Sunday, August 7, 2011

Do I ever need to go without?

August 7, 2011

Dear friends,

Most of us outgrow the idea that might makes right. As adults, even when our self-control is tattered and ragged, we sense that having the power to take a given action does not mean that doing so is wise, or, for that matter, that the action if taken will serve our own best interest.

We are slower to question our primitive belief that our needs are self-justifying. Sometimes well into adulthood, we presume that our needs presuppose the license to satisfy those needs by whatever means is available (particularly if it requires minimal effort). While we may not say so directly, we organize important aspects of our lives around the unspoken principle that the primary purpose of life can be reduced to getting what we need.

In effect, we behave as though our basic needs are the substance of the imago dei [the image of God in us], and that therefore, all activities dedicated to meeting our needs are therefore legitimized (i.e., we are simply doing what God designed us to do).

Unfortunately for our uncontrolled creatureliness, it doesn’t work out that simply. We learn, sometimes through bitter experience, that denial of needs leads to a desert of disconnection with both ourselves and others and to slow death by starvation. But we learn as well, often through equally bitter experience, that uncontrolled, unprincipled self-satisfaction leads to a bloated spiritual obesity that clogs the very heart and arteries of the soul.

What does it mean to protect myself against myself?

Perhaps a plan that leads both to safety and to wholeness begins with two difficult questions.

How do I identify what I need?

How do I measure how much is enough?

Thinking with you about the paradox of fullness and deprivation in the context of becoming whole.

See you next week.


1 comment:

  1. Another great post, Gay, and one that brings up a host of existential questions springing from your questions. Starting from the last one, perhaps that one is easiest answered with one of the hardest things for humans to practice: moderation. It's far too easy (and more self-satisfying) to take quantity to either extreme, i.e., the sensual pleasure of gluttony v. the ego-stroking of pride and virtue we imagine our existential starvation to be.

    Identifying needs becomes quite trickier, especially in discerning needs v. wants. An unfulfilled desire can become as painful as an unmet need; our actions to gain and the reactions to losing either are remarkably similar.

    Protecting ourselves against ourselves is the hardest question of the three, and one that an individual may never find a complete answer to in a lifetime. And, the answers could be quite different depending on whether you take a holistic or dualistic viewpoint of our existence. Are we so unified in our existence that our needs and wants are an expression of the desires of the Imago and we only have to work at determining the quality and quantity of fulfillment, or do we have to discern how to balance meeting the needs of the Imago and the wants of the ego? The true answer is probably more similar for both viewpoints than we may think, and likely takes back to keeping an eye on moderation.

    Whether one takes the perspective of holism or dualism, if we are seeking a life of wholeness, fulfillment and spiritual contentment, we must seek that balance in ourselves in order to help others, no matter if their real needs stem from the spiritual or material self.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom here, Gay. Food for thought is one of the most nourishing things for me.