What does it mean to be self-actualized

Seventy years ago, Abraham Maslow gave us the hierarchy of human needs, and told us that it was human nature to reach for the stars, once our needs for security and love and community were met.

Blogging for Scientific American, Scott Barry Kauffman has updated Maslow’s message.   What do you think?  How are you doing?  How are the people doing whom you care most about?

  • Continued Freshness of Appreciation (Sample item: “I can appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.”)
  • Acceptance (Sample item: “I accept all of my quirks and desires without shame or apology.”)
  • Authenticity (Sample item: “I can maintain my dignity and integrity even in environments and situations that are undignified.”)
  • Equanimity (Sample item: “I tend to take life’s inevitable ups and downs with grace, acceptance, and equanimity.”)
  • Purpose (Sample item: “I feel a great responsibility and duty to accomplish a particular mission in life.”)
  • Efficient Perception of Reality (Sample item: “I am always trying to get at the real truth about people and nature.”)
  • Humanitarianism (Sample item: “I have a genuine desire to help the human race.”)
  • Peak Experiences (Sample item: “I often have experiences in which I feel new horizons and possibilities opening up for myself and others.”)
  • Good Moral Intuition (Sample item: “I can tell ‘deep down’ right away when I’ve done something wrong.”)
  • Creative Spirit (Sample item: “I have a generally creative spirit that touches everything I do.”)

“The goal of identity (self-actualization . . .) seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity. This is like saying its function is to erase itself. Put the other way around, if our goal is the Eastern one of ego-transcendence and obliteration, of leaving behind self-consciousness and self-observation, . . . then it looks as if the best path to this goal for most people is via achieving identity, a strong real self, and via basic-need-gratification.”
— Abraham Maslow

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Shamans are Ubiquitous

Shamanism is the ‘technique of ecstasy’, involving the purposeful invocation and use of dreams and visions to solve problems.

Every tribal culture – alive or dead – has some broker of spiritual capital. The Indonesian Mentawai have their sikerei. The Inuit have their angakok. The Columbian Desana have their paye. The Mongolian Buryat have their böö. The American Sioux have their heyoka.

Here is an interesting and informative article about shamanism that takes the anthropologist’s approach, looking for sociological and evolutionary explanations but never considering the possibility that the realm into which shamans are tapping might be real, and the forecasts that they provide might be accurate.

When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the West, it comes with terror like a thunderstorm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier… You have noticed truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping … as lightning illuminates the dark, for it is the power of lightning that heyokas have.

If I tell about my experience, what will people think of me?

A neurosurgeon of world-class reputation calls me. He’s been suffering from intractable headaches. Despite exhaustive medical workups, no physiological cause for them can be found. In desperation, he’s called for a psychological consultation—a last resort, in his view.

During our first appointment, he begins to describe his work. He’s passionate about it. He is already supremely successful. When heads of state need brain surgery, he’s flown into operate. His reputation rests not just on the brilliance of his technique but even more on his astonishing track record. He undertakes one dangerously life-threatening surgery after another, yet he tells me, humbly and with quiet gratitude, “I never seem to lose a patient.” He has a loving marriage and wonderful children. He can’t think of anything troubling him, no obvious subconscious source for the crippling headaches that are destroying his life.

I probe a little, looking for some hint of possible conflict, anxiety, or pain. He, on the other hand, keeps going back to his work, lighting up as he talks about it.
And then it occurs to me that he hasn’t mentioned doing any teaching, even though he’s on the staff of a big university hospital. So I ask: Does he teach residents? He looks away, suddenly silent. Finally, he speaks:

“No, I don’t teach at all anymore.”
“But you did? What happened?”
“I had to stop.”
“You had to?”
“Yes…I couldn’t keep it up…. But I miss it. I loved teaching. As much as surgery itself, I loved it…. But I had to stop….”

He falls silent again. Gently I probe further. Why did he have to stop? And then slowly, reluctantly, the surgeon tells me what he’s never told anyone. He can’t teach anymore because he doesn’t believe he can teach what he’s really doing. He tells me why his patients don’t die on him. As soon as he learns that someone needs surgery, he gets himself to the patient’s bedside. He sits at the patient’s head, sometimes for thirty seconds, sometimes for hours at a stretch. He waits—for something he couldn’t possible admit to surgery residents, much less teach. He waits for a distinctive white light to appear around his patient’s head. Until it appears, he knows it’s not safe to operate. Once it appears, he knows he can go ahead and the patient will survive.

How, he asks me, could he possibly reveal that? What would the residents think? They’d think he was crazy; maybe he is crazy. But crazy or not, he knows that seeing the white light is what saves his surgeries from disaster. So how can he teach and not talk about it? It’s a horrible dilemma. He’s adopted the only possible solution: he’s quit teaching.

And when did your headaches begin? I ask him. Startled, he looks up at me. It hits him and hits him hard.

“That’s interesting, he says. The headaches started two years ago. And I remember when I noticed the first one. It was the day I resigned from teaching, right after I told the dean.”

The neurosurgeon and his white light exemplify a conflict What happens when you have an anomalous experience, but you’re afraid to acknowledge it? If you admit to the experience, you run the risk of being disbelieved or thought crazy. It’s a profoundly destructive conflict, one that stops us as a society from looking for ways to discover and develop new knowledge. And one that stops us as individuals from embracing our reality.

Elizabeth Mayer was a psychotherapist and professor of psychology at UC Berkeley

How I Became a Madman

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen — the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives, — I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the curséd thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

— Khalil Gibran

It comes as naturally as sleep

I sat down in the middle of the garden…and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could.

Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

Willa Cather