourself coherent with others similarly manifesting. And who knows, maybe they’ll become your co-conspirators to serve the world, maybe they’ll become your lovers and partners, maybe they’ll band together and give you confidence and support, and maybe they’ll share a roof, a table, a blanket, and a meal with you. There are only tens of thousands of years of evidence showing that living in, and emanating, gratitude for abundance is persistent and generative.
On this anniversary of my monastic journey, I’m grateful to know that there are a growing number of people who are awakening to the realization that there’s a life more beautiful than one defined by need; more beautiful than one defined by labels, titles, social conventions, norms, and all other contrivances to withhold life from living. And I’m glad that my journey to Tara Mandala still serves to remind me to BE the person I authentically am. Fully provisioned. Fully equipped. And ready for whatever and whomever comes my way.