If we understand Maslow rightly, once one’s basic needs are met, we are free to move up the pyramid to explore our higher level needs. Once we no longer have to worry about food and shelter, like folks in the prosperous West, we can devote our time to our needs for Love and Belonging, Esteem, and Self Actualization. We can graduate from concerns about finding a job that will pay for the basic necessities, for example, to finding the right job that will help us fulfill our creativity and own special gifts.
The human need for Love and Belonging is for friends, a lover, a family, and to be a vital member of the community. If you feel isolated and unloved, the pain will cause one to be stuck here in their personal development until these needs are met. I often think of how primitive humans existed in small tribes, and I don’t think we’ve evolved out of this need for being part of a small group. In our lonely cities, many are struggling to feel connected, and new communities are springing up online.
Esteem needs are the next level of Maslow’s pyramid, which means needing respect from others, a certain degree of status, self-confidence, achievement, independence, self-respect. The word on the street is that this should all come from within, but it’s a human need to want to be acknowledged by one’s community.
The top level is Self Actualization which Maslow said only 2 % of people achieve. Here an individual is enjoying the desire to fulfill their potentials, to be all that one can be, to become one’s most complete, fulfilled self. These people tend to enjoy solving problems rather than finding them burdensome, have a great degree of acceptance of self and others, and tend to have increased spontaneity, nonconformity, and creativity.
Self Actualize-ers also tend to have what are called Peak Experiences, or moments that make you feel One with God or nature. There is a feeling of being part of the Infinite and Eternal, and people having this experience report being changed forever for the better. Sometimes these peaks are called mystical experiences, sometimes they are found through drugs, and they are part of many religious traditions.
People who live in prosperity can devote time to their growth and development and can progress to a point where their lower needs are met. Then there is a possibility to move up to levels that involve having experiences that teach them about spirituality and the Infinite. Maslow posited that this our biological destiny, and a life force that drives us.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth