Sacred Selfishness: Honoring Your Own Needs in the Quest for Authenticity (Part 1)

The Knight of the Holy Grail, Frederick Judd Waugh


Imagine living a life free from fear…Imagine getting past anxieties imposed by our culture…and becoming truly successful on our own genuine terms. These are the goals I suggested for us in my last blog about facing the demon of fear that often haunts us.

In describing the bane of our consumer-driven society, the 20th century philosopher Eric Hoffer got to the heart of the problem by asserting “we can’t get enough of what we don’t really need.” To be free of fear and to have peace of mind, we must go beneath the surface of all the things that our culture indoctrinates us into thinking we should want and need. To do this we have to invest our own personal energy in discovering our authentic needs, and be willing to not be embarrassed or ashamed of acknowledging them. Peace of mind comes when we actively begin developing an inner sense of freedom from fear and anxiety by acknowledging our own true needs for our well-being.

This is the first of three blogs on “Honoring Your Own Needs” that comes from my book Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance. It took me many years of investing in my own inner journey to understand how to get beyond what I “idealized” about the things of this culture and what I thought I wanted or needed. I was then able to discover my actual, authentic needs.

What I found out was that simply knowing these needs and acknowledging them to myself began the process of bringing me peace of mind and freedom from fear and anxiety. I would like to begin sharing these thoughts with you from my book Sacred Selfishness:

The wasteland in T. S. Eliot’s poem as well as in The Quest for the Holy Grail is a metaphor for our state of being when we’re not living our lives from our hearts. When Knight Parsifal, who is seeking the Grail, first encounters the wounded king of the wasteland, he’s moved by compassion and wants to ask the monarch why he’s suffering. But, having been trained that knights don’t ask unnecessary and intrusive questions, he stifles his spontaneity and compassion and at this point his quest fails. It takes him an additional five years of struggle and failure to make his way back to the Grail Castle and to ask the questions that come from his heart rather than follow the rules of decorum for knights.

Knowing the right questions reflects the maturity Parsifal has gained through the committed struggles of his quest and begins the healing of the wasteland. It is a paradox that if we cannot open our hearts to ourselves then we have no foundation for dealing with other people lovingly and compassionately. And, like Parsifal we’ve been trained not to ask loving and compassionate questions of ourselves, not to question our depressions and heart attacks deeply and lovingly because to do so might upset the value systems we and our society live by. Instead, the system teaches us to go to the refrigerator, buy something, go to the movies or out to eat if we are feeling lonely, anxious, or distressed. But feeling bad and going to the kitchen sets up a cycle that cannot be eased or healed by diet plans, willpower, or medication. Our real needs are deeper than what these palliatives can help. We have to pay better attention to ourselves.

Yes, in spite of our interests in exercise, fitness, and nutrition, we still deny many of our bodies’ needs. We work out to improve them, but too often we are treating the body like an “it” rather than the seat of our souls. We judge our bodies harshly against media ideals and frequently seem to disassociate from them. We rarely give them enough sleep, rest, and sensual rewards to keep them calm and relaxed, and sooner or later our bodies are going to teach us we’re human. Heart attacks, depression, obesity, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia are but a few of the ways our bodies do this and insist that attention be paid.

In many of these circumstances we act as if our bodies have betrayed us, when actually they are more often our friends warning us when we are endangering ourselves. For instance our bodies know when we’ve inadvisably ingested bad or tainted food and reflectively expel what they must. Similarly our bodies issue “warnings” in the form of scares, those small reality episodes that are meant to wake us up to the changes we need to make. And, sometimes our bodies give us important signals about our emotions when we’re hungry for love, personal fulfillment, or vitality.

When Janice who was (doing sessions with me) started crying at work and couldn’t stop, her body had taken over. It quit functioning like a machine that day at school. It’s ironic that she would say she despised her body, that she felt it was her enemy because it fell short of what our ideals for women’s bodies should be, and yet it was this body that began turning her life around.

The hurried pace of our lives discourages us from actively reflecting upon our needs and looking deeper than the material level. When we fail to understand them for ourselves and to share them, we cannot live from our hearts. The point here is that we then live by other people’s concepts, calculations, assumptions, or inclinations- right for them but maybe not for us. By probing our own inner lives, we give our relationships a better chance to succeed. Intimacy is about sharing. It is reciprocal. And when we relinquish or lose touch with our hearts’ desire, we leave ourselves in danger of being dissatisfied with life without realizing why.


Painting above: The Knight of the Holy Grail, Frederick Judd Waugh

Categories: Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris, Book Excerpts and Resources
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