In the Dave Matthews song, Jimi Thing, he’s feeling a little lost. In his search he says,
What I want is what I’ve not got. And what I need is all around me.
We suffer so much because we confuse needs and wants. We confuse needs and wants because we confusing being with having. We imagine that if we own this, and look like this, after all “everyone successful has it”, then we will be happy. As long as we try to fill our lives from the outside in, we will keep feeding the wrong hunger. Start with being, and let becoming, getting, owning and wanting flow with awareness from the inside out.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting. Desire is a powerful motivator. Without a desire for a more peaceful world, no one will get active making it happen. Without a desire to be close to another person, you won’t take any initiative for intimacy. Dreams, goals and relationships all demand a healthy dose of desire. The problem is when our ego convinces us we need something that in truth we just want.
It’s true in our rampant desire for possessions. When we say we need the latest gadget we’re fooling ourselves. It makes us do things that don’t make sense, like go into massive debt for the sake of a larger TV screen. It wastes our time, working like crazy to make money, and we miss the chance to actually live. Worst of all, the confusion buries who we really are under a pile of possessions.
There are basic needs in life, but the list is small; air, water, food, shelter. The rest falls into the wants category. With awareness, we know the difference. We can want things to complement our lives rather than needing them to complete our lives.
The confusion between wants and needs also comes into play with relationships. We need each other for sure; no person is an island and all that. But we get confused. We think we need other people in order to complete us, when in reality we want people in our lives who we enjoy, people who complement us. The confusion between needs and wants in relationship is how we end up in codependent relationships.
There’s an awesome scene in the family movie Nanny McPhee. Nanny Mcphee is part supernatural, and part super nanny. After she arrives to rescue a family in crisis, she has this conversation with the kids,
Nanny McPhee: There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.
[Nanny McPhee turns around to walk out of the room, but stops once she hears Simon]
Simon Brown: We will never want you!
Nanny McPhee: Then I will never go.
Kids, struggling work colleagues, friends in crisis, partners in pain, all need us. They need our empathy, our support, our kindness, our patience. What they really need is for us to hold up a mirror for them to see that they have within them what they need. When it comes to relationships, we need to do ourselves out of the job of carer as soon as possible so that we empower each other to find our strength.
The problem with the movie Nanny McPhee is that if the kids behave well, Nanny McPhee becomes more attractive; her warts fall off, her gray hair turns brown etc. It’s a pity if kids feel they need to behave well to protect their parents. Relationships become codependent when our well being depends on the behavior of others.
Codependence is a complex web, and manifests in opposite ways. Either we think we have to be perfect to be loved or else we think we need to be wounded in order to be cared for. Either way it is disempowering.
The ideal to strive for in relationships is healthy interdependence, or what Thich Nhat Hanh, calls “interbeing”. We’re all related, connected, but we complement each other rather than completing each other.
Another subtle, but often damaging, form of codependence happens in religion. We imagine that we need gurus, beliefs and even gods, to give us inner peace. They becomes just like possessions; we’re trying to feed our hunger from the outside in. Maybe this is a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion feeds you from the outside in, with rituals and beliefs. Spirituality feeds you from the inside out, with self awareness and inner wholeness that is in itself the solution to codependence.
There’s nothing wrong with religion in itself. It’s a want, not a need. It’s a preference and part of a practice. But good religion should do itself out of a job, like Nanny McPhee. When you want religion but no longer need it, eureka! When it complements your life, without completing you, voila!
Leslie Vernick writes about codependent relationships. She said,
When you give another person the power to define you, then you also give them the power to control you.
We do that because we lack self confidence. Remember who you are. Nothing outside of you, no possession, no person, no belief and no practice, can complete you. You are ALREADY complete. Start from this sense of wholeness, and then you can add things to your life that are meaningful, without letting them own you.