Creating the life we want.... Eastern psychology and fulfilling our needs
Every morning when we wake up we have a choice. A choice on how we want to build that day, what we want to do with ourselves and our role in this world, how we want to interact with the deepest parts of our soul and the beings with which we share our hours.
Most of us go through life on autopilot, never fully stopping to become present to this choice we have. At times when things become too much, we get the glimpse of it and through that glimpse connect with our inner compass. But how can we tune into this inner compass on a more regular basis, even perhaps when we need to decide which direction to take in our life, which situation to improve, transform, change or elevate? One of the ways I have found in my work with people and in my own life is to get clear as to what need are we currently having that wants to be fulfilled.
Much work has been done on needs and how we live through life fulfilling them, the most famous being Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and basis of many types of psychology theories and work. Maslow believed that human beings have an inherent desire to fulfill certain needs in order to be happy, starting with most basic needs like food, water, safety and so on. From here he believed people required a sense of belonging and being loved together with a sense of accomplishment and strong self-esteem. With these needs fulfilled a person would be able to then fulfill their own potential or as Maslow called self-actualization.
'It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions' (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383). (For more information on self-actualization and explanation of other needs, visit this great comprehensive article and video on Simply Psychology. )
The Eastern Medical Perspective
I have found Maslow's theory to be quite beneficial in starting to understand and appreciate certain needs such as the desire to be in a loving relationship, the impulse to create financial stability and even the internal search for finding what some people may refer to "the soul's work" However, just understanding these needs and acknowledging their existence is not sufficient in actually being able to manifest them in daily life and create a sense of happiness.
This is where 5 Element theory from which Zen Shiatsu is built on, has come into play strongly in my personal and profesisonal work.
5 Element Theory
5 Element Theory is the basis for Traditional Chinese Medicine and much of life. The 5 elements are five energetic forces which co-exist within and in between all living life. They are a reflection of the natural world and it's interconnectedness. The 5 elements are; Fire, Earth, Water, Metal and Wood. Understanding the way the elements work with each other is a full study on it's own, but for now, I want to just highlight the qualities each of these elements have on the fulfillment of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.
Earth = Nourishment
How we fulfill our needs depends largely on the earth element. It is a grounding energy that is responsible for taking in and nourishing ourselves. From what we eat, to what we think, to how we take care of ourselves, to how we love and allow ourselves to be loved, this energy is all about what we choose to take in to nourish ourselves. As earth ultimately has the function of nourishing the rest of life, it is also about what kind of nourishment do we offer to others, in relationships, through our work, in our community and even online. It is the place where it all begins from.
Metal = Interaction
The metal element looks at how we define who we are, what boundaries exist between ourselves and others. It is the element that allows us to be fully present in our bodies and find those edges of comfort, discomfort, beauty, pain and learn how to release, remove while also understanding the connections we have with everything and everyone around us. It is the inner bullshit detector, it allows us to see the truth and the lies of our own self and the way we create ourselves to be in the world, the way we interact with others. It is like a cell under a microscope, gently moving and changing it's borders to adapt to the environment while simultaneously affecting the environment. Think of hot metal as it changes and shapes the inner and outer at the same time.
Water = The deep within
The water element takes us into our deep parts of ourselves, the shadow selves, and asks us where do we find and cultivate our resiliency, our courage, our hope, our light. It requires strength and slow steady pace, a calm mind and a steady heart to explore the depths of ourselves. It is the inner sage sitting silently on a rock, asking us to look past the obvious, to question and let the answers slowly shape themselves through patience. It is the courage it takes to sit and wait.
Wood = Onward and upward
The wood element much like the trees is an energy of shooting up, of growth and expansion. An energy rooted down in deep self-awarness, self-esteem and self-understanding of or emotions, of how we react, why we react the way we do, how our emotions are stored in our body. From this understanding it asks for us to be dreamers and creatives in the way we share our message, in the way we express who we are or where we are going. What are we creating is the question of the wood energy.
Fire = I am here now
Fire energy is often times perceived as destructive, but it is actually in the contrary. The fire element allows us to stand arms wide open in the present moment and give from a place of wholeness. It asks us to see ourselves as complete and whole. It does not ask us to change or analyze , all it wants is for us to shine bright like the sun, just be there and shine. It allows us to be our truest self with others, in our conversations, in our work and in our life.
Tying it all together...
By looking at the above elements, we begin to see the need to be nourishing ourselves, creating healthy boundaries and expression, finding light in the darkness of our being and the world, being present in who we are and letting that shine creatively and from a place of self-esteem, self-love and self-confidence as the guiding principles which if applied in harmony can allow us to bring to life the different needs as mentioned by Maslow. It allows us to look for opportunities that will allows to nourish our body, heart and mind in a way that is healthy. Through healthy boundaries we create safety allowing us to interact with others in a way that is nourishing, and coming from a place of wholeness. We nourish our soul through learning it's strength and resiliency, thus building up it's esteem and potential for self-realization and a sense of being fully present in our lives.
So, when wanting to tap into that inner compass and find out what needs do you have that are not being fulfilled, what needs do you have that could be fulfilled even more, I like to use the following guiding questions:
1. What am I doing right now that feels nourishing to my body, mind and soul?
2. What can I do more of or better that would help me feel nourished, supported and safe?
3. Do I feel physically and financially safe? If not, what is one thing I can do now towards changing that?
4. Do I need to make time for quiet self-reflection? If yes, how can I do this?
5. What part of me is not being flexible about something or someone right now, and which parts of me are being too flexible? How can I create balance again?
6. Is the way that I am expressing my love nourishing me and others? Am I being nourished in the way love is received ?
7. Am I creating enough spaces to connect with other people in many different ways? What about nature?
8. Am I expressing my thoughts, beliefs, emotions, sensuality, sexuality in a way that is nourishing to me and others and is coming from a place of self-love and self-confidence? If not, how can I transform this and connect to a place that feels whole?
9. Am I having a hard time facing the painful emotions, thoughts, experiences or traumas of my life? Do I find it hard to assimilate them, learn from them, forgive and not let them influence me? If so, can I find the support required to help me in these dark corners? ( professional support where possible) ?
10. What needs to change, improve, elevate or stay the same for me to feel like I am living in my life rather than just reacting it ?
These questions are starting questions to guide a process of self-inquiry while tying in the energies of different needs and expressions of these needs through the natural cycles of life, both inside and outside. If you find these questions to be triggering or just challenging to work through on your own, I strongly suggest you reach out to a professional you trust and get the support you need. It is one of the main ways we can nourish ourselves, to find people who can be our team of support in many different ways we need it. Sometimes these people will be just people in our life and other times we will have different professionals in there who can support the different needs as we work through them.
Fulfilling our needs is not a linear process, not even a circular process. Much like the diagram of the 5 elements and the many ways they are connected to each other, fulfilling our needs is a process that is interconnected and often times happening simultaneously. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you become more aware of which needs are speaking to you more loudly at any given time. Always understanding that one must start from a place of wholeness to create wholeness, meaning, we must address and support our body-mind-spirit in equal measure all the time.
For sessions with me, you can email me at email@example.com for a body-based, mindfulness focused, trauma aware, supportive Body-Mind Therapy Session.