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Needs: Lasting Satisfaction vs. Equanimity & Stewardship

The ultimate object of craving is a permanent happy self.  Under any act of craving or aversion, it boils down to this single desire.  In a world that's constantly changing, seeking a permanent happy self results in a confused and often tragic life. But because this desire is so strong, even the most helpful frameworks gets hijacked in service of it.

When you first encountered Compassionate Communication (NVC) you were likely surprised by the list of universal needs*.  This list is astoundingly unique in the world of therapy and spiritual practice.  As you read through the list, you recognized the needs, but you likely didn't know you could really admit to them, much less tend to them.  As you learned NVC, you got inspired by the idea that your life could be more balanced and intentional.  Then, somewhere in the background, that craving voice likely crept in and said, "Aha! Now if I only meet all these needs I won't ever have to be dissatisfied again!"  If you caught this thought in mindfulness, you would likely see the fallacy of it, but if you don't catch it, craving starts to push you around in a whole new way, the "NVC" way.

As a newly dedicated NVC student you might find yourself busily managing your needs in hopes of perfect balance.  If so, you have lost your way and lost the true purpose and power of NVC.  In learning to name your needs clearly and directly, NVC offers you the opportunity to form a conscious and intentional relationship with universal needs; ideally a relationship of equanimity and stewardship.

Relating to your needs with equanimity, you can name them as they arise in a neutral way.  If craving or aversion around a particular need arises, you can notice that in mindfulness and offer yourself compassion for these uncomfortable habits of heart, body, and mind.  Without awareness of needs, the craving, aversion, and the habits that go with them arise unchecked and shape your behavior.

Cultivating a relationship of equanimity to your needs (or any part of your experience) is a life long endeavor.  However we can mention three simple parts of that endeavor here:  

  1. Memorize the needs list so you can consistently sort out what's happening inside.  You might start by memorizing the categories or needs or the top ten needs that most often come up for you.  You can find a needs list on my website here:

  1. Cultivate mindfulness and meditative concentration practice so that you can greet your inner experience with compassion and wisdom.

  1. Pursue healing for those aspects of your relationship to needs that seem stuck or that consistently pull you into craving or aversion.

Relating to your needs from the perspective of stewardship has at least three elements.  First, it means you recognize and accept that having needs is a part of every living being's experience.  Just as you wouldn't expect to drive your car without putting gas and oil in it, you wouldn't expect to be a living being and not attend to needs.  (Of course you are always attending to your needs, it's just a matter of how conscious you are about it).

Second, as a steward of your needs you understand that they are life energies that arise or come to life in a given context.  Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of NVC, ingeniously defined the context in simple terms:  

  • Observation - the thing that's happening which is making a particular need relevant, and

  • Request/Action - the thing you do to be in harmony with, attend to, or meet that need.

Understanding that needs arise in a context, it doesn't make sense to imagine you could chase them around and find some lasting satisfaction.  The true nature of needs is to arise and fall away depending on the context.  You can choose to move in sync with this flow, grasp at it, or try to deny it.  Moving in sync with the flow allows you to live with greater equanimity.

Lastly, mindful stewardship of needs gives you an opportunity to negotiate with others in a way that is mostly deeply of service to all life.  When your relationship to your needs isn't fraught with craving and aversion, you can admit your utter interdependence with others and approach this relationship with flexibility, resilience, and creativity.


If you are new to NVC, take a moment now to check in with your relationship with needs and create a reminder that will help you maintain a relationship of equanimity and stewardship.  If you are long time NVC practitioner, take a moment to connect with a need alive in you right now, bring attention to your body, heart, and mind, and notice places of tension, gently invite yourself to allow this tension.  Reaffirm your relationship of equanimity and stewardship in a way that fits for you.

*if the word "needs" has negative associations for you, you can substitute other words like:  universal values, longings, what's most important, what you care about, core elements, motivations, core interests.

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6 Responses

  1. Sep 22, 2016

    Wow. Perfect. Thank you for putting into words something I've been longing to have clarity about for years now.

  2. Sep 22, 2016

    Hooray, so glad to contribute. Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

  3. Sep 22, 2016

    I feel so excited by the possibilities I see, and deeply moved by the insights I've gained from this, LaShell. As a long term practitioner of Vipassana meditation, I had come to understand my concept of Anatta was skewed, years back. I had conflated selflessness and self-abandonment. Discovering NVC 5 years ago brought me much growth, healing and learning, but I couldn't quite marry the two practices. In particular, acting on feelings and needs vs mere observation of feelings and needs without reaction. This concept of Stewardship has brought into even clearer focus for me that equanimity plus awareness of feelings and needs is the way to right speech and right action. There really is no fundamental conceptual divide between NVC and my meditation practice. I feel so grateful to you for meeting my needs for wholeness, learning and compassion so richly.

  4. Sep 22, 2016

    very happy to hear it. It is my deepest passion to bring spiritual practice and NVC together, so very satisfying to hear this provided a link for you :)

  5. Sep 24, 2016

    The paragraph that starts with "Second," blew me away as I have never heard the practice explained quite that way. Succinct and yet comprehensive. Wish I had this understanding as I was trying to offer a brief, extemporaneous overview at a practice group earlier this week. Happy to have it now :-) Having much gratitude for the practice and the wisdom you offer that helps me deepen it.

  6. Sep 27, 2016

    Hi Tricia,

    So happy to contribute in a significant way :)

    Having gratitude for your practice and dedication to this work...

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