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Earth-Rooted Needs Flower

a framing metaphor for life

Universal human needs are life energy in us seeking fulfillment independently of Person, Location, Action, Time, Object - inspired by Marshall Rosenberg, Julie Greene, Miki Kashtan

The Earth-Rooted Needs flower arose out of my desire to organize universal human needs in some logical way, making them easier to identify while incorporating our innate dependence on the Earth. The original inspiration came out of my self-empathy practice with Jim & Jori Manske's Needs Wheel, which I've extended to include more categories.

"Needs: Resources required to sustain and enrich life. Needs are universal. Needs make no reference to a specific person doing any specific thing." - Jim & Jori Manske

Key Distinction: Need vs. Strategy

Needs and strategies are often confused, and are a frequent source of conflict. Strategies are what we use to meet our needs -- they are specific to a Person, Location, Action, Time or Objects (PLATO). Needs are the intrinsic motivation behind the strategy -- the "why" behind the strategy selection.

For instance, one of my favorite strategies in the morning is to go for a walk in a semi-wild park; I do this to satisfy my needs for self-connection, nature, beauty, health, well-being, clarity, creativity, embodiment and movement. An awareness of my needs brings abundance -- an endless supply of other strategies which I could use to meet my needs. For example, if the park that I frequent happens to be closed, I might go for a hike, bike to a different park, go mountain biking, jog around my neighborhood, or practice vinyasa yoga in my room.

"Words are pointers" - Anthony De Mello, Eckhart Tolle, et. all

What are Needs?

I've found that it can be limiting to describe needs with a single word. Needs words are pointers to life energy in us seeking fulfillment. Given that understanding, I now use the needs inventories (such as the one provided by the Heart-Canvas) as a starting place for a creative exploration; I will often use my imagination to expand on my understanding of a need for the specific context that I'm in.

Context is important; certain words take on different meaning depending on the context in which they are used. Furthermore, given that every human being has a unique upbringing, education, cultural and social context, the needs words can take on different flavors. I explore needs with Jim Manske in the video below.

A Flower as a Framing Metaphor

The framing metaphor of a flower jumped out at me as a great way to organize and represent important qualities of needs. The flower itself represents the "life energy in us seeking fulfillment," the first definition of needs from my first NVC teacher Upgeya Pew (attributed to Julie Greene, a NVC trainer from BayNVC). I chose the color scheme to match the Jerusalem artichoke shown on the cover of Marshall Rosenberg's second edition of the book Nonviolent Communication - a Language of Life shown below.

Book: Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life

I love using a flower as a framing metaphor for needs for various reasons. Flowers themselves are expressions of life. They evolved as an expression of nature that many beings find to be "beautiful." A benefit of this beauty is that it attracts attention from bees, assisting in the cross-pollination with other flowers, further assisting in the life and sustainability of the species. Some flowers open and close in response to the daily cycle of the sun, and will even tilt to face the light. In many ways, flowers embody their needs more comfortably than humans. Flowers are not shy at expressing their nature, which many beings find beautiful -- they are fearless in their desire to be seen and visited. They open up to the light, and close up to the dark and cold for protection.

Four Quadrants

The Earth-Rooted Needs Flower is organized into four quadrants.

Physical needs

The Physical needs are at the bottom, showing a dependence of the flower on the nutrients of the Earth. The roots of the flower, which are usually buried within the earth, are shown going through the Earth highlighting the dependence of life on the Earth. The Embodiment category is attached to the roots of the flower, demonstrating the point at which humanity and nature are one -- i.e. where the Physical, Personal and Interconnected meet, thereby showing our dependence on the Earth and interdependence to each other in community -- we need each other for survival and sustainability of our species.

The Nature and Embodiment categories were inspired by my work with Bill Plotkin's "Wild Mind - A Field Guide to the Human Psyche."

Personal needs

The Personal needs are on the left side of the flower, such as autonomy, agency, choice, expression, creativity, authenticity and well-being. If you face South, and visualize you are the flower, your right hand -- the "Yang" (masculine side).

Interconnected needs

The Interconnected needs are on the right side of the flower, such as community, interdependence, belonging, collaboration, empathy, connection, understanding and peace. While facing downward, your left hand -- the "Yin" (female side) is on the left.

Transcendent needs

The transcendent needs are at the top of the flower, such as flow, beauty, love, communion, mystery, spiritual connection and meaning.

Here's a short poem inspired by the "Earth-Rooted Needs Flower," which emphasizes our interconnection with Nature. The poem doesn't seem complete, so please view it as a work in progress.

We are rooted in the Earth
Like a flower in bloom
Without the Earth
Our future is doomed. 

The roots of life
Within our selves
Will help us wake up
From this slumbered spell. 

We’ve gotten some stories of separation
They’ve caused great pain across the nation.
We need each other to survive
Connection and love so we may thrive. 

To meet my needs at your expense
Will miss the mark of my heart’s sense.
To meet your needs without my health
A page I’ve turned - my freedom’s smelt. 

Awakening I am to my own compass,
I bring my being in line with purpose.
Our Earth calls a return to her gardens
Much easier to let Her carry our burdens. 

This voice of life can speak to you too
Within yourself you'll find the flower.
The canvas provides a map of experience,
You choose where to focus to build some resilience.

Rooted-Earth Needs Flower

Here's a synopsis of the category changes between versions to support a holistic view of universal needs that includes our dependence and belonging to the physical world:

  • Protection → Sustainability
  • Survival → Nature
  • New category at the roots of the flower: Embodiment

The Earth-Rooted Needs Flower art was a collaboration between James Prieto and Michael Samuel.