The term Self Actualisation was really established in modern thinking by Abraham Maslow and his now famous pyramid with its “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. The literature about Self Actualisation tends to take a psychological approach, since the term arose from the psychological field. However, what this approach sidesteps is that your ultimate actualisation stems from you awakening to your Spiritual Self.
Self Actualisation is ultimately a Spiritual Awakening. However modern psychology has not taken this approach as it is, somewhat understandably, wedded to a materialistic view of human nature. In other words, at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is really the need to have a Spiritual Awakening. Becoming self actualised is, in effect, another way of describing the process of becoming spiritually awakened. The ultimate form of Self Improvement, is to go beyond the “self” to the “Self”. The “Self” (with capital “S”) is that larger sense of self which arises and expressing itself in service to others and to society in general. The ultimate self help is to get beyond living from a purely separate sense of self and reaching a wider sense of Self. Unfortunately modern psychology is unlikely to accept such a notion.
Yet, if we look at what it really means to become “actualised” this really needs to include a perspective on who we really are and what we really are. In reality we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. The purpose behind this and why this is so is, is to a large extent, a mystery to us on this level of experience. Why do spiritual beings, who presumably normally live outside of physical realms need to have all the inconveniences, limitation and even indignities of a physical experience?
The answer to this from The Sages Through the Ages tend to boil to various versions of the phrase “Look Within”. They are essentially telling us that the answers to our questions and quandaries are within us. The irony, from the perspective of Self Actualisation, is that some of these sages tended to bypass a lot of the elements of the “Hierarchy of Needs”, by going off and living in a cave or, under a tree, or the like. Nowadays there are not enough caves, and all the associated requirements to maintain life, for all of us to do that.
A modern version of Look Within are things like; “Become Self Actualised”, “Be You”, “Do You”, “Be your Best Self” and so on. These are all useful and worthy in their way. However the proponents of these tend to encourage us to focus on “the self” rather than “The Self”. When we are focused on “the self” it is all about “me”, or more like “me, me, me”. When we are focused on “The Self” our sense of Self tends to include other people and the world around us. The Self leads us to seeing ourselves as part of something larger and we have the sense that our deeper fulfilment is somehow linked to the fulfilment of the people and the life around us.
When I was about twelve I had an experience of oneness, a sense of connection with something much wider than “the self”. It was an experience of “The Self”, where we are all in it together and that we best develop and actualise ourselves by moving forward together rather than getting too focussed on “the self”, “my needs” and “my wants”. The odd thing was that this experience did not happen when I was in a place of quiet contemplation, being awed by the splendour of nature, or anything of the kind. At the time I was in a fist fight with another boy. We were both flailing away with our fists trying to hurt each other. Suddenly, and in the middle of this, I became aware that I could not hurt this other boy without also hurting myself. I just KNEW, that this was so. I had glimpse into the fabric of reality and had a visceral experience that we are all connected in a deep and profound way.
A deeper and wiser part of me actualised at that moment. It stepped in and gave me a very different perspective on my current experience. Our ultimate fulfilment and actualisation means going beyond “the self” that we currently seem to inhabit. It means letting go this sense of separation and all the divisions and polarities of “us and them” which come out of it. In fact, our true Self Actualisation is really about this very process of growing beyond “the self” that we seem to be and discovering The Self and its purpose.
Self Actualisation has its place. We need to develop our personality somewhat it order for it to act as a vehicle for the more refined qualities of; generosity, honesty, kindness and compassion that are more aligned with our deeper nature. We also need a personality that is a suitable vehicle for the boldness and courage of the The Self as it seeks to further positive changes; in us, the people around us, and the world in which we live.
Our deeper self, The Self, is concerned with the whole of life as that is where our ultimate sense of Self comes from. Our true success comes from discovering that there is a lot more to us that “the self” that we thought we were. We are not confined to its limitations. Yes we need to meet its needs in wholesome ways, but can grew beyond it and discover a larger self without the frailties and limitations which have been holding us back from seeing the deeper nature or ourselves, and the deeper nature of the human experience that we are immersed in.
By William Fergus Martin