— 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.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.