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Needs: Should I Honour Them Or Question Them?

On the one hand, this ground squirrel needs to eat. On the other hand, that’s not absolutely true.

Needs: Should I Honour Them Or Question Them?

In The Work of Byron Katie, we question everything. And a common type of thought to question is a need. “I need him to agree with me,” for example. Questioning needs can open up a lot of room inside.

But there’s another way to look at needs. Behind each stressful experience is a need. Instead of questioning that need, it is also possible to think about how to fulfill it instead. This will arrive at the same place: a place of peace. When my needs are fulfilled, I can rest. 

So Which Should I Do?

If I’m stressed, just looking for the need beneath the stress can be helpful by itself. When I find it, I may know exactly what to do to fulfill it. It may take courage but, if I can ask for what I want or take action in some way, I may be able to create a situation where my needs are fulfilled. 

This is called taking care of myself. If I need more sleep, how can I give that to myself? If I need better food, how can I create that for myself? If I need some more money, how can I earn it? These questions, allow me to honour the needs that I have and actively work towards fulfilling them. 

The alternative is to pretend that I don’t need what I need and take no action and continue suffering unnecessarily. And then, of course, I can become angry or depressed and often passive-aggressive. It feels much better to own what it is that I need and go after it.

But, On The Other Hand, It’s Good To Question What I Need

If I only focus on fulfilling my needs without questioning those needs, I may become a slave to my needs. And I can end up becoming just as angry or depressed (and maybe even actively aggressive) when I’m unable to fulfill those needs easily. 

My attachment to fulfilling those needs can be a big cause of stress. So, while it is true that fulfilling my needs reduces stress, being attached to fulfilling my needs when I can’t fulfill them increases stress. 

What A Delicate Dance!

Should I be less attached or more attached to fulfilling my needs? The answer for me lies in finding the balance, the sweet spot between these two opposites. I like to do both. I like to question my needs AND try to fulfill them. 

This weird kind of action with non-attachment creates a perfect blend of freedom for me. It is the best of both worlds. By honouring my needs, I am able to do what I can to fulfill them. And by questioning my needs, I am able to hold my needs loosely even as I try to fulfill them. 

This feels like a graceful kind of dance where I’m happy either way. If I get what I want, great! If don’t, no problem. It also frees up the creative mind to fulfill those needs in unusual and unexpected ways. I love how the questioned mind runs forward without hesitation to fulfill what it wants while remaining free from the need to actually achieve what it wants. 

One More Place For Inquiry

I literally question need statements when I do The Work, “I need him to agree with me, is it true?” And I turn them around and find examples of why “I don’t need him to agree with me.” This is very freeing. 

But I also use The Work in another way that honours the need directly. I question any thought that would stop me from doing what it takes to fulfill the need. This addresses any negative attachment (to not taking action) and it can be equally freeing. 

When there is neither negative attachment (I can’t do it) nor positive attachment (I need it), there is freedom on all sides. This is a place where I can live and enjoy and expand and grow and be content with whatever I’m able to do. 

Find Your Own Balance

Just because you question something, doesn’t mean you have to abandon the desire. The Work only removes the attachment part. Learn how to question this attachment part and find your own sense of balance.

A great way to gain experience with this process is to take The Work 101 course. We support you to find your own internal balance here.

Have a great week,

“I took a drink of water one day, and it went down what people call ‘the wrong pipe’—that is it went down the right pipe even though people say it’s wrong. I was breathing water, not air, and because I didn’t believe the story that it was supposed to be air, there was no problem. Because I didn’t have the concept, ‘I need to breathe,’ I was a fish for a moment or two. The water went down, then it came up. It was very gentle, as if my lungs were being rinsed. But if I had believed the concept, ‘I need to breathe,’ it could have been stressful.” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

Further reading: There’s a Want Behind Every Stress

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.