Tag Archives: hierarchy of needs

Ataraxia: Sdeen fo Dimaryp

Abraham Maslow: not merely the Aaron Copland of psychology, although that too

Abandon desire all ye who enter here

sign at the entrance to “Damo’s Cave” in the Glenn Morris exercise.

Abraham Maslow is a genius I still love to read, in fact I plan to read him more and more closely as time goes on. He is one of those default thinkers, like Rudolf Steiner, who underlie everything and capture so much of what is necessary about their times, but are not referenced consciously nearly so often as unconsciously.

All agree though that his “hierarchy of needs” is somewhat problematic. Supposedly it shows human needs, from physical at the base, through safety, love, esteem, to self-actualisation at the apex. The idea is that as you satisfy the lowest level, the next opens up, and so on.

… and his Hierarchy of Needs

It’s ironic that the hierarchy is what most people know of Maslow, and the only thing of his that undergrads learn, because it is far from his most important idea. Much of the work done on Maslow’s stuff since his time is unimpressive, since cognitivism refused to look at values with his boldness, and tried to pretend that peak experiences don’t exist. But flaws spotted in the pyramid are more sensible — as this page puts it, the problem is simply “deciding when a level has actually been ‘satisfied’”. How do you know when you have ‘enough’ food, esteem and love to move on to actualising yourself? Like the serial murderess says in Black Widow: “Rich is hard — you never really figure you’re quite there…”

Come to think of it, how do we model a hunger striker in solitary confinement? He doesn’t have company, yet is doing without food… perhaps for esteem he can’t see, and that means higher parts of the pyramid can overrule lower, even though the other way round is supposed to be the “correct” direction — and we see too that a person overruling top–>bottom is actualised… a person may give up self-esteem for sex, or give up food to feed family… one is the ‘giving up’ of capitulation, the other, of self-sacrifice. In what sense is food a “need” in that case? Or life itself? — there’s the point!

The actual situation seems more or less entirely the reverse of how the pyramid is usually read, in that as soon as some level of actualisation is present (meaning among other things acceptance, creativity and ethics) the other “needs” begin to be overruled by it. Ultimately, good yoga or qigong practice may take away even the “need” for breathing and eating itself, at times. The encounter with self-actualisation broadly is an encounter with death…

… one of Webster’s many mistakes was not realising this… 32,414 words as of today and more or less done the first draft, apart from an evidential appendix…

… and death is where we will all end up — not eating, not breathing, heart not beating. Many spiritual training methods by some means or another go to the shamanic place of getting this death in sooner, to a degree, and learn that closer to death is closer to life, a great mystery which I don’t claim fully to understand, although I’ve remarked on the connection between kundalini and death, and the regathering of threads it involves, on this blog before now.

Self-actualisation is indeed relegated to the tip of the pyramid on ordinary, unreconstructed instinct, by which people operating as part of society do usually function, trying to avoid ceasing to exist. But if you awaken creativity now via Kundalini, it rewrites the program as it rewires the nervous system, and ultimately can completely upend the structure.

Although he wasn’t Kundalini-specific of course, Maslow must have seen this on some level. Self-actualisation theory was deeply empirical, floating very close to real observed behaviour. And the subjects were described as “not identifying with ordinary ways”, “non-ordinary in motivation”, “non-needy” and so forth, continually, showing that Maslow was seeing the process in action, but somehow didn’t quite put his finger on it. He also saw the vital importance of the transpersonal via Peak Experiences, but wished to remove their mystical connotations, so may not have associated them with death. That would have been too “supernatural”.

It is to be noted that Kundalini experiencers usually have to become more ethical; the goddess does not give them another choice except to suffer from not doing so. See Greenwell and Kason. This shows that awakening and ethics are instinctively connected, not only intellectually so.

Later aspects of Maslow’s thought included the ‘plateau experience’ which was like a peak experience but constant. Thought like that remains absolutely central to the psychology of realisation in my opinion. I relate it strongly to Greek ataraxia, the aim of Epicureanism, but it includes a strand of mythic eternity owing to Maslow’s theory of “B-cognition”. I will definitely return to these ideas when I have time; meanwhile Rhea White introduces them here.


Notes on free wills

Sure pal, like you turned out trustworthy. A different attitude on this and you wouldn't have fallen for the ring crap.

They’re really at the ‘no free will’ business right now, the skeptics. Someone pointed me to this article by Jerry Coyne, a fine example of the usual claim you have no choice in anything since you are a mere ‘meat computer’ that ‘must obey the laws of physics’. Of course there are more elegant anti-will claims. This is not one, this is a meatgrinder. One cannot help hearing the voice of the cyberman. Add in some ever-popular Freudian tango (“if this seems to deny something basic about your humanity, that only makes it more of a true revelation”), et voilà — one strangled personhood. And that is their aim.

As Volk points out, we can make changes in our physical brain structure through meditation, so the idea that our physicality limits us is wrong. Murphy wrote a very big book on that which Coyne would choke on. The autonomic can become consciously controlled via a couple of dozen disciplines at least. The use of the body against freedom is ironic as it is so often the source thereof. Since we also know ch’i exists and responds to intention, plus has the power to alter physical matter, the automated billiard ball psychological universe disappears on cue.

“We are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics,” Coyle says. “All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws.” In other words, if you exercise free will you are betraying your own lifestyle and culture! Do you dare to contravene them even in thought, infidel?

Well you do and we can catch you at it. An important aspect of free will is “free won’t”, the ability to refuse or inhibit an impulse which even the Libet experiments, so often misused as skeptic ammunition, still allow. Goleman writes of the now-classic ‘marshmallow test’, in which four-year-olds are sat down opposite a marshmallow and told they can eat it, or wait for an adult to come back from an errand in which case they’ll get two. Impulse control was better in some kids than others and correlated to increased actualisation later in life — more control, more actualisation. A subsequent study found the area of the brain responsible for the inhibition as Goleman reported in 2007. It corresponds roughly to the dorsal fronto-median cortex.

“Free won’t” is actually like a muscle — we all have it, but attaining its potential requires work. The marshmallow routine should really be done not as a secretive test “on” children but as a training of them. If you have a kid do the test a few times and you will see improvement which feeds through into other areas.

Thus we have a property that not only exists measurably and differentially amongst humans but which can be shown to improve. Since improvement has been shown to correlate to happiness, to say that what one is improving “doesn’t exist” is just a reductionist sophistry, and a Trojan horse for the prevention of flourishing.

Marshmallows are low on the pyramid, challenge to achieve is high

How many who have done the marshmallow test realise it’s a spiritual training method? In Learning Ritual Magic Greer/King/Vaughn have a version where you bring a brightly-coloured object into a room and then do something for 10 minutes in that room but never look at the object. Same exact impulse control, same “free won’t” skill developing. But notice that the original marshmallow test used self-interested greed as a motivation (low on the hierarchy) where this one deliberately shows that no motivation is needed for an adult other than interest/challenge. True grit and other such subtleties are beyond the currency of Coyne since to him we only interpret neurotransmitters as motivations.

Free will training also shows relation to paradox that should surprise no-one — anyway no-one who has observed the effects of aporia. Mental patterns can be changed just as can physical ones if you know how. Kundalini involves a re-wiring of the nervous system, or “bein’ god-teched” as Glenn liked to say which radically reorientates the will.

“Free won’t” leads to free will since not-doing something is aided by doing something else. In another classic training exercise — I got it from Draja Mickaharic who I believe snagged it from Gurdjieff — a person walking home in a snowstorm reaches his front door but does not go in immediately; instead he walks around the block once first. Thus he strengthens his will. Here, free won’t or the refusal of gratification has been translated into free will or choice of alternative courses. (You could sing Ave Maria before going inside if you prefer.)

This is all related I think to the level of coalesced harmony and negentropy in the system, entrained around the decision-maker. That’s where knife edge is — when spirit is willing how is flesh doing? Through training, the answer to that question can change.

So much for the active form of free will. There is also a more subtle, paradoxical and probably fundamental form which is referred to as creativity. We saw last week how a Breakout or moment of inspiration can bring something new to the human system, which resolves stressful issues into harmonious relationship, and we also saw how it can be deliberately induced by giving up any attempt to consciously control. I often induce similar resolutions by Ericksonian trance. More sophisticated anti-willers like Wegner would say this is giving up free will, but of course you can choose to do it consciously and you thereby gain freedom. Meanwhile Coyne is far even from Wegner.

As with all concepts of intuition and inspiration, these are not things “I” do but appear from outside the closed circle of the personality. An argument for free will is not an argument for conventional personal identity or for the necessity of control. On the contrary, less control can mean more freedom. (This does not mean giving way to any “randomness” since randomness does not reduce disorder.)

Living closer to such inspiration is more alive, more on the pivot of the moment — there is a correspondence with the Taoist idea of Ziran — and this aliveness or creativity in the moment is to be contrasted with anything mechanical, which it is not. It runs rings around it. Morinaga calls it “dying in every moment”.

So we can cite some subconscious promptings as evidence of free will. How could Coyne even categorize this? (Deleuze wouldn’t have much problem with it though.) This is far from the last paradox to be enumerated since acceptance of reality as it is creates freedom of action, too, at least, yet seems to give up a freedom — the freedom of the illusory. There is no hope of solving this in physicalism. Acceptance of unwelcome reality for humans usually involves acceptance of death and the shadow, which are the keys to freedom. Thus to deny free will is probably to attempt to deny (“master”) death.

Maslow, not being bound up in any form of mechanistic thinking, says the following:

I must make a statement, even though it will certainly be disturbing to many theologians, philosophers, and scientists: self-actualizing individuals have more “free will” and are less “determined” than average people are. However the words “free will” and “determinism” may come to be operationally defined, in this investigation they are empirical realities.

Motivation and Personality

So here we have two good forms of free will. (I could also mention the longitudinal or diachronic aspect in which big freedoms accrue from small decisions repeated over time — even repeated mechanically, perhaps, which would be another paradox.) Let’s not take even the penny Coyne is trying to spend, let alone give him the pound of meat computer he wants.

All of this and I’ve barely touched on the transpersonal or what Coyne would call the ‘spooky’. The spooky quite plainly exists too, but I see I’ve been distracted by this stuff from more transpersonal things — next week I’ll make up for it. For now I just mention that opening the base chakra requires development of free won’t at the least, since the system must feel safe in increasing impulse power without its degradation into appetite.


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