Sunday, July 31, 2011

Miss Annie and the plastic mat

July 31, 2011

Hello, friends,

Have you ever asked yourself what gets you up in the morning?

When we ask ourselves a question like this we are not usually thinking about the alarm clock or sunlight through a bedroom window. We are thinking about the basic motivations of our lives. As we grow older, this question leads further to a second question: what keeps me up all day? We discover that the life issue is not just about getting up—it’s about staying up, and, in a larger sense, staying the course in life no matter how difficult the circumstances.

In such times an inner voice sometimes scolds us for our failure to guard our hearts from ourselves, others, and circumstances. We sometimes say to ourselves, “And what were you thinking about? How did you get in this place of loss and pain anyway?”

Said simply, what we were thinking about (although in a language without words) was a plan to meet our instinctual needs for security and survival, for affection and esteem, and for power and control. We were seeking in some form to meet our basic human needs.

This fact is not comforting.

We feel unfairly blind-sided when we grasp the fact that what seems like a disaster to our conscious minds occurred while we were attempting to meet some instinctual need (or a derivation of it). This seems particularly unfair when we consider that, as we noted last week, the energy sources that drive our search to meet these needs lie, for the most part, in the deep centers of our being not readily accessible through language and logic. How can it be, we ask ourselves irritably, and somewhat anxiously—how can it be that basic human needs intrinsic to life itself can put me in harm’s way? How can it be that my deepest needs can put me at risk to myself and to others? What kind of a basic design flaw am I dealing with?

Actually—and this is comforting—the problem does not lie with the basic needs themselves. The problem lies in the goals and the methods through which we may choose to seek to meet these needs.

Miss Annie provides an interesting example. I placed Miss Annie’s new watering bowl and food dishes on a new plastic mat. I wished to aid Miss Annie to meet her need to survive (food and water). I also wished to meet my derivative need for the hardwood floor in the kitchen to survive without damage.

Miss Annie refused to step on the plastic mat. It seemed dangerous to her, and she choose not to risk. Her need to stay safe was, of course, quite correct. Her method—do not step on the mat even if it is clear that food and water can be found there—was highly counterproductive. Nothing wrong with Miss Annie’s basic need neither for survival, nor, in this case her goal for immediate safety. However, Miss Annie’s method [refuse under all conditions to step on a strange plastic mat] was in clear need of revision if she were to meet her need to survive.

We have both ability (and responsibility) to shape and direct the goals we set and the methods by which we seek to reach these goals. This is no simple process, as we will see in the weeks to come, but it is doable. Many of us think, however, that we can do this process well only in the context of community and a commitment to a power greater than ourselves.

Do you sometimes confuse your needs and your goals and your methods? Unlike Miss Annie, can you see, for example, that you can still be safe and at the same time step into a new and frightening situation?

Thinking with you about acceptance of basic needs and discipline of goal setting.

See you next week.


The idea that I need to protect myself from myself is disconcerting, to say the least.

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