It’s been said that those who have health have many wishes; those who do not have health have but one wish. That’s how important it is to meet our basic human needs. When it comes to human existence, it’s a never-ending journey to make sure our needs are met. Although there are no guarantees, this Provision identifies the core dynamics of opportunity: timing, nourishment, health, sensory stimulation, hygiene, and nurturing. These six can point us in the direction we want to go.
On the one hand, all ten of the needs identified in last week’s Provision could be called “existential.” That’s because they can all be derived from the experience of existence. In this case, however, I use the term “existential” in its most literal sense: what does it take to come into existence and to stay physically alive? Those are existential needs in the primordial sense of the term and I want to celebrate them today since they are so easily forgotten, overlooked, and ignored.
Let’s start with the biggest existential need of all: opportunity. Were a particular egg and sperm to have never had the opportunity to find each other, you would not be reading this Provision right now. Depending on your perspective and theology, that opportunity may be viewed as a matter of chance, luck, attraction, genetics, biochemistry, inducement, or divine providence. However it came to be, one thing is clear: life often depends on circumstances outside our control.
Apart from those who subscribe to the view that we pick our parents, in some metaphysical sense, most people are willing to admit that we didn’t have much to do with the circumstances surrounding our conception. Even reproductive scientists take something of a shotgun approach, let alone couples who follow the more traditional way. The best we can do is to increase the odds of success. When it comes to existence, there are no guarantees.
Although I have written about this periodically over the years, I mention it again here lest there be any confusion. Existential needs may be the ground of being, but there’s no way to guarantee their fulfillment. That doesn’t mean we give up or stop trying; it rather means that we keep our efforts in perspective. Sometime, no matter what we do, the pregnancy still doesn’t take. Sometimes, no matter what we do, the life still fails to thrive. So we set up the most favorable conditions possible, and then hope for the best.
I believe in hope. We’ll be talking about it on more than one occasion in our series on life-giving needs. Where there is no hope, there is no life. And never is that more clear than when it comes to our physical existence. We do the best we can, but the plane may still crash. We exercise every possible precaution, but the wildfire may still destroy. We follow doctor’s orders, but the condition may still deteriorate.
Knowing that’s true adds a special urgency to opportunity. We seize the day not because there are guarantees but because there are opportunities. It’s our job to create the conditions where life can flourish, then we step back and, with gratitude and grace, let life have its way.
Perhaps that’s why “foxhole religion” has such a venerable place in the history of warfare. When people get close to the vulnerabilities of life, when they lose the ability to create opportunities for life to flourish, they turn to the last hope they can find. Miracles never cease, and we are especially prone to look for and to notice them when existence is on the line. Stranger things have happened than getting rescued at the last second. Stranger things have happened than getting pregnant after giving up. Stranger things have happened than recovering from a terminal condition.
So we do the best we can, and then we hope.
What goes into creating the opportunity for life to come into existence and then to thrive? I mention only the most obvious: timing, nourishment, health, sensory stimulation, hygiene, and nurturing.
Timing. You may have heard the old joke, “What do you call people who rely on the rhythm method for birth control?” Answer: “Parents!” That’s because timing is notoriously tricky when it comes to procreation. Still, there is much to be said for the importance of timing. That’s true not only for conception but also for gestation. Pre-mature births are not without complications, and the earlier the birth the more life-threatening they become. Something there is about waiting for the fullness of time! That’s as true for couples wanting to conceive as it is for mothers wanting to bear healthy children. When it comes to existence, patience is definitely a virtue.
Nourishment. From the moment of conception, proper nourishment is essential to existence. Long-time readers of these Provisions know all about that. I have written about it frequently, most recently in my series on Optimal Wellness. With increasing reports of contamination in our food and water supplies, from melamine in milk to salmonella in peanut butter, I would guess that most people have become sensitized to the issue. We may be in an economic recession, but going for the cheapest nourishment available does not always turn out to be the cheapest choice in the long run. Cutting corners on vitamins, a staple for pregnant women, and other supplements may lead to health problems down the road.
Health. When you think of all the things that can go wrong, it’s kind of amazing that more things don’t go wrong. The human body is a healing machine, and it will usually do so, all on its own, if we but get out of the way. That’s especially true during gestation, when we develop from a single cell to a multi-trillion cell organism. The are plenty of risks, but it comes out right a high percentage of the time. Especially when we do our best to create a life-supporting environment. That’s an opportunity worth pursuing regardless of where we are in our lifespan.
I would mention here, by way of illustration, my experience with an acute panic attack in December of 2007. Even though I was doing many things right when it came to my health and wellness, I still suffered a homeostatic breakdown. My journey back has included lots of experimentation • including medication, diet, supplements, practices, and adjustments • to create an opportunity for my body to fully heal itself. As I wrote in Provision #586, it wasn’t until I started taking the supplement melatonin that I began to feel like myself again. Now, almost six months later, I am medication-free and back to feeling healthy. I’m glad I pursued the opportunity with my usual openness and vigor.
Sensory Stimulation. When children fail to be touched they fail to thrive. Let that be a lesson to us! Our need for sensory stimulation does not disappear or even diminish with age. The more we stimulate our senses • sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch • the better off we will be. Neuroscience has documented a brain-body connection from the cradle to the grave. The more we stimulate the body the more we develop our neural net. What benefits one benefits the other. That’s why little children are constantly putting things in their mouth. It’s all part of the learning experience; it’s all part of meeting our existential needs.
Hygiene. And don’t forget about changing those diapers! Human beings are uncomfortable and disease-prone in soiled conditions. That’s why we brush our teeth, wash our hands, and sweep our floors. It’s not just about smelling, looking, or feeling good, it’s about creating more opportunities to meet those existential needs. I remember the surprise of many readers when they learned there was a connection between teeth brushing and ischemic stroke. Who knew! Although it’s apparently possible to be overly vigilant about sanitization, good hygiene is a must.
Nurturing. I remember talking to my children while they were still in the womb. Once they were born, my wife and I did the best we could to bring them up in the way we wanted them to go. That included such basic things as not touching a hot stove and looking both ways before they crossed a street as well as more complicated things such as reading and math. No one gets through life alone, and that’s especially true when it comes to basic human needs. It takes a village to raise a child; it takes friends and family to nurture a life. So don’t even try to go it alone! Offering and accepting help liberally is all part of the equation when it comes to the game of life.
So pay attention to these existential needs if you want to increase the odds of living the good life. It’s been said that those who have health have many wishes; those who do not have health have but one wish. That’s how fundamental these existential needs are to everything else. When we take care of them, the rest will follow. When we neglect them, the rest will suffer.
Coaching Inquiries: How are you doing when it comes to meeting your existential needs? How could you create opportunities for them to be fully met? How actively and faithfully have you attempted new things that may support meeting your existential needs? What have you tried? What else could you try? Who could you talk with to get some new ideas?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
As you may recall, I am one of the two readers who responded to your newsletter last week. As you might guess, I very much enjoyed this week’s Provision! Nothing like being part of the action! 🙂 But, seriously, I want to thank and commend you for your openness to differing viewpoints, even to the point of sharing almost verbatim my feedback.
I look forward to the upcoming weeks to see how your thought process unfolds. You have modeled well the traits of being a good listener and an openness to differing views. I will make sure I do the same!!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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