How to Be Powerful
This is very simple. Simple does not mean easy.
Understanding Your Needs
All living beings seek to satisfy their needs.
A need is only ever a state of being, either physical or psychological. A living being understands and meets its needs by experiencing what state it is currently in, and moving towards the opposite state (for example, if it is too cold, it needs more warmth.)
As humans, we often confuse what we need with a tool or strategy we use to meet that need. For example, when we are too cold, and we need more warmth, we could meet that need with a blanket, a jacket, a fire, a heater, exercising, drinking hot water, and so on.
We often experience suffering because we equate what we need with a thing we use to meet that need. When we cannot have that one particular thing, we experience suffering: our need is unmet and we feel powerless to meet it.
Disentangling the Need from the Method You Use to Meet It
The second noble truth of Buddhism is typically described as, “desire is the cause of suffering.” A more accurate description of it would be something like, “craving is the cause of the anguish of never being able to be satisfied.”
Craving, in my view, is what happens when you equate a strategy you use to meet your need with the need itself. You start to believe you need that thing, that one path, as though your need could not be met through any other means. The path is only ever just a path. If the path is blocked, you can reach your destination far more easily by choosing a different path.
The mind gets attached to certain methods or tools for meeting our needs because doing so makes it think it’s safer. When the mind can conceptualize the path, it can perceive that there is a path, and the world seems less scary. The problem is, of course, that this exact process clouds the mind from seeing needs clearly and makes us less safe, because it starts to limit our paths to getting our needs met.
A need is only ever a state of being, either physiological or psychological.
Embracing Multiple Methods
The more we focus on what we need, and give ourselves over to accepting many possible strategies to meet it, the easier the need will be to meet. The less we attach ourselves to certain strategies, the more likely it is that our needs will be met.
Sometimes, we grow attached to certain strategies because we have been conditioned to believe that those strategies are the only method of meeting our needs, or the only we have available. This pattern of conditioning comes up frequently, and can be responded to by remembering that a need is only ever a state of being.
Sometimes, we grow attached to certain tools or strategies because we have multiple needs at once, and we can only think of one method of satisfying them all. Then, we suffer if we cannot use that method. Rather than continue trying for the method we cannot use, we can instead pause, and assess what all of our needs are, individually. Then, we can meet each and all of them, either individually or in combination, through other means.
Sometimes, the attachment we feel to a certain tool or strategy is important to us, too. For example, we may feel attached to a certain person who meets our needs for connection, security and validation. If relying on this relationship to meet our needs repeatedly creates suffering, but we don’t want to give up all relationship with the person, we need only give up attachment to the relationship meeting those specific needs. We can seek other means of finding connection, security and validation, and allow the relationship to transform to meet different needs.
Ending the Illusion of Conflicting Goals
Our cravings often bring us into conflict with others. When we have the ability to exert control over others, we typically use it to force them to follow certain strategies we think will meet our (own) needs. We often do this regardless of whether or not this strategy will meet their needs.
When these strategies cause others not to have their needs met, they experience suffering.
We like having, or thinking we have, the ability to dominate the world around us, because we believe doing so will help us to get our needs met. We often fear that not dominating the world around us will mean that our needs won’t be met, and we’ll suffer as a result.
What we have when we dominate the world around us is not, actually, an increased ability to get our needs met. What we have is simply an increased ability to force a certain method for meeting needs on others. This actually limits us, as well as others, from having our needs met as fully, quickly and efficiently as possible.
We actually don’t have to dominate the world in order to have our needs met, because our needs are only ever states of being, and they can be met through multiple methods. The more open we are to a variety of possible strategies to meet our needs, the easier it is to find a strategy that meets our needs without forcing behavior in anyone else.
As a result, when we engage with others, we can come together with the shared goal: finding strategies that meet each and all of our needs without anyone having to suffer in the process. Rather than manufacture a competition between each of our proposed methods of meeting needs, we can all refocus on the needs themselves, and collaborate towards a common goal of everyone’s needs being satisfied.
Experiencing Safety and Freedom
When our needs are easier to meet, we are all safer. The better able we each are to get our needs met, the less cause we all have to hurt one another in order to get our needs met, and the safer we all are from harm. The more we work together to meet all of our needs, the more satisfying all of our lives become.
At the moment, most people don’t really live like this. Most people, myself included, still experience suffering at our needs going unmet, get fixated on certain methods of meeting our needs, and end up in conflict with others over incompatible strategies to meet needs.
We can begin to disentangle ourselves from all of this, by remembering that our needs are only ever states of being, figure out what those states are, and open ourselves to accept more methods by which our needs can be met.
How to Begin
I cannot pretend that anything will change overnight just because you’ve now read this article, but I can offer some advice on how to start shifting your experience towards embodying this, if you want to:
Step 1: Start easy. This is a practice of changing your habits. Like strengthening a muscle, start the process of disentangling needs from strategies with need in your life that seem easy to detach from the strategies you use to meet them. Start with situations that seem manageable, or obvious, or minor. Build up your strength over time. Do not try to tackle all of your attachments to strategies at once. This takes time.
Step 2: Commit. Treat this like quitting an addiction: whatever aspect of your life you choose to start with, commit to seeing it differently. Remind yourself of it as often as you can, every day: a need is only ever a state of being. Make living according to that thought your top priority, or at least, a top priority.
Step 3: Embrace discomfort. When you crave something, don’t act upon that craving. This is very uncomfortable at first. Anyone who has ever quit smoking knows the feeling exactly: you want to do something, you just sit there instead, it’s wildly uncomfortable, and that’s okay. It won’t be uncomfortable forever. Just sit with the discomfort, rather than run from it reactively by giving into your craving. It will go away faster.
Step 4: Practice. Remaining conscious that your needs are states of being, and opening up yourself to multiple paths to get there, is a pretty deep shift in habits. Making the shift takes practice. It takes time and repetition, missteps and returns to the path, again and again. Even if this practice is not easy, it is simple. The more you practice, the easier it gets.