I am taken out of body by my non-physical guide Stuart Wilde. He smells of menthol snuff. He has a smile that says “I’m plotting something that’s going to turn things upside down.” I have learned to follow that smile with a curious hesitation as it so often leads to a collapse of the current reality. We end up walking down a street in Hackney (East London). People are rushing about. I can tell from the clothing that it is the 70s, a time when Stuart was alive. We have returned to a memory of his. We walk into a food market and we watch a boy with sandy colored hair and freckles steal a can of food off the shelf and hide it under his coat. Stuart says nothing. But he extends his hand to the right and fast-forwards to later that same hour in the very same store. I am watching a woman in a black poodle cloth coat. She is wealthy. She haphazardly throws a collection of whatever items catch her fancy on the counter and pays for them out of a purse that is covered with silver rhinestones. Stuart turns to me and says, “They both need food, but which one needs food?” I thought about it and he repeated the question again. “They both need food, but which one needs food?” I knew where he was headed, but didn’t speak up. He then said “The rich person and the poor person both need to eat. They cannot simply wake up one day and decide not to need to eat. But only one of them feels the need, because they don’t know they can get food.” He continued “A need doesn’t feel like a need and doesn’t make you feel powerless when you know you can get it.”
In front of me, both scenes played out side by side simultaneously as if I were in a learning hologram, the wealthy woman buying and the poor teenager stealing. And then we zoomed out until we were hovering over an African savannah. Stuart said, “welcome to my playground”. We were watching a pack of 5 lions nap beside a herd of zebra. Neither group seemed bothered by the other. Stuart said, “Tell me why the animal kingdom does not suffer like man does.” I observed the animals and replied “Because man is the only one with a socialization structure that teaches it to resists it’s own needs. The zebra that needs grass, goes to find grass and the lion that needs zebra goes to find zebra.” “Yes” he said, “The zebra doesn’t waste his bloody time worrying about there being no grass and it doesn’t try to convince itself to learn how to grow grass itself or not need grass. So the zebra is not disempowered by it’s own need like the man is.”
So as to ingrain the concept further, Stuart then brought me to a watering hole in the savannah. It was dried up completely. The suggestion that water was there once was the only thing left; an imprint in the dried and cracked mud. We stood in silence looking at the absence of water. He asked me no questions this time. Instead he said to me “People keep waiting for the watering hole to fill up with water. When that doesn’t work, they keep trying to figure out how to get the watering hole to produce more water. When that doesn’t work, they keep trying to become water so they can drink themselves. And when that doesn’t work, they decide they are not meant to have water. And so, for them, water is a need. Only the need for most people is intimate connection of companionship. And not once have they ever considered to leave the watering hole that has no water in search of one that does.” I must admit I felt a bit of shame. I also saw clearly that even I have a subconscious belief that it is not ok to need people.
Stuart took my hands and he said, “You have seen that it is empowering to learn that you are not powerless to other people either meeting or not meeting your needs by meeting your own needs. But now it’s time to see that there are needs that you cannot meet on your own, like the need for connection. But this need is only a need for those who think they can’t get connection. And if this is a need of yours, and you cannot meet the need yourself, the empowerment is in either manifesting someone who wants to meet the need for you or by doing as the zebra does and going to find grass.” I felt the lightness of being that comes in the wake of epiphany. Stuart smiled at me and laughed his deep chesty laugh. And said “do yourself a favor and go to a new god damn watering hole”.
When he went to leave, the perceived movement of him pulled me out of the learning construct into space. I was hovering in the blackness of it, staring at the earth below. It was nighttime on one side of the globe and daytime on the other. I realized while looking at the world that there is a reason that some needs cannot be met by ourselves and ourselves alone. Separation is the opposite of our true nature. We can have the illusion of separateness, but illusion is all it is. To become completely independent, is to become entirely ego. The way we find our way to the awareness of oneness again is through this interconnectivity and interdependence that is the inevitable part of living. Because we are indivisible, everything ultimately is us. So we can never be separate enough to meet all our own needs ourself and yet if someone else is helping us, that is us in a different form helping ourselves. And that is the personal empowerment we do have… to manifest other aspects of ourselves that wish to meet the needs that we in our separate form cannot meet.
We have this collective belief, especially in the western world that it is not ok to need other people and that it is wrong to get our needs met by others because it makes us: Weak, powerless, vulnerable to manipulation, selfish, entitled, dependent, less spiritually developed, immature, a burden, embarrassing, incapable and the list goes on. And the reality is, we all need other people and we all have needs that must be met by someone other than ourselves and so we live in hell trying to deny those needs. OR we try to get those needs met by people who do not want to meet those needs.
When the Buddha wrote that desire is the root of suffering, the word he used was tanha. But tanha doesn’t mean desire, it doesn’t even mean need. Tanha means thirst. In essence it means starvation. It is the state of lack. The state of wanting something you think you cannot have or needing something that is not there. I find over and over again, that the practice of spirituality involves an intense examination of the meaning behind words. Most spiritual disagreement in fact boils down to pure semantics. We cannot have a good understanding of love, when love is a word that represents so many different feeling states. We cannot have a good understanding of need, when need is a word that represents a state of starvation, but also the basic idea that something is required in order to thrive. We all require something in order to thrive. So we all need. What causes suffering is the degree to which we believe we can or can’t meet that need or get it met. This is the only thing that needs to be remedied. Ego tries to rescue us by telling us to become our own island and meet all of our own needs ourselves so we never have to feel the lack again. The ego calls this empowerment. But it is just fear.
One thing is for certain, you can be sure if you are adhering to the belief that you must meet all of your own needs in and of yourself, your ego has hijacked your spiritual practice.
The question we most need to ask ourselves is why is it not ok to need other people or to get our needs met by other people?
Baby elephants are often tied to tree trunks that are too heavy for them to move. And so, they stay. When they grow older, old enough to move the tree trunks, they still believe they cannot. And so, the adult elephant is inhibited by the tiny tree trunk that in truth has no power over it anymore. As people, we are no different. As children, when our needs were not met by our caregivers, we had no way to meet them. We were in a prison of sorts. When we grow up, we can meet them and find ways to get them met, but we still believe there is no way to meet them. Our beliefs instead of our circumstances have become our prison bars.
This morning, I woke up with the feeling of emotional starvation. Like so often, I did not feel emotionally safe. I wanted someone to hold me. My ego told me what it always does “hold yourself… find a way to make yourself emotionally safe because it is wrong to be dependent on someone to meet those needs. In fact, if you give in and let them someone those needs, the universe will take them away until all you literally have is yourself so you’ll finally learn to meet all your own needs.” If I had been someone other than who I am, I would have mistaken that voice for the voice of the eternal, higher self. What was the dead giveaway? The tool it wielded was fear. Fear is the tool of the ego. The last thing the ego wants is to be powerlessly dependent. But what did I really want and really need? I realized that I wanted to seek someone out who would make me feel emotionally safe. Someone who has said on multiple occasions that she wants to meet my needs. I wandered back and forth deciding whether to give myself what I felt like I needed or force myself to be independent. I put on a jacket and realized that this was just an attempt to physically wall myself off. I was merely trying to meet my needs through a coat than another person. And so, for the sake of experimentation, I walked downstairs to where Graciela was sleeping and asked her if I could come in. I let her hold me. I let myself be reassured. And I had flashbacks of all the memories of being pushed away as a child when I had emotional needs. Endless memories of it not being ok to want or need anything from those around me. Like bubbles floating to the surface and popping out of my being, they came up and my heart rate slowed down. The starvation inherent in denying myself what I need and want began to go away.
Again the rather obvious truth was proven that if you have an empty cup and you fill it, it is now full. Whereas many spiritual traditions would have you believe that if you have an empty cup and you fill it, it will now be addicted to the water and be dependent on the water and never feel full again.
There is a little thing in human psychology called the paradox effect. The closer you become to someone, the more secure your relationship is and the more available they are to you, the more confidently autonomous you become. You can observe this effect between babies and their mothers. Personal empowerment in fact has more to do with the security of our connections with other people than it ever had to do with independence.
I find it a beautiful notion that if we all met each other’s needs and let other people meet our needs, we would never feel a lack for anything. We would never feel the need because we would never feel the lack in the first place. The notion that we could not have what we need would not be there so we would not be disempowered.
And so I concur with the lesson given to me by Stuart Wilde, if your watering hole has no water in it, find a new watering hole and by doing so, empower yourself by being brave enough to let your needs be met.