Since we supposedly belong to a “me generation”, how about some thoughts on what self-actualisation might or might not be? Maslow lays out his discoveries on this in Motivation and Personality 1987 (original publication 1954). He wanted some data on the psychologically healthy person, who has got through the neuroses. He spent a lifetime getting it. To start with he had no theory, but gathered examples and looked for the common factors, trying to get a deep impression. It’s not a list of theoretical or philosophical virtues but of life observations.
His findings? Self-actualising persons tend to have more peak experiences, and to be focused on problems outside themselves, on things that must be done, seeing these in the widest possible frame of reference with emphasis on values. ‘Big questions’ are not shirked and their answers are heeded. They have a tendency to see the fake, dishonest or spurious, in human personalities and in other areas, quickly and instinctively, and make better predictions as a result of neutral observation. They extend this to themselves and accept all their own rough edges. They have a greater than average experience of wonder and of general human kinship. Their humour and creativity are strong — creativity meaning not artistic genius but a fresh, inventive playfulness that is brought to every activity.
Obviously these aren’t ‘selfish’ traits. Most people are lucky enough to know, or at least somehow encounter, a human or three with these qualities, and feel it a gift. (This is why Glenn Morris, who was one, recommended always training with the best people available. You learn more than just a technique.) The impression gained is of a person able to synergise with any situation or social grouping and turn the encounter to general human profit on deep as well as everyday levels. There are constant twists in their output that could come only from their particular personality, which both shapes experience and is shaped by it.
Maslow’s list is incredibly useful for those who grew up (or are growing up) without useful role models, even more so if you know how to change yourself. This is the kind of human being you are happy to have around because they are consistently able to do what’s necessary. They embody what makes you grin for all the right reasons. People can have some fun shaping their character towards these values with whatever tools they like, eliciting personal versions of the resources. The results of such experiments are interesting; doesn’t seem to take much to put people on the right track. The Secret Smile and Chakra Psychology are excellent tools, and dealing with the shadow makes deep transformation possible. Becoming the best human you can be is not self-indulgent if you actually have a way to get there. Everyone gets something out of it if you hit the target.
There’s more to it yet. A self-actualising person is also comfortable being solitary, able to be reserved, detached, and self-governing. Actually a form ‘self-centredness’, in the sense of not being one of the crowd, is part of what makes this happen. Maslow points out that a society is never actualised — when an individual is, it’s by floating free of society. We’ll never have a civilisation that mints self-actualised people. It always takes individual initiative, method, and what Maslow calls “resistance to enculturation”, to become who you really are. The result may look conventional in style in some, because that’s the easiest way in to synergising, but not from fear of sticking out. Their resistance is inner and not that of the adolescent rebel, who is powerless to effect change.
Although Maslow’s style in studying the results of this process was unique, it’s a thread running through the work of other psychologists. Carl Jung believed:
Society, by automatically stressing all the collective qualities in its individual representatives, puts a premium on mediocrity […] Individuality will inevitably be driven to the wall.
So he designed his analytical process to achieve individuation, amounting to the acquired ability to be oneself. This was also to be ‘in-dividual’, that is, not-divided, so whole, or healed; and it meant a partial disengagement from collective norms:
In particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.
Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given […] In so doing [the person individuating] does not become “selfish” […] but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this, as we have said, is vastly different from egotism or individualism.
Havens collects a group of relevant Milton Erickson sayings, illustrating a philosophy heavily weighted towards bringing out individual potential, such as:
What I want you to do is to begin being yourself. Accepting yourself. And knowing that you can control yourself. You want to do something. You control yourself. You focus your efforts. And it is a wonderful thing to explore, to discover the self.
Everybody is like his fingerprints. They’re one of a kind. And never will be another like you. And you need to enjoy, always being you. And you can’t change it — just as fingerprints can’t be changed.
And so forth.
An interesting thing: I chose this at random to represent the typical psychology undergraduate text. Jung receives barely a mention. Erickson is completely missing. Maslow fares as Jung does, but gets a single more substantive mention (one page from 750) which introduces his famous pyramid. They give it as if it’s a cognitive theory though, missing the actualising values. The word ‘transpersonal’ appears once in the text. The words ‘meditation’ and ‘hypnosis’ don’t appear at all. Yet all those topics and names embody a great deal of public interest and large tracts of data are available on all of them. It’s not that subsequent research, including Glenn’s, hasn’t strengthened the positions of those three psychology giants — it has, and I’ll return to that in later posts. So who is choosing what goes in this book? What are the criteria?
The theories and methods we’re talking about are actualising theories and methods, so they float free of scientific culture too. Maslow swam against the tide in numerous choices of study matter. Erickson did so in modality, and used his ‘country’ wisdom to counteract neurotic urban confusion. Jung had to break with Freudian orthodoxy, and found material in spiritual subjects that few psychologists saw as important. They were all offering alternatives, roads to oneself that break with the customary.
Reading that textbook I see ‘scientific objectivity’ sometimes being misused to erode imagination, values, health. I’m not being too harsh there. The big questions are not really being engaged; the important aspects of being human are ignored to a progressively greater extent. I read a shrug between the lines. People looking for answers to what really matters may find these books rather barren. Yet we do have such answers available.
One thing such mainstream psychology does do extremely well is statistical research, so let’s use that resource, since it agrees anyway. Some arms of the riots last August flapped about not far from my front door. They say now that 75% of rioters had some criminal record, but only 25% a serious one, and that leaves a quarter of rioters with none. Original reports mentioned social workers, university graduates, and others who ought to know better, caught up amongst the charged. Deindividuation, the psychological term for getting one’s shadow self activated under crowd cover, is the culprit. It’s been studied with respect to vandalism, killing and stealing. The conclusion is that people can behave worse when they are a faceless member of a group. The nether end is the Nazi camps and Abu Ghraib. In such situations, what does it take not to join in?
A relevant evidential review, conducted by L. Mann, looked at ‘crowd baiting’ in threatened suicide cases — that is, a man on a ledge with a crowd below. Larger crowds were far more likely to shout ‘Jump!’. Unfortunately the suicidal will listen. It’s relevant because it happened just this week, to Osman Rasul Mohammed. The coroner recorded an open verdict. Human groupings erode individual responsibility. Open your earth chakra and you’re ahead of this already, but you’ll be challenged to take responsibility for your own ethic. Maslow says, of his sample of actualised human beings: “I have found none of my subjects to be chronically unsure about the difference between right and wrong in their actual living.”
In a similar review, B. Mullen found an increase in the violent acts of lynch mobs (hanging, shooting, dismembering) correlated with crowd size. With more, the evil is far merrier. All this deindividuation results from low self-awareness. Research shows increased self-awareness will individuate the person to resist being swept up, but only the right kind of self-awareness. Concern about how your clothes and hair look won’t do it. Focus on personal thoughts, feelings and perceptions will, especially if that focus takes in values. (See Gass & Seiter.) The bare fact of this is where mainstream psychology often seems to stop these days. The achievement of it, and a lot more, is where psychology, meditation and energy practices aimed at actualisation and enlightenment take up.
I think we’re a long way now from self-development as selfish. If anywhere, we’ve reached the point where avoiding it is the selfish route. Winning one’s own victory is a victory for all, where not doing so perpetuates an endless unawareness.
Maslow points out:
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.
So it’s worth paying attention if people feel ‘lost in the crowd’. There is something important asking to actualise. Glenn Morris of course was exemplary of individuation in so many respects. Neither martial prowess nor spiritual awakening was the whole deal for him — that’s why chapters with titles like ‘Life Skills of Mastery’ appear in his oeuvre. I’ll leave the last word to him (Path Notes, p. 50):
A true martial artist is concerned with saving your life. A master would also like for you to have one that is worth living, full of passion and excitement as you develop your deepest resources and finest qualities.