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Our Need for Attention


Talking About Needs


I find it helpful to frame our experience in terms of basic, raw emotions and needs. Focusing on these brings us present, and enables us to find what makes us happy. Recognizing immediate feelings and needs get outs of our head with all of its evaluations and solutions, and into our heart. Here we can feel and see clearly what is happening right now.


All of us feel emotions and have basic needs. If we can acknowledge these, we can better manage our own energy and have our needs met more of the time. This in turn makes us happier and more at peace.


A lot of us may recoil at the mention of needs. I was asking a friend about her needs the other day and she replied “I have no needs”.  I knew this was not true. She was talking almost non-stop, sharing every detail of her day and every thought that crossed her mind. I knew that she was trying to fill her need for attention and recognition.


We have been conditioned by our ego-programming to believe that having needs is bad or wrong and makes us needy. This common belief cripples us. We are compelled to hide our needs, even from ourselves. Then we unconsciously manipulate other people to get our needs met.


This is one reason that social interactions can be so draining. The less conscious a person is of their needs, the more they are constantly trying to fill them, while pretending not to have any. This makes relationships difficult because everyone is trying to get something from everyone else, while acting like they aren’t.


The remedy for this is for each of us to take responsibility for knowing what we need and directly asking for other’s help in getting it. It is not that difficult. The first step is to release the crippling notion that there is something wrong with having needs. And the next step is to get over our fear of asking others for help.


We justify not asking others for help because that would be imposing and is not polite. But in reality, we are afraid to ask for help because our fragile and frightened ego is terrified of rejection. What if they say no? Our ego interprets that to mean that I am not worthy, and am not a good person.


The truth is that one of the basic needs we all share is to be useful to others. Helping others makes us feel connected to a larger whole, and fulfills our need for belonging. So, think of asking for help as offering another person an opportunity to meet their needs for connection and belonging. And remember, a request is different from a demand. If they are not willing or able to help you, that is OK. You can find someone else who can.


Our Need for Attention


One of the most common needs that we all share is for attention. We all seek attention from others to validate ourselves. And this of course gets complicated when all of us are trying to get attention at the same time.


This is why social interactions and society in general can be so dysfunctional. While everyone is trying to get attention from everyone else at the same time, no one gets the attention they need. A quiet desperation sets in and life becomes a subtle tug of war to see who can get the most attention. This is why it can be draining to be around a crowd of people at times.


The problem is that our ego gets its energy from other people’s attention. And it has conditioned us to believe that we need validation and approval from others. This makes us co-dependent with each other in a way that is suffocating and debilitating.


We are stuck in a helpless position trying to fill our ego’s endless needs by getting others to pay attention to us. Meanwhile others are trying to satisfy their ego’s needs by getting us to pay attention to them. If all this remains unconscious, we get stuck in an endless cycle where everyone is trying desperately to get someone to pay attention to us, and no one is getting their need for recognition met.


The Way Out


This sounds like an impossible situation until we consider the possibility that we could get the attention that we need from ourselves. Let me explain what I mean by that.      

    

It appears that we each do pay a lot of attention to ourselves. In fact, we are often absorbed in thinking about ourselves and our personal drama. However, that is exactly the problem.


Most of assume that paying attention to ourselves means thinking about ourselves. But this obsession with our personal drama only gives attention to our ego. When we dwell on our story we reinforce the idea that we are this vulnerable and isolated individual who has to fend for ourselves in a hostile world.


This is the paradigm of the ego, and fortunately, it is not who we are. It is who we think that we are, and that is the problem. Feeding the ego by thinking about ourselves constantly is like trying to sustain your body on caffeine and sugar. You get a rush of energy and feel powerful for a moment, but then you slump into lethargy.


Sugar and caffeine become an addiction as we need more and more of them to lift ourselves up out of the inertia. And this is how it is when we confuse who we are with our ego. We end up feeding it endlessly with our personal drama, but we never reach a point of security and stability. Feeding the ego keeps us constantly feeling like we are not enough, and always needing more.


So we need to find a way to give ourselves attention without feeding the ego. And this is what meditation is for. A simple practice of direct awareness like Insight or Mindfulness Meditation enables us to cultivate pure attention that is not consumed by thoughts.


The practice is to sit still in a comfortable position with your spine upright and self-supported. With your body relaxed and belly soft, you simply put your attention on the subtle movement of your abdomen as the breath comes in and out of your body.


Allow the body to breath naturally. And whenever you notice yourself thinking, interrupt the thought and return your attention to the sensations of the body breathing.


Relaxing the body while sitting upright may take a bit of time to get used to. And bringing your awareness back to the sensations of breathing may seem like an endless task. However, with some discipline and practice, the body and mind will settle down and you will be able to sustain your focused attention in the present moment experience of breathing, without being distracted in thought.


When you are simply aware of this moment now, you can feel your own consciousness. It is sacred, expansive, and full of energy. The experience fills you with joy and serenity. This is you paying attention to you.


When we nurture ourselves by spending time each day in full awareness and presence, without becoming absorbed in thought, our need for attention becomes satisfied. This is the only way to fully satisfy that need in fact. No one else can give us the undivided and constant attention that we are able to give ourselves.


Although it sounds simple, directing our awareness is usually quite difficult. It can be a struggle to bring our attention into focus and allow thoughts to pass without becoming engaged with them. It requires some gentle self-discipline, and dedicated practice. And it is well worth it because it enables you to finally fill your cup with all the attention that you need.


Spreading the Love


Once your cup is full, you naturally have attention to give to others to help them fill their cup. Instead of always wanting attention from others, you finally have something to give that is truly precious and needed.


When you have given yourself attention in this way, you can give others the kind of attention that nourishes and energizes them. You will be able to tell the difference between paying attention to someone’s story or drama, which merely feeds their ego, and paying attention to their heart.


Paying attention to someone’s heart is empathy, and it is the highest form of love. There are practices that enable us to do this, such as Conscious Communication. This is a language of connection that helps us to focus on immediate emotions and needs instead of thoughts and ideas.


Using these skills interrupts the thinking mind and brings our focus to what is happening in present time. It brings us back in touch with our immediate feelings and needs, and helps us to understand and connect with the people around us in a loving way.


Attention from others is one of our primary needs. And we will never get enough attention from others to satisfy our ego’s demand. However, there is plenty to satisfy our real need for acknowledgement and acceptance once we learn how to give it to ourselves.

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