So often, we’re at a loss to know how to navigate in our lives. A wise man once told me the key to a balanced life is serving needs and not wants. Serving wants ultimately means focusing on pleasure, which is at the opposite end, but on the same spectrum as pain. Basically, pleasure and pain are two halves of the same teeter-totter. Let’s face it – if we’re seeking pleasure, somewhere we’re avoiding pain. And if we’re in avoidance, then actually, we’re in fear. If you find yourself in resistance to these words, think of it this way: if you weren’t afraid, you wouldn’t have to avoid, right? So, if seeking pleasure equals avoiding pain, then without realizing it, in seeking pleasure we’re actually focusing on the pain! Isn’t that amazing? As I learned from kayaking down the Saco River in New Hampshire with my friend, Katy, if you focus on the boulder to avoid hitting the boulder, it is absolutely guaranteed that you will hit that boulder! By focusing on pleasure to avoid pain, we are unconsciously focusing on the pain and the fear of pain, thereby creating a life condition of pain and fear… Egad! What a way to live! Given that most people live on the seek-pleasure/ avoid-pain teeter-totter, it’s not surprising there’s so much suffering in this world.
If, on the other hand, we focus on our needs, then we have stepped off the pleasure-pain seesaw onto level ground, because we have chosen not to allow our lives to be navigated by fear. In a subtle yet powerful way, we are communicating to our subconscious mind that all is well, that we no longer need to pursue wants, desires and pleasures because we trust the Universe to care for us. In so doing, we create the intention to live a life of confidence, rhythm and balance, thereby anchoring ourselves in the Universal flow. Like the seasons, the planets and the tides, we are now cycling through our days in a state of harmony, fluidity and grace.
Like a lot of things, however, serving our needs instead of our wants is easier said than done. To truly serve our needs takes discipline, patience and courage. Sometimes we have to speak up for ourselves when our knees are shaking. Sometimes we need to walk when our lower nature tells us to run. Sometimes we have to be alone when we’d really rather have company. Often, we need to postpone gratification. In times like these, we need to be the strict parent to ourselves who says, “Eat your greens. Then you can have dessert.”
Distinguishing between needs and wants can sometimes be a challenge. For one thing, most of us disconnected from ourselves as children so we are no longer in the habit of relating to ourselves or asking such questions. Moreover, we were taught from early youth that to focus on ourselves at all was egotistical and selfish. We were made to feel guilty for taking care of our needs, especially when that meant saying no to someone else. For some reason, we have been bred to believe that everyone’s needs are more important than our own. It doesn’t matter how many times the stewardess tells us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first, before putting it on Great-Grandma, we continue to believe that we are wrong for taking care of ourselves. But here’s where the magic comes in… When we care for our own needs, the needs of others are also met! Don’t ask me how this works, it just does. I guess it’s one of life’s great mysteries. If you don’t believe me, try it out for yourself.
Practice a new way of living by frequently asking yourself the question, “Is this a want or a need?” And listen carefully when people talk. If they’re asking you for help, do they really need that help, or are they asking you to do something that they are perfectly able, but unwilling to do for themselves? Are they asking you to service a want, or is it truly a need? (A key to discerning this difference is to listen to the vocabulary: generally, people will say, “I need” if that’s what they mean. “I want” or “I’d like” indicates desire or preference, not need.)
That said, we also need to remind ourselves that life is all about balance. If we do nothing but “care for our needs,” denying every want, every pleasure, every desire, then we become robots, losing all creativity or capacity for spontaneous living. So, gratifying an occasional want is actually a need! As Oscar Wilde put it, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”