Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

Our Primary Satisfactions ~ Authentic Community & The Culture of Deprivation

Posted by on Feb 12, 2019 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 3 comments

Our Primary Satisfactions ~ Authentic Community & The Culture of Deprivation

I heard Francis Weller talk a while ago about ‘our primary satisfactions.’ The mere sound of those words aroused something: a tender feeling, in my body and heart, of how it would be to live inside the flow of those primary satisfactions. These nourishments are a response to our core needs, the fundamental needs we all share as human beings. The need for connection, for intimacy, for touch. The need to be held, the need to trust, and the need for respect, for autonomy, for sovereignty. None of these satisfactions, these experiences of being nourished and fulfilled, are connected with things. They are objectless. They are all about relating, about the nature of authentic community, a culture full of soul.

We are designed to be held and to live inside a relational space that responds to these core needs. A healthy culture, a family rooted in wholeness, is an environment in which these needs are fulfilled. Many of the indigenous cultures, before they were destroyed by the settlers, embodied this way of being. Some of them still do. It’s amazing to feel how far from this basic health we have strayed. Our post modern culture is essentially a culture of deprivation. We live without these primary satisfactions a great deal of the time. And we are used to it. Used to the deprivation, so much so that we don’t even notice it a lot of the time. We don’t connect it to the trouble we might have with sleeping, or with eating, or with watching too much TV or spending too much time on social media. Or with the underlying feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, loneliness.

We just trudge along, most of us, like brave soldiers, living in a soulless culture, ignoring the deep longings that live in our bodies, in our hearts and souls. If we are lucky, we may have opportunities to participate in an event that is full of the contact we’ve been missing. This could be a great holiday, or a workshop, a retreat, a dance festival, a training, a course, or a project: any kind of gathering in which we come together for a while and temporarily create another kind of culture.

I had such an experience in London, in November, at a training with Stephen Busby. The primary satisfactions were dripping off the walls, following us up the stairs, to the shops, onto the subways. We were not doing anything glamorous, extravagant or exotic. Just living together in a way that called forth our souls: becoming more and more connected, more and more intimate, less and less separate, day by day. Going back home to our much more isolated and separate lives was not easy. In fact, it is usually a bit of a shock. When Francis Weller spoke about this, he acknowledged that almost no-one in our culture is consistently and deeply nourished by these primary satisfactions. Our world is not designed like this. We can make the effort to connect with our neighbours, the people around us, as much as we can. But that deeper satisfaction only happens to us sporadically.

I’m often astounded by the changes I see in people when they have the chance to live inside a field of real ongoing connection and mutual caring. People transform. Their brain functions change, higher capacities emerge in them, that do not seem to exist in isolation. Their bodies open, their faces fill with light. The soul comes out of hiding and claps its hands for joy. It’s easy to dismiss this as a temporary high, but I think there’s much more to this story than that. What if this is the way we are supposed to live, and this is why we blossom and unfold when we are in such situations? Why have we all grown so accustomed to our isolation and deprivation? What would happen to us if we were nourished by this kind of intimacy more often? If we were touched, held, heard, seen, deeply acknowledged? And if we gave the same kind of nourishment and satisfaction to others all the time?

I think that engaging in these questions is a very good idea. First of all, understanding how deprived we are brings a much deeper compassion for ourselves and everyone around us. Secondly, our culture is breaking down now, and we all know it. So we cannot really afford to ignore these questions. Inside our current cultural framework, not much is working anymore. Margaret Mead said, referring to the constraints of our post modern culture, “The North American marriage . . . is one of the most difficult marriage forms that the human race has ever attempted.” I believe such a marriage or partnership is almost a fantasy. It makes us believe we can depend on one person to provide so many of our primary satisfactions.

Not all of our primary satisfactions come through other people. We have a profound need to develop a healthy relationship with our core self, our soul, the vast and mysterious inner dimensions of our being. This deeper relationship with our spiritual nature happens much more naturally when we are nourished by authentic community. We are no longer afraid to go inside and face the loneliness, the angst and the despair that live there. Inside the field of holding and connection, we trust that we can hold and respect ourselves, even in very difficult moments, and that if we reach our for support, help is there.

Let us walk together with these questions, and in holding them close, ignite the possibility for a new way of living on this earth, as we see the old ways going up in flames.

if you move carefully
through the forest

like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.

~David Whyte

with love,


Photo credit: Arthur Poulin on Unsplash


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Michelle Wilsdon

    Beside the pond to celebrate a life
    White Swan and music
    you rolled your chair gingerly to me and said
    I love your hair
    I will do that with mine
    That will be fantastic
    majestic in
    setting sun

  2. Betsy

    Thank you for this!

  3. Julie Seibt

    Your tender words of conviction help me recognize the voice of my heart.
    Thank-you Shayla,

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