What makes you happy?
Lousy way to start this conversation, I know, but dammit if we don’t ask ourselves that all the time. I sure have.
And the answers I have come up with number in the thousands. They range from fixing a relationship to starting a new hobby to traveling here or there to having more of this or less of that. And it goes on and on.
Endless answers to one lousy question.
It is perhaps the most deceitful question of all. It implies that if the correct answer can be generated, a sublime state of happiness will ensue.
The equation is broken. The correct answer does not reveal anything of value.
After the millionth answer, we persist in our asking, still hoping for the right answer and the promise of the happiness we have read about.
I have learned a lesson in my life. It is this: if the answers are always wrong, it is likely not the answers that are wrong, but the question.
I began to ask myself what it is that I need.
So, what do I need?
My initial list of answers included the following: water, food, shelter and oxygen. After considerable thought, I added clothes and a car. I had six answers, and then I was stumped.
Days went by as I tried to add to my list of needs. It certainly wasn’t as easy to generate answers for this question as it was for the happiness question. I took that as a sign I was onto something.
One fine summer day, I was walking on a wooded trail near my home. I took my question with me. “What do I need?” I asked myself for the millionth time. The list of answers remained at six: water, food, shelter, oxygen, clothes and a car. And I wasn’t even sure about the stupid car.
I stopped to sit on the trunk of a fallen tree, and a wave of realization crashed down on me. My head hurt. My heart hurt. Something ripped at my spirit as the real answer revealed its horrible self.
The answer was that I did not have an answer. I had lived all these years. Traveled this far. After it all, I had not bothered to discover one thing I need. Not one.
I sat there and cried.
An overwhelming sensation of ignorance filled me. Every ounce of effort I had expended in my life went bland. After all, if I was so completely unknown to myself, how could anything else have value?
That scared me. Shook me to my foundation.
I stood, wiped my tears and began to walk again. By the time I finished that hike, I had resolved to get answers—real answers to my question.
After several years of exploring myself, I have my list of needs, my answers.
How do you know when you have a correct answer?
Sh*t, I knew you’d ask that. When I think about how I know, the image of warm maple syrup folding over the edge of a stack of blueberry pancakes comes to mind.
That is how I know.
I am going to share my list of needs with you. Yes, I know I should not do this. I should say that my list is not your list. I should encourage you to go and chase down your own answers. Well, if I were you, I would want to see my list. Plus, you’re too smart to just adopt my list. And even if you try to make my list your own, you’ll soon discover that it’s not a fit anyway.
I need to be in the wilderness. There is something pure there. Authenticity of spirit meets me there. I smell things and eat things I shouldn’t. Ever pushed your face into a pile of rotting leaves or eaten bark? Overturned a rock and sniffed what was there? I have, because I need to.
I need to read and write. People ask me if I get paid to write for Elephant Journal. I laugh. No, they don’t give me money in exchange for my words. I write because I need to write. Even if no one reads my words, I need to pen them. Stars need to blaze. Birds need to sing. Flowers need to bloom. And I need to write. Reading is the same. I need these two.
I need to expend physical effort. I need to feel my legs burn and sweat pour off me as I ride my bike. I need to feel my arms burn splitting wood. I need to feel my heart hammer as I stack the logs.
I need my friends. Friendship is my crown, and my friends are its jewels. They are precious and eternal.
I nourish my needs. I protect them.
So, please allow me to ask you, what do you need?
Author: John Geers
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Jon Cornwell/Flickr