Self Actualization: Individualistic or Holistic Connection?

Improving on Maslow's self-actualization guidelines.

Posted Jan 26, 2020

Self-actualization characteristics, according to Abraham Maslow, include the following (for more details, see prior post):

  • More efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it
  • Acceptance of self, others, nature
  • Spontaneity: simplicity, naturalness
  • Problem-centered
  • A quality of detachment and need for privacy
  • Autonomous, will, active agency; independent from culture and environment
  • Continued freshness of appreciation
  • Common mystic or peak experiences
  • Deeper interpersonal relations
  • A democratic character structure
  • Discriminatory between means and ends, between good and evil
  • A philosophical, unhostile sense of humor
  • Creativity
  • Resistance to enculturation and transcendence of any particular culture

How does one get to self-actualization?

  • Be here, experience your life “fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption.” (Maslow, 1970, p. 45). It helps to be in nature or to have a friend with whom you can be emotionally expressive—through silliness, music-making, or other forms of play.
  • All-day long, choose openness rather than defensiveness. Choices involve everything you do—e.g., trying new foods/music/activities or how you approach others you meet.
  • Let your true self emerge. Shut out the noise of the world that tells you how you should think, feel, behave. Instead, pay attention to your own body’s signals: Listen to the inner voices that press you toward growth and connection.
  • Be honest rather than not. Take responsibility for your own feelings and reactions. Accept them.
  • Dare to follow your unique path.
  • Set up the conditions for peak experiences. Increase your exposure to situations that bring deep joy.
  • Accept the process. Self-actualizers are in a process where, little by little, they find out who they are and follow it not only in terms of spiritual direction and life path but what their unique biological nature is like. 
  • Be ready to address your psychopathologies. One must find and dismantle the defenses set up against knowing oneself.
  • Perceive the sacred, eternal, poetic, symbolic in the people and entities around you.

Interestingly, Maslow’s self-actualization looks different from our ancestral pathway. Jon Young and colleagues (2010; 2019) collaborate with the San Bushmen of the Kalahari, a band culture that has been around for at least 140,000 years (Suzman, 2017). The Bushmen approach self-actualization in ways that are reflected in the writings and advice of indigenous peoples around the world (Narvaez et al., 2019). Their approach may most relevant today.

Jon Young stresses:

“Human beings are facing a great connection challenge. The prevailing worldview, based on many generations of ancestral trauma, has resulted in, and perpetuates, the current epidemic of separation. This separation has resulted in widespread repercussions to the body, mind, spirit, and the natural world” (2019, p. 220-221).

With this perspective, Young and colleagues place self-actualization's focus on “relational interconnectedness that transcends the separation of the self and nature” (Young, 2019, p. 221).

What does a connected self look like?

  • Quiet Mind: presence, unbridled creativity based on sensory integration, access to one’s unique genius.
  • Inner Happiness: as of a child, innocent and fresh, with glee, wonder, and brightness.
  • Vitality and Abundance of Energy: one elder described this as an abundance of electricity in the body.
  • Unconditional Listening and Mentoring: capacity to catch the stories of others, listening deeply without judgment or need to advise, commitment to mentoring and “paying it forward.”
  • Empathy: feeling into our connection with nature, deeply feeling this connection in our own bodies leads to love and respect for nature.
  • Truly Helpful: personal gifts and vision are surfaced and activated, initiative, service to others.
  • Fully Alive: awareness of the sacredness of life, a sense of awe, respect, and wonder.
  • Unconditional Love and Forgiveness: compassion and forgiveness, and understanding with respect to the people of our world, forgiveness as a core routine.

How does one get to this relational connection?

Jon Young points out “Just as we cannot exercise our biceps by reading about them or learn advanced mathematics by jogging, we cannot use purely cognitive or recreational approaches to increase connection effectively” (p. 221).  There exist methods for increasing fitness or learning a particular skill. Similarly, there are methods for building connection.

I use with students Young’s “core routines” for building nature connection that his organization, 8Shields.org, has developed from work over decades with people around the world (Young et al., 2011).

  • Sit spot: Regularly sit still in the same place in nature to watch, observe and listen.
  • Sensory expansion: Expand all your senses outdoors.
  • Learn bird language.
  • Learn to track animals.
  • Tell your nature stories, engaging all senses to achieve the storytelling magic.
  • Practice story of the day: return from nature to tell your story to somebody.
  • Practice timelessness: to counteract the powerful dis-connection of time sensitivity.
  • Wander: without a destination, allowing your body to walk you to places.
  • Implement gratitude as a daily practice.
  • Map the landscape: both verbal and pictorial, for brain development and landscape integration.
  • Journal on your own if no one can catch your story

Young (2019) discusses regenerative design for restoring connection with self, others, and nature. 8Shields has identified 64 practices. Integrating indigenous wisdom and nature connection, they identify what is needed for proper development in particular phases of life.

Here are a few of the adult practices for building connection with other people:

  • Greeting and welcoming customs: spending time reconnecting when first meeting, no matter the length of time apart.
  • Unconditional listening to the stories and opinions of others, without judgment or distraction.
  • Gratitude as a practice for starting any gathering.
  • Culture of allowance where people can express themselves however they will.
  • Wiping off the road dust when first greeting—letting people catch up emotionally to where they are, for example, by telling their journey story.
  • Reciprocate gift-giving.

See how these expand Maslow’s notion of self-actualization, making it more socially conscious and group-oriented. Keeping in one's mind and heart both nature and others in daily events reflects a connected life that promotes wellbeing.

References

Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and personality, 2nd ed. New York: Harper & Row.

Maslow, A. H. (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking.

Narvaez, D., Four Arrows, Halton, E., Collier, B., Enderle, G. (Eds.) (2019). Indigenous Sustainable Wisdom: First Nation Know-how for Global Flourishing. New York: Peter Lang.

Suzman, J. (2017). Affluence without abundance: The disappearing world of the Bushmen. New York: Bloomsbury.

Young, J. (2019). Connection modeling metrics for deep nature-connection, mentoring and culture repair. In D. Narvaez, Four Arrows, E. Halton, B. Collier, G. Enderle (Eds.) (2019). Indigenous Sustainable Wisdom: First Nation Know-how for Global Flourishing (pp. 219-243). New York: Peter Lang.

Young, J., Haas, E., & McGown, E. (2010). Coyote's guide to connecting with nature, 2nd ed.. Santa Cruz, CA: Owlink Media.