The willingness and desire to stretch to a higher potential is a part of our inner psychological make-up, even though the local environment has repressed the ability to do so. We are motivated to improve and enrich our lives. Although it is normally considered to be a one-lifetime process, the evidence shows us quite clearly that it is not that way at all. We pick up where we left off, and we continue from there.
The model of human behavioral evolution known as “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”, developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow, is used by many as the most accurate way of understanding how we navigate in our lives and the environment in such a way to provide a foundation for the highest aspect known as self-actualization or self-realization. I will use this model extensively because I have found that with some modifications it provides a very useful method of understanding something that is difficult to understand without.
Although the path up to and including our needs for self-esteem are generally well understood, the process of self-actualization is not. It has a lot more of a structure to it than most people realize. It, like any other process of evolution is never-ending. You will always have another potential to reach.
Maslow wrote a lot about human self-realization and he gives very adequate descriptions about what parts of that process contain. His model is still discussed as to its accuracy or usefulness. I have found it extremely useful because it seems to be very congruent with the behavior of people over time with little variation. The problem lies in the fifth and last step of Maslow’s model of evolution. The problem lies in the fact that the focus of attention and authority changes completely as one enters the realm of self-actualization.
All the steps in Maslow’s pyramid of needs up to and including Esteem are all externally satisfied. The self-realization step is something that is internal. After pondering how to better understand the structure of a greater process, I discovered quite a few years ago that the self-realization process is not a step but a series of steps that lead down the pyramid. The externalized needs have to be internalized and we seem to do that from the top-down.
Living from the inside-out
It works like this – You have your self-esteem needs satisfied – you have recognition from society that you are good at what you do – but now you feel that you have to do something different. There is something you are passionate about doing simply because you feel that urge to do it from the inside out. This change is usually such a radical change that your external recognition from the environment to your desires are totally unrecognized, unsupported or even discouraged.
If you are not able to give yourself the permission to do what you set out to do and no-one else is willing to cheer you on – you give up your attempt to self-actualize until another day.
If you do give yourself the permission, support and recognition to do “your thing”, you are on your way but you have only come to the first of several tests that will be increasingly challenging for you. They will force you to become strong from the inside out and they will demand that you become more aware of those hidden resources that have been dormant for most of your life.
Internalizing the level of “belonging” or “love” is harder than esteem. It forces you to challenge the relationships you have in your daily life and ask the question, “Do these relationships enhance or inhibit the path I feel I need to take in my life. Do the relationships support me being all that I can be when that is self-directed? Usually there is quite a lot of changes that need to be made at this level of life. It can seem self-destructive from the position of friends, family or any other social group.
When, or if you get to the point that all of your closest relationships support your path directly or indirectly – and perhaps after some rest and recuperation from the last ordeal, a new one lurks on the horizon and that is harder. It has to do with internalizing your perception of security. Your boarders may become threatened. You may lose your money, house or what-ever. Your future will seem up for grabs.
If you have started to also become internally self-aware you will have also perhaps discovered that there is a mystical, indescribable force that seems to look out for your needs. You discover synchronicity in your life and figure out that when you are clear in your path, the path simply becomes clear for you. Without having the “universe” on your side, the task of overcoming or internalizing your safety concerns will fail. You will have to leave the self-actualization experience and get yourself a job doing something you hate to do.
If you do succeed however, there is another test waiting for you down the path and that is your survival. By this time you have probably reached the understanding that you always survive your own death so survival does not become such an issue for you anymore. You can move forward despite the dangers involved.
For more than ten years I have tested this model to see if it more adequately describes the territory of self-realization. I have yet to see it fail the reality test. Someday the extended model will be more widely accepted and understood. The reason why it is not understood today is due to the extreme pressures in society to live primarily from the outside-in and stay that way.
The path described in the processes of self-actualization had to be experienced before I was able to understand the progression that was discovered. For anyone without that experience, the best they can do is apply reason and imagination to find out if it makes sense.
I knew about the Maslow model ever since I was a teenager. Being internally driven and internally led most of my life I was led to believe that my path at that time was all about self-actualization. I was progressing toward an extensive career as an advertising photographer – because that’s where all the quality was to be found – so I could artistically master the craft.
I took it as far as I could and came to the point where all the awards, all the studio space and all the money could not compensate for what I really wanted to do – to be free and express myself visually, with or without the aid of photography. I was introducing painting more and more into my work feeling the urge to do something very different.
I became very dissatisfied with the fact that I was using all of my creative abilities to get people to buy into stuff someone else was trying to sell them. It became an empty and meaningless task. I realized that I was still in the level of Esteem on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
It took about five years from the first warning signs that there was something wrong – until I knew I was on the way down the pyramid working towards the level of safety. Years later, I hit another bump in the road when everything I knew about economic security flew out the window. I had to bring some serious resources into play and it all took another 7-years before I came completely out of that zone.
With internalized security and awareness of my awareness as a non-physical or spirit phenomenon that survives the death of the body – the survival issues are not that important anymore. I know that as long as I am alive, my mission on this Earth is still not finished.
Human potential in the context of competition
The presence of artificially or culturally induced competition in the rules of society has been our reality from birth throughout the known history of mankind. There have always been a presence of Kings, Queens, Popes, Presidents etc. that claim to have some righteous right to an authority you need to be subservient to. In our lifetimes, money has always been around as a way to trade and enslave other people. As such, the movement up the hierarchy of human needs is always met with some level of resistance, friction, struggle, fear, anxiety, and loss along the way. For many people the struggle to get past survival needs is enough to occupy their entire lives. Others again are involved for ages trying to secure their futures, increase safety and boundaries. Many are struggling with relationships, some are dealing with the issues of esteem.
By referring to the bell-curve of human performance you will find a very interesting progression of patterns. It all has to do with the extent that competitive aspects determining internal or external behavior. Societies and collective groups of humanity that are “stuck” at some level of Maslow’s needs hierarchy are experiencing higher and higher levels of social competition at the lower levels and less and less at the higher levels.
When we look at the individuals in society that are on the extraordinary side of the curve, we find that these individuals have managed to reduce or eliminate as many aspects of competition as possible to get where they got. This is an essential part of any extra-ordinary human performance, be it short lived or long term. There is this presence of “flow” without restriction.
This flow is the expression of self-actualization and it can be done in billions of different ways to benefit and provide value for self and others. As such this has to be the goal of any human and any human social structure even though it might seem like a utopia in the context of competition that abounds today.
Potential is a never-ending thing
Even in the realm of self-realization – there will always be higher levels of achievement to reach as long as there is a desire to do so. Self-leadership is driven by desire. Self-motivation is driven by desire. If that desire is in service to self, others and/or the environment than it is a wonderful thing.
When one boundary of human potential has been achieved, there will always be a desire to extend ones self to surpass new or other boundaries as the case may be. The expansion of mastery, self-awareness, and creative potential with ability is utterly endless. This is truly the “path of pleasure” where the only pain involved is the act of stretching, expanding and learning, which is not really pain at all. Consider that if you chose the path of competition you still also have to learn, stretch and expand but the thing is it hurts so much more. The universe demands development. Its up to you to decide which way it’s going to be.