Tuesday, August 17, 2021


A subtle, somehow surprising, yet very distinct voice rose up within me.

“What do you need?”

I was stunned.

I was engaged in completing a mundane task, not feeling anything in particular.

“What do you need?”

I stopped what I was doing. I listened with fascination as the question repeated in my inner-being. Right behind the words came a deep sense that what I really needed in that moment was to weep.

I did not need to weep about anything specific. As I said, I had been completing a mundane task and was not aware of feeling anything in particular. There was no glaring problem. No emotional constriction. Upon closer inquiry the impulse to weep was in response to how infrequently I stop to ask myself that question.

“What do you need?”

It is commonplace in our culture to ask about wants. It is not only commonplace, but also encouraged. It is applauded. While there is nothing at all wrong with the human tendency to want, I also find that wants can act as comfort blankets to the less explored deeper needs. If I do not address my needs, I can distract myself with a list of wants. Wants tend to be more about surface experience. Needs go to more of an inner- depth dimension. If I do not get my needs met, I can assuage the aching feeling in my heart by filling the hole with wants. I know from personal experience that attempting to fill the emptiness of unfulfilled needs with surface and often material wants is short-lived at best. The emptiness is still there. The want is a temporary distraction that fades quickly, only to be followed by yet another want. The less my needs are attended to the more wants I have.

In some ways I have waited a lifetime for someone to ask me what I need. I did not fully realize, I guess, that the someone I needed to ask was me.

And so now I am asking.

What do I need?

I ask. I wait. I listen. I respond. I ask again. I question the question. I do so patiently, compassionately, spaciously. It is awkward. It is pitchy. It is unfamiliar. I realize how that level of inquiry was never modeled. I equally realize how often I have sincerely asked the question of others. I am vitally interested in what others may need. I see more often than not that most people never ask themselves that simple yet quantum question.

What do I need?

It is a question that is only born of a deep and unflinching caring. It is a question that is born from a place that is not afraid of hearing the answer. It is a question that will frequently invoke an impulse to weep. The weeping is not directly related to a specific sadness. It is related to the fact that it took so long to finally ask. Tears of relief come spilling forth. There is a mirroring of disbelief that so much subtle pain has been endured without a deep dive into what was causing it. Such a lack of deep, sustained caring and attention.

How often I have listened to people lament that their needs were going unmet. Yet I rarely hear or sense a deep knowing of exactly what those needs are. I rarely hear that those same people have asked themselves for what they need. There is an expectation that those close to us should somehow know what we need and then fulfill them. Yet we ourselves infrequently even know what our needs are. So how could anyone else know? And if we are not clear about what our needs are, and cannot ask for them to be met, how can we expect that there will ever be a chance for fulfillment?

And that perspective points to the core of the challenge.

We do not ask ourselves what we need. We do not ask others for what we need. We disguise our deeper needs with a never-ending parade of illusory wants.


Because we are so afraid that we will expose our needs and that they still will not be met. And then the exposure and denial can feel crushing.


I risked asking for what I need, and you in some way said no. As I feared would happen. As I somehow suspected would happen. You said no to the deepest part of me. And now I am left with disappointment. And the disappointment feels unbearable.

I had a long history of never asking for what I need, even from those closest to me. This was a direct result of my equally long history of suppressing my needs. When I did uncover them, I would ask for fulfillment from people who had not yet earned the right into my deeper recesses. I asked people to fulfill needs that they simply were not interested in. These were people who had no clue what their own needs were, and so were not versed in the intimate language or the openness that is necessary. I am now clear that it was my own disconnection from my needs that drew me to people who had no ability to connect to me and to what was seeking a deeper level of attention. I was unconsciously longing for someone to ask me what I needed when I myself never made that inquiry. And avoiding disappointment led me to exactly that: disappointment.

I now see and feel the vital importance of frequently asking myself what it is that I need. I relinquish the expectation that it is the function of others to meet my needs, even as I open more fully to that possibility. Connection is a hardwired human need. As someone that is fiercely independent, I dance with varying levels of connection, and the challenges and hurts that can come with it. I watch and feel my relationship to the inevitable experience of disappointment. I am better at not letting the fear of disappointment keep me closed and unable to speak and let my needs be known. I am far more skillful at recognizing who is and who is not capable of the intimacy that needs sharing requires. And this is all made easier by the courageous and primary question I have learned to ask myself.

What do I need?

I have developed a greater capacity to risk speaking needs based on the fact that I have increased the certainty that I will meet my own. I ask what I need, and then I go about meeting those needs. The process has taught me that in actuality the more I meet my needs the less I expect fulfillment from others. And the more needs I meet the less wants I seem to have.

And so, dear reader: What do you need?

Will you dare to ask?

I pray that you will. It is a question so worth the daring it requires.