Anyone who sat through even one college psychology class will recall Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. From the day I first learned of this theory to this very day, I have regarded it as brilliant. I am particularly impressed by the notion that the highest need, self-actualization, resonated with ideas of philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Viktor Frankl.
Something inside me has always called me to significance and creativity, and self-actualization is at the center of that quest.
I hope that I am aware enough to reach for self-actualization. One roadblock for me was always the need in the middle of Maslow’s pyramid, love and belonging, which in turn interfered with the next level, esteem. The negative adjudication of your value as a mate by what can seem like half the population of the world can weigh upon you. But the love and devotion of a genuinely wonderful, emotionally healthy woman has, for the last decade, ended that, hopefully forever.
The subtexts of self-actualization are…
- Efficient perceptions of reality
- Comfortable acceptance of self, others, nature
- Task centering
- Fellowship with humanity
- Profound interpersonal relationships
- Comfort with solitude
- Non-hostile sense of humor
- Peak experiences
- A self-actualizer is a person who is living creatively and fully using his or her potentials
Those sound like pretty lofty goals, but I see no reason not to aspire to the loftiest, most satisfying, most profound experiences life offers.
It’s easy to let life’s little defeats rob you of these things, but once you get into the habit, it’s equally easy to let life’s little triumphs lift you to them. In my own life, my bigger needs are met by a satisfying job, erudite friends, a healthy marriage, and the will to creativity. I was thinking last night about the little triumphs as I was gardening. Growing things like flowers or vegetables can seem pedestrian to some, but as I have mentioned before, I achieve a sense of purpose from that activity that sends me on the path to self-actualization. Working in the garden or more generally in the outdoors on our patch of green has the same kind of centering, quieting effect as does hiking in the desert. All these things liberate my spirit and center my psyche.
Something about producing something from the soil that I can watch grow and live, then nourish me, remains, to this day, nothing short of amazing.
I wonder whether it’s possible to occasionally achieve such lofty goals and then slide back down the scale. I have a sneaking suspicion that I sometimes peer over that ledge but then retreat for a time. I don’t think I’m fully in control of this process, though I keep attempting it.