Ask for what you need, fight for what you want.
Part of the the Heart & the Law collection
Hey Jude, don’t let me down…
You have found her, now go and get her,
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better…
It seems topsy-turvy to suggest that you ask for what you need, and fight for what you want — we instinctively fight for our needs in situations that threaten our very survival.
But – especially in our relationships with other people – we enter into most of the situations in our lives by choice, and thus (except in cases where someone actually does threaten our survival) we can also leave these situations by choice. As a result, the needs that often arise exist in the context of this relationship – needs essential to the mutual well-being of the relationship and the people who share this context, but not fundamental to the life or death of each individual.
If we respond to such needs in the same way we’d respond to threats against our life, we thrust ourselves back into a primal state of survival. Our world narrows focus to only that which seems absolutely essential to our existence, and we lose the capability for moments of joy as our choices drop to two – fight or flee.
We activate defensive and protective parts of our nature… those once our allies become enemies, happy moments darken with the prejudice of fear, and we battle one another over the very things that we can’t offer each other. When someone begs, pleads and struggles with us, with all the force & intensity of their own fear of dissolution, don’t we feel sadness, distance, anger, frustration?
When we try to force another to give us something we need, we’re pretending that the relationship is great, “if only…”; but the truth remains: if the relationship doesn’t meet our needs naturally, it’s already broken.
When we fight within our relationships for such needs, we’re not recognizing something profound: if you have to fight with someone for what you need, there are reasons they can’t give you what you need.
And if you’re in a relationship that doesn’t give you what you need, you need to choose to let go, to depart, and find situations that fulfill you. Seek a life filled with situations and relationships that meet your needs.
When we remember we have the choice to leave a situation just as we chose to enter it, we can engage the needs that arise in their proper context. Freed from fear, we can ask for what we need and move on rather than struggle if those needs can’t be met.
If our needs should be met easily, what of our desires? What of the things we fervently want in our lives?
Wanting something doesn’t make us needy. It doesn’t push us back into our instinctual, unconscious survival patterns. In fact, wanting – desire – creates meaning and purpose… it points out the path ahead.
By nature, something I currently want can’t be something I currently have – wants fulfilled become part of the fabric of our days, we may feel thankful for these gifts but we no longer seek them out or struggle for them in the same way – we have what we want.
Thus what we want usually stands ahead of us, apart from us, and especially in the case of relationships with others, challenges us to understand our desires, to test our limits, and to persevere until we have attained.
So to fight for what you want is to express that desire, to reach for it, and to persist despite our human tendencies – the rise and fall of moods, the daily confusion of conflicting desires, the tension between our social and individual duties… not to take by force but rather to remain calm, energized, excited and focused on getting what we want – to see and understand the reactions of others but not too easily swayed or dissuaded from your purpose.
And you will know when the struggle is won; so too will you know when the time comes to bow out of the fight. Every time we strive for attainment of a desire, we either achieve our goal or find along the path a need, waiting to voice itself.
Twice in the last year I’ve encountered the same need while following a path of wanting. A year ago I wanted to be with someone who wasn’t sure what she wanted of me; though I found it difficult, I persisted until something happened that pointed out something I needed in the context of my relationships:
The people I need around me are the people who want to be around me.
Life presented me with a choice: continue trying to pursue (romantically) a weekend visit with someone who wasn’t sure what she wanted, or spend that same weekend with a friend who expressed real excitement to see me again.
I chose to spend my weekend with the person who wanted to be around me, and it resulted in so many wonderful experiences and memories. And from that choice also came resolution and friendship with the person who didn’t know what she wanted.
And then again, not too long ago, I found myself faced with a similar question: focus my energy on someone who made it clear she didn’t want me in her life, or focus it on an unsure future with someone who wanted to be around me and around whom I wanted to be?
When the clarity of those choices presented themselves to me, so did the underlying need. And when I saw the need there, hiding, I realized it was time to let go of that struggle – to choose to meet the need by turning toward those who wanted to be around me.
And in doing so, I found new desires – to love and be loved by these two people – but mostly met these new challenges not with nervousness but excitement, not with fear but calm, with the ability to ride out the tides of negotiation between two individuals as their hearts explore, excite and eventually intertwine.
And yet, had I not fought for what I discovered I wanted, had I not persisted despite our natural changes in intensity or thoughts or emotion, despite the human tendency to clutch each other closely and then for a while drift apart, then I would have allowed myself to become discouraged, and to abandon my fight for what I wanted in my life.
I would have given up something that called to me with its beautiful symmetry, with its contradictions and coincidences, with its perfectly rough edges, I would have given up moments of such amazing beauty that when I close my eyes I’m met with their memories of intense, passionate joy.
Our most important desires – in life, in relationships – are part of the landscape of ourselves – as individuals. We don’t want something without reason; the object of our desires electrifies a force within us, resonates something inside us, and spurs us into action.
This too is a natural force, an evolutionary impulse, the wind that drives us on ahead into our future moments. To ask for what we need and know when to look elsewhere honors our capability for awareness and skillful action: we can move beyond the stark black and white of life-or-death thinking. To fight, to persevere, to struggle, to strive — for what we want honors our human tenacity, a persistence, a courage – a small slice of the same courage that drove us to put men on the moon, or to believe world peace is possible.
And in practicing both – asking for needs and striving for what we want, what calls out to us – we spend our energy wisely and consciously: not stuck in patterns of instinct while trying to survive, but in our passionate pursuit of growth and understanding.
By fighting for the things we want in our lives, we free ourselves from mistaking them as fundamental needs and falling into old unconscious survival patterns.
This is true detachment, not dismissing or denying our desires but recognizing them for what they truly are and giving them the attention they deserve.
We have to cross the river to get to the other side.