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.


13 responses to “Ataraxia: Sdeen fo Dimaryp

  • spiritinquire

    Hi Jason!
    You have a lot of good points here.
    Perhaps it shouldn’t be a pyramid, but more of a circle of some sort. Varying and conflicting spiritual, material, and psychosocial values undermine the pyramid layout, rearranging it. I also think that many people spend the bulk of their lives on one step or another, whether by force of living conditions or social paradigms, and what seems most problematic to me is the ranking of these needs- it seems to overly favor one paradigm of values.

    • Jason Wingate

      Hi there!

      Yeah maybe it’s just a ‘collection’ of needs… I find the chakra system subtler as a hierarchy not least because different people can be centred in different spaces as you point out. People in general try to avoid awakening which is why they get stuck in rut configurations that way…

  • spiritinquire

    why do you think people try to avoid awakening?

    • Jason Wingate

      Under normal circumstances, probably because it has some equivalence to death as it appears to the ordinary mind — hence avoidance of death as the base of pyramid.

  • AngelaN

    Lots of goodness here.

    Totally agree with the notion that it looks like a collection of needs. If you take it as developmental or evolutionary steps it kind of makes sense, but the chakra system delivers better.

    You can go into shambavi mudra and stop breathing spontaneously but that doesn’t necessarely mean you are experiencing a fully embodied awakening. Reminds me of a certain video of Tao Semko in which he explains that it is very hard for a person whose Kundalini becomes active in the upper chakras to have a complete awakening… I can specualte this happens in people who haven’t really learnt to recognize their basic needs. There might be self actualisation and peak experiences, but it will take a consciuous choice of focusing on the lower hierarchies of the pyramid. Then again you must have a self to become self-actualised.

    • Jason Wingate

      Hi again Angela!

      Well yes indeed and your last point is really what matters for me, it’s what I’ll poke into next week, looks like…

      Maslow by self-actualisation didn’t mean anything to do with ego but it’s a bad tern — what he meant was, something that is in tune with its own process and continually creating in the flow of that process, rather than reactively. I think what he couldn’t say was, it actually assumes a ‘higher self’, or a higher SOMETHING :) in the sense of a perfect viewpoint beyond the physical which is both an assemblage of event-possibilities and an essense within them that “acts” from beyond the ego.

      From the purely psychological point of view the position I think I’m coming to is that Benson’s Breakout Principle is the key here — that the “you” is not the thing actualising, simply that you step aside and in that moment “it does it” — this is what Kundalini is like as you of course know. The more it is oneself doing it, the less it does it.

      What pisses me off though is that the relation of this to spontaneous action doesn’t seem to get enough love in modern transpersonal psych. Apart from Benson no-one seems to talk about how to go spontaneously beyond oneself. Yet that seems to me to be everything. Maybe we have there the sense in which materialism is simply destructive of sanity?

      • AngelaN

        Oh well, I’ll be looking forward for next week’s installment.

        How to spontaneously go beyond one’s self, by the means of surrendering to a higher something, is also the key for me. Even on my Gestalt training i see myself centering the patient with this thought in the backburner – that this is what it’s all about.

        • Jason Wingate

          Right! Yes I dug up some lines for Saturday that might be useful there… for me the “something” is the process of life itself and that hangs together in a Taoist viewpoint… just putting it together now. :)

          Having said that, one of my complaints is how little there is on this in Western culture.

          Hope the training’s going well…

          • AngelaN

            Training’s going great, thanks :)

            It is for me as well… Right after I hit the post comment button, I thought of Naranjo’s view on organismic self regulation as a concept which must imply the Tao, at least the Tao of Man. Organismic self regulation is another name for Goldstein’s self actualisation… Will research a bit how it compares to Maslow’s when I’m on holidays.

            • Jason Wingate

              I don’t suppose you’ve ever read Dabrowski have you? He has a theory on self-actualisation that I’ve never read but I’ve seen him recommended several times now… he was in touch with Maslow.

              • AngelaN

                Wowowow… I had totally forgotten about Dabrowski and I DID read quite a bit a few years ago (more like 10 years)… Back then I just wanted to figure out how high IQ people could end up being such neurotic messes. Wasn’t remotedly interested in psychology other than to fix what he calls overexcitabilities. I can certainly see how his Theory of Positive Disintegration would fit in here. All of my notes on his work are on Tenerife, though… The only problem is that, if my memory doesn’t fail, his original work wasn’t available back then (or I couldn’t find it), so I had to rely on what other people had written about his work.

  • Jason Wingate

    All of my notes on his work are on Tenerife, though…


    That is unfortunate!

    But he has been gaining in popularity these days, I see a book and this site which I’ve flipped through. Certainly seems a useful piece of the puzzle, was just wondering if he had any theories on spontaneity… of course there is Grof’s spontaneous holotropy of breathwork but for us that basically is Kundalini…

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