My Greatest Need

10 a.m. It’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit, heading for a high of 96. I’m off to Starbucks. I want to sit in air conditioning and sip iced tea and write in my journal.

I walk up Pico Blvd listening to a Tony Robbins lecture on the six human needs — certainty/comfort, uncertainty/variety, significance, connection/love, growth and contribution.

I get my green tea and begin journaling. I’m discouraged by the return of my plantar fascitis and right elbow pain (which has prevented me from lifting weights and doing push-ups over the past year).

Intermittently, I listen to Tony’s lecture in my earpiece. He says that our most keen needs, we need to give that stuff to others.

How can I kick things into a higher gear? How can I launch myself? I can write my way to the life I want.

Ashley posts to FB: “The life you want is posting on Facebook 30 times a day?”

I can meet my need for certainty/comfort and for its opposite of variety by writing.

When I sit down to write, I’m certain I have a good chance of producing something I want to read aka good work. If I just sit here journaling long enough, writing down every thought that comes into my head, there’s a good chance I’ll get at least a blog post out of it. If I get into a passionate conversation (either in person or over the phone or via Facebook), there’s a good chance I’ll get a revelation that leads to at least a blog post. Get in touch with something I feel strongly about, and I’m headed towards writing gold.

Writing meets my need for variety in that I am never sure what is going to come out. The act of writing takes me in unexpected directions. It gives me a mirror to my mind (Dennis Prager). It makes conscious the unconscious. It alternately surprises and terrorizes me. Writing causes me to go places, to talk to people, and to study things I would otherwise ignore. My writing has led to travel, income, dates, meeting new people, making friends, new communities, and forbidden worlds. Sometimes it leads me into the danger zone.

Writing causes me to reveal things that I would otherwise keep private and this has unpredictable results on my life.

I get a feeling of significance from hundreds of people reading me. I love being acknowledged, talked about, referenced, recognized and rewarded.

After my writing has jumping from my fingers to the world like a hungry tiger, I love walking the streets, wriggling my fingers, and muttering to myself, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

My need for feeling significant by acting differently from those around has usually out-weighed my need for connection. My greatest human need is to feel important. I developed some great shame out of my years in foster care and so I try to drown it in grandiosity.

What are the most self-destructive things I’ve done? Tony Robbins says what we call self-sabotage is just an unhealthy attempt to meet our needs. I keep trying to distinguish myself and by so doing alienate myself from those around me.

I directed a dirty movie to try to feel significant. I over-worked in my early 20s, leading to six bedridden years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a hobbled life after that. I talk publicly about off-putting things such as my putative addictions and syndromes. I keep thrusting for significance by posting inflammatory material. I say inappropriate things publicly (“Speaking of child molesters, here’s Joe” etc) that I find hilarious but other people find appalling. I sabotaged my relationships with my teachers by my unhinged blogging, questions, challenges, and Facebook posts.

Natural Luke tries to take over every room he feels comfortable in, manipulating to get the maximum of attention until people are driven to set limits, which he usually takes badly.

The need for significance and the need for connection are usually in tension just like the need for comfort and the need for variety. And you can meet all four of these needs, but you’ll still be unhappy unless you’re constantly growing and contributing to those around you.

Damn, that brunette on the north-east corner of Pico/Robertson Blvds is fine! She’s got dark sunglasses, long hair, long legs, slim hips, tight black pants covering — is that a blue thong? — and high black heels. It’s 90 degrees out and she’s dressed to the nines. My God, I’d love to bring her home to mother.

“Mother, she’s just a stranger. She’s hungry, and it’s raining out!”

As if men don’t desire strangers! As if… ohh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! You understand, boy? Go on, go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with MY food… or my son! Or do I have tell her because you don’t have the guts! Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?

What would be the best pick-up line to use on her? How about, “You look amazing! Do you work in a clothing store? Have you read any good books lately?”

I’ve never picked up a stranger, but I’ve started conversations with them that led to phone numbers that led to dates, etc. But that was in my younger days. I wonder why she’s so dressed up?

How can I simultaneously meet my needs for significance and connection? By obeying the norms of the community and making sure that what I am doing is furthering the common good.

A friend comes by. “Is this where the writing happens?” she asks.

Starbucks meets my needs. There’s plenty of certainty in the drinks and the decor and the atmosphere but there’s variety in the people who come by and there’s space for reading and writing and constant growth.

That was my fifth refill. I should probably leave a tip. I fear that I’ve only once left a tip and that was for 50c. The barrista jokes that he’s cutting me off. I should get the hint. I don’t have any dollar bills. I’m putting my drinks on my Starbucks gift card. Next time I’ll leave a tip. Perhaps I should just explain that I’m from Australia and Australians don’t tend to tip.

What a creepy guy hitting on the Persian lawyer in pink at the next table. He talks his way into sitting across from her and asks her what she’s working on. “Four things,” she says, typing away at her laptop. He asks her to spell out all four things. She’s very patient. He’s oil and obeisant. I wonder if he’s a rapist?

The barrista comes over and takes away the yogurt from the creep because he hasn’t paid for it. He complains to the girl. It turns out he saw her at temple. She gets on her cell phone. He sits there listening to her conversation. When she gets off, he gives her his analysis of her talk. He asks for her number.

She says she has a boyfriend and he gets the message and makes a lengthy good-bye and walks out.

I understand why people light fires, pull out guns, rape and pillage. It makes them feel significant. When you stick your gun in someone’s face, you’re powerful. You’re connected. You force people to pay attention to you.

Has some of my blogging been like sticking a gun in someone’s face? A loud cry for attention? These questions make me uncomfortable.

Why do beautiful women from Portugal and Brazil keep friending me on Facebook and why am I helpless to say no?

Luke, you won’t feel happy unless you’re growing and contributing to the greater good (even if you’re meeting all your other needs for certainty, variety, significance and connection). What do I do that contributes to the common good? I go to Torah classes to learn how to be a mentch. I help make a minyan. I volunteer for my shuls. I donate a few dollars a month to my shuls. I publish information and insights that hundreds of people find useful. I help people navigate the Judaic and 12-step mazes as well as other worlds where I have expertise.

If I’m growing and contributing, I won’t have to worry about motivation, yet I’m constantly appalled by my lack of motivation, which means I’m not growing and contributing so much. I wish I could teach more people Alexander Technique. Posture is so bad in Jewish life. All those years of sitting in chairs studying wrecks people.

Unless I’m in a good place, I find it easier to deal with people by disconnecting. That’s how I got through my foster care years and I’ve rarely let go of the habit. I’m like a XXX star. When they were abused as kids, they learned to disconnect from their bodies and that frees them up to be used and abused as adults. That’s what’s familiar. We tend to return again and again to the traumatic events of our childhood until we manage to rework them and undo the pain.

There’s a large part of me afraid of connection and negotiating relationships and all that messy human stuff. The more I can get used to uncertainty, the more I can grow.

The more pride I take in what I do and how I comport myself, the more significant I will feel.

I want to look out at life through a new pair of glasses.

Turns out that many of the people who didn’t accept my Facebook friend requests simply didn’t know how to accept Facebook friend requests. And I thought it meant they didn’t like me!

We all have the same needs, we just go about meeting them in a different way. When somebody acts in a mystifying way, they do it because it meets their needs. A rageaholic, for instance, feels powerful, significant and connected when he gets mad at you.

I return to The 12 Steps: A Way Out: A Spiritual Process for Healing.

“1. What is keeping you from recognizing your powerlessness and your life’s unmanageability?”

I’m a Ford. Fords aren’t supposed to be powerless. We are supposed to be disciplined. I think of myself as disciplined. Growing up, I kept hearing I could accomplish anything if I just put my mind to it.

I’ve had enough success to feel good about myself, and yet at age 47, I’m so painfully behind the responsibilities of my age (marriage, children, etc). I have a voice in my head that says if I just work harder…

“2. What area of your life is causing you the most sadness?” My $45,000 in credit card debt. My lack of pupils in my Alexander Technique practice. My lack of income. My lack of love. My disgrace. My loneliness. My lack of success.

“3. What events in your life caused you to realize the extent of your pain?” Social exclusion. Losing friends. Losing community. Ostracism. A sense that I was pushing in where I was not wanted. Hearing at shul, “We will never accept you.”

“4. Pain is a signal to act out your addiction, obsession, or compulsion. What specific pain is your loudest signal?” No money in the bank. Needing to move or carry out some basic logistics and having to face a painful reality about my station in life. Health problems without health insurance. Loneliness, panic, despair, shame.

“5. We think that life is working when we rely on our old survival techniques. How has this blocked you from seeing your real problems?” I’ve often retreated into the fantasy that I am a great man that the world has failed to adequately recognize. This has shielded me from my pain, shame and loneliness. It has blocked me from seeing the ways I disconnect from those I want to be close to.

When I fall out with people, I blame them. I tell myself that I was brave. I was a truth-teller. This has shielded me from facing up to my role.

Lonely, I’ve sought out attention online through provocative posting.

Wow, notice how I flinched over that loud noise. Why? Because loud noises in my early childhood often corresponded with getting walloped. Many of the people I was stuck with when I was helpless were not safe. I learned to detach from my emotions and I return to that emotionally disconnected state today when I’m not at ease.

And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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