What We Want and What We Need

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

Last week, I took my sister on a short trip to Holland. We went to a spa, visited the beautiful town of Dordrecht and ended our trip by kayaking on some beautiful streams. But what we did most of all, was talk. We talked in the spa (making sure we always picked the saunas that didn’t have any other people in them), we talked over dinner, while shopping and while walking. Since we were raised by the same parents, are both in long-term relationships and both have two kids, we recognize a lot in each other’s stories. One of the things that stood out to me was the difficulty distinguishing between what we want and what we need, especially when those things overlap to a degree.

The difference between what we want versus what we need is quite clear in many areas of our lives: fruits and veggies versus hamburgers and pizza, exercise versus watching a movie or searching our own motives versus blaming others. In many situations, we know exactly what the ‘healthy’ option is and why we choose something different. We do it in full awareness.

But then, there are in which we find ourselves choosing one course of action, convincing ourselves that we need it just as much as the alternative, but later finding out that perhaps we lost track of the balance. I’ll give you an example that both my sister and I have dealt with: We enjoy spending time with friends and know that this time to relax and discuss our lives with others is really helpful. As a result, however, we may plan so many social events that we end up with no time to rest.

Another similar case is the parent who stays up way too late after the kids have gone to bed because they feel they also need to have time to themselves to relax. Even if this means they take away from their much-needed sleep. Not sleeping will lead to being grumpy and feeling overwhelmed, but so will not having any time to yourself all day.

The solution to this seeming dilemma lies in finding balance, as with most things in life. We try to balance time alone and time spent with others, rest and activity, play and work. Yet, we all know, that the point of exact balance is hard to maintain. A see-saw will tip back and forth quite a bit before the beam reaches a perfect stasis. We will go from too much to too little quite a bit as well, before reaching the point of ‘just enough’. And once reached, we will fall off balance again pretty easily, having to reach a new equilibrium over and over again.

This constant struggle for balance can be incredibly frustrating because it seems like we can’t ever seem to get it quite right. We tip too far to one side and then correct ourselves by pushing too far to the other side. And sure, we get better at it with age, but I’ve seen people much older than me who still tip back and forth between more rest versus more activity, more solitude versus more connection, more giving versus more taking.

Perhaps the idea of reaching that equilibrium and staying there is an illusion. Even if that creates the balance we’re looking for, it is also a state of stillness, of non-movement, since there’s no more reason to move up the scale on either end. If we’ve reached perfect balance in every field, there is no more incentive to change anything in our lives, to get to know ourselves better, to discover new ways of being. When we’ve reached equilibrium, there is no more motivation to grow.

And so we keep moving back and forth, up and down, like a wave of which the origin line is the balance we’re looking for. The higher the crest, the deeper the trough, and the further we move away from the central line, the more extreme our experiences, and perhaps the more we learn and grow?

So, perchance, we are destined to dance back and forth between our conflicting needs, for calm and adventure, for introspection and exploration, for stoicism and epicureanism, until the end of our lives. And maybe that’s all we need to know to let go of the idea that we have to reach a perfect balance.

True peace of mind may just lie in surfing the waves.

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