How often are we encouraged to consider what we need? There’s daily bombardment with pressure to want. Demand the fastest broadband, the smallest gadget, the latest hairstyle, the best insurance deal, the mobile phone with the most free minutes. Do we need any of this? How much happiness do you derive from the exact details of your DVD player’s specs, or the features in your car? Do they enable you to go to bed at night feeling satisfied, and good about your life? Probably not.
But they fill the void. They create noise to ward off the terrible silence that comes when you stop focusing on what you want and try to think instead about need.
What do you need?
Another expensive toy? That state of the art thing the guy next door just bought? A more expensive dress than the one the woman at the next desk was wearing yesterday? Those shoes. That car. And when you get them, you can be sure the next new bright shiny better thing will be along to tell you that the best is still beyond your reach. Happiness is in the next aisle, waiting on your credit card. You did get the best credit card deal, didn’t you?
The voice of need is a small, quiet voice, easily drowned out. We mistake it for want, assume we can answer it in the next shopping binge. We can drown it with alcohol. We can fill our time with the internet and television so that there’s no time or quiet to hear need speaking.
We need good, nutritious food, a sufficiency of sleep and exercise, time to rest and relax. We’re told to want ever faster, more hectic lifestyles full of junk food, an excess of work, too little sleep. We need darkness and quiet, we get light and noise 24/7. We need love, relationship and companionship. We get facebook friends and the people in soap operas and celebrity mags.
To answer the most basic needs of your body and mind, is to reject the whole social structure being built around us. It means not running pell mell from one appointment to the next, driving, using, consuming, earning frantically to pay for the next big thing. We don’t need that. But admitting we don’t need that and stepping away from the ‘norm’ is a scary process. Answering need means walking, not driving. Taking the time to be still and quiet, to sit with your arms round someone you love, just looking at the sky or listening to the birds. Happiness is not waiting on a supermarket shelf or at the bottom of a bottle. No one on television can actually sell you the secret of it.
The Emperor has no clothes on.
As long as we keep on letting other people tell us what to want, we are not going to sit down and figure out what we need. If we keep going along with it, buying into the story that this is how it should be, we perpetrate the myths. The lies. Of course we want the same things everyone else does, don’t we? Are we happy? Really? Or hankering after all the things we don’t have and think we ought to want. The next big shiny whatever. The next illusionary suit of clothes to dress up the emperor we so desperately want to pretend we are.
The title of this post refers to King Lear, fighting to keep all the trappings that, in his mind, equate to his dignity and sense of self. A man who is enslaved by what he wants such that he loses almost everything he truly needs. As a play it’s a good expression of world and relationship gone wrong. So do we too hang on to our trappings and illusions, crying ‘reason not the need’ and marching steadfastly towards our own ruin? Do we keep dressing ourselves up in the pretend happiness we’re told we want? Or do we start thinking?
Dangerous stuff this.
What do you need?