Everybody has needs.
- We need bodily health.
- We need physical safety.
- We need belonging – to be sustained by the love of our community.
- We need to assert ourselves, to gain respect, and to have self-respect.
Beyond these come vital spiritual needs, for knowledge, beauty and meaning. If these were left unmet, our lives would be poor and thin.
(These seven levels are taken from Abraham Maslow.)
This section is about looking at your needs and longings, seeing what matters to you, recognising what has to be done, noticing where you are in fact putting your time and energy, and deciding whether to vary that.
Many people’s lives are out of balance – always working and never playing, for example, or always caught up in events and never taking time out, or always spending and never saving.
It is good to feel clearly and strongly the things you want to do; to face up to the things you have to do – and to discard things with which, as it turns out, there is no need at all to burden yourself.
I suggest looking at your life from twelve points of view, one by one. Notice where your priorities have lain. Are you going to rethink them?
Nine of these points of view are close to the ground. You see specific life-areas. The last three are way up high. From up here you see your life as a whole, as a single territory.
Sense of self
Sense of purpose
Sense of others
- Tribe – family, allies, community
Looking at your life as a whole
- An image of the future
- Reading the blueprint
- Treating your life as a story.
We can ask questions (a few are suggested below). We can evoke images and visualise the future. We will need situational focusing. We may frame new projects, planning chains of action-steps. There will be much to talk about.
Sense of self
Being, health, vigour
Everything begins with the body.
How can you have a sound mind, unless you have a sound body?
Are you taking care of yourself?
Diet, sleep, exercise. Just by taking care of these three, you could transform your sense of well-being, increasing your life expectancy by many years.
You could review your eating, drinking, smoking and other dependencies, sleep, weight, fitness, tension, moods, energy, health, risk-taking, driving, injuries, medications, hygiene, teeth, smell, appearance, clothes, hair.
It’s a good idea to make sure that your relationship with your doctor is equal and pro-active.
Do you need to clean up your act? If so, how?
Rest, fun, free time – and fulfilment
Do you allow yourself to rest?
Do you take time out?
What habits do you have which give you energy?
What makes you laugh?
What does fun look like?
In what ways are you over-serious about your life?
In what ways are you over-serious about your self?
Under what conditions does the urge to be pompous,
self-important, stiff and critical get the better of you?
What? Never! Well, well, well… think of that.
Do you like to think, to read, to see movies, to hear music, to play sport, to make things, to grow plants, to see the world, to meet people?
Do you thrive on creative achievement? on study and discovery?
On beauty in art or nature? on quiet introspection and the spiritual path?
On lively or intimate human encounter?
What do you like best to do?
What do you love about it?
When are you going to do it?
How are you going to afford it?
Integrity, growth, wisdom, silence
What do you do to renew your spirit?
How do you deal with stress?
With emotional issues?
Do you reflect on your life?
Do you review your actions from time to time?
Do you review your relationships?
Is there a rhythm to your life?
Do you make space for ritual?
Are you at peace with yourself?
Do you make space for silence in your life?
Sense of purpose
Purpose, meaning, satisfaction
Work is more fun than fun
Have you found your purpose in life?
Do you like your work?
Is it fulfilling?
Is your heart in it?
What are you best at?
Does your work use these abilities?
What is hard for you?
Are there other people who could do these tasks?
How do you present yourself to the world?
Do you put forward a clear image of yourself, visually and aurally?
Do you use language effectively?
Do you know what you do?
Is that sufficiently focused?
Can you say what you do in less than a dozen words?
Can you expand that into a short, convincing story?
Can you substantiate that with evidential points, photographs,
and notes of appreciation from others?
Do you come over as convincing and professional in your meetings, emails, letters, calls, documents, website, advertising, and other kinds of self-presentation?
Have you mastered the art of networking?
Have you learned to give recognition to others?
Have you found out how to seize a passing opportunity?
Have you studied the art of letting one thing lead to another?
Is your self-presentation full of spin?
Or are you straightforward, honest and authentic?
You may want to reflect on the relationships you have with your colleagues;
and on how your work impacts society and the world.
Assets, liabilities, cash flow, financial literacy
Do you like money?
Are you comfortable around money?
Are you (and your kids) financially literate?
Do you keep an income statement and balance sheet?
Do you keep track of your cash flow?
Do you make good use of your money?
Are you honest?
Are you servicing debts?
Are your tax affairs sorted?
What age do you want to retire at?
What provision have you made against sickness? injury? redundancy?
Have you provided for your partner and children,
in case you should die tomorrow?
Are you giving to charitable causes (not for profit organisations)?
Do you need to streamline the financial aspects of your life?
All these questions and many more need to be explored, and actions taken.
Nature, surroundings, stuff
What are your surroundings like?
Do you like to be in natural or urban surroundings?
Do you like the place where you live?
What would your ideal home (and garden) be like?
Are you tidy or messy?
Is your stuff controlling you?
Is your place clean, attractive and welcoming?
Is the fabric sound?
Do you get the chores done?
When you have a clear image of your ideal surroundings,
you can move towards realising them.
Sense of others
Loyalty, closeness, mutuality
What is friendship?
How important is friendship to you?
What is loyalty?
What is trust?
Who’s your best friend?
Do you make time, to stay close?
What is this friend like?
What is your friendship like?
Do you talk about your dreams?
Do you talk about your life problems?
Are you open with each other?
Are you honest with each other?
What place does touch and physical contact have in your friendship?
Do you hang back from friendship, in case people think you are gay?
What’s the strongest thing about your relationship with your best friend?
Who is the most important person in your life?
What is that like?
Tenderness, intimacy, sexuality
What space is there in your life for tenderness?
For softness? sensuality? warmth? comfort? texture? colour? and line?
For touching? hearing? seeing? taste? and smell?
For affection? trust? mutuality? acceptance? kindness? and openness?
For feeling? for unhurried ease and forgetfulness?
For spacious, appreciative slowness?
For lazy, warm togetherness?
For being sentimental, playful and voluptuous?
Do you like your body? Are you at home with it?
Do you enjoy sexual feelings and reverie?
Do you share sexual fantasies with your partner?
Or perhaps you prefer close friendship to sexual intimacy?
Do you need more balance in relation to sexuality?
Or to be looser, more uninhibited, more expressive?
What’s the scariest thing about sex? The best thing?
How’s your love life? What would be the perfect love life for you?
What would your partner like, that you are not doing (enough)?
What would you like, that your partner isn’t doing (enough)?
What space does intimacy have in your life?
Can you share and hear strong or difficult feelings?
Do you listen to your own feelings and needs?
Do you give appropriate weight to them?
What would be the perfect way to spend time together?
What is the very best thing about your relationship?
Sexuality is mysterious, puzzling, so close to us, and so little understood.
Do things go on here, perhaps, for which sex may only be a mask?
We need not be too much impressed by anything we are taught about these strange magnetic attractions and repulsions; about ecstasy and disgust. In this strange territory, we must explore for ourselves.
What is your own sense of your own sexual nature?
What is happening in you, when love and sex are calling?
This image which shakes you – what is it an image of?
Where is the true reflection, in this hall of mirrors?
What does intimacy mean to you?
What is romance?
What is fidelity?
What is marriage?
What is love?
What are you truly longing for?
It is deeply embarrassing to me, to have only such foolish and clunky questions to put here. I can only hope you will find a way of your own to reach into the depths behind.
More than anything, I hope you will yourself reflect with both tenderness and truth on the great issues of love and fidelity.
Family, allies, community
What is belonging?
How important is it to you to belong?
What is kindness?
Are there ways in which you twist yourself out of shape,
conceal your feelings and needs,
or betray your own values,
so that people won’t mock you, reject or look down on you?
Do you get caught in “shoulds”, from which you ought to free yourself?
Have you found ways to stand up to your family and friends when you need to?
How good are your boundaries?
Could they be clearer?
Or are they even too well-defended?
What do other people find really bugging about you?
Whom do you need to forgive? Is that possible?
Whom do you need to thank?
When are you going to say, “I’m sorry” ?
When are you going to say, “No way!” ?
When are you going to say, “I love you” ?
How do you get on with your family?
Who is your favourite?
Who is tough to be around?
What do you like most about family life?
What is a drag?
How are you with children and young people?
Do you enjoy playing and hanging out?
Do you have children of your own?
If not, would you like to have?
If you do have children, what is that like for you?
Is it rewarding, being a parent?
Or do you find it restricting and frustrating?
How do you deal with issues of authority?
What are your hopes and dreams for your family?
Do you load your children down with your dreams for them?
Do you allow your children to have their own dreams?
Sharing and giving are the ways of God.
—Native American saying
Who are your allies?
Who can you trust?
Who can you lean on?
Whose help do you need? Can you ask for it?
Who needs your help? Can you offer it?
Can you be specific about what help you need or are offering?
From what we get, we can make a living.
What we give, however, makes a life.
– Arthur Ashe
What place does giving have in your life?
What is your community like? Do you like these people?
What do you get out of living in this community?
What taboos thwart the life of your community, making it false and arid?
What taboos sustain the life of your community, so that it can thrive?
Is there any energy for giving in your life?
What are you giving back to your family?
To the community? To the world?
Do you have money to give? Skills to share? or to teach?
Do you have social experience, which others can benefit from?
Do you have time to give?
Do you have wisdom to share?
What is wisdom? And if you had it, would you know?
What is your special gift for giving?
It is always tempting to ask:
“If I stop to help this person, what will happen to me?”
We have to have the courage to reverse the question:
“If I do not stop to help, what will happen to them?”
That’s the question before you now.
Looking at your life as a whole
An image of the future
Looking at these nine specific life-areas…
Which are dominant?
Which are neglected, stuck or thwarted?
What is your vision of a balanced life, seen as a whole?
What is your vision for your future life, seen as a whole?
Let a pattern of detailed, specific, vivid images emerge…
Each of these images brings with it a mood and feelings.
Sense into the felt quality of each image, and see what comes there.
What can you do now, to bring your life into balance?
What can you do soon?
So let’s not lie to ourselves, OK?
What are you going to do?
Decide on specific upfront next actions.
To refine any action step, ask four questions –
Is it do-able?
Is it will-do-able?
Is it review-able?
Is it celebrate-able?
What is the timescale?
How are you going to follow up?
Reading the blueprint
The blueprint is “How life should be”.
No matter what has happened in your life, no matter how deeply conditioned you are to feel and think and act in certain ways, layers of conditioning are never the bedrock.
Beneath all of that stuff, there is a texture of deep, natural oughts. A few of these we can say, very roughly –
“Every child ought to be loved”
“Nobody should be abandoned or betrayed”
“Everybody ought to be allowed self-expression”
“Nobody should be humiliated”
“Everybody needs to find emotional and imaginative and sexual fulfilment”
“Nobody ought to be raped or abused, starved or brutalised”
“Everybody needs to be treated kindly and fairly”
“Nobody should treated as a means, a mere instrument to be used for another’s ends”
“Everybody needs to be seen, to find understanding from others”
“Nobody should be discarded, thrown to the side, cast away or treated as refuse”
“Everybody needs to live from a sense of human belonging”
“Nobody should live in fear”
“Everybody needs forgiveness”
– and so forth.
At certain moments, when a listener names some natural value, which the blueprint holds implicitly, the person may experience a deep flowing current of relief – a profound inner carrying forward of what should have been lived, but was stopped in its tracks.
A stage of growth which has been obstructed for many years may sometimes “fill itself in” (the phrase is Gene Gendlin’s). This may take only a few minutes, when a person comes into contact with the experiential blueprint; with what should have been.
Of course, if naming a value has no experiential effect, the listener will go straight back (as always) to close listening, and make no fuss. The naming may have stirred up some deep echo, way down in the person; or this value may simply not resonate just now.
Treating your life as a story
In some ways, life is like a story, which we tell ourselves. How would it be, if you were to tell yourself some new stories?
How would you like your life to unfold? Are you living the life which is natural for you? Are you writing your own script – or are you reading from a script, written for you by others during your childhood?
Changes will happen in your life and feelings, when you re-write the script. You will want to be aware of them, to notice, when you are living differently – that is, when some pattern changes.
Here are four methods, useful in a life-review, which are strikingly powerful and elegant (I learned them from Bala Jaison and from the “brief therapy” of Steve de Shazer):
- Scaling On a scale from 0-10, how OK is this?
- Looking for exceptions Think of a context in your life, where the problem is NOT.
- The miracle question When this problem is all solved, what will your life be like? What changes in your life will other people notice?
- Observation tasks Notice when something is different.
So on the one hand there is the blueprint; and on the other, the script. The script is “The life plan which others wrote for me”. In effect, it is over-written on the blueprint.
It is more or less impossible to grow up, without learning a script. I wonder which of the following scripts ring bells for you:
“I am a winner”
“I will always struggle, and never achieve”
“I am an athlete”
“I am not OK”
“I am the pretty one”
“I must never put myself first”
“I must never feel grief or sadness”
“I will always be loveable”
“Nobody can be trusted”
“I must be good”
“Life is always a little grey”
“Work comes first”
“Other people have rights before me”
“I hate children”
“It’s safer to be invisible”
“I am (not) competitive”
“I mustn’t be selfish”
“Sex is evil, scary and messy”
“I am a cheat and a liar”
“Life’s a bitch and then you die”
“I have to be reliable and prudent”
“I am over-emotional, and will always suffer”
“You have to look after Number One”
“It’s bound to go wrong”
“I must be brave and reckless”
“Share and share alike”
“I am an angry person”
“I am inferior”
“I am creative and artistic”
“I am an outsider”
“Everything that happens is my responsibility”
“I will always feel tired”
“I am the leader”
“You always lose (or hurt) the one you love”
“I will have a weak heart, and die young”
“I am brainy, but I have no common sense”
“I must stay in control”
“I will always have to try harder than other people”
“I will always be skating on thin ice”
“Money doesn’t grow on trees”
“I am clumsy”
“I will always be rejected”
“I am here to take care of people”
“It is always already too late”
“I must always know what other people are feeling before they know it themselves”
“I will always feel sad”
“I am helpless”
“I will never find love”
“I am weak and unwell”
“I can only live at second hand, through other people’s living”
“I make no commitments”
“What’s the point?”
“I was born for glory and power”
“I must never be angry”
“I will never belong”
“I must always look after Mummy”
I tend to think that script-forming is natural to us, a part of our social nature.
Scripts can be benign – perhaps most people find that some parts of the script match their sense of who they are, supporting them as they face the world.
But there is no doubt that script-writing goes badly wrong. A script may be a blight, or a hard frost, a cold foggy darkness, or a millstone round your neck.
And so the twelfth step in the practice of reviewing our want-tos and have-tos is to study the script you have grown up into; possibly to rewrite parts or all of it, but more probably to let them fall away.
For clearly, dealing with the script will be mostly a matter of unlearning, rather than of pasting on yet more layers.
Unfortunately, the script is like a Rosetta Stone. It may take years to decipher. A clue comes here, a clue there. A friend or a stranger may be able to read a line which is murky to you; or other people may obscure your lines by fulsome praise, when you are being (not your true, but) your scripted self.
For many people, the hardest place to be true is amongst family members. Both gross and subtle coercion is used by families, to shrivel a person back into their script.
Far more than any other practice, close listening tends to free a person from the scripted lines. The person, who feels deeply heard (and deeply seen), begins to discard layers of inauthenticity. Pretences fall away one by one, quietly and naturally.
Being in the body is crucial – for the body cannot lie. Situational focusing is a further powerful way to loosen the script. Story-writing and journal-keeping often help. Movies and stories, music and images tend to stir things up, to free us to be ourselves.
For if I am not going to be myself (if my life is going to be a lie and a fiction), well really, what IS the point?
And so the practice of want-tos and have-tos, which seems perhaps at first a little mechanical, a little superficial, turns out to hold a key to integrity and authenticity.
Little by little, energy which has been bound up in keeping me false and twisted gets to be freed up. I come to live as the person I truly am.
The metascript – drift or drive
When we are very young, the big people in their big world seem to know everything. We feel helpless, but they can do whatever they like. We are the weak. They are the strong.
Young children respond in two ways to this state of affairs. Each way has a slogan:
- “I can do it all of myself”. That is, “One day I’ll show you all.” – The strategy is one of turning towards life.
- “Can’t, won’t, shan’t.” Or, “I’ll never be able to do all that.” – The strategy is one of turning away from life.
More simply, I call this choice “drift or drive”. One child decides to drift, to be helpless, to flee, to give up on engagement. The other decides to act, to fight, to be independent, to take life by the throat.
I think that in many of us, drift or drive functions at two levels. There is the broad global choice which we made as children – our metascript. But also, we fluctuate from day to day, and context to context.
A strikingly independent person may subside into passivity, when faced with illness and hospitalisation. Traumatic life-events may throw even a confident person into a state of confusion and helplessness – perhaps frozen, or terribly over-sensitive.
Conversely, a hesitant and evasive person may be highly competent and decisive in some one area; or may notice that other people too “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
Given this continual fluctuation between drift and drive, the final step in our systematic life review is to explore it.
You need to be observant – to notice what situations or contexts trigger a drifting or evasive pattern of response, what patterns of feeling or illness happen, which enforce it; and on the other hand, what situations set you up to be active, competent and capable, or even to be rigidly, excessively independent.
You may even decide to change the strategy chosen in early childhood. How about that?
A choice of metascript is not final.