Many of us grew up in environments that made this question unsafe to ask, so we’ve maybe never learned to ask it at all. We might be great at tending to others’ needs, making sure everyone is fed and home safe from the bar; maybe even already assuming all responsibility for our family’s dysfunction at a far-too-young age. And then at the temple, we recite things like, “by the virtue collected through all that I have done, may the pain of every living creature be completely cleared away. May I be the doctor and the medicine,” and we see ourselves reflected here, doing the good work! Or more probably, Shantideva’s utterly gorgeous aspirations from the 8th century remind us of all the ways we are continuously falling short in our role to save the world and everybody in it, unintentionally fueling the shame that’s become so much a part of who we take ourselves to be that the mere idea of its leaving fills us with dread.
But you yourself are also every living creature. You are also worthy of everything you wish for the world.
“What do I need?” It doesn’t occur to many of us to even ask this, at least not explicitly. But if we don’t, our body-minds will still ask it implicitly. And then we often find ourselves coping in harmful ways, because we’re human and we do need to cope sometimes. So without really learning to ask, “what do I need?” after a stressful day, perhaps, we pour the first of many drinks at home before we’ve even kicked off our shoes, when any number of things would have been more helpful and certainly healthier. A walk. Yoga. Messy fingerpainting on the kitchen floor with our child. A good cry. Hot bath. Zazen. Letting the shoulder of our beloved hold us up as we watch the dumbest movie ever made and laugh a little bit because that’s really what we need right now.