Blog 24: A Philosophy for staying and feeling alive What gives purpose, motivation and energy Part 3

Published: Wednesday, 22 April 2020 Written by Jim Sheehy

 5 needs: connection, attunement, trust, autonomy, love and sexuality

What brings us all together, whether young or old.  In each day of our lives, we hunger for these assurances that we are loved and cared for, that we belong and that we make a difference.  These needs can be experienced very differently but their absence withers our capacity and desire to live.

Connection is reaching out and someone or something returns undivided attention.   Whether a person, pet, career or hobby captures my attention really doesn’t matter.  If my mind, body and spirit are stimulated by nature, interpersonal love, surfing the waves or whatever, this grounds me on life’s difficult journey.  I am outside of myself with my passion while simultaneously aglow with self-appreciation.  I am connected.

Attunement happens through our eyes and touch.  Communication at the verbal level has to be validated.  Anyone can say words and make promises, but when we engage eye-contact and gesture with our bodies through touch we are certain if the other person’s verbal messages and promises are real or false.  We have to discover and maintain that attuning language if we want to stay connected.

Attunement brings us into the safe harbour of trust.  This harbour is developed quay by quay when each encounter with the one I’ve chosen to trust, or the activity I love to do, realises my expectations, even surpasses them.  Trust is so fragile and fresh and needs nurturing to stay vibrant.  It does become resilient and can survive an occasional disappointment or betrayal, but for every negative setback there needs to be multiple efforts to keenly rebuild the trust.  ‘Once an accident, twice a coincidence, three times a pattern’ and trust can never recover.

Autonomy, the need to be free to choose, to have options, is a human right that many are denied.  So often in therapy, I witness clients express their belief that they are trapped and stuck – in a partnership or family, a mood or a behaviour.  Part of recovery is rebuilding their identity and support network until they are sufficiently strong to own their choices and make healthy decisions.

Love and sexuality is the need to experience intimacy as it is meant to be. Whether friendship or partnership, I am exposing myself to risking another entering my space, permitting them to enjoy who I am trying to become and inviting them to walk with me as part of my life-journey.  Few are chosen to see me beneath the mask and armour of the everyday roles I play.  Nakedness has many meanings – physical, emotional, relational.  It is the deepest, private zone where connection, attunement, trust, autonomy and love /sexuality are best celebrated and most vulnerable.  When we put ourselves out there, we are the most human we can be.  Even when our hope is dashed and we don’t receive the response we deserve, the act of risking is still valid and worthwhile.  I might retreat in disappointment and anger, but I will learn and be open to new opportunities.

Should, must, can’t and ought are slave-masters. 

Instead, trust yourself, let go and have the conversation. 

In my twenties, I was very hard on myself.  I believed willpower and discipline alone brought contentment.  I drove myself hard and was a harsh critic if the goals I’d set for myself weren’t realised.  I ended up realising that something was missing.   I kept running up different cul-de-sacs which initially brought a buzz of potential but eventually a ‘rebel inside’ sabotaged the mission.  The language of willpower and discipline - ‘should, ought, must, cannot’ – were the voices of command that I became a slave to.  While external success was evident, I grew exhausted and finally admitted there was something I was missing. 

Nothing wrong with willpower and discipline.  We all have social and financial obligations that put bread on the table and keep the roof over our heads.  But there are time-outs that happen in life when the grind of normal tastes old and stale.

Discipline, keeping those standards, needs a context, and that is passion.  Passion is discovered when daring to take time out, lay myself bare, let go of the many attachments and obligations I have and have a conversation.  It’s stepping out of the ‘room of doing’, crossing the corridor into ‘the room of being’. 

Is this selfish? Is it practical? Well, the alternative is to live in a very rigid, controlled manner that might suit you but clashes with the many who find your lifestyle stifling.  This can apply to how I communicate and relate as a man, partner, parent and worker; how I view and rate my body when I stand in front of a full-length mirror; how I see the years whizzing by and bypassing me. 

Trusting yourself, letting go and having the conversation is hard work.  How well are you aware of who you are and how you operate?  Perhaps you need to sit with someone who can reflect the truth, the strong and weak parts.  Perhaps, if you lack self-belief, you need a model or mentor who instils confidence.  You allow the self, the ‘you-in-waiting’, to just be here, get to know and like her, to trust him. 

Do no harm / Respect is minimal and expected

A doctor or a therapist have this approach to others as part of their ethical code.  If a patient or client enters the clinic room, the minimum s/he expects and deserves is that I respect them and do them no harm.  Would it not be a healthy code for any human interaction.  When 2 persons meet or a person engages with animals and nature, respect involves pausing, observing and being open to initiating or responding to whoever or whatever is there in front of me.  It suspends judgement on how the interaction might finish and instead is open to being surprised and transformed by a new and different person / animal / landscape that I’ve never encountered before.

I love diversity.  It excites me.  Your skin is white and mine is black, your culture is reflective and mine is frenetic, your orientation is bisexual and mine hetero, your age is old and mine is young.  Human is diverse and nobody can declare superiority. 

 Is there enough for me to be content

I see clients sometimes and I feel very angry when I hear their story.  Their world from the start has been blitzed by unfairness, the oxygen they needed to live and love in short supply.  And then, very often, I am humbled and privileged to see how dignified they are in bearing the scars and shouldering the burden of hurt and pain.  They show me how mysterious an experience it is to find contentment.  It seems to have little to do with wealth and privilege, education and status, even family and society.  People with all this may not find contentment. 

Being content for me is simply finding a wee place in our universe that accepts my human ingenuity and simultaneously celebrates a universe far grander than I and my world.  Aren’t we most ourselves when we lose ourselves to realities unseen: being loved to bits, creating a song never composed, counting stars in a clear skyscape.

It takes a lot of pressure off when you simply reach a moment of awareness: ‘I am not a mistake, rather part of a design still in the making.’



Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


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