True Needs vs. Wants

The Inward/Outward site, which offers some wonderful daily thoughts, contained a quote the other day from Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk (a wonderful read). Norris writes

What is enough? As always, it seems that the more I can distinguish between my true needs and my wants, the more I am shocked to realize how little is enough. The trees that fan me are the fruit of others’ labor, planted by an earlier generation of Plains dwellers who longed for trees to shelter them. The land resisted, but let them have these few. I am startled by something flashing through the trees. It is the Pleiades, all seven of them plainly visible to the naked eye. This is another’s work, and a mystery. And it is enough.

We have such a tendency to confuse needs and wants, often beginning sentences with “I need…” when we really mean “I want.”

I think the reason Norris’ statement resonated so deeply is my experience walking the Camino de Santiago.  Spend five weeks walking with only what you can carry on your back (and what others are willing to share with you) and you will, indeed, be “shocked to realize how little is enough.”  The warmth of the sun during the day and the shade of a tree when the sun’s rays are too intense.  The lights of the stars at night.  The sound of the laughter of friends.

What do I really need?

Obviously there are real needs to live a fully human life, including enough resources for food, shelter, education, medical care, etc.

But, leaving aside basic necessities, if we are honest, we need a whole lot less than we often think we do. And we would do well to learn to distinguish better between true needs and wants.  Lent seems to offer a good opportunity to work on that.