Thursday, February 21, 2008

Basic Needs and Thinking Beyond

In several earlier blogs I wrote about the Seven Psychospiritual Levels of Family Caregiving—survival, emotional safety, self-esteem and personal power, love, communication, perception, and spiritual focus. Later I admitted that these ideas were similar to the New Age version of the Hindu chakra system. They are also quite similar to Abraham Maslow's psychological hierarchy of needs.

Maslow believed, as most psychologists do, that throughout their lives people progress through various stages of growth and development with characteristic needs that become the person's focus of attention and underlying motivation. We also revisit or can become stuck at certain levels of development because of outside circumstances beyond our control and our reactions to them.

Maslow recognized that the first stages of development—physical safety, emotional security, and issues of self-esteem and personal power—were what he called "deficiency needs." If those needs are met the person tends to relax and automatically chooses to focus on higher needs and desires like truth, beauty, creativity and giving to others. But if they're not met, people get understandably anxious, they shift into emergency modes of behavior, and their perspective tends to narrow. They lose track of their higher purpose. And the decisions they tend to make are changed as a result.

I always assumed that the answer to moving up this scale of needs or up through the Hindu Chakra levels of development was to work through whatever needed to be addressed on whatever level that you're on. And that's true to the extent that those issues hold you down. And yet most of us in the United States anyway are not living in such abject poverty that our basic needs can't be met. Even if you were to somehow lose everything there are social services that provide shelter, food, counseling services and job training to get you back on your feet. If you're willing to accept help a person's basic "deficiency needs" in this society are pretty much guaranteed to be met. But an awful lot of the time we lose sight of that. We get scared. We think we're alone. We sink into believing our survival and well-being is threatened and act as if all is lost when it's not.

For example, I recently went through a period in my life where I felt worried about money. A few unexpected setbacks, the yearly after-Christmas slump in counseling and sales, an upsetting series of comments from my loved ones, and then a bout of sickness and an inability to work that lasted weeks. My desire to take a long-term view for this book, get it out to the widest number of people possible, use it for the greater good, temporarily took a back seat to "how am I going to make a living from this??!!!"

The same thing happened with my counseling practice and my flower-essence aromatherapy perfume business. All I could think about was how to change things as fast as possible, totally losing track of the longer view.

But then things started to settle down. Sales picked up slightly, I asked for help, and with that help new ideas for how to grow the business and the counseling practice started to come into sight.

The last couple of days I've had a repeating dream. I pay attention when that happens. It's always an indication of what I need to pay attention to next. The content of the dreams doesn't matter but the message that came through was to pay attention to the value of what I do, not just my personal problems but how what I have to offer can help other people, too.

When I was so busy doing, doing, doing whatever I thought would get my immediate deficiency needs met I couldn't think about my higher motivations. I was too busy putting out what I thought was a blazing inferno. But now my subconscious is saying "Don't do that. Think about what matters most, the VALUE of who you are and what you bring to others."

In other words, slow down, relax and reach higher up the chart of Maslow's hierarchy of needs to being of service, doing something of value, and giving back.

It occurs to me today that family caregivers could learn something from this. When I was a family caregiving consultant I saw people stuck in emergency mode all too often. Running here, running there, totally consumed with what HAD to be taken care of RIGHT AWAY! Sometimes that had to happen temporarily but many people got stuck in this panicky short-sighted point of view. They lived this way. And they were miserable.

People in these situations rarely talked to me about the value in who they were and what they were here to do. They never talked about love or higher purpose. They never noticed a single joy in the caregiving work they had taken on and they made short-sighted decisions that turned out badly and frequently had to be changed. I can relate to their pain and struggle all too well.

But I know better, too.

When I was a teenager I took a training in being a Junior Lifeguard. I hated it and didn't continue but I wish I hadn't given up because something significant from that training was lost to me. We were told to go limp if we were ever trapped underwater. To slow down to preserve our breath, remove any heavy pieces of clothing weighing us down, and then do what we had to do to get back to the surface again. I didn't practice it enough to learn it in my gut. When my friends and I capsized a boat a number of years later I panicked because my shoes were too heavy and my sweater was weighing me down, I forgot my training and fought with all my might until someone noticed the thrashing and rescued me.

No harm done. The thrashing about did help me get saved. Sometimes that's what you have to do. But you can't live your life that way! At some point you have to slow down, assume you have more time than you think you do, and get rid of any baggage weighting you down. If nothing is in the way, you kick a few times and pop up to the surface for air. If no help is in sight at that point then preserving your strength is essential. In lifeguard training the first thing you learn is to float. Learning to relax and preserve your strength so you can assess your situation and weather it as long as possible.

12-steppers say "let go, let God." Faith. Trust. The stuff at the top of the Hierarchy of Needs and Chakra system chart.

A perspective many of us lose sight of all too often.

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