So I want you to imagine you wake up one morning in the middle of a busy high street and you’ve lost everything but your clothes. You have no family, no home, no income. All you know is your name but you can see you are surrounded by houses and people who have ‘things’.
A stranger walks up to you and asks ‘what do you need?’.
Well, what do we need? I’m not talking about what we want, that comes later.
In the previous post in the series we took a look at Maslow’s (five tier) Hierarchy of Needs, which explains we must satisfy our lower Physiological and Safety needs before we can move on up to satisfying the higher need of self-actualisation (being all you can be and sharing that with others in a state of happiness).
This doesn’t mean we can’t spend some of our time working on meeting our higher needs if we’re still struggling to meet those lower needs; it just means we’re going to have a more difficult time doing it. Our lower needs will keep dominating our attention until being fully almost automatically met. You can cheat your needs hierarchy for a while but you cannot, ultimately, beat it.
What do we actually need our physical, non-living environments to provide us with before we can move up the Needs Hierarchy to Self Actualisation?
We can categorise our lower level needs under four headings:
- Flow and finally
When it comes to managing our emotions we need freedom from and freedom to.
There’s a reason teenagers get the screaming heebie-jeebies when a parent or a sibling enters their personal space without permission. It’s the same reason most people who live in shared accommodation do so with a gnawing reluctance and have a higher incidence of emotional problems in comparison to those who own their own home. At certain life stages, or when dealing with certain life pressures (especially strange people found in certain types of accommodation), we produce more emotional reactions.
During these times we need more undisturbed private space in order to achieve emotional discharge.
It’s why some men or women turn into ‘shedologists’, living like hermits in a shed at the bottom of the garden, or may even take up fishing or walking or art therapy. It’s the reason a lot of people pray; meditate or otherwise contemplate life experiences in solitude.
We need undisturbed private physical space, cutting ourselves off from further stimulation, in order to achieve emotional discharge produced as a result of stimulation received so far.
Most people with emotional illness don’t give themselves this kind of space – I didn’t. They often don’t know they need it.
If you don’t get this on a regular enough basis, either because you don’t recognise the need for it or your environment doesn’t allow it, you’re at risk of becoming emotionally overcharged (emotionally and mentally ill).
Paradoxically some people locked up in isolation against their will discover they actually benefit from the freedom they’re given in terms of fewer social demands and more time to themselves in isolation.
Freedom from distractions and threats; freedom to process the information taken in so far, release any excess emotional energy produced and then make decisions. It might not be possible to get this in the physical place you think of as ‘home’ right now so, like a lot of people, you may have to leave home on a recurring basis and go to another place in order to get this undisturbed solitude.
The Guardian Figure
A sense of safety, listed in the second tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy, is necessary before we can fully enter our emotional states. Deep in the human psyche is a need for a ‘guardian figure’. Someone who watches over us whenever we retreat into our inner world. Before we invented brick walls and doors with locks to seal them we lived out in the open as hunter-prey and in order to feel safe for sleeping we appointed look-outs. This need for a sense of a ‘guardian’ being in place before we withdraw our attention from the outside world shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Unconscious needs to see we are externally safe, before it allows us to turn inwards.
Doing so at the wrong time can actually get you killed. I remember a couple of times when I was working with my obsessional images while out and about in the real world of almost getting knocked down by a car or getting into an argument with a shopkeeper because my attention was turned away from the outer world at the wrong time.
Your Guardian Figure could be a counsellor; or the lock on your door. Once you’ve established a regular ‘safe place’ to do this inner work in you are on your way to achieving emotional self-actualisation.
You could be the Pope and you’d have the same panicky thoughts as any other mortal when you need to go and there’s no toilet/restroom available to go in.
My favourite model of the reality of biological function is that described by Dr Candace Pert in her book ‘Molecules of Emotion’ – she explains we are actually creatures built of segments and each segment releases chemical signals – dominating the attention of the body and mind – until the needs of that segment have been met. Once met the segment returns to a state of ‘homeostasis’ – ‘peace within a given range of activity’, until the need of that segment arises again.
Our task here, emotionally speaking, is to eliminate the negatives rather than try and create positives – you may get a temporary endorphin boost from the relief created when your cooker just got fixed but you return to neutral (which means you don’t even think about it) soon after. What functions do we need our environments to allow us to do? We need them to allow us to:
- see, hear and smell
- control body temperature
- eat and drink
- bathe and cleanse
- heal our physical ailments using physical tools
- remain physically safe
and we need to do all of these things (maybe more) in a socially acceptable way.
If you live in a simple bedsitting room that allows you to do all these things without interruption you’ve got your functions covered. If any one of these functions is not being catered for or is being interrupted you’ve got a ‘stressor’ to deal with and you either need to tackle it or move; either option will take time and effort. ‘Elimination of the negatives’ is all you can realistically hope for emotionally when working on this area of your life. These are sometimes known as ‘hygiene factors’ – they need to be given proper attention but don’t expect to get much from them in terms of emotional uplift.
Right now my cooker doesn’t work (it burned out when I left a pan on too long); my shower doesn’t drain properly and my alleged memory foam mattress doesn’t remember too good. They’re on a list of things to do when the money and the time are available – I’m using temporary fix solutions in the meantime. They’re on my ‘list of things to do’ as soon as the resources come in.
‘Flow’ describes anything travelling in a direction in a continuous or cyclical stream. It has three main components:
- rate/speed .
You are affected by the flow of three main categories of things travelling into, through and out of your physical, non-living environments:
- non-living objects and resources including equipment, furniture and short-term consumables such as food, electricity and water
- people and other living creatures (relatives; friends; visitors; ad-hoc callers; pets)
- information (mostly about the first two categories).
The first two elements you can control and even stop. The third never stops unless you have fully processed the information or externalised it in some way so you can forget about it. ‘Information’ is actually a two-way process so even if you were sitting in the middle of a lush garden with every natural desire catered for and no information coming in from your environment you’d still be producing it and affecting your environment with it.
All creatures with brains are designed to move through changing environments and build maps as they go (otherwise we’d be plants) and grow as a result so we become concerned when our environment remains still for too long. We feel ‘stuck’ and start getting an urge to change things for the better (unless you’re a teenager who wants to paint everything in black gloss, which is not a good move, believe me). As observers of life we need to see ‘flow’ happening – not too much or we feel overwhelmed. Not too little either as the urge to see flow happening can turn against us when we try emotionally pushing things harder than real life allows us to and we end up feeling frustrated about our apparent inability to deal with the negatives in our physical environments.
There are four main things you can do with flow:
- Stop the flow (or reduce the volume/rate)
- Start the flow (or increase the volume/rate)
- Continue the current flow just as it is or
- Wait for the right time to start the flow.
This is what’s known as a Stop/Start/Continue/Wait analysis.
Want to try? Find yourself a sheet of paper and draw four squares and at the top of each square write ‘Stop’, ‘Start’, ‘Continue’, ‘Wait’. Now select an area of focus (you can pick your home or a room in your home, for example) and write in each box things you want to Stop or reduce; things you want to Start or increase; things you want to Continue doing and finally things you need to put on hold – Wait.
Here’s an example of one I did for myself when I met a man I’ll call ‘Don’:
Don was someone I met through my neighbour when we were agreeing to repair an adjoining fence. He is a retired painter and decorator with a variety of skills. Several years before meeting Don I’d been lucky enough to get a mortgage on a house with low deposit because it was bought at auction by a company repossession. Although it was structurally sound the house was run down internally and due to a divorce and a change in career I was on a low income. House prices shot sky high just after I bought the house so even though it sometimes felt like an anchor round my neck it felt like a lucky anchor! For several years I’d been doing work on the house myself and acquiring all kinds of materials and tools I wasn’t quite skilled enough to use properly but thought might eventually come in handy (I even went on a 3 month plastering course).
After Don did a few jobs for me I discovered for the price of one of those tools I didn’t know how to use I could hire him for a day. I ended up hiring him for a month, after getting out a bank loan, and he transformed my house for me. There’s still work to be done though and I’m working on the list for his next arrival and my next bank loan.
Now although Don’s a really great guy to know that’s not why I’m telling you all this. The purpose of the Stop/Start/Continue/Wait analysis is to get all of that information out of your head and onto paper. Once you’ve done that you can stop thinking about it. Until you externalise the information in this way your Unconscious will keep regurgitating ‘what are you going to do about it?’ questions into your Conscious.
Once the Unconscious can see you have a handle on the ‘flow’ of information and you will review it at the appropriate time it will allow you to forget – but then there’s the question of what you do next. Contained in those four boxes above are lots of follow up actions needed to be done in several different places.
Next Actions List
If you carry your next actions list around in your head your next actions in reality are subject to the ebb and flow of your memory; the efficiency of which operates according to emotional fluctuations (memories with emotional active responses attached tend to dominate current attention). If currently struggling with an anxiety disorder, for example, you will probably find large chunks of memory about certain experiences difficult to access or there may be memories seeming to have disappeared altogether. Occasionally anxious or otherwise distracting emotional states leave you standing in places not quite sure why you went to those places.
The answer is to keep a Next Actions List in some form. The picture below shows the two tools I take everywhere with me: a size A7 pad and an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder – both really cheap (you can get the recorder on ebay for about £5).
If I have any ideas while on the move and those ideas aren’t urgent they go on the recorder and then get moved over onto the pad later.
Each page being used in my pad gets a ‘contextual’ heading – the context being ‘place’. There’s no point in thinking about carrying out an action until you’re in the place to do it. There are pages headed ‘PC’; ‘Work’ and there are also headings using people’s names listing things I want to talk those people about when I next meet with them.
I simply delete things off the list as they get done.
But it’s not as simple as that, because some of the things you want to do can’t be done just yet – you have to wait for the right opportunity and resources. What to do with all the information flowing through your attention so you feel like it’s under control? The answer is a system called ‘Getting Things Done’. You can get the book on GTD from it’s creator, David Allen, by clicking this image:
Rather than go into depth on the GTD system in the middle of this post I’ll suggest you explore the information on how to set up GTD folders here.
So you’ve got the basics sorted – you’ve got a place you can spend time alone in when you need to process your emotions; you’ve a house or some other accommodation that supports your biological functions in safety and you’ve got the information regarding how things are ‘flowing’ through the physical shell under control – but it’s not a home yet, is it? It’s still a case of it being an exercise in ‘elimination of the negatives’ when it comes to how these things affect your emotional/vibrational state.
In order to improve our non-living environment to a point it starts to improve our vibrational tone we need to add ‘flowers’. By this I mean colours; smells; sounds; textures – things that bring beauty to your environment. Your favourite pictures; books; photographs. You remember I spoke earlier about Don the retired Painter and Decorator? That’s what he did for me – he filled a dull grey house (which I referred to as ‘the Cave’) with pastels and creams and it was at this point I noticed how the colours affected my mood for the better.
Experiment with different things and see how they affect you – get some houseplants; change the lighting now and again; allow yourself to play.
Setting Realistic Expectations Regarding the Emotional Affects of Your Physical Non-Living Environments
Once you’ve hit the ‘flowers’ stage and you’re feeling comfortable in your pleasant surroundings you’ve reached the limit of what physical things can offer you in terms of positive emotions.
At this point your Unconscious sees you as as ‘a person who improves their environments’ (is that how you see yourself?) and this raises your self-esteem. Basically what we’re doing here is ‘nest building’ – we’re nurturing our environment so it nurtures us and the intention then is to allow it to nurture others. The next stage of moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and closer to that state of ‘Self Actualisation’ involves our reaching out and connecting with others.
Regards – Carl