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Needs vs Desires

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

When Self-Transcendence is Your Primary Value


Everyone has personal resources at their disposal that can be spent in any way they choose. Time, money, wellbeing, intellect and skills, are examples of resources that all have the capacity to be ‘spent’. How and why we spend these resources in the way that we do, is influenced by what we value. Significantly, many people aren’t aware of what they value. If you are unclear, take some time to consider how and why you spend those resources listed above, the way you do. Then you’ll know what you actually value! If you value material possessions, that’s what you’ll spend your resources on. If what you value is the need to be popular, then you might spend your money on ‘buying’ friendships. If you value living your life with purpose, the resources at your disposal will be spent fulfilling that purpose. Even though those resources are not evenly distributed throughout society, we are all at liberty to use what we do have, the way we want.

In the majority of cases, the formation of our values was not a conscious choice. The values of our family, culture and society were typically subconsciously adopted. We are constantly being subliminally programmed about what to value through the plethora of advertising mediums. In a recent workshop I attended it was said that in 1992, the average person was exposed to 3000 ‘commercial messages’ a day. Today, on average, people are exposed to 32,000. Besides external sources, we also have internal sources. Our personal experience and adopted beliefs also impact on what we value and therefore how we think, feel and act. At first these are more conscious, but even they eventually become subconscious.

What influences what we value are our needs and wants. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was proposed in his 1943 paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’. Maslow identified five areas of need; physiological, safety, belonging and love, esteem and self-actualisation. In later years he included transcendence. These were like rungs on a ladder, and according to Maslow, in order to move to the next rung, you first had to satisfy the needs on the previous rung.

Taking a slight deviation from Maslow’s model, when someone becomes more aware, needs are superimposed with desires, and what you value as a result of being more aware, changes. This is reflected in Maslow’s ‘transcendent rung’ that he added much later in his life. The lower rungs on the ladder represent our basic needs; food, water, rest and warmth, as well as security and shelter. The next rungs represent our psychological needs including intimate relationships and friendships, a personal sense of worth and accomplishment. With the last rungs, our desires emerge in the form of choosing to be spiritually expressed. This sees the focus being less oriented towards personal needs, and more focused on how you can use your resources to serve others, the planet and the cosmos.

Satisfying our transcendent desires still requires that our basic needs are met, which is easy when our personal experience sees our basic needs being abundantly met. Although an interesting phenomena occurs when one has transcendence as their primary value. Empirical evidence shows that those essential needs on the lower rungs are almost ‘miraculously’ met. At EAP we regularly witness people who are seriously struggling to survive physically and emotionally suddenly experience a change in their fortune both in terms of having their physiological needs and psychological needs met. And all of this is achieved just through being more mindful.

This issue here, isn’t that those needs aren’t important, but how they are related to and how they are met changes. With enhanced awareness people have the capacity to imagine a more self-loving reality, which see the emergence of transcendent values. The shift in focus from survival (the focus on needs) to service (how one can make a difference) comes off the back of a shift from fear to love. That shift is the transition from the fear we are unloveable and therefore have no value or worth, to recognising our true worth and therefore being more self-loving. When our mind is filled with scarcity, then that is all we can see, and therefore experience. When our mind is filled with love, then that is what we experience. As the adage goes, ‘we see the world as we are, not as it is’.

The thing about mindfulness – it doesn’t require you to do anything, other than to remember in each moment that there is a more self-loving alternative. Unlike coaching, there is no goal setting and no striving for goals, and unlike counselling, there is nothing to fix. It’s hard to image a reality where our needs are more abundantly met the more committed we are to being mindful, which is remembering in each moment that it’s possible to be more self-loving and to act with loving-kindness. As Jesus declared in his sermon, “seek first the kingdom of God (love, peace and justice) and all theses things (your needs) will be provided for you”. In terms of modern vernacular, what he meant was, your basic needs will be met if you make loving kindness and inner-peace your priority. It was this understanding that was reflected in the shift of Maslow’s model of hierarchy of needs.

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