When I ask what you want and need, I’m not talking about pursuing an endless hunger for material possession or following your bliss at another’s expense. I’m not advocating entitlement or believing you have a right to something that harms another just because you have the privilege to access it.

Rather, I believe that desire is sacred.

I believe that our callings, longings, desires, and needs are manifestations of lifeforce energy moving through our bodies, summoning us to act in solidarity with ourselves, humanity, and the planet. The Latin root of the word desire is de sidere—from the stars. As Buddhist teacher, Tara Brach, writes in Radical Acceptance:

“The Buddha never intended to make desire itself the problem. When he said that craving causes suffering, he was referring not to our natural inclination as living beings to have wants and needs, but to our habit of clinging to experience that must, by nature, pass away… Relating wisely to the powerful and pervasive energy of desire is a pathway into unconditional loving.”

As for needs, I use the definition from Nonviolent Communication (NVC):

Needs are the universal qualities necessary for fulfillment and wholeness.[1] Needs are why we do what we do, the reason we engage in an activity.

I use the words calling, longing, desire, and need synonymously. I find that different words elicit different responses from different people, so I continue to use them all.

To discern our callings, desires, and needs, we must practice asking ourselves what we need and listening to our bodies’ response—over and over again.

I invite you to explore your needs now.

I invite you to ask yourself the question—What do I need?—right now.

Yes, I mean right now. Grab a piece of paper and a pen.

First, if any random thoughts are floating around in your mind, jot them down so you can trust the paper is holding them safely.

Then, write down the following questions, and take a few minutes to answer each of the following questions. If you’d like, you can set a timer for three minutes, and keep your pen moving (even if all you write is I don’t know):

  1. What do I need right now?
  2. What do I want right now?
  3. What do I long for right now?
  4. What is calling me now?

And yes, I do mean the wants, needs, and longings that are arising right now—a glass of water, a nap, a walk, a stretch, food.

Although these smaller yeses may seem insignificant, when we ignore them, it becomes harder to discern our bigger yeses, like what we want in a job or relationship. And, our callings speak through our bodies in the present moment. When we pay attention to our needs in the present moment, we steer our life along a path that nourishes our needs, moment by moment.

If you hear yourself responding I don’t know! when you ask yourself what you want, know that fear often masquerades as confusion.

Ask yourself:

  1. Is part of me afraid to admit what I want?
  2. Is there an almost silent answer that comes before I say, “I don’t know”?
  3. What do I know about what I want?

If parts of yourself resist recognizing what you need and want, don’t try to force them and don’t ignore them. Rather, I invite you to turn toward them with love and kindness.

[1] Marshall Rosenberg initially developed Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in the 1960s, and family therapists, mediators, coaches, and other practitioners now teach this framework all over the world. Although it is a powerful tool for effective interpersonal communication, I love how it can help individuals communicate with ourselves and discern what’s going on within us. To learn more about Nonviolent Communication, I highly recommend reading Nonviolent Communication (A Language of Life), by Marshall Rosenberg and Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication, by Oren Jay Sofer.

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